Improving attendance by improving school conditions

The American Institutes for Research (AIR) and Attendance Works have released a new report, Using Chronic Absence Data to Improve Conditions for Learning, which describes how data on chronic absence, defined as a pupil missing 10 or more days of school, can be a tool to warn administrators that pupils are not getting the support they need. The first half of the report describes four school characteristics that promote attendance — physical and emotional health and safety; belonging, connectedness and support; academic challenge and engagement; and adult and pupil social and emotional competence — and how they relate to attendance. The second half of the report describes how chronic attendance data can be used to diagnose weaknesses in learning conditions and presents specific steps that schools can take to promote better conditions.

Source: Using chronic absence data to improve conditions for learning (September 2019), Attendance Works and American Institutes for Research (AIR)

Reviewing the research on school climate and social-emotional learning

A new research brief, School climate and social and emotional learning: the integration of two approaches, by David Osher and Juliette Berg at AIR reviews research on how positive school climates support social-emotional learning (SEL) and how improved SEL contributes to improved school climate in primary and secondary schools.

The authors present research from various journal articles, research briefs, policy guides and other sources. Key findings were as follows:

  • Supportive relationships, engagement, safety, cultural competence and responsiveness and academic challenge and high expectations create positive school climates that can help build social and emotional competence.
  • The relationship between positive school climate and SEL is interactive and co-influential, occurs in all settings and pupil-teacher-staff interactions and influences pupils and teachers directly and indirectly.
  • Rigorous evaluations of school climate and SEL approaches have provided some direct evidence that one can improve the other.

The authors say that the research and practice communities could benefit from greater clarity and alignment in definitions, goals, messaging and measurement of SEL and school climate and understanding of how each one can complement the other.

Source: School climate and social and emotional learning: the integration of two approaches. (January 2018), Edna Bennet Pierce Prevention Research Center, Pennsylvania State University

What happens when teachers get more feedback?

A study published by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) shows that even small amounts of the right kind of feedback to teachers and principals can have an effect on pupil achievement in maths.

A total of 127 schools from eight districts across five US states participated in the study. Schools were assigned to either a treatment or control group. In both the treatment and control group schools, teachers and principals continued to receive the performance feedback they had received in the past. For those in the treatment group schools, additional feedback was also given for classroom practice, pupil achievement and principal leadership. The study focused on principals and teachers of reading/ English and maths in grades 4–8 (Years 5–9).

In the first year of the study, the pupils in the treatment schools outperformed pupils in control schools in maths by the equivalent of four weeks of learning. In the second year, while there was a difference of the same size, it was not statistically significant. There was no difference in either year on pupil achievement in reading/ English.

Source: The Impact of Providing Performance Feedback to Teachers and Principals: Final Report (December 2017), American Institutes for Research (AIR) and the Institute of Education Sciences (IES)

What happens when school districts integrate social and emotional learning?

American Institutes for Research (AIR) has published findings from an ongoing evaluation of a districtwide implementation of social and emotional learning (SEL).

The Collaborating Districts Initiative (CDI) was launched in 2011 by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning to support school districts’ capacities to provide SEL for all students. AIR’s evaluation of the first four years of the CDI analysed, among other factors, its effect on student academic and behavioural outcomes at the school level in the eight participating districts. Academic outcomes included reading and mathematics standardised test scores and grade point average (GPA). Behavioural outcomes included attendance, suspensions, graduation, and dropout.

Overall, students’ academic performance improved in CDI implementation years relative to the years before the CDI. GPA was seen to improve in four of the districts and discipline in six. Attendance improved in four districts and declined in one.

Although the research demonstrated some positive trends in the academic and behavioural outcomes of students in the school districts where CDI was implemented, these improvements were not seen consistently for all students. The evaluation suggests that even modest investments in SEL can have benefits, but more research is needed to determine which SEL approaches work best at different grade levels and have the strongest long-term benefits.

Source: When districts support and integrate social and emotional learning (SEL): Findings from an ongoing evaluation of districtwide implementation of SEL (2016), Education Policy Center at American Institutes for Research

Online vs in-person catch-up courses

Traditionally, students in the US who fail high school courses are able to retake them in summer school or during the school year in a classroom setting. Now that online courses are available, students are increasingly choosing this route instead of face-to-face instruction to retake their failed subjects. However, there is little evidence supporting the effectiveness of these online courses. The American Institutes for Research (AIR) has released a research brief comparing the effects of an online Algebra I makeup course to the one typically offered face-to-face.

The sample included 1,224 ninth graders (Year 10) who had failed Algebra I in 17 Chicago Public Schools that offered both online and in-person makeup courses. Students were randomly assigned to receive either the online or in-person course in the summers of 2011 and 2012, with each course lasting three weeks and consisting of 60 instructional hours. Most students (86%) were low socio-economic status; 62% were male and 38% were female; and 57% were Hispanic, 33% African American, and 8% White. Students in both conditions had the same prior achievement levels and class sizes.

Results favoured in-person instruction over online instruction. Students who took Algebra I online rated the course as more difficult than did students in the in-person course, had more negative attitudes about maths than the in-person students, and achieved lower scores and credit-recovery rates than the in-person students. It is of note, however, that there were no significant differences between the two groups in subsequent maths course performance or in being on track for graduation at the end of the second year of high school (Year 11).

The authors recognise that in some schools, online courses are the only viable way to recover credit and suggest that online courses might be more helpful to high-risk students by providing a review of the earlier content that students need to succeed in Algebra I. This research brief is one of three in AIR’s “Back on Track” study.

Source: Comparing the Effectiveness of Online and Face-to-Face Credit Recovery in Algebra I (2016) American Institutes for Research.

Shall we dance? Arts integration shows promise in early learning

Arts integration is an approach to learning that uses dance, drama, music, writing, drawing, and other arts to teach concepts in subjects not traditionally associated with the arts. The American Institutes for Research (AIR) has just released a report, Arts Integration: A Promising Approach to Improving Early Learning, summarising the findings of a four-year, randomised controlled study of arts integration in early childhood maths funded by a grant from the US Department of Education.

The study examined the effects of the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts’ professional development programme for early childhood teachers, teaching them to incorporate dance, drama, and music to teach STEM concepts – with an emphasis on maths – to children aged 4-6.

Eighteen elementary schools in two cohorts in Virginia were randomly assigned to participate in the Wolf Trap programme or to continue with their usual practice (Year 1 = 6 schools, 3 experimental/3 control; year 2 = 12 schools, 6 experimental/6 control). Differences in student ethnicity, native language, and socio-economic status, and in teacher experience, existed but were not statistically significant. The AIR study found that Wolf Trap students scored significantly higher than the control-group students on the standardised Early Math Diagnostic Assessment. Compared to controls, the first-year cohort’s scores were equivalent to 26 additional days of learning (effect size = 0.17), and the second-year cohort’s scores were equivalent to 34 additional days of learning (effect size = 0.21).

Effects on teacher practice were analysed via teacher survey, observations, and interviews. Wolf Trap teachers used arts integration in 32% of observed lessons, whereas control teachers used it in 18% of observed lessons.

AIR also examined the research on key features of successful professional development programmes and correlated them with Wolf Trap’s programme. Successful attributes of the Wolf Trap Early STEM/Arts programme included training prior to the school year, intensive mentoring and coaching during the school year, and strategies to align classroom practice with the schools’ goals and standards.

Source: Arts Integration: A Promising Approach to Improving Early Learning (2016), American Institutes for Research.