Academic interventions for low-SES pupils

A systematic review and meta-analysis published in Review of Education Research looks at effective academic interventions for pupils with low socio-economic status (SES).

Jens Dietrichson and colleagues included studies that used a treatment–control group design, were performed in Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and EU countries and measured achievement with standardised tests in maths or reading. The analysis included 101 studies performed between 2000 and 2014, 76% of which were randomised controlled trials.

Positive effect sizes (ES) were reported for many of the interventions. Comparatively large and robust average effect sizes were found for interventions that involved tutoring (ES = +0.36), feedback and progress monitoring (ES = +0.32) and co-operative learning (ES = +0.22). The report points out that, although these effect sizes are not large enough to close the gap between high- and low-SES pupils, they represent a substantial reduction of that gap if targeted towards low-SES students.

Source: Academic interventions for elementary and middle school students with low socioeconomic status: a systematic review and meta-analysis (January 2017), Review of Educational Research

How happy are our students?

Students’ well-being: PISA 2015 results analyses pupils’ motivation to perform well in school, their relationships with peers and teachers, their home life and how they spend their time outside of school. The findings are based on a survey of 540,000 pupils in 72 participating Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries and economies.

The study found that pupils in the UK are among the least happy – ranking 38th out of the 48 OECD countries – with the US ranking slightly higher at 29th. On average, 15-year-old pupils in the US reported a level of 7.4 on a life satisfaction scale ranging from 0 to 10 (the OECD average was 7.3).

As in the majority of countries, boys in the UK and the US reported higher life satisfaction than girls (0.7 points higher for UK; 0.6 points higher for US; OECD average = 0.6).

Pupils in both the UK and the US reported higher levels of schoolwork-related anxiety than the OECD average. The study found 72% of UK pupils and 68% of US pupils felt anxious about tests, even when they were well-prepared for them, compared to the OECD average of 55%. And 61% of pupils in the US and 67% in the UK worry about getting poor grades at school.

Bullying is also an issue, particularly for the UK, with 25% of UK pupils and 19% of US pupils reporting that they are victims of one act of bullying at least a few times a month, compared to the OECD average of 19%.

Source: PISA 2015 results (volume III): students’ well-being (April 2017), OECD

Cross-age peer tutoring benefits for EAL pupils and native English speakers

Research suggests that peer tutoring helps reading achievement, especially for pupils with English as an additional language (EAL). Studies of cross-age peer tutoring, where older pupils tutor younger pupils, have shown positive effects on vocabulary and comprehension. Given that EAL pupils often lag behind their non-EAL peers in reading, University of Maryland’s Rebecca Silverman and colleagues conducted the first study to examine whether the benefits of cross-age peer tutoring are equivalent for EAL pupils and native English speaking pupils.

For the study, researchers used a “reading buddies” design, pairing kindergarten pupils (Year 1 in the UK) with fourth grade (Year 5) pupils to discuss books they’d read about STEM-related topics. The programme incorporated strategies demonstrated to be effective with EAL pupils, such as explicit instruction about specific word meaning and using multi-modalities to demonstrate word learning and comprehension. Following development and field testing, the researchers evaluated the effects of the final programme, called the MTS Buddies Program, in 24 classrooms with high EAL populations. The sample included 12 classrooms (6 kindergarten, 6 fourth grade) that used the MTS Buddies Program and 12 classrooms (6 kindergarten, 6 fourth grade) that continued with business as usual.

All pupils were tested on vocabulary and comprehension using both standardised and researcher-made tests before and after receiving the 14-week intervention. Results showed benefits for vocabulary learning in kindergarten (Year 1) and fourth grade (Year 5) and also reading comprehension and strategy use for the fourth grade pupils. Both EAL pupils and native English speaking pupils demonstrated gains. Although expressive vocabulary scores were lower for EALs than non-EALs, the overall positive effects indicate that the MTS Buddies Program could be helpful for all pupils’ vocabulary learning, regardless of English proficiency.

Source: Effects of a cross-age peer learning program on the vocabulary and comprehension of English learners and non-English learners in elementary school (March 2017), The Elementary School Journal

What does the research say about arts education?

