AmeriCorps volunteers and pupil maths achievement

AmeriCorps is a US organisation that trains volunteers to serve the community in various civically-minded ways. A recent evaluation examined the effects on pupils’ maths achievement of training AmeriCorps volunteers to teach maths strategies to struggling maths pupils in grades 4–8 (Years 5–9). The volunteers used scripted protocols to teach three maths strategies to struggling pupils. Each strategy was studied in prior research and shown to have positive effects on achievement: concrete-representational-abstract, which uses concrete objects to teach concepts; cover-copy-compare, which teaches steps for computation and provides practice; and cognitive-strategy instruction, which teaches pupils to use procedures and reasoning to solve word problems.

AmeriCorps volunteers had to agree to a year-long, full-time commitment and received four days of training before starting the intervention, with additional training one and two months after. Each school received at least one volunteer from AmeriCorps, who was mentored by one school-staff member who was fully trained in the programme.

Subjects were 489 pupils in 150 Minnesota schools who were randomly assigned to either receive the intervention at the start of the school year (n=310), or to a control group who would receive the intervention a few months later (n=179). All pupils had scored below proficient in the prior year’s state maths assessment. During the intervention, pupil pairs with similar maths scores were to receive maths support for 90 minutes a week for a term. Post-tests using STAR Math were analysed two ways: the intent-to-treat analysis included all pupils who received the intervention, and showed significant positive effects as compared to the control group (effect size = +0.17); and the optimal dosage analysis that included pupils who received the targeted 12 weeks of intervention for at least an hour a week. Effect sizes for the experimental group increased to +0.24 when pupils were given the optimal dosage.

Source: Evaluation of a math intervention program implemented with community support (May 2019), Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, DOI: 10.1080/19345747.2019.1571653

Helping students to graduate ASAP

A study published in American Economic Journal: Applied Economics presents the results from a randomised controlled trial of the City University of New York’s (CUNY) Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) initiative on students’ academic progress and success. This latest paper considers the long-term impact of the programme (we covered the original study previously in Best Evidence in Brief).

The CUNY ASAP programme is a comprehensive three-year programme aimed at helping more students to graduate from community college more quickly than they otherwise would (in the US, community colleges provide higher education from the age of 18). It aims to remove the barriers to academic success often faced by low-income students and comprises the following components:

  • Students are required to attend college full time, take remedial courses early, and graduate in three years.
  • Each student is provided with a dedicated ASAP advisor.
  • Students receive a tuition waiver covering the difference between the financial aid provided and the cost of tuition and fees. They are also provided with free passes for public transport and free use of textbooks.
  • Students can enrol in courses with other ASAP students in convenient schedules.

The results of the study showed that ASAP had positive impacts on full-time enrolment and credit accumulation. It had an estimated 18 percentage point effect on three-year graduation rates, increased six-year graduation rates by an estimated 10 percentage points, and helped students to graduate more quickly than students in the control group.

Source: Supporting community college students from start to degree completion: Long-term evidence from a randomized trial of CUNY’s ASAP” (July 2019), American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 11 (3).

Professional development for early childhood language and literacy

In the field of education, professional development (PD) is intended to improve both classroom teaching and children’s learning. A new study, published in Journal of Educational Psychology, looks at what effect PD has when used at scale with large numbers of educators.

In this large-scale randomised controlled trial, Shayne B Piasta and colleagues examined the effectiveness of a language and literacy PD programme on both teacher and child outcomes in early childhood education. More than 500 teachers across one US state took part in the trial and were randomly assigned to one of three groups: professional development with coaching, professional development without coaching, or a comparison group. Teachers in the PD groups received 30 hours of state-sponsored language and literacy professional development, with those assigned to the coaching groups also receiving ongoing individualised coaching throughout the academic year. Teachers in the comparison group also received state-sponsored PD, but in other subjects.

The results of the trial suggest that PD affected only a few aspects of classroom language and literacy teaching practices relative to the comparison group, and did not affect children’s literacy learning. PD with coaching showed a small positive impact on the quantity of phonological awareness, while both PD with and without coaching had a small positive impact on the quality of teaching in phonological awareness and writing.

Source: At-scale, state-sponsored language and literacy professional development: Impacts on early childhood classroom practices and children’s outcomes (June 2019), Journal of Educational Psychology

How do pupils in China and the US perceive school climate differently?

