Results of a large randomised controlled trial of growth mindset

In a recent issue of Best Evidence in Brief, we reported on an English study of a growth mindset intervention, which found no evidence that it led to additional progress in literacy or numeracy. Now a US randomised controlled trial published in the journal Nature has found that a short, online, self-administered growth mindset intervention may improve achievement among lower-achieving students and increase overall enrollment in advanced math courses.

The study, conducted by David Yeager and colleagues, was the largest ever randomised controlled trial of growth mindset in US schools, with 12,000 ninth graders (Year 10) in 65 schools involved.

Students were individually randomised to either a control or intervention group. The intervention group was asked to complete two 25-minute online courses, taken three weeks apart. Students were given information about how the brain works and the latest research on growth mindset – then they completed activities such as explaining what they had learned from the course to students in the year below. Students in the control group were given a similar programme with information on how the brain worked, but no information on growth mindset.

Following the intervention, students’ grade point average (GPA) in their core classes of maths, science, English, and social studies, were collected. (In the US, grade point averages run from 4.0, which is an A, to 1.0, which is a D. There is no E grade. The score below D is an F.)

The study found that:

  • GPA scores for lower-achieving students in the intervention group rose by 0.1 points relative to peers in the control group (effect size = +0.11).
  • The proportion of lower-achieving students with D or F averages dropped by 5%.

Both higher- and lower-achieving students were more likely to take an advanced maths class in 10th grade (Year 11) – meaning enrollment in these courses rose from 33% to 36% in the 41 schools that shared this data.

Source: A national experiment reveals where a growth mindset improves achievement (August 2019) Nature.

Student allocation to maths sets not always based on previous achievement

Research into grouping by achievement, by academics from Queen’s University Belfast and University College London, has found that nearly a third of students in England were allocated to higher or lower maths sets than their previous test performance implied.

The study, published in the British Educational Research Journal, analysed data from 9,301 Year 7 students at 46 secondary schools in England. The researchers compared which maths set the students would have been put in – based on Key Stage 2 maths test scores – with the sets they were actually placed in. Overall, they found that 31.1% of students were misallocated – placed in sets that were either higher or lower than their results at the end of primary school would have indicated.

Boys were slightly more likely to be misallocated to higher sets in maths (16.7%) than lower sets (13.0%), whereas girls were more likely to be misallocated to lower sets (17.9%) than higher sets (14.7%). Other findings showed that:

  • Black students were 2.4 times more likely than white students to be misallocated to a lower maths set.
  • Asian students were 1.7 times more likely than white students to be misallocated to a lower maths set.
  • Female students were 1.53 times more likely than males to be misallocated to a lower maths set.
  • White students were 2.09 times more likely than black students to be misallocated to a higher maths set.
  • White students were 1.72 times more likely than Asian students to be misallocated to a higher maths set.
  • Male students were 1.32 times more likely than females to be misallocated to a higher maths set.

Source: The misallocation of students to academic sets in maths: A study of secondary schools in England (June 2019) British Educational Research Journal

Career education in secondary schools

Attending career talks with people in employment may change the attitudes of Key Stage 4 pupils regarding their education, according to new research published by the UK charity, Education and Employers.  

Year 11 pupils in five schools took part in the trial and were randomly assigned at class level into an intervention group (n=307) and a control group (n=347). Pupils in the intervention group received three extra career talks by employee volunteers on top of usual career activities organised by their schools. These talks took place either during tutor group time or private study time rather than during class.

The results of the study indicated that pupils who attended the career talks reported feeling more confident in their own abilities, feeling more positive about school, and having greater faith in their ability to fulfill their career aspirations. It also seemed to provide the incentive for increased study time. Pupils in the intervention group reported, on average, a 9% higher increase in the amount of time spent each week on individual study for GCSE exams than those in the control group.

The intervention programme also had a small positive effect on achievement, with pupils slightly more likely to exceed predicted GCSE grades relative to the control group. Lower achievers and less-engaged learners responded best to the career talks, with 74% reporting that they felt more motivated as a result of the talks. These pupils also exceeded their predicted GCSE grades compared with the control group (+0.14 of a grade effect size for English, +0.05 for maths, and +0.05 for science).

