Reviewing the research on school climate and social-emotional learning

A new research brief, School climate and social and emotional learning: the integration of two approaches, by David Osher and Juliette Berg at AIR reviews research on how positive school climates support social-emotional learning (SEL) and how improved SEL contributes to improved school climate in primary and secondary schools.

The authors present research from various journal articles, research briefs, policy guides and other sources. Key findings were as follows:

  • Supportive relationships, engagement, safety, cultural competence and responsiveness and academic challenge and high expectations create positive school climates that can help build social and emotional competence.
  • The relationship between positive school climate and SEL is interactive and co-influential, occurs in all settings and pupil-teacher-staff interactions and influences pupils and teachers directly and indirectly.
  • Rigorous evaluations of school climate and SEL approaches have provided some direct evidence that one can improve the other.

The authors say that the research and practice communities could benefit from greater clarity and alignment in definitions, goals, messaging and measurement of SEL and school climate and understanding of how each one can complement the other.

Source: School climate and social and emotional learning: the integration of two approaches. (January 2018), Edna Bennet Pierce Prevention Research Center, Pennsylvania State University

Examining the research on charter schools

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) has released a new topic area that focuses on the impact of charter schools on pupil achievement and other outcomes. As part of the launch, the WWC released three intervention reports, which review available research on an intervention or programme to determine if there is strong evidence that it has a positive impact on pupil outcomes.

The intervention reports examine the following three programmes:

  • Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), a non-profit network of more than 200 US public charter schools educating early childhood, elementary, middle and high school pupils. According to the WWC intervention report, research shows that KIPP had positive effects on mathematics achievement and English language achievement, and potentially positive effects on science achievement and social studies achievement for middle and high school pupils (Years 7 to 13), and no discernible effects on pupil progression (eg, high school graduation within four years of grade 9 (Year 10) entry) for high school pupils.
  • Green Dot Public Schools, a non-profit organisation that operates more than 20 public charter middle and high schools in California, Tennessee and Washington. The WWC reports that Green Dot Public Schools had potentially positive effects on mathematics achievement, pupil progression, school attendance and English language achievement for high school pupils (Years 10 to 13).
  • Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) Promise Academy Charter Schools, a non-profit organisation designed to serve low-income children and families living in Harlem in New York City. According to the intervention report, the WWC is unable to draw any conclusions based on available research about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the HCZ Promise Academy Charter Schools on elementary, middle and high school pupils. Research that meets WWC design standards is needed to determine the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of this intervention.

Source:  Charter Schools, What Works Clearinghouse

Evidence and policy

In a review of important 2017 releases, MDRC recently referenced a memo to policymakers with recommendations for increasing research use and applying evidence to all policy decisions, both educational and otherwise.

Recommendations included:

  • Programmes and policies should be independently evaluated. To ensure high-quality evaluations, they should be directly relevant to policy, free of political or other influences and credible to subjects and consumers.
  • The government should provide incentives for programmes to apply evidence results to improve their performance.
  • Utilise a tiered evidence strategy, such as is used in the Every Student Succeeds Act, to set clear guidelines for standards.
  • Existing funding sources should be applied to generate evidence. A 1% set-aside was recommended.
  • Federal and state agencies should be allowed to access and share their data for evaluation purposes.

Source: Putting evidence at the heart of making policy (February 2017), MDRC

Self-regulation intervention improves school readiness

Adding a self-regulation intervention to a school readiness programme can improve self-regulation, early academic skills and school readiness in children at higher risk for later school difficulties, according to the results of a study published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly.

Robert J Duncan and colleagues looked at the effect of adding a self-regulation intervention to the Bridge to Kindergarten (B2K) programme – a three-week summer school-readiness programme – in the US state of Oregon. The B2K programme is aimed at children with no prior preschool experience, and therefore considered to be at risk for later school difficulties.

Children from three to five years old were randomly assigned to either a control group (B2K only) or the intervention group (B2K plus intervention). Children in the intervention group received two 20- to 30-minute sessions per week, involving movement and music-based games that encouraged them to practise self-regulation skills.

Results from this randomised controlled trial indicated that children who received the intervention scored higher on measures of self-regulation than children who participated in the B2K programme alone. There were no significant effects on maths or literacy at the end of the programme. However, four months into kindergarten, children from the intervention group showed increased growth in self-regulation, maths and literacy compared to expected development.

Source: Combining a kindergarten readiness summer program with a self-regulation intervention improves school readiness (November 2017) Early Childhood Research Quarterly, Volume 42, 1st Quarter 2018

Is personalised learning effective?

A new research brief by John F Pane and colleagues at the RAND Corporation asks the question: “Does personalised learning improve pupil learning more than other educational approaches?” As part of their report, the authors present findings from an evaluation of personalised learning (PL) schools conducted by RAND Corporation researchers for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The research team analysed maths and reading scores for approximately 5,500 pupils in 32 US schools that received funding from the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) initiative to support highly personalised approaches to learning. These schools took the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) mathematics and reading assessments for one academic year: autumn 2014 to spring 2015. The research team compared the achievement of pupils in PL schools with matched peers attending non-PL schools and national norms.

Key findings from the research brief include:

  • Early evidence suggests that PL can improve achievement for pupils, regardless of their starting level of achievement.
  • Benefits of PL may take some time to emerge. Analyses suggest that effects may be more positive after schools have experience implementing PL.
  • To date, the field lacks evidence on which practices are most effective or what policies must be in place to maximise the benefits.

The authors note that additional research is needed using more rigorous experimental studies.

Source: How Does Personalized Learning Affect Student Achievement? RAND Corporation, 2017.

What happens when teachers get more feedback?

A study published by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) shows that even small amounts of the right kind of feedback to teachers and principals can have an effect on pupil achievement in maths.

A total of 127 schools from eight districts across five US states participated in the study. Schools were assigned to either a treatment or control group. In both the treatment and control group schools, teachers and principals continued to receive the performance feedback they had received in the past. For those in the treatment group schools, additional feedback was also given for classroom practice, pupil achievement and principal leadership. The study focused on principals and teachers of reading/ English and maths in grades 4–8 (Years 5–9).

In the first year of the study, the pupils in the treatment schools outperformed pupils in control schools in maths by the equivalent of four weeks of learning. In the second year, while there was a difference of the same size, it was not statistically significant. There was no difference in either year on pupil achievement in reading/ English.

Source: The Impact of Providing Performance Feedback to Teachers and Principals: Final Report (December 2017), American Institutes for Research (AIR) and the Institute of Education Sciences (IES)