Free glasses improve reading achievement

In the first US school-based study to link reading achievement with the provision of free glasses, Robert Slavin, director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education and colleagues at Johns Hopkins’ Wilmer Eye Institute, examined the effects on reading performance of providing free glasses to disadvantaged pupils.

A total of 317 second and third grade pupils (Years 3 and 4) in 12 disadvantaged Baltimore City schools had their vision tested in the autumn and winter of 2014-2015. They also completed reading pre- and post-tests from the Woodcock Language Proficiency Battery at those times. Sixty-nine percent (n=182) of the pupils’ vision tests showed they needed glasses. Pupils who needed glasses were given two pairs, one for home and one for school. Lost or broken glasses were replaced, and school staff were enlisted to help children remember to wear their glasses. Results showed that the reading scores for the children provided with glasses improved more than those for pupils who did not need glasses (effect size=+0.16).

The study points to a new strategy for improving reading performance in high-poverty schools.

Source: In plain sight: reading outcomes of providing eyeglasses to disadvantaged children (May 2018) Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk (JESPAR) DOI: 10.1080/10824669.2018.1477602

Is the pen mightier than the mouse?

Ben Backes and James Cowan from CALDER have published a working paper on the differences between computer- and paper-based tests.

In 2015, Massachusetts introduced the new PARCC assessment. School districts could choose whether to use the computer or paper versions of the test, and in 2015 and 2016, districts were divided fairly evenly between the two. The authors use this division to compare results for pupils in Grades 3–8 (Years 4–9).

Pupils who took the online version of PARCC scored about 0.10 standard deviations lower in maths and about 0.25 standard deviations lower in English than pupils taking the paper version of the test. When pupils took computer tests again the following year, these differences reduced by about a third for maths and by half for English.

The study also looked at whether the change to computer tests affected some pupils disproportionately. There were no differences for maths, but for English there was more of an effect on pupils at the bottom of the achievement distribution, pupils with English as an additional language and special education pupils.

The authors point out that these differences not only have consequences for individual pupils, but for other decisions based on the data, including teacher and school performance measures and the analysis of schoolwide programmes.

Source: Is the pen mightier than the keyboard? The effect of online testing on measured student achievement (April 2018), National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, Working Paper 190

Study shows benefits of Healthy Harlem programme

Mathematica Policy Research posted a new research brief that summarises findings from a study of Healthy Harlem, an after-school programme aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles. The study, by James Mabli, Martha Bleeker and Mary Kay Fox, showed that participation in the Healthy Harlem programme led to increased physical activity and improved weight status for overweight and obese pupils.

Key components of Healthy Harlem include physical activity, healthy snacks, nutrition education lessons and parent workshops. To assess Healthy Harlem’s effectiveness, the authors monitored pupils at 21 after-school sites during an initial baseline year and then measured programme impacts after two and three years of participation. They collected data through a pupil survey, a fitness test and direct measurements of height and weight. Key findings were as follows:

  • A 5.5 percent decrease in mean BMI z-scores after two years of participation and a 9.0 percent decrease after three years of participation. According to the report, a BMI z-score reflects the number of standard deviations a pupil’s BMI is from the mean BMI for a reference population.
  • A decrease of 12.2 percentage points in the percentage of pupils who were overweight or obese after two years, and a decrease of 18.4 percentage points after three years.
  • An increase in the percentage of pupils considered to be within the Harlem Fitness Zone, a measure of fitness based on a pupil’s ability to complete a minimum number of laps, defined for age-and-gender subgroups.

Source: The impact of Healthy Harlem on the body mass index and weight status of adolescents after two and three Years (March 2018), Mathematica Policy Research

The academic benefits of pupil–teacher familiarity

A study published in the journal Economics of Education Review suggests that assigning pupils to the same teacher two years in a row may improve academic performance because teachers get to know their pupils and are able to adjust and target their teaching styles accordingly.

Andrew J Hill and Daniel B Jones used administrative data from North Carolina to observe the importance of pupil–teacher familiarity on academic performance in elementary (primary) school. They found that “looping”, in which an entire class moves to the next year with the same teacher, results in a small but statistically significant increase in pupil achievement. Pupils who spent a second year with the same teacher scored higher on end-of-year tests (on average 0.123 of a standard deviation) than those who weren’t matched. These benefits were greatest for minority pupils and lower-performing teachers (as measured by value-added).

Source: A teacher who knows me: The academic benefits of repeat student-teacher matches (June 2018) Economics of Education Review volume 64

Fostering curiosity can promote academic achievement

A new research article by Prachi Shah and colleagues at the University of Michigan shows that children who are curious have higher academic achievement than those who aren’t. In fact, they see cultivating curiosity in the classroom—promoting the joy of discovery and motivating pupils to find out answers to life’s questions—as an untapped strategy for early academic success.

Researchers used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, which has tracked thousands of children since 2001. Children were followed via parent interviews and assessing the children at ages 9 months, 2 years, in pre-K (reception) and kindergarten (Year 1), and then looking at the reading, maths and behavioural skills of 6,200 of these children in 2006 and 2007 when they were in kindergarten. After controlling for other factors that might influence academic achievement, results showed that eagerness to learn new things had a small but positive influence on kindergartners’ reading (effect size=+0.11) and maths (+0.12). This was even more so for children from low SES backgrounds (effect size=+0.18 in reading, +0.20 in maths).

Source: Early childhood curiosity and kindergarten reading and math academic achievement (April 2018), Pediatric Research

The effects of teacher stress on pupil outcomes

A new article by Keith C Herman, Jal’et Hickmon-Rosa and Wendy M Reink explores the relationship between teacher stress and pupil outcomes.

Their study, which was published in the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, included 121 teachers and 1,817 pupils between kindergarten and fourth grade (Years 1 5) from nine elementary (primary) schools in an urban Midwestern school district in the US. Data included survey responses from teachers on their levels of burnout, stress, efficacy and coping. Pupil outcome measures included teacher reports of pupil behaviour and the Woodcock–Johnson III Test of Achievement.

Based on the data, the authors grouped the teachers into four classes: stressed/low coping (3%), stressed/moderate coping (30%), stressed/high coping (60%) and well-adjusted (7%). The authors then linked these results with pupil behavioural and academic outcomes, and found that teachers in the high-stress, high-burnout, and low-coping class were associated with the poorest pupil outcomes.

In conclusion, the authors say that these findings suggest that investing resources in supporting teacher adaptation, both by equipping them with coping skills and by providing more environmental supports, may improve not only their well-being but also the well-being and functioning of pupils in their class.

Source: Empirically derived profiles of teacher stress, burnout, self-efficacy, and coping and associated student outcomes (October 2017), Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, Volume 20, Issue 2