Are prematurely born children at higher risk of lower academic performance?

Published in the open access journal JAMA Network Open, this systematic review and meta-analysis considers the associations between premature birth and academic achievement in reading and maths.

Melinda McBryde and colleagues looked at 33 unique studies comparing the academic outcomes of school-age children who were born prematurely (n=4,006) with children born full-term (n=3,317). The meta-analysis compared mean scores from standardised tests of reading and maths (and associated subskills).

The results showed that children who were born prematurely scored lower on reading comprehension and applied mathematical problems than their full-term peers. Premature children also scored lower than their term-born peers in maths calculation, decoding, mathematical knowledge, word identification and mathematical fluency.

Extremely premature children (those born at less than 28 weeks’ gestation) had significantly lower reading performance compared with children born full-term. However, children born at 28 to 32 weeks’ gestation did not exhibit later reading deficits compared with full-term peers.

Looking at the ages when assessments were carried out, in reading, prematurely born children ages 5 to 8 performed significantly worse than full-term peers, as did those ages 9 to 11. Reading deficits were significant but less pronounced when children were assessed at 12 to 18. In contrast, the magnitude of deficits in maths in prematurely born children was similar across age groups.

Source: Academic outcomes of school-aged children born preterm: A systematic review and meta-analysis (April 2020), JAMA Network Open. 2020;3(4)

The impact of increasing education spending: a study in seven US states

A recent study published in the Journal of Economics examined the effects of increasing education spending on pupil achievement in more than 3,000 diverse school districts in seven US states: Arkansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin. Money for the increased spending was obtained via increases in property tax, sales tax and income tax – issues that had been placed on ballots and voted into effect.

Data for the study encompassed the years 2000–2015. Results showed that five to seven years after education spending increased by $1,000 per pupil, pupils in districts who had formerly been below the average in spending per pupil had gained +0.15 on standardised testing and showed a 9% increase in graduation rates. No statistically significant differences were found for pupils at or above the average spending per pupil prior to the tax increases.

Source: School district operational spending and student outcomes: Evidence from tax elections in seven states (March 2020), Journal of Economics, Volume 183

What is the impact of the New York City Community Schools initiative?

Research published by the RAND Corporation assesses the impact of the New York City Community Schools initiative (NYC-CS) on outcomes related to attendance, achievement, pupil behaviour, and school climate and culture.

Launched in 2014, the NYC-CS is a strategy to organise resources in schools and provide various services to address the comprehensive needs of pupils, families, and communities through collaboration with community agencies and local government. As part of the study, William R Johnston and colleagues assessed the effects of NYC-CS during the 2017–2018 school year to determine whether pupils were performing better than they would be had their schools not been designated as Community Schools, using average pupil outcomes in each school.

Among the key findings, the results indicate that NYC-CS had positive effects on most of the outcomes examined. In particular, NYC-CS had a positive impact on attendance for pupils in all grades, and these effects appeared to be increasing over time. There was also evidence that NYC-CS led to a reduction in disciplinary incidents for elementary and middle school pupils (Years 1–9) but not for high school students (Years 10–13).

Source: Illustrating the promise of Community Schools: An assessment of the impact of the New York City Community Schools initiative (January 2020), Rand Corporation, RR-3245-NYCCEO

Does enhancing teacher expectation benefit pupils?

A recent study published in Learning and Individual Differences investigates the effects of an intervention in China that enhances teachers’ approaches to conveying high expectations to pupils.

The researchers randomly selected two schools in an urban area of a city in south China. Four grade 8 (Year 9) English teachers in each school were randomly chosen and evenly assigned to either the intervention or control group. While the control group teachers did not receive training, the intervention group teachers were provided with training workshops focusing on three strands of high-expectation behaviour, namely, giving pupils challenging tasks, providing affirmation or suggestions to pupils about their performance, and enhancing how teachers impart personal regard to pupils.

Teachers were asked to estimate the final exam score they believed each pupil would achieve for the study to categorise pupils into high-, middle- and low-expectation groups. Then, the researchers selected 30 pupils from each class, consisting of 10 each of high-, middle-, and low-expectation pupils, to participate in the study. Among the 240 pupils selected, 229 pupils provided complete data for analysis. Pupils’ self-concepts regarding English and the English test achievement of 113 pupils from the intervention group and 116 pupils from the control group were gathered at the end of Grade 7 (Year 8) and at the middle and the end of Grade 8 (Year 9).

Results showed that:

  • While the self-concept of pupils from the control group significantly declined from the end of grade 7 (Year 8) to the end of grade 8 (Year 9), the self-concept of mid- and low-expectation pupils from the intervention group significantly increased over the year.
  • English achievement increased for pupils in the intervention group, while no significant changes were found among pupils in the control group.
  • Low-expectation pupils exhibited the most gains in both self-concept and achievement.

The authors conclude that teachers giving challenging tasks, detailed feedback, and enhanced personal regard to pupils has a positive impact on improving pupils’ self-belief and academic achievement.

Source: Teacher expectation intervention: Is it effective for all students? (August 2019), Learning and Individual Differences, Volume 74

The reciprocal effects of homework self-concept, interest and effort on maths achievement

Maths achievement has been thought to be interrelated with self-concept, interest, and effort. In a recent longitudinal study published in Contemporary Educational Psychology, researchers examined how these factors influence each other over time using a sample of Grade 8 (Year 9) pupils in China. 

A total of 702 pupils in Grade 8 from 14 classes in two public schools in East and South China completed an assessment of their maths achievement, homework self-concept, interest and effort at six weeks after the start of the school year and at the end of the school year. The analysis showed that: 

  • Reciprocal effects were found between maths self-concept and achievement, effort and achievement, as well as interest and effort.
  •  In particular, the authors found that higher homework interest led to higher subsequent effort, and higher prior effort could promote higher homework interest. 
  • Moreover, self-concept had no significant effect on subsequent interest, but prior interest led to higher self-concept, possibly reflecting the positive homework attitude among Chinese pupils. 

The authors suggest that the reciprocal effects indicated that simultaneously improving homework self-concept, interest, effort and maths achievement is a more effective approach. Specifically, attention should be paid to how homework interest and effort can be promoted more effectively.

Source: Reciprocal effects of homework self-concept, interest, effort, and math achievement (October 2018), Contemporary Educational Psychology

Using pupil data to support teaching

A report from the Institute of Education Sciences has found that an intensive approach to providing support for using pupil data to inform teaching did not improve pupil achievement, perhaps because the approach did not change teachers’ use of data or their reported classroom practices.

For the study, researchers recruited 102 elementary (primary) schools from 12 US districts. Schools were randomly assigned to either a treatment or control group. Treatment schools received funding for a half-time data coach of their choosing, as well as intensive professional development for coaches and school leaders on helping teachers use pupil data to inform their teaching. The control schools received no additional funding for a data coach or professional development. Impacts on teacher and pupil outcomes were measured after an  18-month implementation period.

The results suggest that despite the additional resources, teachers in the treatment schools did not increase how often they used data or change their teaching practices in response to that data. Similar percentages of teachers in treatment and control schools reported data-related activities, such as analysing data to understand pupil needs. The intervention also had no effect on pupil achievement. On average, pupils in treatment and control schools had similar achievement in maths and English.          

Source: Evaluation of support for using student data to inform teachers’ instruction (September 2019), Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education. NCEE 2019-4008