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

AmeriCorps volunteers and pupil maths achievement

AmeriCorps is a US organisation that trains volunteers to serve the community in various civically-minded ways. A recent evaluation examined the effects on pupils’ maths achievement of training AmeriCorps volunteers to teach maths strategies to struggling maths pupils in grades 4–8 (Years 5–9). The volunteers used scripted protocols to teach three maths strategies to struggling pupils. Each strategy was studied in prior research and shown to have positive effects on achievement: concrete-representational-abstract, which uses concrete objects to teach concepts; cover-copy-compare, which teaches steps for computation and provides practice; and cognitive-strategy instruction, which teaches pupils to use procedures and reasoning to solve word problems.

AmeriCorps volunteers had to agree to a year-long, full-time commitment and received four days of training before starting the intervention, with additional training one and two months after. Each school received at least one volunteer from AmeriCorps, who was mentored by one school-staff member who was fully trained in the programme.

Subjects were 489 pupils in 150 Minnesota schools who were randomly assigned to either receive the intervention at the start of the school year (n=310), or to a control group who would receive the intervention a few months later (n=179). All pupils had scored below proficient in the prior year’s state maths assessment. During the intervention, pupil pairs with similar maths scores were to receive maths support for 90 minutes a week for a term. Post-tests using STAR Math were analysed two ways: the intent-to-treat analysis included all pupils who received the intervention, and showed significant positive effects as compared to the control group (effect size = +0.17); and the optimal dosage analysis that included pupils who received the targeted 12 weeks of intervention for at least an hour a week. Effect sizes for the experimental group increased to +0.24 when pupils were given the optimal dosage.

Source: Evaluation of a math intervention program implemented with community support (May 2019), Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, DOI: 10.1080/19345747.2019.1571653

Helping students to graduate ASAP

A study published in American Economic Journal: Applied Economics presents the results from a randomised controlled trial of the City University of New York’s (CUNY) Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) initiative on students’ academic progress and success. This latest paper considers the long-term impact of the programme (we covered the original study previously in Best Evidence in Brief).

The CUNY ASAP programme is a comprehensive three-year programme aimed at helping more students to graduate from community college more quickly than they otherwise would (in the US, community colleges provide higher education from the age of 18). It aims to remove the barriers to academic success often faced by low-income students and comprises the following components:

  • Students are required to attend college full time, take remedial courses early, and graduate in three years.
  • Each student is provided with a dedicated ASAP advisor.
  • Students receive a tuition waiver covering the difference between the financial aid provided and the cost of tuition and fees. They are also provided with free passes for public transport and free use of textbooks.
  • Students can enrol in courses with other ASAP students in convenient schedules.

The results of the study showed that ASAP had positive impacts on full-time enrolment and credit accumulation. It had an estimated 18 percentage point effect on three-year graduation rates, increased six-year graduation rates by an estimated 10 percentage points, and helped students to graduate more quickly than students in the control group.

Source: Supporting community college students from start to degree completion: Long-term evidence from a randomized trial of CUNY’s ASAP” (July 2019), American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 11 (3).

Providing free glasses to secondary age pupils

Jingchun Nie and colleagues conducted a randomised controlled trial to examine the effects of providing free glasses to pupils in a poor rural area of Western China. 

In this study, screening and vision testing were provided to 1,974 grade seven and eight (Year 8 and 9) pupils from 31 schools located in northern Shaanxi province in China before they were divided into treatment and control groups. Free glasses were distributed in treatment schools to pupils found to need them, regardless of whether they had a pair of glasses already. In contrast, pupils in the control group solely received a prescription for glasses. The glasses usage of the treatment group increased from 31% at baseline at the start of the school year to 72% at the end of the school year, while that of the control group increased from 28% to 50%.

The study questioned pupils about their academic aspirations, administered a standardised exam using items drawn from a bank of questions developed by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), and measured the dropout rate to evaluate the intervention. Findings were as follows:

  • Among the pupils without glasses at baseline, the provision of glasses increased their maths achievement (effect size = +0.196), while there was no effect on pupils who already had glasses at baseline.
  • Providing glasses also increased pupils’ aspiration for attending academic high schools (instead of vocational schools) by 9% on average.
  • Providing glasses reduced the rate of dropout by 44% among the pupils who did not own glasses at baseline.

Source: Seeing is believing: Experimental evidence on the impact of eyeglasses on academic performance, aspirations and dropout among junior high school students in rural China (May 2019), Economic Development and Cultural Change DOI: 101086700631

Home visits show effect on absenteeism and performance

A new study by Steven Sheldon and Sol Bee Jung from Johns Hopkins School of Education examines Parent Teacher Home Visits (PTHV), a strategy for engaging educators and families as a team to support pupil achievement. The PTHV model has three main components: (1) an initial visit in the summer or autumn in which educators focus on getting to know the pupil and the family, (2) ongoing two-way conversation during the school year, and (3) a second visit in the winter or spring with a focus on how to support the child academically.

Four large urban districts from across the US participated in the study. From each district, the researchers requested pupil-level data about demographic characteristics (eg, gender, race) and pupil outcomes (eg, attendance and standardised test performance). Additionally, districts were asked to provide data about the implementation of PTHV in their schools.

Key findings of the study were as follows:

  • On average, schools that systematically implemented PTHV experienced decreased rates of pupil chronic absenteeism and increased rates of pupil English language and maths proficiency, as measured on state assessments.
  • Pupils whose families participated in a home visit were less likely to be chronically absent than pupils whose families did not participate.
  • For pupils, attending a school that was implementing home visits with at least 10% of pupils’ families was associated with a decreased likelihood of being chronically absent.
  • For pupils, attending a school that was implementing home visits with at least 10% of pupils’ families was associated with an increased likelihood of scoring at or above proficiency on standardised English language assessments.

Source: Student outcomes and parent Year 3 evaluation teacher home visits (November 1018), Johns Hopkins University

Parent-teacher meetings and pupil outcomes

Engaging parents in their children’s education, both at home and at school, can be an effective and low-cost way of improving learning outcomes for pupils. A study published in European Economic Review examines whether academic achievement can be improved by increasing parental involvement through scheduled parent-teacher meetings.

Asad Islam conducted the randomised controlled trial in schools in two southern districts of Bangladesh. Seventy-six primary schools were chosen randomly from more than 200 in these regions, with 40 schools randomly allocated to the intervention group and 36 to the control group. Pupils in these schools all came from low socioeconomic backgrounds, and a quarter of parents did not complete primary school.

The intervention involved monthly face-to-face meetings between parents and teachers over a period of two academic years. At each 15-minute meeting, teachers discussed with parents their child’s academic progress and provided them with a report card for their child. Pupil achievement outcomes were measured using standardised test scores.

Overall, test scores of pupils in the intervention schools increased by 0.26 standard deviations (SD) in the first year, and 0.38 SD by the end of the second year of the intervention. The study also found that pupils in the intervention schools had made improvements in their reading and writing abilities and general knowledge. Parents who attended the parent-teacher meetings reported that they felt encouraged to spend more time at home helping children study or do homework. Both parents and teachers also reported improved attitudes in the behaviour and confidence of their children.

Source: Parent–teacher meetings and student outcomes: Evidence from a developing country (January 2019), European Economic Review, Volume 111