The long-term impact of phonics instruction

A discussion paper from the Centre for Economic Performance considers the impact of the introduction of synthetic phonics in English schools.

In the wake of a major report in 2006 (the Rose review), 172 schools in 18 local authorities introduced training in synthetic phonics as part of a pilot programme. The following year, a further 32 local authorities joined a similar scheme. Another 50 local authorities joined 18 months later, and the final 50 a year after that. For each scheme, the model was very similar – a literacy consultant would provide coaching support for at least ten schools in their area. The consultant worked mainly in the Reception year (age 4-5) and Year 1 (age 6-7), but also in Year 2 and nursery.

In this new working paper, using data from the National Pupil Database, researchers have been able to assess the impact of this phased introduction. It shows a substantial leap (an effect size of more than +0.2) in children’s “communication, language and literacy” scores at age 5 when the training is introduced. This effect is maintained even after the initial year of training.

The researchers were also able to follow cohorts as they progressed through primary school to see if any initial effects lasted until age 11 (phonics teaching stopped at age 7). There were no average effects at this age for reading, a broader measure of English attainment, or maths. However, there was a persistent effect (an effect size of more than 0.1) for those classified as non-native English speakers and economically disadvantaged (as measured by free school meal status).

Source: “Teaching to Teach” Literacy (2016), Centre for Economic Performance.

Targeting EALs with science

A recent large-scale randomised controlled trial, published in the American Educational Research Journal, has examined the impact of a science curriculum with a focus on pupils with English as an Additional Language (EALs).

The study was implemented in 66 schools (33 treatment and 33 control) across three school districts in one south-eastern US state. During the 2012–2013 school year, the project involved 258 teachers (123 treatment and 135 control) and a total of 6,673 students. The trial evaluated P-SELL, a science curricular and professional development intervention for fifth-grade students with a focus on EALs.

The P-SELL curriculum’s approach aligns with state science standards and high-stakes science assessments administered at fifth grade. It is based on an inquiry-oriented approach and addresses the learning needs of EALs by providing guidance and scaffolding for English language development. Teachers are supported with a teacher’s guide and professional development workshops. The workshops incorporated critical features of effective professional development: content focus, active learning, coherence, sufficient duration, and collective participation.

The study used both the high-stakes state science assessment as an outcome measure and a researcher-developed science assessment that was administered at the beginning and end of the year and allowed for a pre-measure of science achievement. The study examined the effect of the intervention on science achievement for all students and for students of varying levels of English proficiency (EAL, recently reclassified EAL, former EAL, and non-EAL).

The results found significant and meaningfully sized average intervention effects on the researcher-developed science assessment scores (effect size = +0.25) and the state science assessment scale scores (+0.15). The P-SELL intervention had significant and meaningfully sized effects for EALs (+0.35) on the researcher-developed assessment. The intervention effects were positive but not statistically significant for EALs (+0.12) on the state science assessment, although other subcategories (non-EALs and former EALs) were positive and significant. This is the first year of a three year study, and future years will provide information on the long-term impact of the teachers’ professional development.

Source: Impact of a Large-Scale Science Intervention Focused on English Language Learners (2016), American Educational Research Journal.

Study examines the time it takes to become proficient in English

This study from the Institute of Education Sciences examined how long it typically takes children with English as an additional language (EALs) to become proficient in English and how this time differs by student characteristics such as gender, home language, or initial proficiency in English. The authors analysed state data for nearly 17,000 EALs who entered kindergarten (Year 1) between 2005/06 and 2011/12 in seven cohorts in Washington State in the US. Key findings included:

  • Students who entered kindergarten as EALs took a median of 3.8 years to develop the English proficiency necessary to be reclassified as former EALs.
  • EALs entering kindergarten with advanced English proficiency were more likely to be reclassified in their first eight years of school than those entering with basic proficiency or intermediate proficiency.
  • Female EALs were more likely than male EALs to be reclassified in their first eight years of school.
  • Speakers of Chinese, Vietnamese, or Russian or Ukrainian (combined) were more likely to be reclassified in their first eight years of school than speakers of Somali or Spanish.

The authors hope this information can help to identify students who may take longer to reach proficiency and therefore may need additional support. Also, they say the information can help inform assessment and accountability systems and help establish targets that take specific factors, such as English proficiency at entry to school, into account.

