Low-cost tutoring boosted struggling pupils’ maths results

An evaluation of the Education Endowment Foundation trial of Tutor Trust’s affordable tuition project found that low-cost tutoring in small groups increased maths scores for disadvantaged pupils who are working below age-expected levels in maths.

One hundred and five schools in Manchester and Leeds with double the average numbers of disadvantaged pupils participated in the effectiveness trial of the Tutor Trust project from September 2016 until July 2017. The aim of the project is to improve the maths achievement of disadvantaged pupils by providing small-group tutoring sessions with trained university students and recent graduates.

Year 6 pupils (ages 10–11) who were struggling with maths were selected by their teacher to receive extra support from Tutor Trust tutors, should their school be randomly allocated to the intervention group. The selected pupils in the intervention schools received 12 hours of additional tuition, usually one hour per week for 12 weeks, in groups of three. Pupils in the control schools continued with normal teaching. Achievement was measured using Key Stage 2 maths scores.

The report found that children who received tutoring from Tutor Trust progressed more in maths compared to children in control schools (effect size = +0.19). Among children eligible for free school meals, the effect size was +0.25. There was also some evidence that pupils with lower prior achievement tended to benefit more from the tutoring.

Source: Tutor Trust: Affordable primary tuition evaluation report and executive summary (November 2018), Education Endowment Foundation

Second success launches Number Rockets

A recent article in the American Educational Research Journal describes a scaled-up replication study of a randomised controlled trial evaluating the effects of Number Rockets, a small-group intervention for children aged 6/7 at risk of mathematical difficulties.

A replication study repeats the procedures of an earlier study to see if the effects of the intervention are consistent. If similarly positive results are reproduced, this lends credence to that programme’s efficacy. Replication rates for education research are often low.

In this case, the original study found a positive impact for pupils using Number Rockets in a single US state district under ideal conditions. It was conducted in ten schools and involved 139 pupils (70 in the experimental group, 69 in control) identified as at-risk because of their performance in the lowest fifth on a screening assessment. The current, scaled-up study involved 76 schools across four districts in four US states, with 994 pupils (615 experimental, 379 control) identified by a screening score as being in the sample’s lowest third.

In an effort to more closely replicate real-world implementation, tutors were provided with less support and monitoring than in the original study. The experimental group received the Number Rockets curriculum in groups of 2-3 pupils three or more times a week for 17 weeks in addition to their regular maths curriculum, while the control pupils continued with their current curriculum. The Number Rockets curriculum is scripted, and focuses on concepts and operations with whole numbers, such as addition/subtraction, equality, comparing quantities, number placement on a number line, and also includes 10 minutes of fact practice.

The Number Rockets group outperformed the control group on the TEMA-3 standardised maths test, replicating the findings of the original study. Coincidentally, effect sizes for the experimental group were +0.34 for both the original and current studies.

Source: Intervention for First Graders With Limited Number Knowledge: Large-Scale Replication of a Randomized Controlled Trial (2015), American Educational Research Journal, 52(3).

What works for EAL pupils?

The US What Works Clearinghouse has released an updated practice guide on teaching academic content and literacy to pupils learning English as an additional language (EAL) in junior and middle school. It provides suggestions for teaching and supporting EAL learners as they acquire academic vocabulary, learn from increasingly complex informational texts, and engage in analytical writing activities. The recommendations, which are based on currently available research evidence and feedback from experts in the field, are as follows:

  • Teach a set of academic vocabulary words intensively across several days using a variety of instructional activities.
  • Integrate oral and written English language instruction into content-area teaching.
  • Provide regular, structured opportunities to develop written language skills.
  • Provide small-group instructional interventions to students struggling in areas of literacy and English language development.

For each recommendation, the guide provides examples of activities that can be used to support students as they build the language and literacy skills needed to be successful in school.

Source: Teaching Academic Content and Literacy to English Learners in Elementary and Middle School (2014), Institute of Education Sciences.

Intensive tutoring and counselling for struggling teenagers

This working paper, published by the US National Bureau of Economic Research, presents findings from a randomised controlled trial of an intervention that aims to provide both academic and non-academic remediation for disadvantaged teenagers who are falling behind and at risk of dropping out of school. The academic portion of the intervention includes intensive, individualised one-to-two maths tutoring provided for an hour every day. The non-academic portion includes social-cognitive skills training such as learning how to evaluate consequences ahead of time.

The study took place in a high school in a deprived area of Chicago with high levels of ethnic minority pupils and where nearly all the pupils are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. The sample was 106 males aged 14–16 who were identified using an “academic risk index”.

Findings showed that participation in the intervention reduced course failures by about 66% in both maths and non-maths classes, increased rates of being “on track” for graduating high school by 46%, and showed large gains in a broad measure of maths test scores.

These are promising findings for a small-scale pilot, but testing the intervention at scale will be an important next step. Also, the current study measured outcomes only during the programme year, so no conclusions can be drawn yet regarding lasting impacts. Cost is another factor, and the authors do note that intensive small-group tutoring can be expensive. However, they say that the tested intervention (costing roughly $4,400 per pupil) seems to yield larger gains in adolescent outcomes per dollar spent than many other intervention strategies.

Source:The (Surprising) Efficacy of Academic and Behavioral Intervention with Disadvantaged Youth: Results from a Randomized Experiment in Chicago (2014),NBER.