Evidence of disciplinary bias against sexual minority females

LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning) pupils are coming out at earlier ages and becoming more visible in schools, creating a need for research on their educational experiences and outcomes. Exclusionary bias studies, which look at the proportions of pupils suspended or expelled, have historically focused on the bias against pupils of colour, yet sexual minority pupils face similar risks.

Joel Mittleman of Princeton University introduced a new data source for research on sexual minority pupils: The Fragile Families and Childhood Wellbeing Study. It is comprised of data on 4,898 children born in 20 US cities between 1998 and 2000, and at baseline was representative of all births at this time in cities with more than 200,000 people. The recent Year 15 follow up includes information on sexual orientation. Dr Mittleman used this data to relate sexual orientation to educational experiences and outcomes. He found that compared to teenagers solely attracted to the opposite gender:

  • Same-sex attracted teenagers are 29% more likely to experience exclusionary discipline.
  • This risk is stratified by gender, increasing to 95% higher odds of discipline among females. Yet based on parent report, Mittleman attributes only 38% of these disciplinary actions to behavioural problems.

This unexplained gap in discipline raises a red flag indicating that homophobia in schools is not gender-neutral, and warrants further research into the treatment of sexual minority status females versus males.

Source: Sexual orientation and school discipline: New evidence from a population-based sample (January 2018), Educational Researcher, Volume: 47 issue: 3

The effect of a World Cup on pupils’ effort and achievement

A study published in the Journal of Public Economics examines how leisure time can impact pupils’ effort and educational achievement by looking at the overlap of major football tournaments (the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA European Championship) with GCSE exams in England.

Using seven years of subject data on pupils in England, taken from the National Pupil Database, Robert Metcalfe and colleagues estimated the overall effect of a tournament by comparing within-pupil variation in performance during the exam period between tournament and non-tournament years.

Overall, they found a negative average effect of the tournament on exam performance, as measured by whether pupils achieved a grade C or higher in at least 5 subjects at GCSE. In tournament years, the odds of achieving the benchmark of a grade C or higher in at least 5 subjects fell by 12%. For pupils who are likely to be very interested in football (defined as likely to be white, male, disadvantaged pupils), the impact is greater, with the odds of achieving the benchmark reduced by 28%. This result is important as this group is already the lowest performing, with only 21.3% achieving a grade C or higher in at least 5 subjects at GCSE in non-tournament years.

An earlier study reported in a previous issue of Best Evidence in Brief also found that some pupils perform less well in their GCSEs in years when there is a major international football tournament taking place.

Source: Students’ effort and educational achievement: Using the timing of the World Cup to vary the value of leisure (January 2019), Journal of Public Economics, Volume 172

Do EAL pupils need an extra year to learn English?

Since 2002, all third grade (Year 4) pupils in Florida are required to obtain specific state-wide reading test scores in order to progress to the fourth grade (Year 5). A new NBER working paper considers whether this third grade retention policy, which includes additional teaching and support in reading, might be particularly beneficial for pupils with English as an additional language (EAL).

David N Figlio and Umut Özek used longitudinal data for all pupils between grades three and ten (Years 4 to 11) from 12 US school districts in Florida in order to examine the short-, medium- and long-term effects of repeating the third grade on EAL pupils’ English skills, as measured by their reading test scores, the length of time needed for them to reach required levels of English proficiency, and their course choice in middle and high school.

The results find that repeating the third grade (Year 4) can help to improve the English skills of EAL pupils, and that the benefits are even greater for EAL pupils born outside of the US, pupils whose first language is Spanish, and pupils in lower-poverty elementary schools.

Specifically, they suggest that EAL pupils who repeat the third grade:

  • do better on reading test scores in elementary and middle school
  • reach the required levels of English proficiency in half the time
  • are less likely to take a remedial English course in middle school
  • are more likely to take an advanced course in maths and science in middle school
  • are more likely to take college credit-bearing courses in high school.

Source: An extra year to learn English? Early grade retention and the human capital development of English learners (January 2019), NBER Working Paper No. 25472, National Bureau of Economics Research

Impact of shared book reading on children’s language development

A meta-analysis conducted by Claire Noble and colleagues explores the impact of shared reading interventions (where an adult reads with a child) on children’s language skills, and whether they are equally effective across a range of different outcome variables, for children from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and across a range of study designs.

