Obama calls for more evidence-based policy and practice

The US President’s Office of Management and Budget has released new guidance to executive departments and agencies encouraging them to use rigorous programme evaluation and evidence-based decision making in their budget submissions for the 2014 financial year. The memo specifies that programmes demonstrating a commitment to developing and using evidence should be preferred for funding, and it suggests a number of approaches that agencies might use, including:

    Low-cost evaluations using administrative data or new technology;
  • Systematic measurement of costs and cost performance;
  • Using comparative cost-effectiveness data to allocate resources;
  • Infusing evidence into grant-making;
  • Using evidence to inform the enforcement of criminal, environmental and workplace safety laws; and
  • Strengthening agency evaluation capacity.

The memo is further support for the movement on both sides of the Atlantic to introduce more evidence-based policy and practice. In the latest Better: Evidence-based Education, Estelle Morris wrote an article about the levers available to politicians for bringing about change in education.

Source: Memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies (2012), Executive office of the president office of management and budget

Improving mathematical problem solving

This practice guide from the What Works Clearinghouse in the US provides five recommendations for improving pupils’ mathematical problem solving in Grades 4 to 8 (the equivalent of Years 5 to 9). The guide is aimed at teachers and policymakers who want to improve the mathematical problem solving of pupils. Recommendations include:

  • Assisting pupils in monitoring and reflecting on the problem-solving process.
  • Teaching pupils how to use visual representations.
  • Exposing pupils to multiple problem-solving strategies.

The guide presents evidence-based suggestions for putting each recommendation into practice and describes the problems that may be encountered, as well as possible solutions. Each recommendation is rated based on the strength of the research evidence that has shown the effectiveness of the recommendation. The recommendations listed above have strong to moderate evidence of effectiveness.

Source: Improving mathematical problem solving in grades 4 through 8 (2012), What Works Clearinghouse

Summer school literacy programme stops pupils slipping back

Pupils who went to summer school had improved their literacy performance at the end of the summer. This randomised trial, from Early Childhood Research Quarterly, examined the effects of a summer literacy programme on struggling readers in the US where summer holidays are longer.

Overall, pupils who didn’t attend summer school showed mean declines in the reading of nonsense words (a standard test of fluency) of approximately five words per minute over the summer. Children who attended summer school at the end of Kindergarten (Year 1) had a fluency gain of approximately 12 words-per-minute. Pupils at the end of Grade 1 (Year 2) had a fluency gain of 7.5 words per minute.

The findings are generally consistent with previous studies of summer school effects and the summer learning outcomes of children, and suggest that summer school can be a useful strategy to support learning over the summer months.

Source: Summer school effects in a randomized field trial (2012), Early Childhood Research Quarterly 28(1)

Updated report on Peer-Assisted Learning/Literacy Strategies (PALS)

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) has posted an updated report on Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies (also known as Peer-Assisted Literacy Strategies (PALS)), peer-tutoring programmes that supplement the primary reading curriculum. For the report, the WWC reviewed 45 studies that investigated the effects of PALS on beginning readers. Of these studies, three met the WWC’s evidence standards (one of which met the standards with reservations).

The three qualifying studies involved 3,130 beginning readers in kindergarten and first grade (KS1) in four US states. Based on these studies, the WWC found PALS to have potentially positive effects on alphabetics, no discernible effects on fluency, and mixed effects on comprehension for beginning readers.

Source: WWC Intervention Report (2012), What Works Clearinghouse

The effect of Professional Learning Teams on student achievement

A new study of Professional Learning Teams has shown that they may lead to improved student retention and grades. Professional Learning Teams are small groups of teachers who actively collaborate, share expertise, improve their skills, examine and use various forms of data, and learn from each other—all for the purpose of improved pupil learning. They were introduced systematically in five counties in North Carolina in 2003.

The study showed that schools that used Professional Learning Teams the most had greater decreases in pupil retention rates (the number of pupils held back each year) than those with lower implementation. The same was true for increasing test results, although this was not statistically significant.

Source: Wake County public school system (WCPSS) Professional Learning Teams (PLTs): 2010-11 to 2011-12 school-based policy study (2012), Wake County Public School System

Social-emotional learning for preschool children

This study from the Early Childhood Education Journal looks at the effects of an SEL curriculum on the social and emotional competence of preschool pupils. Participating teachers and pupils were assigned to either a treatment group or a control group. In the treatment group, Strong Start Pre-K was implemented, a programme that covers specific objectives and goals that help to prevent emotional and mental health problems; optional booster lessons are included to reinforce skills. In the control group, Strong Start Pre-K was not implemented.

The study showed a significant decrease in internalising behaviours and more improvement in the pupil–teacher relationship in the treatment group. The results also supported the use of the optional booster lessons.

To learn more about effective approaches to social-emotional learning, see “Social and emotional learning programmes that work”, an article from a recent issue of Better: Evidence-based Education magazine.

Source: Promoting social and emotional learning in preschool students: A study of strong start pre-k (2012), Early Childhood Education Journal, 40(3)