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

Effects of charter middle school attendance on college enrolment and completion

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) in the US has released a report examining the effects of attending a charter middle school on students’ later rates of college enrolment and completion. Charter schools are publicly funded, but operate outside the established state school system.

Researchers compared the December 2017 data of students who had entered lotteries to be admitted into 31 charter middle schools nationwide more than ten years before. A total of 1,723 students who had randomly won the lotteries and were admitted into charter middle schools were compared to the 1,150 students who were not admitted at that time.

Three to eight years after expected high school graduation, results showed equal rates of college enrolment (69%) and current enrolment/completion (47%) for both groups. There was also no difference among charter middle attendees and non-attendees in rates of attending a two- or four-year college; if colleges attended were public, private, non-profit, or for profit; and if colleges were highly selective or not. In addition, charter middle school students were as likely to attend dual enrolment high schools (earning college credit while in high school) as their non-charter-selected peers.

These same schools were examined in an earlier study, the Evaluation of Charter School Impacts, where some schools demonstrated improvements in students’ middle school achievement, especially in urban, low socio-economic status areas. These schools were as successful as the others in students’ later college attendance and graduation rates.

Source: Do Charter Middle Schools Improve Students’ College Outcomes? (April 2019) Institute of Education Sciences Evaluation Brief

Can attention span in infancy predict later executive function?

Infant attention skills are significantly related to preschool executive function at age three, according to a new study published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine.

One hundred and fourteen children took part in the study. Jessica H. Kraybill and colleagues measured children’s attention at five months by using parental-report questionnaires and by assessing look duration and shifting rate while the children watched a video clip.

Children’s single longest continuous look and the number of shifts of gaze at the video were recorded. Shorter looking durations were taken as an indication of better information processing, and high shift rates typically represent better attention. The performance on four different executive function tasks for these same children was then measured when they were three years old.

Results indicated that higher attention at age five months was related to higher executive function at age three (effect size = + 0.05), supporting the notion that attention span in infancy may serve as an early marker of later executive function.

Source: Infant Attention and Age 3 Executive Function, (March 2019), Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine.

Test anxiety intervention and uncertain control

Increasing a student’s sense of being in control is an important factor in reducing test anxiety, according to a study published in School Psychology Quarterly, which reports the findings of an intervention to reduce test anxiety in secondary school students who are preparing for high-stakes exams.

Fifty-six Year 10 and 11 students from two secondary schools in urban areas of England participated in the study and were randomly allocated to one of two intervention groups: an early intervention group (n=25), or a wait-list control group (n=31). The intervention comprised six sessions which used both cognitive and behavioural approaches, delivered over six weeks (one session per week).

David Putwain and Marc Pescod measured test anxiety (using the Revised Test Anxiety Scale) and uncertain control (using the Motivation and Engagement Scale) for all participants at three time points: a baseline measurement before either group had received the intervention; after the early intervention group had received the intervention; and after the wait-list control had received the intervention.

The results suggest that after receiving the intervention, students showed a moderate reduction in the worry and tension components of test anxiety and uncertain control.

Source: Is reducing uncertain control the key to successful test anxiety intervention for secondary school students? Findings from a randomized control trial, (June 2018), School Psychology Quarterly.

Setting up in-class libraries in rural China

A study published in Reading Research Quarterly examined the effects of installing an in-class library providing students with age-appropriate books on student reading outcomes and achievements in rural China.

Most previous studies of the effects of age-appropriate books have been conducted in developed regions. However, in rural China, not only are age-appropriate reading materials scarce, but schools, teachers, and parents believe independent reading will negatively affect students’ performance on high-stakes college entrance exams.

To examine the actual effects in rural China, Hongmei Yi and colleagues conducted a randomised controlled trial including 11,083 fourth- and fifth-grade students from 120 schools in Jiangxi province in China. In the treatment schools, an in-class library stocked with 70 extracurricular books was installed in each classroom. The books were carefully selected based on recommendations of reading specialists and educators. Students received a baseline survey before the intervention and a follow-up survey after eight months of the intervention. Besides asking students about their attitudes toward reading and reading habits, students’ performance in Chinese language and maths was evaluated, and an assessment made of their reading skills using test items from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). They found that:

  • The in-class library significantly improved students’ reading habits after eight months. Students borrowed books more, read more, enjoyed reading more, and communicated more with their friends about reading.
  • There were no significant effects on students’ performance in maths and Chinese, despite the beliefs in China’s highly competitive system that independent reading would lower test scores.
  • However, there was no significant effect on students’ reading achievement.

The authors suggest that the lack of positive effects might be due to the book choices, short duration of the programme, and the fact that tasks were not assigned to teachers regarding the use of the in-class libraries. They suggest that the results highlight the importance of providing age-appropriate reading resources to primary students in rural China.

Source: Do Resources Matter? Effects of an In‐Class Library Project on Student Independent Reading Habits in Primary Schools in Rural China, (March 2019) Reading Research Quarterly