School climate includes factors that serve as conditions for learning, and support physical and emotional safety, connection, support and engagement, as the US Department of Education suggests. In this study published in School Psychology Quarterly, George Bear and colleagues examined how pupils in China and the US perceive school climate differently and how it relates to their engagement in schools.

A total of 3,716 Chinese pupils from 18 schools in Guangzhou and 4,085 American pupils from 15 schools in Delaware were compared in the study. All schools were suburban schools or urban schools. The sample of American pupils was randomly selected from a larger dataset consisting of 37,255 pupils prepared by the Delaware Department of Education to match the pupil numbers of the Chinese pupil sample. Pupils who participated in this study were from grades 3–5 (Years 4–6), 7–8 (Years 8–9), and 10–12 (Years 11–13). Grade 6 (Year 7) and grade 9 (Year 10) were excluded from this study since pupils in these two grades were placed in different levels in Chinese and American schools.

Pupils were compared in their perceptions of school climate, which included teacher-pupil relations, pupil-pupil relations, fairness of school rules, clarity of behavioural expectations, respect for diversity, school safety, engagement school-wide, and bullying school-wide. Pupils’ engagement was measured by the Delaware Student Engagement Scale. The findings showed:

  • Chinese pupils perceived all aspects of school climate significantly more positively than American pupils during middle school and high (secondary) school.
  • The difference was smaller in elementary (primary) schools, with no significant differences for fairness of rules, clarity of behavioural expectations and school safety.
  • US pupils’ engagement was greater in elementary schools, while Chinese pupils reported greater emotional engagement in middle and high schools.
  • A significant relation between school climate and engagement was found for American pupils but not Chinese pupils.

The authors suggest that the findings might encourage schools to develop and promote those social-emotional competencies, values and norms which have been shown to underlie the high academic achievement of Chinese pupils in addition to school climate.

Source: Differences in school climate and student engagement in China and the United States (June 2018), School Psychology Quarterly, Vol 33(2)

Study shows teacher qualifications positively impact pupil performance

Despite the achievement gap that has historically existed between pupils from different racial backgrounds and poverty levels, at-risk pupils in some California school districts are outperforming pupils of similar backgrounds in other districts. Why? What are these districts doing to make their pupils so successful?

Anne Podolsky and colleagues at the Learning Policy Institute recently released a report first identifying the 156 California school districts performing better than expected, referred to as “positive outliers”, and then compared their characteristics to other districts in the state who have similar populations but are not performing as well.

Results show that schools in the successful districts were comprised of more experienced, well-qualified teachers than the less successful districts. After controlling for pupil social and economic status (SES) and district characteristics, teacher qualification emerged as the primary variable affecting achievement for all pupils, as measured by California’s English and maths assessments. In addition, years’ experience in a district was positively associated with achievement for African-American and Hispanic pupils.

The report notes that in the 2017–18 school year, California authorised more than 12,000 substandard permits and credentials, more than half of the entering workforce that year, many of whom were disproportionately assigned to schools serving the largest percentages of pupils of colour or from low SES backgrounds. The findings highlight how the state’s shortage of qualified teachers is negatively impacting pupil achievement.

Source: California’s positive outliers: Districts beating the odds (May 2019), Learning Policy Institute

Interleaved practice improves maths test scores

The results of a randomised controlled trial, published in Journal of Educational Psychology, suggest that a greater emphasis on interleaved practice may dramatically improve maths test scores for grade 7 (Year 8) pupils. Whereas most mathematics worksheets consist of a block of problems devoted to the same skill or concept, an interleaved worksheet is arranged so that no two consecutive problems require the same strategy.

Doug Rohrer and colleagues conducted the study with 54 classes in a large school district in Florida during the 2017–2018 school year. Over a period of four months, the classes periodically completed either interleaved or blocked worksheets, and then both groups completed an interleaved review worksheet. All pupils completed the same problems. One month later, pupils took an unannounced test which was set by the researchers. Pupils who had completed the interleaved assignments performed much better on the unannounced test than those in the blocked assignment group (effect size = +0.83).                

The researchers suggest that the large effect sizes observed in the study for interleaved maths practice may be due to the learning strategies it involves, which force the pupil to choose an appropriate strategy for each problem on the basis of the problem itself. They also identified some limitations of the study – particularly that the interleaving pupils took longer to complete their worksheets so effectively spent more time on each topic.

Source: A randomized controlled trial of interleaved mathematics practice (May 2019). Journal of Educational Psychology