Results of a large randomised controlled trial of growth mindset

In a recent issue of Best Evidence in Brief, we reported on an English study of a growth mindset intervention, which found no evidence that it led to additional progress in literacy or numeracy. Now a US randomised controlled trial published in the journal Nature has found that a short, online, self-administered growth mindset intervention may improve achievement among lower-achieving students and increase overall enrollment in advanced math courses.

The study, conducted by David Yeager and colleagues, was the largest ever randomised controlled trial of growth mindset in US schools, with 12,000 ninth graders (Year 10) in 65 schools involved.

Students were individually randomised to either a control or intervention group. The intervention group was asked to complete two 25-minute online courses, taken three weeks apart. Students were given information about how the brain works and the latest research on growth mindset – then they completed activities such as explaining what they had learned from the course to students in the year below. Students in the control group were given a similar programme with information on how the brain worked, but no information on growth mindset.

Following the intervention, students’ grade point average (GPA) in their core classes of maths, science, English, and social studies, were collected. (In the US, grade point averages run from 4.0, which is an A, to 1.0, which is a D. There is no E grade. The score below D is an F.)

The study found that:

  • GPA scores for lower-achieving students in the intervention group rose by 0.1 points relative to peers in the control group (effect size = +0.11).
  • The proportion of lower-achieving students with D or F averages dropped by 5%.

Both higher- and lower-achieving students were more likely to take an advanced maths class in 10th grade (Year 11) – meaning enrollment in these courses rose from 33% to 36% in the 41 schools that shared this data.

Source: A national experiment reveals where a growth mindset improves achievement (August 2019) Nature.

Student allocation to maths sets not always based on previous achievement

Research into grouping by achievement, by academics from Queen’s University Belfast and University College London, has found that nearly a third of students in England were allocated to higher or lower maths sets than their previous test performance implied.

The study, published in the British Educational Research Journal, analysed data from 9,301 Year 7 students at 46 secondary schools in England. The researchers compared which maths set the students would have been put in – based on Key Stage 2 maths test scores – with the sets they were actually placed in. Overall, they found that 31.1% of students were misallocated – placed in sets that were either higher or lower than their results at the end of primary school would have indicated.

Boys were slightly more likely to be misallocated to higher sets in maths (16.7%) than lower sets (13.0%), whereas girls were more likely to be misallocated to lower sets (17.9%) than higher sets (14.7%). Other findings showed that:

  • Black students were 2.4 times more likely than white students to be misallocated to a lower maths set.
  • Asian students were 1.7 times more likely than white students to be misallocated to a lower maths set.
  • Female students were 1.53 times more likely than males to be misallocated to a lower maths set.
  • White students were 2.09 times more likely than black students to be misallocated to a higher maths set.
  • White students were 1.72 times more likely than Asian students to be misallocated to a higher maths set.
  • Male students were 1.32 times more likely than females to be misallocated to a higher maths set.

Source: The misallocation of students to academic sets in maths: A study of secondary schools in England (June 2019) British Educational Research Journal

Reassessing concerns about school may help improve academic achievement

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looks at what impact an intervention designed to help students with concerns about starting middle school has on their academic achievement, behaviour, and well-being.

Geoffrey Borman and colleagues conducted the study with 1,304 sixth graders (Year 7) at 11 middle schools in a US Midwestern school district. Within each of the 11 schools, students were randomly assigned to the intervention or control condition. The intervention group was given reflective writing exercises, two months apart, which were designed to help students reassess any concerns and worries they might have about belonging in school. The control condition exercises asked students to write about neutral middle school experiences that were not related to school belonging.

The researchers collected pre- and post-intervention survey data on students’ reported social and emotional well-being, and official school records of student attendance, disciplinary records, and grades. The results of the study suggested that the intervention reduced behavioural referrals by 34% (effect size = -0.14), decreased absence by 12% (ES = -0.13), and reduced the number of failing grades by 18% (ES = -0.11). Differences across demographic groups were not statistically significant.

Source: Reappraising academic and social adversity improves middle school students’ academic achievement, behavior, and well-being (August 2019) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Maths learning app offers some promising results

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published the independent evaluation report of a trial of a maths-based learning app.

The “onebillion” programme consists of two maths learning apps, Maths 3–5 and Maths 4–6, that are designed to reinforce basic mathematical skills learned in the classroom. The apps are aimed at pupils aged 3–5 and 4–6 respectively and consist of mathematical activities organised around different topics such as counting, shape and measures. The trial, conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford, tested the impact of the apps on pupils in Year 2 who had been identified by their teachers as being in the bottom half of their class in maths at the start of the school year.

One hundred and thirteen schools from across England took part in the randomised controlled trial. Schools in the intervention group used the apps for half an hour, four days per week, for 12 weeks, in addition to regular maths lessons. All children started with the Maths 3–5 app and progressed to the Maths 4–6 app, once they had completed Maths 3–5. The children’s use of the apps was monitored by teaching assistants who were trained by a team from the University of Nottingham. Pupil achievement in maths was measured using the Progress Test in Maths 6.

Pupils who received the programme made significant additional progress in maths (effect size = +0.24) compared to the control group. However, the trial also suggested that there may have been a negative impact (effect size = -0.10) on pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM) compared to those in the control group, though this finding was non-significant. The report advises that teachers or school leaders using onebillion should carefully monitor the impact on FSM pupils if implementing the approach.

Source: Onebillion: Evaluation report (July 2019), Education Endowment Foundation

Research on writing approaches for pupils in Years 3 to 13

 This paper, written by Robert Slavin and colleagues from Johns Hopkins University, the University of Liege and the Institute for Effective Education, reviews research on the outcomes of writing interventions for pupils in Years 3 to 13. Studies had to meet rigorous standards of research including use of randomised or well-matched control groups; measures independent of the programme developers, researchers and teachers; and adequate sample size and duration. Fourteen studies of 12 programmes met the criteria and programmes were divided into three categories: writing process models, cooperative learning writing programmes, and programmes integrating reading and writing.

Pupil achievement effects on writing were positive in all categories, with an effect size of +0.18 across all 14 studies. Similar outcomes were found for writing programmes that focused on the writing process (effect size = +0.17), those using cooperative learning (effect size = +0.16), and those focusing on interactions between reading and writing (effect size = +0.19).

Source: A quantitative synthesis of research on writing approaches in Years 3 to 13 (July 2019), Education Endowment Foundation