Promising results for Numicon

A new report from the National College for Teaching and Leadership describes an experiment to evaluate seven education interventions simultaneously, and also to explore the potential of collaborative practice in the delivery of large-scale randomised controlled trials (RCTs).

The interventions were selected for their potential to close the achievement gap for pupils with below average literacy and numeracy achievement. After 27 months of delivery, the majority of results were non-significant, with the exception of Numicon Intervention Programme (NIP) which showed a positive effect on maths achievement and progress (particularly for pupils eligible for free school meals).

As part of Closing the gap: test and learn, teachers were trained in research methods and 50 teacher-led experimental studies (including RCTs designed and conducted by schools) were grant funded as part of 11 separate research projects. Oxford University evaluated the experiment and concluded that a “school-led system” could develop research capacity through a scheme such as this.

Source: Closing the Gap: Test and Learn – Research Report Winter (2016), National College for Teaching & Leadership.

Mind the gap

A new research report published by the Department for Education explores success and good practice in supporting the achievement of disadvantaged pupils, and concludes that schools have meaningful scope to make a difference.

In England, the performance gap between pupils from more- and less-advantaged backgrounds is one of the largest among OECD countries. This research used school-level data, surveys, and interviews to identify schools that have successfully narrowed the gap, common features across these schools, and what lessons can be learned from success stories.

The authors found that between one- and two-thirds of the variance between schools in terms of disadvantaged pupils’ achievement can be explained by school-level characteristics, suggesting that intake and circumstance are influential but do not totally determine outcomes.

  • Promote an ethos of achievement for all pupils, rather than stereotyping disadvantaged pupils as a group with less potential to succeed.
  • Have an individualised approach to addressing barriers to learning and emotional support at an early stage, rather than providing access to generic support and focusing on pupils nearing the end of key stages.
  • Focus on high-quality teaching first rather than add-on strategies and activities outside school hours.
  • Focus on outcomes for individual pupils rather than on providing strategies.
  • Deploy the best staff to support disadvantaged pupils; develop skills and roles of teachers and Teaching Assistants rather than using additional staff who do not know the pupils well.
  • Make decisions based on data and respond to evidence using frequent, rather than one-off, assessment and decision points.
  • Have clear, responsive leadership: setting ever-higher aspirations and devolving responsibility for raising achievement to all staff, rather than accepting low aspirations and variable performance.

The report also has an accompanying briefing for school leaders which summarises the findings, identifies school risk factors and how schools can address them, and provides a list of suggested next steps.

Source: Supporting the Attainment of Disadvantaged Pupils: Articulating Success and Good Practice: Research Report (2015), Department for Education.

Smart distractions

A new report from the LSE Centre for Economic Performance looks at changes in test scores after schools banned pupils from using mobile phones.

The authors analysed data on GCSE performance before and after a ban on mobiles in school (130,482 observations) and found an overall increase of 5.67% of a standard deviation in across-school and across-year test scores.

When pupil characteristics, prior peer achievement, and changes in school leadership/policies were taken into account, the average pupil’s test results in a school that banned mobiles were 6.41% of a standard deviation higher than scores from pupils at schools that allowed mobiles.

A particularly striking finding was that the overall improvements in test results were led by the lowest-achieving pupils and banning mobiles had no significant impact on high-achieving pupils. This led the authors to suggest that restrictions on mobiles may be a low-cost way to reduce educational inequalities.

Source: Ill Communication: Technology, Distraction & Student Performance (2015), The London School of Economics and Political Science.

The right technology can help at-risk pupils

A new report published by the US Alliance for Excellent Education finds that technology – when implemented properly – can produce significant gains in pupil achievement and boost engagement, particularly among those who are at-risk.

The authors reviewed more than 70 recent studies of technology initiatives aimed at improving learning or closing the achievement gap. They sought to identify patterns of effective use, taking into account context, access and infrastructure, and learning outcomes.

The report identified three important factors for successfully using technology with at-risk pupils:

  • Interactive learning;
  • Using technology to explore and create, rather than to “drill”; and
  • Using the right blend of teachers and technology.

The conclusion is that the right kind of technology interventions can have a positive impact. However, this should rest on adequate supports for teacher learning about how to use the technologies and pedagogies.

Source: Using Technology to Support At-Risk Students’ Learning (2014), Alliance for Excellent Education.

Diminishing impacts of double maths

This paper, published by Stanford University’s Center for Education Policy Analysis, examines a sample of middle school (Year 7-9) children who were quasi-randomly assigned to either a maths remediation class schedule (taking two maths classes for one entire school year) or to a regular class schedule (taking one maths class and one class in some other subject). Findings showed that increasing the amount of time struggling pupils spend in maths classes did improve maths test scores, but the gains did not last in the long run.

Pupils were identified for the extra class if they scored below the 50th percentile on the 5th grade (Year 6) state maths test. Pupils who scored above the cut-off had just one maths class. For the roughly 80,000 middle school pupils in the sample county, the author obtained data on their annual test scores, class schedules, and demographics from 2003 to 2013.

At the end of the year, students who had double maths scored higher than their peers who had only one maths class. However, one year after returning to a regular one-class schedule, the initial gains decayed by as much as half, and two years later just one-third of the initial treatment effect remained.

The author concludes, “This pattern of decaying effects in the years following treatment is similar to alternative strategies for improving achievement, like reducing class size or improving the effectiveness of teachers. That similarity suggests a need to reconsider whether current remedial education strategies – characterised by short-lived increases in the quantity of instruction – are a cost-effective way to raise the maths achievement of students who currently lag expectations for their age.”

Source: Spending More of the School Day in Math Class: Evidence from a Regression Discontinuity in Middle School (2014), Journal of Public Economics, 117.

Boosting the life chances of non-white boys

A new report from MDRC looks at what is known about the economic and social disadvantage of non-white young men in the US and the evidence behind initiatives that may help to tackle this problem.

The paper reviews the results from a number of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and highlights promising interventions. Interventions are divided into two broad categories: (a) Proactive Approaches: preventive interventions aimed at young men who are still connected to positive systems (like schools or community colleges) that seek to enhance their success in moving through those systems and on to productive careers, and (b) Reconnection Approaches: interventions targeting those who have disconnected from positive systems. The report also lists ongoing research with results expected soon.

The authors note that well-targeted and well-implemented programmes can make a difference, but to make a lasting difference, successful interventions must be taken to scale — that is, replicated and expanded successfully in new places and settings.

As well as identifying proven and promising programmes, the authors outline four additional (evidence-based) approaches that could have wider implications for supporting young people from underperforming groups. These are:

  • Encouraging young people to apply for the best higher education establishment they are capable of attending, not “undermatching”;
  • Specialised support within higher education for students from underperforming groups;
  • Embedding Cognitive Behavioral Therapy within employment schemes for those within the justice system; and
  • New approaches to summer jobs and internships to help give work experience to help build work-readiness, a CV, and gain references.

Source: Boosting the Life Chances of Young Men of Color: Evidence from Promising Programs (2014), MDRC