Teachers’ use of intervention programmes to support underachieving pupils

A new research report from the RAND Corporation provides insight into teachers’ use of intervention programmes and the factors that may influence that use.

Laura Stelitano and colleagues used data from a sample of 4,402 teachers who indicated on the spring 2019 American Instructional Resources Survey (AIRS) that they teach English and/or maths. The survey asked teachers whether they used intervention programmes to support pupils who are performing below the required level for their year group in their respective subject area, and if so, to select the programmes they use from a list of common interventions.

The report found that, overall, intervention programmes were used less often for maths and in high (secondary) schools. Teachers were more likely to use intervention programmes in English (62%) than in maths (52%). Although high school teachers were least likely to use an intervention programme than elementary (primary) or middle school teachers, 42% of high school teachers reported using a reading or maths intervention. The report also found that teachers’ use of intervention programmes varied depending on the level of school poverty. Teachers in high-poverty schools were more likely than those in lower-poverty schools to use intervention programmes in English. However, the use of maths intervention programmes does not appear to be tied to school poverty levels.

The authors of the report recommend that research could also explore why such a large percentage of teachers are using intervention programmes, the quality of the programmes they are using, and how they are using the interventions to support learning.

Source: Teachers’ use of intervention programs: Who uses them and how context matters (2020), Insights from the American Educator Panels, RAND Corporation, RR-2575/16-BMGF/SFF/OFF

What is the impact of the New York City Community Schools initiative?

Research published by the RAND Corporation assesses the impact of the New York City Community Schools initiative (NYC-CS) on outcomes related to attendance, achievement, pupil behaviour, and school climate and culture.

Launched in 2014, the NYC-CS is a strategy to organise resources in schools and provide various services to address the comprehensive needs of pupils, families, and communities through collaboration with community agencies and local government. As part of the study, William R Johnston and colleagues assessed the effects of NYC-CS during the 2017–2018 school year to determine whether pupils were performing better than they would be had their schools not been designated as Community Schools, using average pupil outcomes in each school.

Among the key findings, the results indicate that NYC-CS had positive effects on most of the outcomes examined. In particular, NYC-CS had a positive impact on attendance for pupils in all grades, and these effects appeared to be increasing over time. There was also evidence that NYC-CS led to a reduction in disciplinary incidents for elementary and middle school pupils (Years 1–9) but not for high school students (Years 10–13).

Source: Illustrating the promise of Community Schools: An assessment of the impact of the New York City Community Schools initiative (January 2020), Rand Corporation, RR-3245-NYCCEO

Examining research on the Big Lift preschool initiative

Celia Gomez and colleagues from the RAND Corporation have released a new research brief that examines Big Lift, a preschool to third-grade initiative designed to boost literacy skills and ensure that children are reading proficiently by third grade (Year 4). The initiative has been implemented in seven US school districts in San Mateo County, California, that have below-average third-grade reading levels. According to the brief, Big Lift seeks to improve third-grade reading through a set of four co-ordinated and integrated “pillars”: High-Quality Preschool, Summer Learning, School Attendance and Family Engagement.

The researchers have examined outcomes for two cohorts of pupils: Cohort 1 includes pupils in four districts who receive Big Lift services, and Cohort 2 an additional three districts. Data sources include early childhood cognitive assessments, kindergarten (Year 1) and first-grade (Year 2) entry forms completed by parents, and the San Mateo County Office of Education’s countywide data system.

The current research brief is part of a multiphase evaluation of Big Lift, and reports on findings after two years of implementation. Key findings are as follows:

  • Big Lift preschool children in the 2017–2018 kindergarten class were better prepared for kindergarten than demographically similar peers who did not attend preschool — but they were less prepared than similar peers who attended non–Big Lift preschool programmes.
  • Children who attended two years of Big Lift preschool were more kindergarten-ready than similar peers who attended only one year.
  • In the 2016–2017 kindergarten class, Big Lift preschool children had reading levels at the end of kindergarten and the start of first grade that were on par with similar peers who attended other preschool programmes and higher than similar peers who attended no preschool at all.