Source: English Learner Student Characteristics and Time To Reclassification: An Example From Washington State (2016), REL Northwest.

Identifying and supporting EAL pupils with special educational needs

There are many studies on English language acquisition, and also on special educational needs (SEN), but less is known about how to help SEN pupils who speak English as a second language. It can be hard to identify these pupils and provide them with appropriate support, and sometimes SEN is mistaken for a lack of English knowledge, and vice versa.

To address these challenges in the US, a new review from the Institute of Education Sciences and REL West synthesises findings of current policy practices and research on identifying and helping pupils with English as an Additional Language (EAL) who also have special educational needs.

As part of the review, the authors examined 52 articles and reports published between 2000-2015 that met criteria for topic and study design (experimental or quasi-experimental), looking for patterns that occurred two or more times in the literature. They also looked for patterns in policy in the 20 US states with the largest EAL pupil populations. Their review uncovered the following information:

To determine if an EAL pupil has a special educational need, the authors suggest considering the following:

  • Quality of teaching;
  • Rate of progress in expressive and receptive language given English language baseline;
  • Native culture norms;
  • Adjustment to new culture; and
  • Other factors affecting academics, like socio-economic status, attitude toward English, personality etc.

Authors found that teachers do not always know why EAL pupils are not progressing, and that their referral processes are poorly designed. To address this they suggest:

  • Professional development;
  • Parental involvement;
  • Using data from many sources; and
  • Developing guidelines and ways to track pupil data.

Source: Identifying and Supporting English Learner Students with Learning Disabilities: Key Issues in the Literature and State Practice (2015), Institute of Education Sciences/REL West.

Teachers stereotype pupils from poor homes

A study published in the Journal of Social Policy has found that teachers stereotype pupils according to their level of poverty, gender, and ethnicity.

The study used data from the Millennium Cohort Study, which followed almost 12,000 children born in the year 2000 in England. At age 7, for almost 5,000 children, teacher judgements on whether a child was “well above average/above average/average/below average/well below average” at maths and reading were collected. The children also completed tests in Word Reading and Progress in Mathematics. Results from the two assessments were then compared.

Children from low-income families, boys, pupils with any recognised diagnosis of special educational needs (SEN), and children who speak other languages in addition to English were less likely to be judged ‘above average’ at reading by their teacher – despite performing equivalently to their counterparts on the reading test. In maths there were fewer differences, although boys were more likely than girls to be judged relatively highly at maths. Black Caribbean pupils were significantly less likely than their equivalently performing White counterparts to be judged ‘above average’ – along with children from low-income families, and those with any recognised SEN.

The report suggests that efforts should be made to develop relevant interventions and strategies within teacher training and professional development; and avoid the reinforcement of stereotypes during policy intervention and associated publicity.

Source: Stereotyped at Seven? Biases in Teacher Judgement of Pupils’ Ability and Attainment (2015), Journal of Social Policy, 44(3).

Achievement gap for EALs closes as time goes by

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) has published two reports that investigate educational achievement by students who speak English as an additional language (EAL). There are around one million EAL pupils in England, representing 16.2% of the school population (up from 7.6% in 1997).

The first study analysed data from the National Pupil Database to find the most at-risk groups of EAL learners and to identify predictors of low attainment for them. Among the main findings were:

  • At age 5, EAL children were one-third less likely to achieve a target of good level of development than children with first-language English (FLE).
  • At age 16, EAL students demonstrated a small achievement gap for GCSE grades (58.3% of EAL students achieved five or more A*-C compared with 60.9% of FLE students), yet no gap at all for a scoring system based on performance in eight subjects at Key Stage 4.
  • There was no evidence of a negative impact on the attainment and progress of FLE students where there were high proportions of EAL students.

The second study was a systematic review that sought international evidence for effective interventions for raising standards in EAL students. Of the 29 studies that showed an impact, 27 were from the US, one from Canada, and one from the UK. Five of the studies addressed CPD for educators.

None of the interventions met criteria for high ratings for strength of evidence. The authors called for further and more rigorous research to increase the evidence base of effective interventions for EAL students.

Source: English as an Additional Language (EAL) and Educational Achievement in England: An Analysis of the National Pupil Database and A Systematic Review of Intervention Research Examining English Language and Literacy Development in Children with English as an Additional Language(EAL) (2015), Education Endowment Foundation