No evidence of impact for a modularisation and self-paced computer-assisted approach to college maths

One of the greatest challenges facing community colleges in the US is that most students’ maths skills are below college level. These students are often referred to developmental maths courses, however, most students never complete the course and fail to earn a college degree.

A study published in Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness looks at whether a modularised, computer-assisted approach that allows students to move at their own pace through the developmental maths course has any impact on students’ likelihood of completing the developmental maths course, compared with more traditional teaching.

The findings of the randomised trial of 1,400 students found that although the programme was well-implemented, there was no evidence that it was any more or less effective than traditional courses at helping students complete the developmental maths course. The researchers comment that although the results are disappointing, they are important because modularisation and self-paced computer-assisted approaches are popular teaching methods.

Source: A randomized controlled trial of a modularized, computer-assisted, self-paced approach to developmental math (September 2019), Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness

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

Long-term impacts of KIPP middle schools

The Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) is the largest network of public charter schools in the US, serving more than 100,000 pupils across a network of more than 240 schools. KIPP schools predominantly educate low-income pupils from underserved communities, with the goal of closing achievement gaps and preparing pupils to succeed in college.

In this Mathematica report, Thomas Coen and colleagues present the results of a long-term tracking study that follows 1,177 pupils who applied to enter 1 of 13 oversubscribed KIPP middle schools through a 5th or 6th grade (Year 6 or 7) admissions lottery ten years ago.

The study found that pupils who won a place at a KIPP middle school through the admission lottery were six percentage points more likely to enrol in a four-year college programme within two years of finishing high school than pupils who lost the lottery. After adjusting for those pupils who actually attended a KIPP school after receiving an offer (only 68% of the lottery recipients actually attended a KIPP school), the impact estimate increased to 12.9 percentage points.

The study also tracked the pupils who enrolled in college immediately after high school, and examined whether they remained in college programmes over the next two years. Pupils who attended KIPP middle schools were more likely to still be enrolled in college after two years (33%) than similar pupils who did not attend KIPP middle schools (24%). However, although rates of entering college immediately and then continuing for two years were higher for KIPP pupils, this difference was not large enough to be statistically significant.

Source:  Long-term impacts of KIPP middle schools on college enrollment and early college persistence (September 2019), Mathematica

Can school readiness tests predict future success in school?

A study published in School Psychology investigates the importance of screening children for their readiness for kindergarten (Year 1), and how effective this is at predicting outcomes in first grade (Year 2).

Nineteen kindergarten teachers and 350 children from six elementary schools in Missouri took part in the study. Teachers completed a kindergarten academic and behaviour readiness screener at the beginning of the academic year. Melissa Stormont and colleagues then compared pupil scores from the screening tool to their performance on a maths and reading achievement test, and to teacher ratings of their social and emotional skills 18 months later.

The results showed that children with poor academic readiness were more than 9 times more likely to have low reading scores at the end of their first-grade year. Similarly, children who rated poor in behaviour readiness were six times more likely to be rated as having displayed disruptive behaviour and poor social skills by their first-grade teachers. The authors suggest that the screening tool could be used to screen for children low in readiness in order to provide supports and monitoring for early intervention.

Source: Teacher-rated school readiness items in a kindergarten sample: Outcomes in first grade (August 2019), School Psychology

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

Improving attendance by improving school conditions

The American Institutes for Research (AIR) and Attendance Works have released a new report, Using Chronic Absence Data to Improve Conditions for Learning, which describes how data on chronic absence, defined as a pupil missing 10 or more days of school, can be a tool to warn administrators that pupils are not getting the support they need. The first half of the report describes four school characteristics that promote attendance — physical and emotional health and safety; belonging, connectedness and support; academic challenge and engagement; and adult and pupil social and emotional competence — and how they relate to attendance. The second half of the report describes how chronic attendance data can be used to diagnose weaknesses in learning conditions and presents specific steps that schools can take to promote better conditions.

Source: Using chronic absence data to improve conditions for learning (September 2019), Attendance Works and American Institutes for Research (AIR)