Source: Motivated to achieve: How encounters with the world of work can change attitudes and improve academic attainment (June 2019), Education and Employers Research

Better schools for all?

The Better Schools for All? report, published by the Nuffield Foundation, examines the role that schools play in pupils’ education and suggests that the school reforms in the UK in the past two decades have failed to bridge the gap in pupil achievement.

Researchers from University College London and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research looked at data from around 3,000 secondary schools in England between 2003 and 2016 and compared pupil outcomes and teachers’ experiences with those of employees elsewhere.

They found that:

  1. Attending a “good” secondary school adds only a small amount more value than attending a “bad” secondary school. Overall, schools were found to contribute around 10% of variance in pupil achievement.
  2. State schools are better at managing staff than private schools. Using Workplace Employment Relations Survey data, the study shows that state schools were more likely to have rigorous hiring practices and employee participation programmes than private schools, and the link between human resource management and effective and high-performing schools was only apparent in the state sector.
  3. Performance-related pay and performance monitoring, which were found to improve workplace performance elsewhere, were ineffective for teachers.
  4. Schools with more middle leaders tended to be rated more highly by Ofsted in terms of leadership and management. However, in schools which formed part of a multi-academy trust, no significant relationship was apparent.

Source: Better schools for all? (June 2019), Nuffield Foundation

Do expert teachers look at their class differently?

Teachers’ gaze patterns could reveal the different priorities expert teachers and novice teachers have in their classrooms, according to a recent study published in Learning and Instruction.

Using eye-tracking glasses, Nora McIntyre and colleagues investigated how gaze proportions might be different for teachers of different expertise and culture, indicating differences in teachers’ priorities. Twenty secondary school teachers from Hong Kong and twenty secondary school teachers from the UK participated in this study. Teachers were considered as expert teachers if they had six years’ or more experience, were selected by their school leadership as experts in teaching, had professional membership within the field of teaching, and scored highly in performance ratings.

Teachers’ gaze proportions were measured during questioning (information seeking) and lecturing (information giving) in normal timetabled lessons, for their gaze frequencies on the pupils, pupil materials, teacher materials, and non-instructional areas (such as door, windows). The findings were as follows:

  • Regardless of culture, expert teachers prioritised their gaze to pupils during both questioning and lecturing, while beginning teachers prioritised non-instructional classroom areas.
  • HK teachers prioritised their gazes to teacher materials, while UK teachers prioritised it to non-instructional areas during lecturing.
  • HK expert teachers also used more teacher materials gaze than the UK expert teachers.

The authors suggest that the finding of prioritisation of gaze to pupils by expert teachers was consistent with other research since prioritisation of pupils deepens pupils’ understanding of the subject, emotional security, security with peers, and their interest in subject materials.

Source: Capturing teacher priorities: Using real-world eye-tracking to investigate expert teacher priorities across two cultures (April 2019), Learning and Instruction, volume 60

Providing free glasses to secondary age pupils

Jingchun Nie and colleagues conducted a randomised controlled trial to examine the effects of providing free glasses to pupils in a poor rural area of Western China. 

In this study, screening and vision testing were provided to 1,974 grade seven and eight (Year 8 and 9) pupils from 31 schools located in northern Shaanxi province in China before they were divided into treatment and control groups. Free glasses were distributed in treatment schools to pupils found to need them, regardless of whether they had a pair of glasses already. In contrast, pupils in the control group solely received a prescription for glasses. The glasses usage of the treatment group increased from 31% at baseline at the start of the school year to 72% at the end of the school year, while that of the control group increased from 28% to 50%.

The study questioned pupils about their academic aspirations, administered a standardised exam using items drawn from a bank of questions developed by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), and measured the dropout rate to evaluate the intervention. Findings were as follows:

  • Among the pupils without glasses at baseline, the provision of glasses increased their maths achievement (effect size = +0.196), while there was no effect on pupils who already had glasses at baseline.
  • Providing glasses also increased pupils’ aspiration for attending academic high schools (instead of vocational schools) by 9% on average.
  • Providing glasses reduced the rate of dropout by 44% among the pupils who did not own glasses at baseline.

Source: Seeing is believing: Experimental evidence on the impact of eyeglasses on academic performance, aspirations and dropout among junior high school students in rural China (May 2019), Economic Development and Cultural Change DOI: 101086700631