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

A randomised controlled trial of the repeated reading strategy

Repeated reading is a strategy used to develop children’s reading fluency in targeted text. However, little research has been done using randomised trials to determine the extent to which fluency gained in repeated reading generalises to new text in terms of accuracy, speed, comprehension and expression. In an effort to examine the effectiveness of the repeated reading strategy, Scott Ardoin and colleagues at the University of Georgia and Mount Holyoke College conducted a randomised controlled trial comparing pupils’ fluency development using repeated reading to their fluency development using wide reading (non-repetitive reading of passages with minimal word and content overlap) and to a third group who continued with business as usual.

A total of 168 second grade (Year 3) pupils in three schools in the southeastern US were matched on standardised pre-testing by reading level in groups of three and assigned to one of the three groups. Pre-tests were also conducted for eye movement and prosody. Each pupil received 20 minutes of individualised intervention four times a week for 9-10 weeks.

Results showed that while all pupils gained in all areas, the pupils in the experimental conditions gained more than the business-as-usual pupils, with the lowest-achieving pupils making the most gains. It was of note that there was no significant advantage to being in the repeated reading group versus the wide reading group.

Source: Repeated versus wide reading: A randomized control design study examining the impact of fluency interventions on underlying reading behaviour (December 2016), Journal of School Psychology, 59 pp 13-38

Examining teachers’ response to chaos in the classroom

An article co-authored by Johns Hopkins School of Education’s Lieny Jeon reports that teachers need emotional support to manage chaotic classrooms.

The finding comes from a study Jeon and her colleagues conducted that examined the role of teachers’ emotional abilities and classroom environments in how teachers respond to children’s negative emotions and disruptive behaviour. The researchers sampled 1,129 teachers working with pre-school pupils in child-care centres or public pre-K programmes (Reception) across the US. Using a survey, the teachers were asked to rate their perceptions of environmental chaos and their responsiveness to children in early childcare settings.

The researchers found that childcare chaos (eg, crowdedness, unpredictability and lack of routines and rules) was directly associated with teachers’ non-supportive reactions (eg, distress reactions and punitive reactions) after controlling for multiple programme and teacher characteristics. In addition, teachers in more chaotic childcare settings had less reappraisal and coping skills, which in turn was associated with lower levels of positive responsiveness to children.

The article suggests that intervention programmes are needed to address teachers’ coping and emotion regulation strategies in early childhood education.

Source: Child-care chaos and teachers’ responsiveness: The indirect associations through teachers’ emotion regulation and coping (December 2016), Journal of School Psychology, 59:83-96

Reducing achievement gaps in academic writing

A study published in Journal of Educational Psychology reports on two years of findings from a randomised controlled trial of the Pathway Project, an intervention designed to reduce achievement gaps in academic writing for pupils who are Latino or have English as an Additional Language (EAL).

Ninety-five teachers from 16 secondary schools in the Anaheim Union High School District – a large, diverse, low-socioeconomic status, urban district with over 33,000 pupils (60% Latino and 66% EAL) – were randomly assigned to the treatment (Pathway) or control condition. Teachers in the Pathway group took part in a 46-hour professional development programme where they were trained to help improve pupils’ interpretative reading and text-based analytical writing using a cognitive strategies approach.

Findings from the study show promising results in both years of the intervention that appear to close the achievement gap in writing outcomes for Latino pupils and EALs in grades 7 to 12 (Years 8-13). In the first year of the trial, Pathway pupils gained 0.99 points more for an on-demand academic writing assessment than control pupils, which was highly statistically significant. Significant effects were attained for all grade levels except 12th grade (Year 13). The second year also showed a large positive, significant effect of the intervention on the full sample. Pre- and post-test scores for the academic writing assessment showed an effect size of +0.48 in the first year and +0.60 in the second year.

Programme effects were positive and significant for all the language groups, with the very largest occurring for EALs. This suggests that the Pathway Project may be particularly beneficial for pupils still in the process of learning English. In addition, pupils in the Pathway group had higher odds than pupils in the control group of passing the California Higher School Exit Exam in both years.

Source: Reducing achievement gaps in academic writing for Latinos and English learners in Grades 7–12 (January 2017), Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 109(1), 1-21.

What works for bullying prevention?

Child Trends has released a new policy brief on preventing bullying and cyberbullying. The report provides information on the current state of bullying research using data from the US Department of Education, journal articles, and existing research by Child Trends, and provides recommendations for addressing and preventing bullying behaviour.

The report notes that while many bullying prevention programmes and strategies are available, evidence of their effectiveness has been mixed, and most have never been rigorously evaluated. Based on the existing research, the report provides the following recommendations:

  • Include cyberbullying as part of a broader approach to bullying prevention. Strategies targeting cyberbullying alone without addressing the broader issue of bullying are unlikely to be effective. Similarly, monitoring pupils’ social media accounts is likely to be an ineffective use of resources without additional efforts to encourage more civil behaviour online and in person.
  • Support the development of evidence-based approaches through dedicated funding for research. Such investments should also examine interventions, such as integrated pupil supports, for pupils who are targeted by bullying or witness it.
  • Discourage approaches that lack evidentiary support, criminalise young people, or remove them from school. Research shows that anti-bullying assemblies, speakers, and campaigns are not effective at preventing bullying, nor are zero-tolerance policies that remove students from school and do not address the underlying causes of bullying behaviour.

Source: Preventing bullying and cyberbullying: research-based policy recommendations for executive and legislative officials in 2017 (Jan 2017), Child Trends

Do computers have a negative effect on children’s social development?

A working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research reports the findings from a large-scale randomised controlled trial that explores whether owning a home computer has a negative effect on children’s social development.

The study included 1,123 students in grades 6-10 (Years 7-11) in 15 different schools across California. Students were eligible to take part in the trial only if they did not already have a computer at home. Half were then randomly selected to receive free computers, while the other half served as the control group. Surveys were conducted with the students and schools at the start of the school year to collect data on child and household characteristics and school participation. Follow-up surveys were then administered at the end of the school year, and the data compared to establish any causal evidence.

As predicted, Robert W Fairlie and Ariel Kalil found that having computers at home did increase the amount of time that children spent on social networking sites and email as well as for games and other entertainment. However, rather than being socially isolating, children in the treatment group communicated with 1.57 more friends per week than children in the control group, and spent 0.72 more hours with their friends in person. They also found no evidence that the children who received a computer were less likely to participate in sports teams or after-school clubs, or spend any less time in these activities.

Source: The effects of computers on children’s social development and school participation: evidence from a randomized control experiment (December 2016), NBER Working Paper No. 22907, The National Bureau of Economic Research