Have gender gaps in maths closed?

A study, published in AERA Open, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association, explored the early development of gender gaps in mathematics achievement, including when gaps first appear, where in the distribution they develop, and whether these gaps have changed over the years.

Cimpian and colleagues compared two cohorts in the US Early Childhood Longitudinal Study: the kindergarten (Year 1) classes of 1998-1999 (N = 21,399) and 2010-2011 (N = 18,170). They observed that the gender gap at the top of the distribution (among the highest achievers in maths) begins in early elementary school (Year 2) and continues to get worse, and has not improved over the last decade. In both the 1998-1999 and 2010-2011 cohorts, girls represented less than one-third of students above the 99th percentile as early as the spring of kindergarten. By Grade 3 (Year 4) for the 1998-1999 cohort and Grade 2 (Year 3) for the 2010-2011 cohort, girls made up only one-fifth of those above the 99th percentile.

In addition to maths achievement, students’ learning behaviours and teacher expectations were examined, as these could be two potential contributors to the gender gaps. When boys and girls behaved and performed similarly, teachers in both cohorts underrated the maths skills of girls as early as Grade 1 (Year 2). In other words, in mathematics, for teachers to rate girls equally with boys, girls must work harder and behave better than the boys.

Source: Have gender gaps in math closed? Achievement, teacher perceptions, and learning behaviors across two ECLS-K cohorts (2016), AERA Open

More time in class benefits the best

Spending more time at school benefits the best-performing pupils disproportionately, according to a new study.

The researchers used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study – Kindergarten Cohort (ECLS-K). This included more than 20,000 children who entered 1,000 kindergarten (Year 1) programmes in schools across the US in 1998. Children were given maths and reading tests in the autumn and spring. Because there was essentially random variation in when these tests were delivered, there were variations in the amount of teaching time between the two tests. The researchers used this to analyse the progress made, but also the difference in progress among the different percentiles within the class.

They found that, on average, reading scores increase by 1.6 test score standard deviations (SD) during a standard 250 day school year. However, readers in the bottom 10% increased by only 0.9 test score SD, while those in the top 10% increased by 2.1 test score SD. A similar result was found for mathematics. The authors suggest that policy makers, practitioners, and analysts must consider the average and distributional impacts of educational inputs and interventions.

Source: What Differences a Day Can Make: Quantile Regression Estimates of the Distribution of Daily Learning Gains (2015), Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

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).