Professional development programme unsuccessful in improving maths achievement

Developing Mathematical Ideas (DMI) is a professional development programme designed to increase teachers’ knowledge of fourth grade (Year 5) maths fractions and rational numbers with the ultimate goal of improving their pupils’ maths achievement.

A study conducted in the 2014–15 school year, prepared for the Institute of Education Sciences by Madhavi Jayanthi and colleagues at Instructional Research Group and REL Southeast, investigated the effects of DMI on teacher content knowledge and their pupils’ subsequent achievement in fractions. A total of 264 fourth grade (Year 5) teachers in 84 elementary (primary) schools in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina in the US were randomly assigned by school to receive either DMI (n=42 schools, 129 teachers) or their usual professional development programme (n=42 schools, 135 teachers). The 84 schools were matched on grade four enrolment, number of pupils who exceeded fourth grade maths standards, percentage of African American and Hispanic pupils and percentage of pupils eligible for free- or reduced-price lunches. In autumn 2014, DMI teachers received eight three-hour training sessions conducted over four days, followed by homework and concluding with a test on fractions. A total of 4,204 fourth grade pupils’ (2,091 E, 2,113 C) baseline scores on third grade standardised tests were used as a pre-test, because most third graders know little about fractions and the Test for Understanding of Fractions was used as the post-test at the end of the academic year to measure their knowledge gain after their teachers had completed DMI.

Results showed no significant differences between either the DMI or non-DMI teachers’ knowledge of fractions and their pupils’ proficiency in fractions.

Source: Impact of the Developing Mathematical Ideas professional development program on grade 4 students’ and teachers’understanding of fractions (March 2017), US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast.

What makes social and emotional learning programmes effective in the classroom?

Social and emotional learning (SEL) addresses the ability to control one’s emotions and to interact appropriately with others. Numerous programmes exist to teach this skill to children in the classroom, and a recent surge in SEL research has allowed patterns to emerge regarding what makes certain programmes effective. As one of a four-part series on SEL, REL Mid-Atlantic has released A Review of The Literature on Social and Emotional Learning for Students Ages 3-8: Characteristics of Effective Social and Emotional Learning Programs, which identifies the most important components of SEL programmes and offers guidance to those selecting them.

As part of this research, Rosemarie O’Conner and colleagues examined 83 research syntheses from 2008-2015 that met inclusion criteria. Common characteristics of successful SEL programmes were that learning occurred through teaching specific skills in the classroom, incorporating role-playing and modelling the skills. The research showed that SEL activities should occur in a sequential order, be used regularly and pupils should be allotted enough time for practice. Teacher training is also essential.

When choosing a programme, authors refer readers to a guide that rates 23 programmes by quality and evidence of effectiveness. They also list several recommendations including considering the school’s resources, staff attitudes and time available to implement a given programme.

Source: A review of the literature on social and emotional learning for students ages 3–8: Characteristics of effective social and emotional learning programs (part 1 of 4) (February 2017), Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic.

Can a postcard reduce pupils’ absenteeism?

In an effort to improve parents’ and guardians’ awareness of absenteeism, and therefore reduce pupil absenteeism, the Philadelphia school district in the US together with the National Center for Evaluation and Regional Assistance conducted a randomised controlled trial based on the principles of “nudge” theory. Nudge theory is an approach that involves unobtrusive intervention to promote desired behaviours.

In this study, the “nudge” was a single postcard sent to the homes of pupils in grades 1–12 (Years 2–13 in the UK) who had been absent the previous year to test whether it could reduce absenteeism and what impact, if any, different messages had. Two types of message were tested: one simply encouraging parents to improve their child’s attendance; the other included specific information about their child’s attendance history as well as encouraging them to improve their child’s attendance. A control group received no postcards from the school.

Todd Rogers and colleagues found that receiving a postcard reduced absences by around 2.4 percent. There was no statistically significant difference in pupils’ absence according to which message their parents received. The effect of the postcard did not differ between pupils in grades 1– 8 (Years 2–9) and pupils in grades 9–12 (Years 10–13).

Source: A randomized experiment using absenteeism information to “nudge” attendance (February 2017), Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic.

What works for struggling readers?

A new report from the US National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance summarises evidence from 17 studies conducted under Striving Readers, a federal grant programme that aimed to raise middle and high school pupils’ literacy levels in deprived areas. As part of the programme, each Striving Readers grantee partnered with an independent evaluator to conduct a randomised controlled trial of the reading intervention being implemented.

For the current report, all of the Striving Reader evaluations were reviewed under What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) evidence standards. Twelve studies met the standards without reservations, three studies met with reservations, and two studies did not meet the WWC evidence standards.

Based on findings from studies that met the standards with or without reservations, four of ten interventions had positive, potentially positive, or mixed effects on reading achievement. Specifically:

  • For READ 180, there was evidence of positive effects on reading achievement. Three studies found statistically significant positive effects.
  • For Xtreme Reading, there was evidence of potentially positive effects on reading achievement. One study found statistically significant positive effects and one study found no effects.
  • For Learning Strategies Curriculum, there was evidence of potentially positive effects on reading achievement. There was a single study of the intervention, and it found statistically significant positive effects.
  • For Voyager Passport Reading Journeys, there were mixed effects on reading achievement. One study found statistically significant positive effects and two studies found no effects.

Source: Summary of Research Generated by Striving Readers on the Effectiveness of Interventions for Struggling Adolescent Readers (2015), Institute of Education Sciences.

Helping pupils with disabilities transition from secondary school

A new report from the US National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE) reviews the research on programmes that aim to help young people with disabilities make successful transitions beyond secondary school. Two promising approaches are identified:

  • community-based work programmes, which were found to have mixed effects on pupils’ employment outcomes and potentially positive effects on post-secondary education outcomes; and
  • functional life-skills development programmes, which were found to have potentially positive effects on independent living outcomes (although the extent of evidence was small).

NCEE’s search for transition research studies spanned the past two decades; however, relatively few studies (16) were found that met the What Works Clearinghouse standards for evidence of effectiveness. The authors offer several recommendations to researchers to try and help strengthen the evidence base.

For more on what works for children with disabilities, look out for the autumn issue of Better: Evidence-based Education magazine. It focuses on special education, including an article on functional skills, and will be available in September.

Source: Improving Post-High School Outcomes for Transition-Age Students with Disabilities: An Evidence Review, Institute of Education Sciences (2013).