Results of an early literacy intervention to improve reading outcomes

Evidence for Learning in Australia has published an evaluation report of a randomised controlled trial of MiniLit, a small group, phonics-based programme for struggling Year 1 readers. The intervention is targeted at the bottom 25% of pupils struggling to read, and focuses on improving pupils’ literacy in five areas: phoneme awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

The programme involved struggling readers from Year 1 classes in nine Australian primary schools located in New South Wales, and consisted of 80 one-hour lessons delivered four to five days per week over 20 weeks. The lessons were delivered in school outside of regular lessons by teachers to small groups of up to four pupils. A total of 237 pupils participated, of which 119 were allocated to the MiniLit intervention group and 118 to the control group. Pupils in the control group received the school’s usual learning support for struggling readers, which could include whole-class approaches and/or support programmes for struggling readers.

Overall, there was no evidence that MiniLit had any additional impact on pupils’ reading at 12 months, measured using the York Assessment of Reading Comprehension – Passage Reading (YARC-PR) tests compared to pupils receiving usual reading support (ES = -0.04). However, there were some positive effects for reading accuracy (ES = +0.13) and reading rate (ES = +0.06). There was also evidence of improvement in foundational reading skills at six months, particularly letter sound knowledge, which was also sustained at 12 months.

The researchers point out, however, that the findings were dependent on the quality of the MiniLit lessons which were provided to pupils. Schools were limited to 20 weeks’ duration, and in many cases, teachers reported that this length was not sufficient to complete the programme for all groups. They suggest that improving how MiniLit is implemented may lead to more positive outcomes; however, this requires further evaluation to determine.

Source: MiniLit: Learning impact fund: Evaluation report (2019). Independent report prepared by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the University of Melbourne for Evidence for Learning

An evaluation of QuickSmart Numeracy

QuickSmart Numeracy is a 30-week maths tutoring programme from Australia that uses teaching assistants as tutors. Its goal is to increase basic maths fact automaticity/fluency in pupils in Year 4 and Year 8 who perform in the bottom third of their national cohort as measured on standardised testing, the premise being that increased maths fluency allows pupils to devote their concentration to maths concepts instead of fact recall. Researchers from the Teachers and Teaching Research Centre in the School of Education at the University of Newcastle, Australia, recently examined the effects of the programme on pupil achievement in a randomised controlled trial.

Subjects were 288 Year 4 and Year 8 pupils from 70 classrooms in 23 Sydney Catholic Schools in New South Wales who scored below the 30th percentile on national standardised testing. Baseline testing was done in March 2017 using the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) Progressive Achievement Test – Mathematics (PAT-M), with post-testing in May 2018, six months after the intervention ended in December 2017. There were no significant differences between the experimental and control groups at pre-test. Randomisation among pupils who qualified for tutoring was done in each class, with all pupils attending regular maths classes and pairs of experimental pupils being pulled from other classes to also receive half-an-hour of QuickSmart tutoring three times a week for 30 weeks.

Results showed a non-significant difference (+0.08) favouring the experimental group in Year 4, and an effect size of +0.01 (n.s.) for Year 8. Authors noted that not all of the pupils received the targeted hours of tutoring due to recruitment and testing processes.

Source: QuickSmart Numeracy. Evaluation Report and Executive Summary (April 2019) Evidence for Learning

Findings from an evaluation of Thinking Maths

Evidence for Learning in Australia has published an evaluation of Thinking Maths – a professional learning programme for maths teachers to support pupils’ maths learning during the transition between primary and secondary school (currently Year 7 and Year 8 in South Australia).

The evaluation involved 158 schools in South Australia, which were randomly assigned to the intervention (63 schools) or the control group (104 schools). Teachers participated in 30 hours of face-to-face professional learning delivered at 4–5 week intervals over three school terms. The programme focuses on three areas for better teaching and learning of mathematics: (a) using quality task design, (b) sequencing a conceptual development, and (c) using research-informed effective pedagogies.

Pupils whose teachers received Thinking Maths made additional progress in maths when compared to business-as-usual maths classes (effect size = +0.05). However, there were differences between primary and secondary school pupils: the effect size for secondary pupils (Years 8–10) was -0.16, whereas the effect size for primary pupils (Years 5–7) was +0.14.

Source: Thinking Maths: A professional learning program supporting teachers to engage middle-school students in maths. Evaluation Report and Executive Summary, (September 2018). Evidence for Learning, the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)