Study shows teacher qualifications positively impact pupil performance

Despite the achievement gap that has historically existed between pupils from different racial backgrounds and poverty levels, at-risk pupils in some California school districts are outperforming pupils of similar backgrounds in other districts. Why? What are these districts doing to make their pupils so successful?

Anne Podolsky and colleagues at the Learning Policy Institute recently released a report first identifying the 156 California school districts performing better than expected, referred to as “positive outliers”, and then compared their characteristics to other districts in the state who have similar populations but are not performing as well.

Results show that schools in the successful districts were comprised of more experienced, well-qualified teachers than the less successful districts. After controlling for pupil social and economic status (SES) and district characteristics, teacher qualification emerged as the primary variable affecting achievement for all pupils, as measured by California’s English and maths assessments. In addition, years’ experience in a district was positively associated with achievement for African-American and Hispanic pupils.

The report notes that in the 2017–18 school year, California authorised more than 12,000 substandard permits and credentials, more than half of the entering workforce that year, many of whom were disproportionately assigned to schools serving the largest percentages of pupils of colour or from low SES backgrounds. The findings highlight how the state’s shortage of qualified teachers is negatively impacting pupil achievement.

Source: California’s positive outliers: Districts beating the odds (May 2019), Learning Policy Institute

Interleaved practice improves maths test scores

The results of a randomised controlled trial, published in Journal of Educational Psychology, suggest that a greater emphasis on interleaved practice may dramatically improve maths test scores for grade 7 (Year 8) pupils. Whereas most mathematics worksheets consist of a block of problems devoted to the same skill or concept, an interleaved worksheet is arranged so that no two consecutive problems require the same strategy.

Doug Rohrer and colleagues conducted the study with 54 classes in a large school district in Florida during the 2017–2018 school year. Over a period of four months, the classes periodically completed either interleaved or blocked worksheets, and then both groups completed an interleaved review worksheet. All pupils completed the same problems. One month later, pupils took an unannounced test which was set by the researchers. Pupils who had completed the interleaved assignments performed much better on the unannounced test than those in the blocked assignment group (effect size = +0.83).                

The researchers suggest that the large effect sizes observed in the study for interleaved maths practice may be due to the learning strategies it involves, which force the pupil to choose an appropriate strategy for each problem on the basis of the problem itself. They also identified some limitations of the study – particularly that the interleaving pupils took longer to complete their worksheets so effectively spent more time on each topic.

Source: A randomized controlled trial of interleaved mathematics practice (May 2019). Journal of Educational Psychology

Promoting positive youth development in afterschool programmes

Researchers at Child Trends, the Claremont Evaluation Center, and LA’s BEST—a large afterschool programme for children aged 5 to 12, in Los Angeles—have developed a white paper for programme leaders, policymakers and other afterschool stakeholders that examines promising practices for promoting positive youth development in afterschool programmes.

The research team conducted a review of the literature (limited to meta-analyses) on protective and promotive factors that (1) support positive developmental outcomes among young people, (2) are malleable through intervention, and (3) have direct relevance to the afterschool context. The literature review highlighted four categories of actionable, evidence-informed practices that afterschool programme leadership and staff can implement to build protective and promotive factors. The four categories are as follows:

  • Intentional organisational practices: practices that afterschool leadership can purposefully utilise to support the implementation of high-quality programming in afterschool programmes (eg, leadership engages in thoughtful staff hiring, onboarding and training practices; leadership fosters collaboration among staff and across settings).
  • High-quality learning environments: practices fostered by staff that can create afterschool environments in which young people feel physically and emotionally safe and supported in various domains of development (eg, staff offer a variety of activities that align with diverse needs and interests of young people; staff facilitate small, interactive groups).
  • Supportive and nurturing relationships: practices that enhance staff members’ interactions and communications with, and responses to, young people enrolled in afterschool programmes (eg, staff model and reinforce positive behaviours, empower youth to discover and embrace their unique identities, set and enforce clear rules and expectations).
  • Intentional and explicit focus on youth skill development: staff can focus on this area through concrete supports that help young people develop malleable individual characteristics and competencies (eg, supporting the use of effective problem-solving skills, helping children develop positive interpersonal relationship skills and working with children to develop their understanding of emotions).

