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 

Future planning and achievement among pupils

Several studies have related the benefits of future planning to academic achievement, but not many have examined whether academic achievement also influences how pupils plan their future. Zhao and colleagues from Shandong Normal University conducted a longitudinal study to examine the relationship between Chinese middle school pupils’ academic achievement and future planning in educational and occupational domains.

The study included three assessments six months apart from spring 2014 to spring 2015 in Shandong Province in eastern China. A total of 775 pupils from sixth to eighth grade (Years 7–9) participated in the first assessment wave. The questionnaire measured pupils’ future explorations, commitments, and affects concerning future education and occupations. Data on their academic achievement were collected from school records of their scores in Chinese, English and maths. The relationships were analysed with data collected at different times.

The analysis showed that:

  • There were reciprocal relationships between academic achievement and pupils’ future educational planning.
  • Reciprocal relationships were not seen between academic achievement and future planning in the occupational domain.
  • Commitment’s relationship to achievement was more robust than that of exploration to achievement.
  • The relationships were the same for both boys and girls.

The authors suggest that understanding the importance of educational performance led middle school pupils to invest more effort into improving achievement. The social status brought by high academic achievement in Chinese society might also trigger positive affects concerning future planning.

Source: Longitudinal relations between future planning and adolescents’ academic achievement in China (August 2019), Journal of Adolescence, Volume 75

More evidence for growth mindset

The findings of an MDRC evaluation of a growth mindset intervention have suggested a positive impact on pupils’ academic performance.

To test whether a growth mindset intervention could improve pupils’ academic performance, the National Study of Learning Mindsets implemented a randomised controlled trial of a low-cost growth mindset intervention specifically designed for ninth grade (Year 10) pupils. A total of 11,888 pupils from 63 high schools across the US took part in the intervention, which included two 25-minute self-administered online training modules on the topic of brain development. Pupils in the intervention group were given modules about growth mindset and were asked to answer reflective questions in a survey. Instead of learning about the brain’s malleability, pupils in the control group learned about basic brain functions, and they were also asked to answer survey questions.

The results of the evaluation found a positive impact on pupils’ average grade point average (GPA) (effect size = +0.04), as well as their maths GPA (effect size = +0.05). Other results from the evaluation suggest that:

  • The intervention changed pupils’ self-reported mindset beliefs, their attitudes towards efforts and failure and their views on academic challenges.
  • Immediately after the intervention, students were more likely to attempt more challenging academic tasks.
  • Pupils who were lower performing at pre-test benefited more than their higher-performing peers.

Source: Using a growth mindset intervention to help ninth-graders: An independent evaluation of the National Study of Leaning Mindsets (November 2019), MDRC

Is a government-mandated reduced-class size policy likely to improve pupils’ achievement in France? The data says oui

French pupils from disadvantaged areas demonstrate lower achievement than their more affluent peers. In an effort to close this achievement gap, the French government issued a policy in 2017 reducing Year 2 class size in high-priority educational areas to no more than 12 pupils, extending to Year 3 classes and priority educational areas in 2018. In order to provide evidence regarding the feasibility of such a policy, researchers used data from a 2003 first-grade-class-size-reduction policy in France to examine its carry-over effects into the second grade.

The 2003 study involved assigning classrooms to either small (12 pupils/class n=100 classes) or large (20–25 pupils/class, n=100 classes) class sizes. At the start of the 2002–03 school year, children were pre-tested on pre-reading skills and matched. In post-tests at the end of the school year, results favoured the small-class-size group on word reading (ES = +0.14) and word spelling (ES = +0.22). These effects are very small in light of the costs of halving class size.

The new study examined these pupils’ reading achievement at the end of Year 3, where the pupils formerly placed in smaller classrooms had been placed in full-sized classes again. Subjects were 1,264 pupils (663 in the intervention group and 601 in the control group) who had received both the initial testing in Year 2 and had test scores at the end of Year 3. Results showed that while both groups were equivalent at the start of Year 2, and by the end of the year the small-class-size group showed greater academic achievement than the control group, this gain diminished over the summer break and had completely disappeared by the end of Year 3. That is, there was no long-term impact of one year of reduced class size.

For more information, the original 2003 study was reported in Best Evidence in Brief in July.

Source: Reducing the number of pupils in French first-grade classes: Is there evidence of contemporaneous and carryover effects? (November 2018), International Journal of Educational Research, Volume 96,

Do private schools give students an educational advantage?

Researchers at the Institute of Education at University College London have conducted a study that looks at whether there are any educational advantages to attending private schools in the upper secondary years (Years 12 and 13).

Published in the Oxford Review of Education, the study used data from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies’ Next Steps cohort study and linked this to national pupil achievement information between 2005 and 2009. The researchers followed a sample of 5,852 pupils who attended a private or state school while doing their A-levels.

The profiles of the two groups of pupils were very different – pupils arrived in private school sixth forms with significantly higher prior attainment in GCSEs, and from households that had twice the income of families whose children attended state school sixth form. However, the researchers used the data available from Next Steps to allow for socio-demographic characteristics and prior achievement. Allowing for these characteristics, pupils at private schools outperformed those at state schools in their total A-level score by eight percentile points. Private school pupils also performed better on those subjects deemed to be more important to elite universities.

The researchers suggest that the reason for the difference may lie in the vastly superior resources per pupil in private schools (three times the state school average), including smaller pupil-teacher ratios (roughly half the state school average). However, they caution that their results are not truly causal.

Source: Private schooling, subject choice, upper secondary attainment and progression to university (November 2019), Oxford Review of Education