Preparing high school students for college

A new study from the National Center for Postsecondary Research and MDRC examines a number of college readiness partnership programmes operating in Texas. These programmes, co-sponsored by a college and, usually, a high school, are designed to prepare high school students to start college ready to undertake college-level work. According to the authors, both the literature and their research findings generally support these programmes’ potential to improve college readiness for students in the “academic middle”.

The authors identify a number of implications for college readiness partnership programmes and the partnerships themselves. For example, they say that those seeking to implement college readiness partnership programmes should consider that many programmes, especially those that are intensive, can only serve limited numbers of students. As such, they say that institutions may want to match college-going students who are academically underprepared with more intensive programmes and direct those students who primarily need assistance with “college knowledge” to less intensive programmes.

Source: Preparing high school students for college (2012), MDRC

Realising the potential of immigrant students

A report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) looks at the educational achievement of immigrant children and how it can be improved, drawing on results from the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

The report shows that performance gaps between immigrant and non-immigrant pupils vary across countries, and it recognises that integrating immigrant pupil populations poses significant challenges to the quality and equity of schools in OECD countries. It suggests that by reinforcing language-learning policies, ensuring a more balanced social mix in schools, and focusing on content specific to immigrants, schools can improve the educational achievement of immigrant children. However, education policy alone is unlikely to fully address these challenges, and changes to social policy may also be necessary.

Source: PISA – Untapped skills: realising the potential of Immigrant students (2012), PISA

Does paying teachers based on performance improve teaching?

Performance-based pay is worth considering in some contexts, but making it work well can be a challenge, according to a recent PISA in focus review, which looks at the effects of performance-based pay for teachers on pupil performance. It shows that in countries with comparatively low teachers’ salaries in relation to national income, using performance-related pay results in better pupil performance, while in countries where teachers are relatively well paid, the opposite is true.

The report also highlights challenges to making a performance-based pay system work well, and the need to have valid measures of performance in place if the system is to be fair and accurate. It emphasises that pay can only play a part, and countries that have made teaching an attractive profession have done so by raising the status of teaching and offering real career prospects, and not through pay alone.

Source: Does performance-based pay improve teaching? (2012), PISA in focus, 12

Obama calls for more evidence-based policy and practice

The US President’s Office of Management and Budget has released new guidance to executive departments and agencies encouraging them to use rigorous programme evaluation and evidence-based decision making in their budget submissions for the 2014 financial year. The memo specifies that programmes demonstrating a commitment to developing and using evidence should be preferred for funding, and it suggests a number of approaches that agencies might use, including:

    Low-cost evaluations using administrative data or new technology;
  • Systematic measurement of costs and cost performance;
  • Using comparative cost-effectiveness data to allocate resources;
  • Infusing evidence into grant-making;
  • Using evidence to inform the enforcement of criminal, environmental and workplace safety laws; and
  • Strengthening agency evaluation capacity.

The memo is further support for the movement on both sides of the Atlantic to introduce more evidence-based policy and practice. In the latest Better: Evidence-based Education, Estelle Morris wrote an article about the levers available to politicians for bringing about change in education.

Source: Memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies (2012), Executive office of the president office of management and budget

Improving mathematical problem solving

This practice guide from the What Works Clearinghouse in the US provides five recommendations for improving pupils’ mathematical problem solving in Grades 4 to 8 (the equivalent of Years 5 to 9). The guide is aimed at teachers and policymakers who want to improve the mathematical problem solving of pupils. Recommendations include:

  • Assisting pupils in monitoring and reflecting on the problem-solving process.
  • Teaching pupils how to use visual representations.
  • Exposing pupils to multiple problem-solving strategies.

The guide presents evidence-based suggestions for putting each recommendation into practice and describes the problems that may be encountered, as well as possible solutions. Each recommendation is rated based on the strength of the research evidence that has shown the effectiveness of the recommendation. The recommendations listed above have strong to moderate evidence of effectiveness.

Source: Improving mathematical problem solving in grades 4 through 8 (2012), What Works Clearinghouse

Summer school literacy programme stops pupils slipping back

Pupils who went to summer school had improved their literacy performance at the end of the summer. This randomised trial, from Early Childhood Research Quarterly, examined the effects of a summer literacy programme on struggling readers in the US where summer holidays are longer.

Overall, pupils who didn’t attend summer school showed mean declines in the reading of nonsense words (a standard test of fluency) of approximately five words per minute over the summer. Children who attended summer school at the end of Kindergarten (Year 1) had a fluency gain of approximately 12 words-per-minute. Pupils at the end of Grade 1 (Year 2) had a fluency gain of 7.5 words per minute.

The findings are generally consistent with previous studies of summer school effects and the summer learning outcomes of children, and suggest that summer school can be a useful strategy to support learning over the summer months.

Source: Summer school effects in a randomized field trial (2012), Early Childhood Research Quarterly 28(1)