A practical guide to low-cost randomised controlled trials

This guide from the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy summarises five well-conducted, low-cost randomised controlled trials (RCTs) carried out in real-world community settings. As the guide states, RCTs are regarded as the strongest method for evaluating programme effectiveness. Evaluations of the Triple P (Positive Parenting Programme) system and New York City’s teacher incentive programme are reviewed. The purpose of the guide is to illustrate the feasibility and value of low-cost RCTs for policy makers and researchers.

Source: Rigorous program evaluations on a budget: How low-cost randomized controlled trials are possible in many areas of social policy (2012), Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy

Impact of a CPD course for science teachers

Making Sense of SCIENCE is a continuing professional development (CPD) course focused on force and motion. It incorporates physical science content, analysis of student work and thinking, and classroom teaching to develop teacher expertise about force and motion and science teaching. In this study from the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, researchers examine the impact of the CPD on 8th grade (Year 9) pupil achievement in science. More than 100 Year 9 teachers were included in the sample.

Results indicated that the teachers who received the CPD had greater content knowledge about force and motion and confidence in teaching force and motion than teachers who did not receive the CPD. However, there was no impact of the programme on pupils’ physical science test scores.

Source: Effects of making sense of SCIENCE professional development on the achievement of middle school students including english language learners (2012), Institute of Education Sciences

Extracurricular activity: more is not necessarily better

In this study from the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, researchers examine how the breadth of activities in which an adolescent participates relates to academic outcomes. The sample included more than 800 ethnically diverse 11th grade (Year 12 pupils). The researchers looked at the relationships between these pupils’ participation in four activity domains (academic/leadership groups, arts activities, clubs, and sports) and their sense of belonging at school, academic engagement, and academic achievement.

Results showed that adolescents who were moderately involved (ie, in two domains) reported a greater sense of belonging at school in both Year 12 and Year 13, a higher grade point average in Year 12 and greater academic engagement in Year 13, relative to those who were more or less involved.

Source: Too much of a good thing? How breadth of extracurricular participation relates to school-related affect and academic outcomes during adolescence (2011), Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 41(3)

Homework, attendance, and learning quality predict student success

Time spent on homework in the secondary years is a relatively strong predictor of pupil success in English, maths, and science. That is one of the findings of the latest report from the EPPSE project (the Effective Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education project), which has followed around 3,000 children since the age of 3 in 1997. Findings also indicate that the ratings given to secondary schools by Ofsted for the quality of pupils’ learning and learners’ attendance were good predictors of better attainment and progress. For example, better progress was made by EPPSE students in the three core subjects when they attended an “outstanding” compared to an “inadequate” school in terms of the Ofsted quality rating.

The report looks at a range of factors that influence children’s success across the following domains: individual student, family, and home; pre-school; primary school; and secondary school. The report concludes that there is no one factor alone which explains achievement and development; rather, it is the combination of factors that make a difference to young people’s long-term life chances.

Source: EPPSE 3 to 14 final report from the key stage 3 phase: influences on students’ development from age 11 to 14 (2012), Department for Education

Key components of successful coaching

Head Start CARES (Classroom-based Approaches and Resources for Emotion and Social Skill Promotion) is a large-scale, US national research demonstration to test a one-year programme to improve pre-kindergarteners’ (age 4–5) social and emotional readiness for school. To facilitate the delivery of the programme, teachers attended training workshops and worked with coaches throughout the school year. In this report from MDRC, researchers present lessons learned from Head Start CARES about coaching social-emotional curricula in a large and complex early childhood education system. Key findings include:

  • Successful coaches exhibited a combination of skills in three important areas: knowledge of the programme, general coaching and consultation skills, and knowledge of and experience in early childhood development and/or teaching.
  • Incorporating coaching into day-to-day practices requires flexibility and is necessary for implementation success.
  • Site-level administrators must be actively engaged in supporting and supervising coaching as well as general implementation processes.

Source: Coaching as a Key Component in Teachers’ Professional Development: Improving Classroom Practices in Head Start Settings (2012), MDRC

What makes for an effective summer reading programme?

This study from the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences tested the effectiveness of a summer reading programme on improving reading comprehension for disadvantaged Grade 3 pupils (age 8–9) reading below the 50th percentile. As part of the programme, children were sent a single delivery of eight books matched to their reading level and interest area during the first part of the summer. The delivery was followed by six weekly reminder postcards.

Findings showed that the summer reading programme did not have a statistically significant impact on pupil reading comprehension. However, the authors note that the study’s conclusions are constrained by several aspects of the programme’s design, including that the programme lasted just one summer and did not include teacher instruction and parent involvement. In previous studies, programmes with these components were found to be effective.

Source: Does a summer reading program based on Lexiles affect reading comprehension? (2012), Institute of Education Sciences