Child Trends has released a new research brief that identifies “five ways the arts are good for kids”. The author, David Murphey, presents existing research on the topic from several sources such as the University of Pennsylvania, the National Institutes of Health and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as several published articles. The conclusions are as follows:  

  • Arts participation is associated with numerous positive academic and personal outcomes. According to the brief, these outcomes include higher grades and test scores, enrolment in post-secondary education, attainment of a bachelor’s degree and higher levels of literacy and civic engagement.
  • The benefits of arts participation may be greatest for children who are economically disadvantaged. For example, the research shows that young people from poor communities tend to benefit from having one or more projects that strengthen their sense of self and connect them with peers who share their interests.
  • Arts organisations can positively influence children’s neighbourhoods. According to the brief, there is some evidence that the presence of arts organisations (including performance facilities, galleries and artists’ workspaces) helps reduce a neighbourhood’s concentrated poverty and attract other creative and high-tech enterprises.
  • Children’s arts participation varies by age, gender and educational status. For example, the research shows that pupils are more likely to participate in school arts activities if their parents have attained higher education degrees and if they plan to go on to higher education themselves.
  • Music, in particular, may give children a brain boost. According to the brief, young people who have had music training demonstrate higher cognitive skills across disciplines

Source: 5 ways the arts are good for kids (April 2017), Child Trends

Early warning indicators for risk of dropout among EALs

School districts in the US are using early warning indicators such as attendance, grade point average and suspensions or expulsions to identify and provide support for pupils at risk of dropping out. A new report prepared for the Institute of Education Sciences in the US examines whether these early warning indicators work just as well for pupils with English as an additional language (EAL).

The study compares data for pupils in six school districts in Washington State who were classified as EAL at any point in their education (n=2,652) with data for non-EAL pupils (n=6,943). Pupils were identified as at risk of dropout if they triggered one or both early warning indicators – six or more absences plus at least one course failure in grade 9 (Year 10), or at least one expulsion in grade 9. The results show that early warning indicators are unable to accurately identify future dropouts. Overall, 23.8% of pupils triggered one or both early warning indicators, with EAL pupils triggering one or both early warning indicators only slightly more (24.2%) than non-EAL pupils (23.6%). These percentages are substantially higher than the percentage of pupils who actually dropped out (all pupils = 5.4%; EAL pupils = 5.9%; non-EAL pupils = 5.2%). Only 9.2% of EALs who were identified in grade 9 as at risk dropped out.

Source: Are two commonly used early warning indicators accurate predictors of dropout for English learner students? Evidence from six districts in Washington state (March 2017), Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Northwest.

What are the effects of a four-day school week?

A Brookings report by Paul T Hill and Georgia Heyward examines the four-day school week in rural Idaho in the US. According to the report, four-day weeks have been implemented in approximately 42 of Idaho’s 115 school districts, with a primary goal of cost savings (eg, savings on transportation, heating, cleaning and clerical costs). The revised schedule adds roughly 30 to 90 minutes to each day that pupils are in school, and then on the fifth day (usually Friday), the goal is to assign projects and encourage parent and community groups to organise study halls and enrichment activities.

The authors collected data by interviewing district and school leaders in Idaho communities that had moved to the four-day week. Key findings included:

  • Though cost cutting was the original motivation for the four-day week, savings have been elusive in most localities. This is because so many costs are fixed (eg, teacher and administrator salaries).
  • Teachers reported difficulty restarting instruction and focusing children’s attention after a three-day weekend.
  • Teachers in many places now consider the fifth day a benefit, and some superintendents reported that the four-day week made the locality more attractive to teacher candidates.
  • Working parents found the longer hours in school more convenient as it meant that children’s days more nearly matched their own workdays. However, the fifth day presented new problems of child care and planning for positive uses of children’s time.
  • No district that had adopted the four-day week had rigorously assessed the effects on pupil achievement. Several district leaders said pupil and teacher attendance had improved in the first year of the four-day week, but they had not assessed whether these results persisted over time.

The authors discuss the limitations of their evidence, and note that the long-term effects for rural pupils’ education are unknown.

Source: The four-day school week in rural Idaho schools (July 2015), Rural Opportunities Consortium of Idaho