Effective programmes in primary maths

Marta Pellegrini from the University of Florence and Cynthia Lake, Amanda Inns and Robert E Slavin from Johns Hopkins Center for Research and Reform in Education have released a new report on effective programmes in primary maths. The report reviews research on the mathematics achievement outcomes of all programmes with at least one study meeting the inclusion criteria of the review. A total of 78 studies were identified that evaluated 61 programmes in grades K–5 (Years 1–6).

The studies were very high in quality, with 65 (83%) randomised and 13 (17%) quasi-experimental evaluations. Key findings were as follows:

  • Particularly positive outcomes were found for tutoring programmes.
  • One-to-one and one-to-small group models had equal impacts, as did teachers and paraprofessionals as tutors.
  • Technology programmes showed modest positive impacts.
  • Professional development approaches focused on helping teachers gain in understanding of maths content and pedagogy had no impact on pupil achievement, but more promising outcomes were seen in studies focused on instructional processes, such as cooperative learning.
  • Whole-school reform, social-emotional approaches, maths curricula and benchmark assessment programmes found few positive effects, although there were one or more effective individual approaches in most categories.

The findings suggest that programmes emphasising personalisation, engagement and motivation have most impact in primary maths teaching, while strategies focused on textbooks, professional development for maths knowledge or pedagogy, and other strategies that do not substantially impact pupils’ daily experiences have little impact.

Source: Effective programs in elementary mathematics: A best-evidence synthesis (October 2018), Johns Hopkins University

Supporting pupils in primary school may help keep them in education

Elementary (primary) pupils who participated in a comprehensive support intervention in the Boston public school district are less likely to drop out of high school (secondary school) than pupils not in the intervention, according to a new study published in AERA Open.

Terrence K Lee-St. John and colleagues examined the impact of City Connects – a schoolwide systemic pupil support programme which provides extra academic and social support for pupils in poverty – on high school drop-out rates. Their study tracked pupils from six elementary (primary) schools who participated in the intervention from kindergarten until fifth grade (Years 1 to 6). These pupils were compared to pupils who were enrolled in the school district at the same time but didn’t use the intervention programme.

In each participating school, a full-time coordinator, who is a master’s degree-level licensed school counsellor or social worker, meets with every classroom teacher and other school staff to review every pupil, every year. The coordinator and staff discuss each child’s strengths and needs for academic, social/emotional/behavioural development, health, and family support. Since not every factor that may influence later drop-out presents itself as a “red flag”, this approach allows the less obvious factors to be identified and addressed early.

The study found that pupils who participated in the intervention had a 9.2% drop-out rate in high school, compared to 16.6% for the non-intervention pupils.

Source: The long-term impact of systemic student support in elementary school: Reducing high school dropout (October 2018), AERA Open, Volume: 4 issue: 4

One-to-one technology and pupil outcomes

An evaluation published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis evaluates the impact of the Digital Conversion Initiative on pupil outcomes for one US school district in North Carolina.

The initiative provided laptop computers to every pupil from the fourth grade (Year 5) upwards, while also providing teachers with training on how to best use the technology in their lesson plans.

Marie Hull and Katherine Duch used administrative school data from 2005 to 2013 to determine the programme’s impact on maths and reading achievement for pupils in grades 4 to 8 (Years 5 to 9), as well as the impact of the programme on pupil behaviour. They compared the district’s data from before and after implementation, as well as data from neighbouring school districts without one-to-one programmes to determine the short- and medium-term effects.

Their results suggest there is potential for one-to-one laptop programmes to help improve pupil outcomes. They found that:

  • Maths scores for pupils improved by 0.11 standard deviations in the short term and 0.13 standard deviations in the medium term.
  • No significant change in reading scores in the short term, and mixed evidence of improvement in the medium term.
  • Time spent on homework stayed constant.
  • Pupils spent more of their homework time using a computer.

Source: One-to-one technology and student outcomes: Evidence from Mooresville’s Digital Conversion Initiative (September 2018), Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis

Effects of shared book reading for young EAL children

A meta-analysis, published in Review of Educational Research, examines how shared book reading affects the English language and literacy skills of young children learning English as an additional language (EAL)

Shared book reading involves an adult reading with one or more children, and is considered to be an effective practice for language and literacy development. It may also involve interactive practices such as dialogic reading techniques to engage children or reinforce specific ideas or words from the text.

For this meta-analysis, Lisa Fitton and colleagues identified 54 studies of shared reading interventions conducted in the US that met their inclusion criteria. The total number of participants across the studies was 3,989, with an average age of six.

Results revealed an overall positive effect of shared reading on EAL outcomes (effect size = +0.28). Children’s developmental status moderated this effect, with larger effect sizes found in studies including only typically developing children (+0.48) than in studies including only participants with developmental disorders (+0.17).

Source:  Shared book reading interventions with English learners: a meta-analysis (October 2018), Review of Educational Research, volume: 88 issue: 5

Effects of the Whole School Restorative Justice Program

Restorative approaches are practices aimed at making peace, preventing further harm and building community. The Whole School Restorative Justice Program (WSRJ) is designed to promote these practices in the school setting. It uses multi-level strategies to provide an alternative to zero-tolerance approaches, which have raised suspension rates in the US, especially among minority youth. Tier 1 is regular classroom circles, Tier 2 is repair harm/conflict circles, and Tier 3 includes mediation, family group conferencing and welcome/re-entry circles to initiate successful re-integration of pupils being released from juvenile detention centres.

A three-year matched study compared schools in California participating in WSRJ to similar schools that did not. In WSRJ schools, suspensions were cut in half (34% to 14%). This was significantly more than the change seen in non-RJ schools (p<.05). Chronic absences diminished in WSRJ middle and high schools, while increasing in non-WSRJ middle and high schools. The middle school differences were highly significant (p<.001). Reading levels for pupils in ninth grade (Year 10) increased more in WSRJ schools than in non-WSRJ schools, and four-year graduation rates gained significantly more.

Source: Restorative Justice in Oakland schools implementation and impacts: An effective strategy to reduce radically disproportionate discipline, suspensions and improve academic outcomes (September 2014), US Department of Education

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