Findings from an evaluation of Thinking Maths

Evidence for Learning in Australia has published an evaluation of Thinking Maths – a professional learning programme for maths teachers to support pupils’ maths learning during the transition between primary and secondary school (currently Year 7 and Year 8 in South Australia).

The evaluation involved 158 schools in South Australia, which were randomly assigned to the intervention (63 schools) or the control group (104 schools). Teachers participated in 30 hours of face-to-face professional learning delivered at 4–5 week intervals over three school terms. The programme focuses on three areas for better teaching and learning of mathematics: (a) using quality task design, (b) sequencing a conceptual development, and (c) using research-informed effective pedagogies.

Pupils whose teachers received Thinking Maths made additional progress in maths when compared to business-as-usual maths classes (effect size = +0.05). However, there were differences between primary and secondary school pupils: the effect size for secondary pupils (Years 8–10) was -0.16, whereas the effect size for primary pupils (Years 5–7) was +0.14.

Source: Thinking Maths: A professional learning program supporting teachers to engage middle-school students in maths. Evaluation Report and Executive Summary, (September 2018). Evidence for Learning, the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)

Potentially positive effects for counselling before college

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) has released a new intervention report that examines the research on the impact of summer counselling on pupils’ college enrolment and persistence. As the report notes, summer counselling is designed to help college-intending high school graduates complete the steps needed to enrol in college and start their college careers.

The review included five studies of summer counselling that met the WWC’s research standards without reservations. Together, these studies included 13,614 recent high school graduates in 10 locations. In all five studies, pupils were provided with summer counselling for about 1.5 months between high school graduation and college registration. During this time, programmes provided college-intending individuals with information about tasks required for college enrolment, as well as assistance in overcoming unanticipated financial, informational and socioemotional barriers that prevent college entry.

According to the report, the research shows that summer counselling had potentially positive effects on credit accumulation and persistence (extent of evidence: small) and mixed effects on college access and enrolment (extent of evidence: medium to large) for recent high school graduates.

Source: Transition to college intervention report: Summer counseling (March 2018), What Works Clearinghouse, Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education.

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

Do sleep problems in early childhood predict performance at school?

A study published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology looks at whether problems with sleep and self-regulation might be used to predict how children settle in at school.

The study involved 2,880 children from Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. Child sleep problems and emotional self-regulation were assessed via reports from mothers at three time points between birth and age five. Child attentional regulation was assessed by the mothers at two time points, and school adjustment was measured by teacher reports of classroom self-regulation and social, emotional, and behavioural adjustment at school, when the children were aged 6-7 years.

Three profiles were found. A normative profile (69% of children) had consistently average or higher emotional and attentional regulation scores and sleep problems that steadily reduced from birth to five. The remaining 31% of children were members of two non-normative profiles, both characterised by escalating sleep problems across early childhood and below mean self-regulation. Children in the non-normative group were associated with higher teacher-reported hyperactivity and emotional problems, and poorer classroom self-regulation and prosocial skills.

The researchers conclude that early childhood profiles of self-regulation that include sleep problems offer a way to identify children at risk of poor school adjustment. Children with escalating early childhood sleep problems could be an important group for interventions to support transition into school.
Source: Early Childhood Profiles Of Sleep Problems And Self-Regulation Predict Later School Adjustment (2016), British Journal of Educational Psychology.

Raising the BARR

A comprehensive programme to reduce the risks of transition to secondary school has been successful in a scale-up study.

The year-long randomised controlled trial in California of the Building Assets–Reducing Risks (BARR) programme involved 555 ninth graders (Year 10) randomly assigned to BARR or non-BARR conditions. It showed that pupils who participated in the programme demonstrated improved academic achievement compared to peers who did not.

The programme uses eight strategies. These include dividing pupils into cohorts to allow teachers to know them better, regularly scheduled teacher-cohort meetings addressing pupil progress, risk-review meetings, classes for pupils addressing life skills and challenges, and increased family involvement.

At the end of the trial, pupils assigned to BARR achieved higher standardised test scores in reading and maths. Furthermore, the programme was rolled out to all ninth grade pupils for a second and third year. At the end of year three the course failure rate was 18.5%, a 42% decrease from the year before BARR was introduced. The failure rates for the Hispanic subgroup had decreased from 41% in the year-one non-BARR condition to 21%.

Source: Building Assets Reducing Risks – The Building Assets-Reducing Risks Program: Replication and Expansion of an Effective Strategy to Turn Around Low-Achieving Schools (2015), BARR Center.

Helping pupils with disabilities transition from secondary school

A new report from the US National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE) reviews the research on programmes that aim to help young people with disabilities make successful transitions beyond secondary school. Two promising approaches are identified:

  • community-based work programmes, which were found to have mixed effects on pupils’ employment outcomes and potentially positive effects on post-secondary education outcomes; and
  • functional life-skills development programmes, which were found to have potentially positive effects on independent living outcomes (although the extent of evidence was small).

NCEE’s search for transition research studies spanned the past two decades; however, relatively few studies (16) were found that met the What Works Clearinghouse standards for evidence of effectiveness. The authors offer several recommendations to researchers to try and help strengthen the evidence base.

For more on what works for children with disabilities, look out for the autumn issue of Better: Evidence-based Education magazine. It focuses on special education, including an article on functional skills, and will be available in September.

Source: Improving Post-High School Outcomes for Transition-Age Students with Disabilities: An Evidence Review, Institute of Education Sciences (2013).