Source: Promising practices for building protective and promotive factors to support positive youth development in afterschool (November 2018), Claremont Evaluation Center, Claremont Graduate University

Does summer counselling help with transition to higher education?

An intervention report from the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) presents a summary of findings from a systematic review of summer counselling.

In the US, summer counselling interventions are designed to help ensure that pupils who have finished high school and have an offer to go on to higher education complete the steps needed to successfully enrol. These steps could be taking placement tests, arranging for housing, acquiring medical insurance, obtaining financial aid, and registering for courses. The interventions are delivered during the months between leaving high school and enrolment into higher education, and typically involve outreach by college counsellors or peer mentors via text messaging campaigns, e-mail, phone, in-person meetings, instant messaging or social media. Summer counselling is also provided to help pupils overcome unanticipated financial, informational and socio-emotional barriers that prevent enrolment in to higher education.

The review identified five studies of summer counselling interventions which met WWC design standards. Together these studies included more than 13,000 pupils who had recently finished high school in 10 locations in the US. The results of the systematic review indicated that summer counselling had potentially positive effects on credit accumulation and persistence, and mixed effects on access to higher education and enrolment for students who had recently finished high school.

Source: Summer counseling (March 2018), What Works Clearinghouse Intervention Report, Institute of Education Sciences

What works for struggling readers?

Amanda Inns and colleagues from Johns Hopkins Center for Research and Reform in Education have completed a research review on effective programmes for struggling readers in elementary (primary) schools. A total of 61 studies of 48 programmes met study inclusion standards. 84% were randomised experiments and 16% quasi-experiments. Results showed positive outcomes for one-to-one tutoring and were positive but not as large for one-to-small group tutoring. There were no differences in outcomes between teachers and teaching assistants as tutors. Whole-class approaches (mostly cooperative learning) and whole-school approaches incorporating tutoring obtained outcomes for struggling readers as large as those found for one-to-one tutoring, and benefitted many more pupils. Technology-supported adaptive instruction did not have positive outcomes, however. The article concludes that approaches mixing classroom and school improvements with tutoring for the most at-risk pupils have the greatest potential for the largest numbers of struggling readers.

Source: A synthesis of quantitative research on programs for struggling readers in elementary schools (April 2019), Johns Hopkins Center for Research and Reform in Education

Home visits show effect on absenteeism and performance

A new study by Steven Sheldon and Sol Bee Jung from Johns Hopkins School of Education examines Parent Teacher Home Visits (PTHV), a strategy for engaging educators and families as a team to support pupil achievement. The PTHV model has three main components: (1) an initial visit in the summer or autumn in which educators focus on getting to know the pupil and the family, (2) ongoing two-way conversation during the school year, and (3) a second visit in the winter or spring with a focus on how to support the child academically.

Four large urban districts from across the US participated in the study. From each district, the researchers requested pupil-level data about demographic characteristics (eg, gender, race) and pupil outcomes (eg, attendance and standardised test performance). Additionally, districts were asked to provide data about the implementation of PTHV in their schools.

Key findings of the study were as follows:

  • On average, schools that systematically implemented PTHV experienced decreased rates of pupil chronic absenteeism and increased rates of pupil English language and maths proficiency, as measured on state assessments.
  • Pupils whose families participated in a home visit were less likely to be chronically absent than pupils whose families did not participate.
  • For pupils, attending a school that was implementing home visits with at least 10% of pupils’ families was associated with a decreased likelihood of being chronically absent.
  • For pupils, attending a school that was implementing home visits with at least 10% of pupils’ families was associated with an increased likelihood of scoring at or above proficiency on standardised English language assessments.

Source: Student outcomes and parent Year 3 evaluation teacher home visits (November 1018), Johns Hopkins University