Evidence supports The BSCS Inquiry Approach

With the increasing interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) curricula comes the need for evidence backing these programmes. One such science programme is The BSCS Inquiry Approach, a comprehensive secondary school science approach based on three key concepts: constructivism, coherence and cohesiveness. The materials are built around the 5E process (engage, explore, explain, elaborate and evaluate). Teaching focuses on evaluating pupils’ current understanding and using inquiry methods to move them to higher understandings. Each of the science disciplines (physical science, life science, earth science, and science and society) is composed of four chapters that repeat common themes, which advance over a three-year period. Designing and carrying out experiments in small groups is important in all topics. Teachers receive seven days of professional development each year, including a three-day summer institute and four one-day sessions, enabling sharing of experiences and introducing new content over time.

To determine the effects of The BSCS Inquiry Approach on pupil achievement, BSCS conducted a two-year cluster-randomised study of the intervention that compared pupils in grades 10–11 (Years 11–12) in nine experimental (n=1,509 pupils) and nine control secondary schools (n=1,543 pupils) in Washington State in the US. A total of 45% of pupils qualified for free or reduced-price lunches. At the end of two years, the BSCS pupils scored higher than controls (effect size=+0.09, p<.05) on the Washington State Science Assessments.

Source: An efficacy trial of research-based curriculum materials with curriculum-based professional development, Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, BSCS

Jury still out on Teach for America

A new Campbell Collaboration systematic review has been published, which looks at the impact of Teach for America on learning outcomes.

Teach for America (TFA) is a nationwide teacher preparation programme designed to address the shortage of effective teachers, specifically in high-poverty rural and urban schools across the United States. The systematic review by Herbert Turner and colleagues considered the impact of TFA-prepared teachers relative to novice teachers, and alumni relative to veteran teachers. The impacts studied were for K–12 (Years 1–13) pupil outcomes in maths, English and science.

A total of 24 studies were eligible for the review. However, once the research design, study quality and comparison groups were considered, this was reduced to four qualifying studies.

The review found no significant effect on reading by TFA teachers in their first or second year teaching elementary grades (Years 1–6) when compared with non-TFA novice teachers. There was a small positive impact for pre-K to grade 2 (Reception to Year 3) teachers on reading, but not on maths. However, given the small evidence base, the review counsels that these results should be treated with caution.

Source:  What are the effects of Teach for America on math, English language arts, and science outcomes of K–12 students in the USA? (June 2018), A Campbell Systematic Review 2018:7

Science clubs may boost socially disadvantaged pupils’ scientific aspirations

Extracurricular activities in science, such as after school clubs, may help to increase scientific aspirations of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, according to new research published in the International Journal of Science Education.

Tamjid Mujtaba and colleagues looked at survey responses of 4,780 pupils in Year 7 and Year 8 from schools in England with high proportions of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Their responses showed that pupils’ aspirations to study science beyond age 16 were strongly associated with their basic interest in the subject, how useful they thought science was for future careers and their engagement in extracurricular activities, such as science clubs. In addition, pupils’ confidence in their own abilities in science and encouragement from teachers and family to continue studying science after age 16 had smaller but still relevant associations.

Overall, the researchers suggest that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds would benefit from support and encouragement to continue with science and having access to science-related extracurricular activities.

Source: Students’ science attitudes, beliefs, and context: associations with science and chemistry aspirations (March 2018), International Journal of Science Education, Volume 40, Issue 6

New research on dual-language immersion programmes

A new research brief by Jennifer L Steele and colleagues, published by the RAND Corporation, presents new research on dual-language immersion (DLI) programmes. These programmes provide both native English speakers and children learning English as an additional language (EAL) with general academic teaching in two languages from kindergarten (Year 1) onwards.

In partnership with the American Councils on International Education and the Portland Public Schools in Oregon (PPS), the authors conducted a random-assignment study of DLI education. The goal was to estimate the causal effects of the district’s DLI programmes on pupil performance over time in reading, mathematics and science, and on EAL pupils’ reclassification as English proficient.

