If you want to earn more, study maths

A study from the Centre for Analysis of Youth Transitions has shown the importance of maths and reading skills for earnings later in life.

The authors used data from the British Cohort Study to compare reading and maths skills for children at age 10 with their earnings at age 30, 34, and 38. They found that, controlling for background factors such as parents’ income, a 1 standard deviation increase in maths (equivalent to moving from an average score to being in the top 15%) raised weekly earnings by 13%. A similar increase in reading scores raised income by around 10%. In both cases, much of the impact was due to pupils with higher maths and reading scores obtaining higher qualifications.

The study highlights both the importance of maths and reading skills, but also the difficulty of making substantive changes to outcomes for pupils. A difference of 1 standard deviation (an effect size of 1) is a challenging improvement to make, given that interventions that have an effect size of +0.2 in education are considered effective. The authors do not look at whether the effect was consistent across the ability range; it would be interesting to know if the effect was more dramatic for the bottom 10% of pupils, for example. Also, the study only looked at employed people. Reading and maths skills are also known to affect unemployment, of course.

Source: Reading and Maths Skills at Age 10 and Earnings in Later Life: A Brief Analysis Using the British Cohort Study (2013), Department for Education.

Focus on early maths to raise standards

East Asian countries dominate international standardised tests in mathematics. This new working paper, produced by the Institute of Education, compares English children with those from Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, to see how their performance changes between the ages of 10 and 16.

The results suggest that, although average maths test scores are higher in the East Asian countries, the achievement gap does not increase between ages 10 and 16. The conclusion is that policy makers should concentrate on reforms at pre-school and primary level if English children are to catch up. Although they do not believe that reforming secondary education is the answer, the authors do note that there is also a need to ensure that English high achievers manage to keep pace with the highest achieving pupils in other countries during secondary school via, for instance, gifted and talented schemes.

Source: The Mathematics Skills of Schoolchildren: How Does England Compare to the High Performing East Asian Jurisdictions? (2013), Institute of Education

Mixed results for maths and science programmes

New reports from the US What Works Clearinghouse review the research on three programmes designed to improve pupil achievement in maths and science. Findings were as follows:

  • Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies, a peer-tutoring programme for primary pupils that aims to improve pupil proficiency in maths and other disciplines, was found to have no discernible effects on mathematics achievement.
  • Carnegie Learning Curricula and Cognitive Tutor, a secondary maths curriculum that offers textbooks and interactive software to provide individualised, self-paced teaching based on pupil needs, was found to have mixed effects on mathematics achievement.
  • GEMS The Real Reasons for Seasons, a curriculum unit for pupils aged 11–14 that focuses on the connections between the Sun and the Earth to teach the scientific concepts behind the seasons, was found to have potentially negative effects on general science achievement.

Sources: Peer-assisted learning strategies (2013), What Works Clearinghouse
Cognitive learning curricula and cognitive tutor (2012), What Works Clearinghouse
Great Explorations in Math and Science (GEMS) The Real Reasons for Seasons (2013), What Works Clearinghouse

A boost to maths learning at our fingertips?

The development of multi-touch surfaces has created opportunities for learning, including touchscreen desks. Researchers from Durham University have been exploring collaborative learning in mathematics using these desks. They created a group and whole-class multi-touch activity, called NumberNet, and, in this article in Learning and Instruction, they describe their research into its effectiveness.

In particular, they wanted to know whether it improved pupils’ mathematical fluency and flexibility. Results from their quasi-experimental study of 86 pupils (44 using NumberNet, 42 using a paper-based comparison activity) indicated that while all pupils increased in fluency after completing these activities, pupils who used NumberNet also increased in flexibility.

Source: Collaborative learning with multi-touch technology: Developing adaptive expertise (2012), Learning and Instruction, 25

We need more evidence on writing

Students perform less well in writing than in reading, maths, and science at Key Stages 1 and 2. A new review from the Department for Education synthesises the existing evidence from the UK and abroad, in and out of school, and for both primary and secondary pupils. It covers achievement, effective teaching, the gender gap, pupils’ attitudes, and writing as an activity outside school.

The review looks at “what works” in the classroom. Techniques that have been proven to be effective include teaching students to write for a variety of purposes, teaching the writing process, and providing daily time to write. Approaches that are effective for specific groups, such as boys and students with special education needs and disabilities, are also analysed. The review also looks at factors outside the classroom, for example, attainment in writing in the early years can be predicted by mother’s education, family size, parental assessment of the child’s writing ability, and a measure of home writing activities. However, the review highlights that there are evidence gaps in terms of specific interventions that can help students with writing, and on the effectiveness of teaching spelling. There is also little evidence on writing in studies of international comparisons.

The issue of Better on English (Winter 2013) included an article by Debra Myhill on the importance of teaching grammar, while a recent study by the IEE has shown how hand-held technology can help to improve primary pupils’ learning of grammar.

Sources: What is the research evidence on writing? (2012) Department for Education

Effects of technology-enhanced formative assessment on achievement in primary grammar (2012), Institute for Effective Education

A double dose takes time to work

A study in Education Next looks at the impact of double-dose algebra in Chicago Public Schools. In double-dose algebra, pupils are taught algebra for twice as long as normal. From 2003 in Chicago Public Schools, pupils who scored below the national median in their 8th-grade (Year 9) maths exam were given double-dose algebra during 9th grade, with the extra class providing support and extra practice.

An initial study found little short-term effect, but this new study follows the further progress of pupils who are just above the median (who did not receive double-dose algebra) or just below (who did receive the double dose). It found that pupils who had received the double dose had increased rates of high-school graduation and college enrollment. In particular, the intervention was most effective for pupils with relatively high maths skills, but relatively low reading skills. This may be a result of the intervention’s focus on reading and writing skills in the context of learning algebra.

Source: A double dose of algebra (2012), Education Next, 13(1)