What role do principals play in improving teaching and student achievement?

A new report from the Institute of Education Sciences in the US has found that an intensive approach to helping principals (headteachers) improve their leadership practices did not improve pupil achievement or change principal practices as intended.

The study looked at the effectiveness of a professional development (PD) programme for elementary (primary) school principals that focused on helping them to conduct structured observations of teachers’ classroom teaching and provide targeted feedback. It provided nearly 200 hours of PD over two years, half of it through individualised coaching. One hundred schools from eight districts in five US states took part in the study. Within each district, schools with similar characteristics were paired together, and within each pair, one school was randomly assigned to participate in the programme for two years while the other did not.

To measure the effects on pupil achievement, the researchers compared pupil test scores in grades 3 to 5 (Years 4 to 6) for both years of programme implementation plus one additional school year. They found that, on average, pupils had similar achievement in English or maths whether they were in schools that received the principal PD programme or not.

The results of the study also found that although the programme was implemented as planned, principals did not increase the number of times they observed teachers. In fact, teachers whose principals received the PD reported receiving less frequent teaching support and feedback than teachers whose principals did not receive the PD.

Source: The effects of a principal professional development program focused on instructional leadership (October 2019), Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education

Review of SEL assessments for secondary pupils

The Institute of Education Sciences at the US Department of Education has released A review of instruments for measuring social and emotional learning skills among secondary school students. The review is designed to help state and local education agencies find assessments that measure secondary students’ social-emotional skills, specifically in the areas of collaboration, perseverance and self-regulated learning, and to help readers interpret the information about reliability and validity for each assessment.

A total of 16 assessments met the following inclusion criteria for the review: they had to be publicly available, had to have been administered to secondary students in the US, and had to have undergone validation study in 1994 or after. Tables in the review detail the format of instruments by emotional skill, and the reliability and type of validity information for each assessment. Authors conclude with implications for use of each type of instrument.

Source: A review of instruments for measuring social and emotional learning skills among secondary school students (October 2019), US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences (REL 2020–010

Effects of the Whole School Restorative Justice Program

Restorative approaches are practices aimed at making peace, preventing further harm and building community. The Whole School Restorative Justice Program (WSRJ) is designed to promote these practices in the school setting. It uses multi-level strategies to provide an alternative to zero-tolerance approaches, which have raised suspension rates in the US, especially among minority youth. Tier 1 is regular classroom circles, Tier 2 is repair harm/conflict circles, and Tier 3 includes mediation, family group conferencing and welcome/re-entry circles to initiate successful re-integration of pupils being released from juvenile detention centres.

A three-year matched study compared schools in California participating in WSRJ to similar schools that did not. In WSRJ schools, suspensions were cut in half (34% to 14%). This was significantly more than the change seen in non-RJ schools (p<.05). Chronic absences diminished in WSRJ middle and high schools, while increasing in non-WSRJ middle and high schools. The middle school differences were highly significant (p<.001). Reading levels for pupils in ninth grade (Year 10) increased more in WSRJ schools than in non-WSRJ schools, and four-year graduation rates gained significantly more.

Source: Restorative Justice in Oakland schools implementation and impacts: An effective strategy to reduce radically disproportionate discipline, suspensions and improve academic outcomes (September 2014), US Department of Education

New findings about Investing in Innovation (i3) evaluations

A new report from the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE) in the US summarises the findings of the first 67 Investing in Innovation (i3) fund evaluations. The i3 fund is a tiered-evidence programme that aligns the amount of funding awarded with the strength of the prior evidence supporting the proposed intervention. The report stated that:

  • Twelve of the i3 evaluations found a statistically significant positive impact on at least one pupil academic outcome.
  • Forty of the i3 evaluations met all of the evaluation quality goals set by i3. In addition to consistency with What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) evidence standards, these goals included: independence, high-quality implementation measurement and including a sample that adequately represents those served under the grant.

Source: The Investing in Innovation Fund:  summary of 67 evaluations – final report (June 2018), National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), US Department of Education

What is the impact of pay-for-performance?

Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grants were awarded in 2010 by the US Department of Education to support performance-based compensation systems for teachers and principals in high-need schools.

In order to assess the impacts of pay-for-performance on educator (teachers and principals) and pupil outcomes, an experimental study design was used in ten US school districts to randomly assign elementary and middle schools to treatment and control groups. Both groups implemented the same performance-based compensation system, but in the control schools, the pay-for-performance element was replaced by a one percent bonus paid to all teachers and principals regardless of performance. A fourth and final report from this evaluation has now been published, covering all four years of the programme (between 2011 and 2015).

Among the key findings are that pay-for-performance had small, positive impacts on pupil achievement by the second year of implementation. From that year onward, reading and maths achievement was higher by 1 to 2 percentile points in schools that offered performance bonuses than in schools that did not. However, it was not entirely clear how this improvement was achieved. The impacts of pay-for-performance on classroom observation ratings did not appear to explain the impacts on pupil achievement, and in treatment schools as many as 40% of teachers were unaware that they could earn a performance bonus.

Source: Evaluation of the Teacher Incentive Fund: Final report on implementation and impacts of pay-for-performance across four years (NCEE 2017-4004),(December 2017), National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, US Department of Education.

Report finds mixed effects for Saxon Math

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) in the US has released a new research report on Saxon Math, and findings show mixed results for the programme.

Saxon Math is a curriculum for pupils in grades K-12 (Years 1-13). It uses an incremental structure that distributes content throughout the year. For the IES report, researchers reviewed studies of Saxon Math’s primary courses, which include kindergarten (Year 1) through pre-algebra. Out of 26 studies eligible for review, five studies fell within the scope of the What Work Clearinghouse’s (WWC) primary maths topic area and met WWC design standards. These five studies included 8,855 pupils in grades 1–3 and 6–8 in 149 schools across at least 18 states.

According to the report, the estimated impact of the intervention on outcomes in the mathematics achievement domain was positive and substantively important in two studies and indeterminate in three studies. The authors conclude that Saxon Math has mixed effects on maths test scores of pupils in primary classes.

Source: Saxon Math (May 2017), US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, What Works Clearinghouse