PBS allocates immersion slots using a random-assignment lottery process for those who apply to the programmes. The study focused on 1,625 DLI lottery applicants in the kindergarten cohorts from 2004–2005 to 2010–2011. Pupil achievement was tracked until 2013–2014.

Key findings of the study were as follows:

  • PPS pupils randomly assigned to dual-language immersion programmes outperformed their peers on state reading tests by 13% of a standard deviation in grade 5 (Year 6) and by 22% of a standard deviation in grade 8 (Year 9).
  • Immersion-assigned pupils did not show statistically significant benefits or deficits in terms of mathematics or science performance.
  • There were no clear differences in the effects of dual-language immersion according to pupils’ native language.
  • EAL pupils assigned to dual-language immersion were more likely than their peers to be classified as English proficient by grade 6 (Year 7). This effect was mostly attributed to EAL pupils whose native language was the same as one of the two languages taught.

Source: Dual-language immersion programs raise student achievement in English (2017), RAND Corporation Research Brief, RB-9903

Poor literacy skills hold poorer pupils back in science

A report, published by the Education Endowment Foundation and the Royal Society, has reviewed existing studies to identify interventions and teaching approaches that have a positive impact on pupil learning in science, particularly for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The researchers from the University of Oxford analysed data in the National Pupil Database in England to measure the extent of the gap in the performance between economically disadvantaged pupils and pupils from higher socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds on national science tests. This analysis confirmed that disadvantaged pupils (pupils who have been entitled to free school meals at least once in the last six years) had much lower scores and made poorer progress in science, at every stage of their school career, than pupils from higher SES backgrounds. The gap, they suggest, first becomes apparent at Key Stage 1 (ages 5–7) and only gets wider throughout primary and secondary school. The gap for science is as wide as it is in English and maths, and grows particularly strongly between the ages of 5–7 and 11–16.

The study also found that the strongest factor affecting pupils’ science scores was how well they understood written texts. According to the report, poor literacy skills affect how well a pupil is able to understand scientific vocabulary and to prepare scientific reports. This suggests that strategies to boost disadvantaged pupils’ reading comprehension could have a positive impact on their achievement in science too. The authors write: “In correlational studies of science learning, the strongest and most consistent predictor of pupils’ scientific attainment has undoubtedly been how literate they are”. They add that there is a “strong relationship” between pupils’ socioeconomic status and their literacy.

A study, which we covered in a previous edition of Best Evidence in Brief, found a similar relationship between literacy and science achievement gaps for pupils in US elementary and middle schools.

Source: Review of SES and science learning in formal educational settings: A report prepared for the EEF and the Royal Society (September 2017), Education Endowment Foundation and Royal Society

Talking in class boosts progress in maths, science and English

An intervention that trained teachers to improve and monitor the quality of classroom talk had a positive impact on primary pupils’ test scores in English, maths and science, a report published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) reveals.

Seventy-six primary schools with higher-than-average proportions of disadvantaged pupils took part in a randomised control trial of the Dialogic Teaching intervention, which is designed to improve the quality of classroom talk as a means of increasing pupils’ engagement, learning and achievement. Year 5 teachers in 38 schools (2,493 pupils), and a teacher mentor from each school, received resources and training from the delivery team and then implemented the intervention over the course of the autumn and spring terms in the 2015/16 school year. A control group of 38 schools (2,466 pupils) continued with business as usual. Following the intervention, pupils were tested in English, maths and science.

The results showed that pupils in the intervention schools did better in the main outcome measures of English (effect size = +0.16), science (+0.12), and maths (+0.09) when compared with pupils in the control schools who didn’t receive the intervention. For pupils who received free school meals, the intervention had a higher impact on maths (+0.16), but around the same for English (+0.12) and science (+0.11). Teachers reported positive effects on pupil engagement and confidence, and on the whole the intervention was highly regarded by participating schools. However, some teachers felt that it would take longer than two terms to fully embed a Dialogic Teaching approach in their classrooms.

The Dialogic Teaching intervention was developed by the Cambridge Primary Review Trust and the University of York. This University of York news story has more.

Source: Dialogic teaching: evaluation report and executive summary (July 2017), Education Endowment Foundation