Preschool maths and science professional development fails to improve learning

A new article published in the Journal of Educational Psychology describes a study into the impact of professional development on maths and science learning in early childhood education.

For the study, 65 staff from 34 varied early childhood settings in Ohio were randomly assigned to experience 10.5 days (64 hours) of training on maths and science or an alternative topic (art and creativity). The maths and science training was adapted from the Core Knowledge Preschool Sequence, which provides a developmental progression based on early childhood research and theory.

The study looked at both maths and science learning opportunities, and the maths and science learning gains of the children (n=385). In terms of opportunities, the authors found that the professional development significantly impacted on the provision of science learning opportunities, but not maths. However, in terms of learning gains, none were observed.

The authors suggest a number of factors that may have contributed to the outcome. These include the fact that although educators were provided with hands-on opportunities to try new maths and science activities during training, there were no systematic means of ensuring they had regular opportunities to apply these in their classrooms. Also, that changes in practice may be difficult to achieve as the emphasis on these subject areas is relatively new in early childhood education.

Source: Professional Development for Early Childhood Educators: Efforts to Improve Math and Science Learning Opportunities in Early Childhood Classrooms (2015), Journal of Educational Psychology, 107(2).

Parental involvement: Including fathers in the picture

A new meta-analysis from Harvard University explores the relative strength of the association between educational involvement of fathers versus mothers and the achievement of their children. The research suggested that parents have an equal academic impact on children regardless of their gender, although fathers’ mean levels of involvement were lower.

In general, research on parental involvement in education does not distinguish between fathers and mothers, and where the focus is on one parent this is most likely to be the mother. In contrast, this meta-analysis sought to put fathers in the picture. The authors included 52 empirical studies representing 390 correlations for the relation between parental involvement (mothers or fathers) and achievement. They found that parental involvement was positively associated with pupil achievement, and the relation between involvement and achievement was equally strong for fathers and mothers. Child gender did not moderate this relation.

The authors do note some limitations to their analysis, namely a lack of longitudinal studies and wide variability in the way parental involvement and achievement had been measured across the studies.

Source: Including Fathers in the Picture: A Meta-Analysis of Parental Involvement and Students’ Academic Achievement (2015), Journal of Educational Psychology.

Do early school start times lead to poor performance at primary age?

A study of 718 elementary schools in Kentucky examined associations between school start times and performance and revealed that – at least for children from better-off families – earlier start times in elementary school were associated with poorer school performance.

The research started out with two main hypotheses: that early start times would be associated with underperformance; and children from poorer backgrounds would show the greatest disadvantage.

Key findings included:

  • Earlier start times were associated with poorer test scores, lower school rank, and more absences from school.
  • Schools with fewer children who qualify for subsidised meals showed a significant relationship between early start times and poor performance.
  • Later start times were associated with more children held back to repeat a school year (the authors think theirs is the first study to look at this issue and suggest caution over this finding).

Much of the previous research on school start times and learning considers the effect on older children. The authors reported that the current study offers some of the first evidence that early school start times may influence learning in elementary school.

The authors were surprised that their analysis revealed that later start times did not seem to benefit poorer children and suggested that “the delay in start times may not be sufficient to overcome the numerous other obstacles that children in poverty face, including obstacles to obtaining adequate sleep.”

The study controlled for variables such as teacher-student ratio, student ethnicity, and location.

Source: Earlier school start times as a risk factor for poor school performance: An examination of public elementary schools in the commonwealth of Kentucky (2015), Journal of Educational Psychology

How much homework is too much?

A recent study of 7,451 teenagers in Spain examined the correlation between time spent on homework and academic achievement in maths and science. Results showed that homework done by the student independently for 60-70 minutes a day yielded the best results.

The students had a mean age of 13.78. They were given a questionnaire asking about frequency and duration of homework by subject, and whether they did homework independently or with parental help. Academic achievement was determined using maths and science standardised test scores adjusted for gender and socioeconomic status.

Results showed that students’ maths and science scores increased when:

  • Homework was assigned on a schedule.
  • Students did their homework independently.
  • Students were assigned 60-70 minutes of total homework. More than 90 minutes of homework a night had a detrimental effect on students’ test scores.

The authors noted that students who did 70 minutes of homework with parental help scored lower than students who did 70 minutes of homework independently. They concluded that how the homework was done was more important than amount of time spent doing it, citing the possible explanation that self-regulated learning is related to higher academic achievement.

Source: Adolescents’ homework performance in mathematics and science: personal factors and teaching practices (2015), Journal of Educational Psychology

The long-term impact of intensive reading interventions

New research, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, investigates whether the reading benefits that result from early and intensive reading interventions are still evident as the participants move from adolescence to early adulthood.

The study evaluates reading outcomes approximately 11 years after participants completed an 8-month randomised reading intervention as 2nd or 3rd graders (the equivalent of Year 3 or Year 4). Of the original 69 participants, 58 (84%) took part.

The results showed statistically significant differences with moderate effect sizes between treatment and comparison groups on standardised measures of word recognition (ie, Woodcock Basic Skills Cluster, d = 0.53; Woodcock Word Identification, d = 0.62). However, statistical tests on other reading and spelling measures did not reach thresholds for statistical significance.

The authors suggest that the one-off delivery of an intensive intervention is not sufficient for children who are struggling. Rather they should continue to receive support throughout their school career. They also conclude that the field is lacking the long-term follow-up studies needed to understand how early reading interventions influence both long-term school performance and outcomes after secondary education.

Source: Intensive Reading Remediation in Grade 2 or 3: Are There Effects a Decade Later? (2014), Journal of Educational Psychology, 106(1).