What role do principals play in improving teaching and student achievement?

A new report from the Institute of Education Sciences in the US has found that an intensive approach to helping principals (headteachers) improve their leadership practices did not improve pupil achievement or change principal practices as intended.

The study looked at the effectiveness of a professional development (PD) programme for elementary (primary) school principals that focused on helping them to conduct structured observations of teachers’ classroom teaching and provide targeted feedback. It provided nearly 200 hours of PD over two years, half of it through individualised coaching. One hundred schools from eight districts in five US states took part in the study. Within each district, schools with similar characteristics were paired together, and within each pair, one school was randomly assigned to participate in the programme for two years while the other did not.

To measure the effects on pupil achievement, the researchers compared pupil test scores in grades 3 to 5 (Years 4 to 6) for both years of programme implementation plus one additional school year. They found that, on average, pupils had similar achievement in English or maths whether they were in schools that received the principal PD programme or not.

The results of the study also found that although the programme was implemented as planned, principals did not increase the number of times they observed teachers. In fact, teachers whose principals received the PD reported receiving less frequent teaching support and feedback than teachers whose principals did not receive the PD.

Source: The effects of a principal professional development program focused on instructional leadership (October 2019), Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education

Review of SEL assessments for secondary pupils

The Institute of Education Sciences at the US Department of Education has released A review of instruments for measuring social and emotional learning skills among secondary school students. The review is designed to help state and local education agencies find assessments that measure secondary students’ social-emotional skills, specifically in the areas of collaboration, perseverance and self-regulated learning, and to help readers interpret the information about reliability and validity for each assessment.

A total of 16 assessments met the following inclusion criteria for the review: they had to be publicly available, had to have been administered to secondary students in the US, and had to have undergone validation study in 1994 or after. Tables in the review detail the format of instruments by emotional skill, and the reliability and type of validity information for each assessment. Authors conclude with implications for use of each type of instrument.

Source: A review of instruments for measuring social and emotional learning skills among secondary school students (October 2019), US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences (REL 2020–010

Effects of charter middle school attendance on college enrolment and completion

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) in the US has released a report examining the effects of attending a charter middle school on students’ later rates of college enrolment and completion. Charter schools are publicly funded, but operate outside the established state school system.

Researchers compared the December 2017 data of students who had entered lotteries to be admitted into 31 charter middle schools nationwide more than ten years before. A total of 1,723 students who had randomly won the lotteries and were admitted into charter middle schools were compared to the 1,150 students who were not admitted at that time.

Three to eight years after expected high school graduation, results showed equal rates of college enrolment (69%) and current enrolment/completion (47%) for both groups. There was also no difference among charter middle attendees and non-attendees in rates of attending a two- or four-year college; if colleges attended were public, private, non-profit, or for profit; and if colleges were highly selective or not. In addition, charter middle school students were as likely to attend dual enrolment high schools (earning college credit while in high school) as their non-charter-selected peers.

These same schools were examined in an earlier study, the Evaluation of Charter School Impacts, where some schools demonstrated improvements in students’ middle school achievement, especially in urban, low socio-economic status areas. These schools were as successful as the others in students’ later college attendance and graduation rates.

Source: Do Charter Middle Schools Improve Students’ College Outcomes? (April 2019) Institute of Education Sciences Evaluation Brief

Strategies to promote teacher effectiveness

The Institute of Education Sciences has released a new evaluation brief that synthesises findings from two impact studies conducted by the National Center for Education Evaluation (NCEE). One study focused on a strategy of providing teachers  with feedback on their performance for two years (performance feedback), and the other study focused on a strategy of providing teachers with bonuses for four years based on their performance (pay-for-performance). Both strategies were supported by the Teacher Incentive Fund, which provided competitive grants to help US states and districts implement a multi-strategy approach to enhancing teacher effectiveness.

In each study, elementary and middle schools (primary schools) were randomly assigned to implement the strategy (the treatment group) or not (the control group). The performance feedback study included approximately 29,000 pupils and 1,000 teachers in grades 4–8, while the pay-for-performance study included approximately 38,000 pupils and 3,500 teachers in grades 3–8. Pupil outcomes were measured using end-of-year reading and maths scores.

Key findings were as follows:

  • Providing teachers with feedback on their performance for two years improved pupils’ maths achievement after the first year with a difference in scores that corresponds to an effect size of +0.05. The cumulative effect after two years of implementation was similar in magnitude but not statistically significant. The effect on reading in both years was positive but not statistically significant.
  • Providing teachers with bonuses based on their performance for four years improved pupils’ reading achievement after one, two and three years of implementation and pupils’ maths achievement after three years. After each of those periods of implementation, the effect size was +0.04 for reading and +0.06 for maths. However, as noted in the evaluation report, the impacts of pay-for-performance on classroom observation ratings did not appear to explain the impacts on pupil achievement, and in treatment schools, as many as 40% of teachers were unaware that they could earn a performance bonus.

The brief was prepared for NCEE by Andrew Wayne and Michael Garet of American Institutes for Research and Alison Wellington and Hanley Chiang of Mathematica Policy Research.

Source: Promoting educator effectiveness: the effects of two key strategies (March 2018), National Center for Education Evaluation, The Institute of Education Sciences

Potentially positive effects for counselling before college

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) has released a new intervention report that examines the research on the impact of summer counselling on pupils’ college enrolment and persistence. As the report notes, summer counselling is designed to help college-intending high school graduates complete the steps needed to enrol in college and start their college careers.

The review included five studies of summer counselling that met the WWC’s research standards without reservations. Together, these studies included 13,614 recent high school graduates in 10 locations. In all five studies, pupils were provided with summer counselling for about 1.5 months between high school graduation and college registration. During this time, programmes provided college-intending individuals with information about tasks required for college enrolment, as well as assistance in overcoming unanticipated financial, informational and socioemotional barriers that prevent college entry.

According to the report, the research shows that summer counselling had potentially positive effects on credit accumulation and persistence (extent of evidence: small) and mixed effects on college access and enrolment (extent of evidence: medium to large) for recent high school graduates.

Source: Transition to college intervention report: Summer counseling (March 2018), What Works Clearinghouse, Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education.

What is the impact of pay-for-performance?

Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grants were awarded in 2010 by the US Department of Education to support performance-based compensation systems for teachers and principals in high-need schools.

In order to assess the impacts of pay-for-performance on educator (teachers and principals) and pupil outcomes, an experimental study design was used in ten US school districts to randomly assign elementary and middle schools to treatment and control groups. Both groups implemented the same performance-based compensation system, but in the control schools, the pay-for-performance element was replaced by a one percent bonus paid to all teachers and principals regardless of performance. A fourth and final report from this evaluation has now been published, covering all four years of the programme (between 2011 and 2015).

Among the key findings are that pay-for-performance had small, positive impacts on pupil achievement by the second year of implementation. From that year onward, reading and maths achievement was higher by 1 to 2 percentile points in schools that offered performance bonuses than in schools that did not. However, it was not entirely clear how this improvement was achieved. The impacts of pay-for-performance on classroom observation ratings did not appear to explain the impacts on pupil achievement, and in treatment schools as many as 40% of teachers were unaware that they could earn a performance bonus.

Source: Evaluation of the Teacher Incentive Fund: Final report on implementation and impacts of pay-for-performance across four years (NCEE 2017-4004),(December 2017), National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education.