The analysis included 54 studies conducted between 1989 and 2017. These studies included 316 effect sizes and 5,569 participants. Nine of the studies reported follow-up effects. Children in the studies were typically age 7 years or younger.

Their findings suggest that, while there is an effect of shared reading on language development, the effect size is smaller than suggested in previous meta-analyses (+0.23). They also found that the effect size is moderated by the type of control groups, and when compared to active control groups, is closer to zero (+0.04). In addition, the meta-analysis indicates only modest differences between types of language outcome, no effect for socioeconomic background, and a near-zero effect at follow-up.

However, given the low dosage of many of the studies included in the meta-analysis, the authors caution against the conclusion that shared reading interventions have no real effect on children’s language development.

Source: The impact of shared book reading on children’s language skills: A meta-analysis (October 2018), PsyArXiv

Is free and reduced-price lunch a valid measure of educational disadvantage?

Almost 60% of American pupils receive lunch through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), which provides free- and reduced-price lunches (FRPL) to pupils in households who demonstrate economic disadvantage. Income information is based on parent report of household income in the month preceding application to the programme. Because NSLP enrolment has been correlated with lower pupil achievement and is an indicator of how disadvantaged a school’s population is, this classification plays an important role in how funds are allocated to schools and how schools are classified in educational research.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the US Census Bureau, the University of California at Irvine, and NORC at the University of Chicago recently examined how accurately FRPL enrolment measures actual income and educational disadvantage by comparing IRS income records with pupils’ lunch enrolment and achievement records. Specifically, researchers examined the records of all eighth grade (Year 9) pupils in a California public school district from 2008-2014 (n=14,000) and in Oregon public schools from 2004-2014 (n=363,000), examining the relationship between FRPL enrolment, IRS income records, and eighth grade English language achievement scores on the California Achievement Test and the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

Results showed that school lunch programme enrolment explains the relationship between economic disadvantage and pupil achievement better than IRS-reported annual income. Compared to their non-NSLP peers, California free-lunch pupils scored 0.40 standard deviations (SD) lower on the eighth grade English language test, and the reduced-lunch pupils scored 0.20 lower than those not enrolled. In Oregon, the FRPL pupils scored 0.36 SD lower than those not enrolled. In comparison, when using IRS-reported household income to explain English language achievement, economically disadvantaged pupils scored approximately 0.15 SD lower than pupils appearing to be ineligible for FRPL in one California district and 0.26 SD lower across Oregon public schools. In other words, FRPL enrolment accounted for 16% of the variance in English language scores, whereas IRS data only accounted for 13% of the variance. This indicates that FRLP appears to capture aspects of disadvantage that IRS data do not.

Source: Is free and reduced-price lunch a valid measure of educational disadvantage? (December 2018), Educational Researcher, Volume: 47 issue: 9

Examining research on the Big Lift preschool initiative

Celia Gomez and colleagues from the RAND Corporation have released a new research brief that examines Big Lift, a preschool to third-grade initiative designed to boost literacy skills and ensure that children are reading proficiently by third grade (Year 4). The initiative has been implemented in seven US school districts in San Mateo County, California, that have below-average third-grade reading levels. According to the brief, Big Lift seeks to improve third-grade reading through a set of four co-ordinated and integrated “pillars”: High-Quality Preschool, Summer Learning, School Attendance and Family Engagement.

The researchers have examined outcomes for two cohorts of pupils: Cohort 1 includes pupils in four districts who receive Big Lift services, and Cohort 2 an additional three districts. Data sources include early childhood cognitive assessments, kindergarten (Year 1) and first-grade (Year 2) entry forms completed by parents, and the San Mateo County Office of Education’s countywide data system.

The current research brief is part of a multiphase evaluation of Big Lift, and reports on findings after two years of implementation. Key findings are as follows:

  • Big Lift preschool children in the 2017–2018 kindergarten class were better prepared for kindergarten than demographically similar peers who did not attend preschool — but they were less prepared than similar peers who attended non–Big Lift preschool programmes.
  • Children who attended two years of Big Lift preschool were more kindergarten-ready than similar peers who attended only one year.
  • In the 2016–2017 kindergarten class, Big Lift preschool children had reading levels at the end of kindergarten and the start of first grade that were on par with similar peers who attended other preschool programmes and higher than similar peers who attended no preschool at all.

Source: The Big Lift preschool, two years in: What have we learned so far? (2018), RAND Corporation Research Briefs RB-10047-SVCF