Source: The Big Lift preschool, two years in: What have we learned so far? (2018), RAND Corporation Research Briefs RB-10047-SVCF

Examining restorative practices in schools

A new research brief by Catherine Augustine and colleagues at the RAND Corporation examines findings from an evaluation of restorative practices as implemented in schools in Pennsylvania, USA. Restorative practices are described as inclusive and non-punitive ways to respond to conflict and build community, and these practices were implemented through the SaferSanerSchools Whole-School Change programme. Some key elements of the programme include:

  • Affective statements: Personal expressions of feeling in response to specific positive or negative behaviours of others.
  • Small impromptu conferences: Questioning exercises that quickly resolve lower-level incidents involving two or more people.
  • Fair process: A set of transparent practices designed to create open lines of communication, assure people that their feelings and ideas have been taken into account, and foster a healthy community as a means of treating people respectfully throughout a decision-making process so that they perceive that process to be fair, regardless of the outcome.

The research team conducted a randomised controlled trial of restorative practices in 44 schools in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, between June 2015 and June 2017. Data included findings from observations, surveys, and interviews, and administrative.

Key findings of the study were as follows:

  • Restorative practices were successful in reducing pupil suspensions.
  • Restorative practices reduced suspension rates of elementary grade (primary school) pupils, African American pupils, pupils from low-income families, and female pupils more than for pupils not in these groups.
  • Restorative practices did not improve academic outcomes, nor did they reduce suspensions for middle school pupils or suspensions for violent offences.

Overall, the research team concludes that restorative practices are promising, particularly for elementary schools seeking to reduce suspension rates.

Source: Restorative practices help reduce student suspensions. (December 2018), RAND Corporation RB-10051-DOJ

Planning ahead for summer

Heather L Schwartz and colleagues from the RAND Corporation have released a final report on a six-year study of the National Summer Learning Project, an initiative from The Wallace Foundation that was implemented in 2011 in five urban school districts in the US. The summer programmes in these districts were district-led, voluntary summer learning programmes that featured both academic teaching and enrichment opportunities to improve outcomes for low-income pupils.

The overall study combined a randomised controlled trial with correlational analysis and implementation research to examine whether voluntary, district-run summer learning programmes can improve academic, behavioural, and social and emotional outcomes for low-income, urban children in both the short and long terms. The study followed approximately 5,600 pupils from third to seventh grade (Years 4 to 8). Data included surveys, observations and test data.

Findings showed that pupils who received a minimum of 25 hours of mathematics teaching in a summer performed better on the subsequent state maths test, and those receiving 34 hours of English lessons performed better on the subsequent state English language assessment.

These outcomes need to be viewed with caution, however, as pupils who actually attended summer school, as opposed to those who signed up but did not attend, are likely to be more highly motivated and better achieving, introducing possible bias.

Based on their research, the authors offer several recommendations for planning for summer learning, including:

  • Commit in the autumn to a summer programme, and start active planning by January with a programme director who has at least half of his or her time devoted to the job.
  • Prior to the start of the summer programme, professional development for summer teachers should include specific guidance on use of the summer curricula, minimising loss of teaching time, and on checking for pupil understanding.
  • Operate the programme for five to six weeks with three to four hours of academic lessons per day.

A more detailed and comprehensive list of recommendations can be found in the report.

Source: Getting to work on summer learning. Recommended practices for success, 2nd edition (2018), RAND Corporation

$575 million programme has no impact on pupil outcomes

Findings from an evaluation of a $575 million programme to improve teacher performance found that, while sites implemented new measures of teaching effectiveness and modified personnel policies accordingly, the programme had no impact on pupil outcomes.

The Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching initiative, designed and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, aimed to dramatically improve pupil outcomes by improving pupils’ access to effective teaching. Three US school districts and four charter management organisations participated in the programme, which ran between 2009 and 2016.

The final evaluation report, published by the RAND Corporation, found that by the end of 2014-15, outcomes for pupils in the settings that took part in the initiative were not better than outcomes for pupils in similar settings that did not take part. There was no evidence that low-income minority (LIM) pupils had greater access than non-LIM pupils to effective teaching. In addition, it found very few instances of improvement in the effectiveness of teaching overall, and no improvement in the effectiveness of newly hired teachers compared to experienced teachers. The evaluation also found no increase in the retention of effective teachers, although there was some decline in the retention of ineffective teachers in most settings that took part in the initiative.

The report states several possible reasons that the initiative failed to achieve its goals for improving pupil outcome:

  • incomplete implementation of the key policies and practices
  • the influence of external factors, such as state-level policy changes during the initiative
  • insufficient time for effects to appear
  • a flawed theory of action
  • a combination of all these factors.

 

Source:  Improving teaching effectiveness: Final report: The Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching through 2015–2016 (2018), RAND Corporation.