Best schools in England continue to be highly socially selective

A report published by the Sutton Trust reveals that 85% of England’s top comprehensive schools are more socially selective than the average state school. However, schools where pupils make the most progress are much less so.

The report looks at the social composition of England’s top 500 comprehensive schools, based on GCSE attainment, and finds that the top-performing schools take just 9.4% of pupils eligible for Free School Meals (FSM), which is just over half the rate of the average comprehensive (17.2%). About half of this gap is due to the location of high-attaining schools in catchment areas with lower numbers of disadvantaged pupils, but the rest is due to social selection in admissions occurring even within those neighbourhoods.

Among the best schools measured by the Department for Education’s new ‘Progress 8’ measure, which focuses on gains, Carl Cullinane and colleagues find that FSM rates are much closer to the national average (15.2%), and that they are less socially selective, with a third of these schools admitting more FSM pupils than their catchment area.

There are indications of improvement in the numbers of disadvantaged pupils attending top schools, with the average 9.4% FSM rate up from 7.6% in 2013. In that year, 57% of the best schools had FSM rates lower than six per cent, but the number below that mark has fallen to 39%.

Source:  Selective comprehensives 2017: Admissions to high-attaining non-selective schools for disadvantaged pupils (March 2017) The Sutton Trust

Applied STEM improves outcomes for secondary pupils with learning disabilities

Studying an applied STEM course could help pupils with learning disabilities (LD) complete secondary school and transition successfully to higher education, according to a US study published in Educational Policy.

Pupils with learning disabilities face significant academic challenges in secondary school, as well as greater risks of dropping out altogether. Studying courses like applied STEM, which focus on applying maths and science skills more directly to practical job experiences, may help them to make the connection between learning and opportunities beyond secondary school, and to see the importance of continuing with their studies.

In order to examine the role applied STEM might have in improving outcomes for LD pupils, Jay Stratte Plasman and Michael A Gottfried analysed data from the US Department of Education to see if there was any link between studying applied STEM and dropout. While pupils generally appeared to benefit from studying applied STEM, the advantages were greater for those with learning disabilities. They calculated a two percent dropout rate for LD pupils who study applied STEM versus 12 percent for LD pupils who do not. Their analysis also demonstrated that LD pupils who study applied STEM are 2.35 times more likely to enrol in college immediately after secondary school, and 2.23 times more likely to go to college two years after completing secondary school, than LD pupils who did not study applied STEM.

Source: Applied STEM coursework, high school dropout rates, and students with learning disabilities (October 2016), Educational Policy

Effective reading programmes for secondary students

In recent years, major initiatives in the US and UK have added greatly to the amount and quality of research on the effectiveness of secondary reading programmes, especially targeted programmes for struggling readers. As a result, the Johns Hopkins Center for Research and Reform in Education was able to complete an updated review of the research on secondary reading programmes using tougher standards than would have been possible in earlier reviews, and assembling data from a much larger pool of programmes and studies. The authors were Ariane Baye, Cynthia Lake, Amanda Inns, and Robert Slavin.

The current review focuses on 64 studies that used random assignment (n=55) or high-quality quasi-experiments (n=9) to evaluate outcomes of 49 programmes on widely accepted measures of reading. Programmes using one-to-one and small-group tutoring (ES=+0.23) and co-operative learning programmes (mean ES=+0.16) showed positive outcomes, on average. Among technology programmes, metacognitive approaches, mixed-model programmes, and programmes for English learners, there were individual examples of promising approaches. Except for tutoring, targeted extra-time programmes were no more effective than programmes provided to entire classes and schools without adding instructional time.

The findings suggest that secondary readers benefit more from engaging and personalised instruction than from remedial services.

Source: Effective reading programs for secondary students (2016, December). Best Evidence Encyclopedia, Johns Hopkins University, Center for Research and Reform in Education.

Report presents latest research on Read 180 programme

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) has updated its Intervention Report on READ 180, a programme designed for struggling readers who are reading two or more years below grade level.

The WWC identified nine studies of READ 180 that fell within the scope of the WWC’s Adolescent Literacy topic area and met WWC research standards. Three studies met WWC standards without reservations, and six studies met WWC standards with reservations (according to the WWC, studies receiving this rating provide a lower degree of confidence that an observed effect was caused by the intervention). Together, these studies included 8,755 teenage readers in more than 66 schools in 15 school districts and 10 states.

After examining the research, the WWC concluded that READ 180 has positive effects on comprehension and general literacy achievement, potentially positive effects on reading fluency, but no discernible effects on alphabetics.

Source: READ 180® Adolescent Literacy What Works Clearinghouse Intervention Report:  A summary of findings from a systematic review of the evidence (2016), Institute of Education Sciences

Trends in English proficiency and high school graduation rates

Min Huang and colleagues at WestEd in the US recently examined patterns among English as an Additional Language learner (EAL) sub-groups to determine if the amount of time these students spent classified as English as an Additional Language learners or the grade in which they were deemed English-proficient correlated with their graduation rates.

Researchers studied the data, starting in the ninth grade (Year 10), from students in Arizona who were due to graduate from high school in 2014. More than 63,000 students were divided into five sub-groups based on their English proficiency, and then grouped by prior academic achievement and demographics.

Results showed that academic achievement prior to high school was the key predictor of EAL students who graduated on time, regardless of demographic similarities. Most importantly, the earlier students achieved English-language proficiency, the higher their graduation rates. The EAL sub-groups least likely to graduate on time were long-term English as an Additonal language learners who had been identified as EALs before sixth grade (Year 7) and were not yet English proficient by ninth grade (Year 10), and new English as an Additonal Language learners who became EALs in sixth grade (year 7) or later and entered high school designated as English as an Additional Language learners.

Researchers noted that during the study period EAL students were required to attend four hours of English classes a day, preventing them from being in mainstream classes, and therefore not necessarily acquiring the academic foundation for the subjects they need to graduate.

Source: High school graduation rates across English learner student subgroups in Arizona (2016), National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE)

How UK students’ writing has changed since 1980

Research published by Cambridge Assessment shows how 16-year-old students’ writing in exams has changed since 1980.

Aspects of Writing has been published by Cambridge Assessment approximately every 10 years, initially using a sample from 1980. This latest phase of the study focuses on writing samples from 2014. Key findings include:

  • The percentage of spelling errors at the lowest level of achievement is higher in 2014 than in most years. The incidence of spelling errors has changed very little among the mid- and higher-achieving students.
  • There is some evidence that use of “other” punctuation marks such as semi-colons has increased among higher-achieving students but decreased sharply among the lowest-achieving students.
  • There is a cautious indication of a general improvement in the use of commas.
  • There is an increase in the use of simple sentences among higher-achieving students. The researchers observed that these students tended to use simple sentences for literary effect.
  • Students of all abilities are using less-complex sentence structures.
  • Students at most levels of achievement are using more paragraphs than their predecessors.
  • There was almost no evidence of candidates using “text-speak” abbreviations in their work.

Source: Variations in aspects of writing in 16+ English examinations between 1980 and 2014. Research Matters Special Issue 4 (2016), Cambridge Assessment