Disappointing findings for Responsive Classroom

A new article in the American Educational Research Journal describes a randomised controlled trial (RCT) to examine the efficacy of the Responsive Classroom (RC) approach on pupil achievement. The authors found that pupils taught using RC did not outperform those at schools assigned to the control condition in maths or reading.

RC is a widely used professional development intervention comprising practical teaching strategies designed to support children’s social, academic, and self-regulatory skills. More than 120,000 teachers have been trained in the approach. This trial involved 2,904 children from 24 US schools. They were randomised into intervention and control conditions, and studied from the end of second grade (Year 3) to fifth grade (Year 6).

Results showed that random assignment to RC did not have an impact on achievement outcomes. The authors say that other RCT results linking social-emotional learning (SEL) interventions to SEL outcomes are similarly lacklustre, and that there are several plausible explanations including the trial involving too few schools to detect a small effect. They also note that some outcomes (eg, motivation and engagement) may not adequately translate into outcomes measured by state standardised achievement tests, and that adopting interventions such as the RC approach involves a long process of teacher change ranging from three to five years. Data for this study was gathered during teachers’ first and second years of RC implementation, early in the process of adoption.

Source: Efficacy of the Responsive Classroom Approach: Results From a 3-Year, Longitudinal Randomized Controlled Trial (2014), American Educational Research Journal, 51(3).

Challenging content in the early years boosts later achievement

A new article published in the American Educational Research Journal examines the relationship between academic content in kindergarten (Reception) and children’s later achievement in school. They found that spending four more days per month on more advanced topics in maths and reading was associated with modest increased test scores of about 0.05 standard deviations

The authors used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class (ECLS-K), a nationally representative sample of children who entered kindergarten in the US in the 1998/99 school year. It includes information on academic skills at school entry and throughout primary school, as well as information about the children, their families, teachers, and schools. Kindergarten teachers were surveyed about classroom reading and maths activities and content, with measures aligned to the proficiency areas measured by ECLS-K achievement tests. Parents were also surveyed about their child’s non-parental care experiences before they entered kindergarten. The study used a sample of almost 16,000 children.

Controlling for external factors that may have been correlated with preschool attendance (eg, race, health, family characteristics), the authors found a consistent and positive effect of exposure to advanced contents in maths and reading in kindergarten (eg, addition, subtraction, and ordinality in maths, and phonics instruction, reading aloud or silently, and reading comprehension in reading). In contrast, children did not benefit from basic content coverage (eg, counting out loud or sorting into subgroups in maths, and writing the letters of the alphabet in reading).

The authors conclude that increasing time spent on advanced academic content in kindergarten (and reducing time on basic content) could be a potentially low-cost way of improving achievement.

Source: Academic Content, Student Learning, and the Persistence of Preschool Effects (2014), American Educational Research Journal, 51(2).

Tackling pupil mobility

A new article published in the American Educational Research Journal describes a trial to test whether pupils’ mobility (changing schools) in early elementary school was reduced by an intervention called Families and Schools Together (FAST). FAST is an intensive eight-week multi-family afterschool programme designed to empower parents, promote child resilience, and improve trust and shared expectations within and between families and among parents and school staff. The intervention has been successfully replicated and implemented across diverse settings around the world.

The trial was a cluster-randomised field experiment which took place in 52 predominantly Hispanic elementary schools in San Antonio, Texas, and Phoenix, Arizona. Half the schools were selected to receive the intervention and half were selected to continue with business as usual. The results showed that FAST failed to reduce mobility overall but substantially reduced the mobility of Black pupils, who were especially likely to change schools. The authors suggest that improved relationships among families may help to explain this finding.

A forthcoming issue of Better: Evidence-based Education has “parents and schools” as its theme.

Source: Reducing School Mobility: A Randomized Trial of a Relationship-Building Intervention (2013), American Educational Research Journal, 50(6).

High-stakes tests may damage teaching quality

A new article published in the American Educational Research Journal has found that the quality of instructional support (ie, teaching methods and classroom organisation) is lower when teachers are under the greatest pressure to increase test performance.

The authors used two years of observation data from a cohort of US pupils who were first graders (Year 2) during the 2007–08 school year. A total of 348 observations took place in 23 classrooms in eight selected schools, when the children were in second grade and third grade (Years 3 and 4).

Using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), the researchers found that in the months leading up to high-stakes testing in Year 4, teachers in these classrooms offered lower levels of instructional support than Year 3 teachers who were not experiencing the same level of accountability pressure. However, observations after the tests revealed the quality of instructional support was indistinguishable between Years 3 and 4.

The authors suggest that accountability policies do not necessarily need to have negative consequences for classroom quality, but could be designed to improve it by including relevant measures.

Source: Pressures of the Season: An Examination of Classroom Quality and High-Stakes Accountability (2013), American Educational Research Journal, 50(5).