Volunteering improves self-confidence and teamwork, but not achievement

A new study from the Education Endowment Foundation in the UK looks at the impact of a youth social-action project. Delivered by the Youth United Foundation, it involved the creation of new units of uniformed youth organisations (such as The Scout Association, Sea Cadets, or St. John Ambulance) in schools in the North East of England. The groups delivered sessions throughout the year, usually weekly, delivered by trained staff from the youth organisations, sometimes involving adult volunteers, including teachers.

Seventy-one secondary schools were randomly assigned to receive the intervention or not. An initial survey of 3,377 Year 9 students (8th grade in the U.S.) found nearly half wanted to take part in the activities offered, and 663 took part in uniformed group activities during the 2014/15 academic year.

There was no evidence that the intervention had any benefit on children’s academic performance. However, participation in the intervention saw a small improvement in self-reported non-achievement outcomes including self-confidence (effect size = +0.10) and teamwork (+0.04). For children eligible for free school meals, there was no evidence of impact on any outcome.

A process evaluation revealed that students, teachers, and parents thought highly of the intervention. It also highlighted a number of factors that prevented the intervention from being delivered as planned, including a lack of space, time, adult volunteers, and support from senior leadership.

Source: Youth Social Action: Secondary Trial (2016), Education Endowment Foundation

Positive results for AmeriCorps tutoring programme

This report shares findings of an independent study of Minnesota Reading Corps (MRC), an AmeriCorps programme that provides trained literacy tutors for children aged 3 to 9. It shows that primary pupils tutored by AmeriCorps members achieved significantly higher literacy levels than those without such tutors, and impacts were statistically significant even among pupils at higher risk of academic failure.

The research, which was completed by NORC at the University of Chicago, involved a randomised controlled trial of more than 1,500 pupils from kindergarten (Year 1) through to third grade (Year 4) at 23 urban, suburban, and rural Minnesota schools during the 2012-13 school year. These pupils were assigned to either the MRC programme or to a control group. Outcomes were measured using the AIMSweb literacy assessments, which evaluated letter sound fluency, nonsense word fluency, and oral reading fluency.

Overall, key findings included:

  • After a single term of tutoring, the average kindergarten child with an AmeriCorps tutor performed twice as well as children without one.
  • AmeriCorps tutors helped the average first grade pupil perform 11% better than untutored peers, and 26% higher than the expected level for on-track pupils after one term of tutoring.
  • Pupils with higher risk factors (such as those with English as an Additional Language or those who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch) who received AmeriCorps tutoring significantly outperformed similar pupils.

Source: Impact Evaluation of the Minnesota Reading Corps K-3 Program, NORC at the University of Chicago.

Reading partners

A new policy brief from MDRC summarises the early results of an evaluation of the Reading Partners one-to-one volunteer reading programme, and finds positive impacts.

The programme serves more than 7,000 struggling readers in primary schools in deprived areas of several US states. Tutors do not need to have any experience, but are given training and ongoing support. Reading Partners received $7 million in investments and grants to expand to more schools throughout the US, and for an evaluation of the effectiveness of the programme.

This evaluation took place during the 2012-2013 school year in 19 schools in three states, and involved 1,265 pupils. Positive impacts were found on three different assessments of reading proficiency which measured reading comprehension, fluency, and the ability to read sight-words efficiently. The authors say that these encouraging results demonstrate that Reading Partners, when delivered on a large scale and implemented with fidelity, can be an effective tool for improving reading proficiency.

Source: Reading Partners: The Implementation and Effectiveness of a One-on-One Tutoring Program Delivered by Community Volunteers (2014), MDRC.

The effects of a volunteer mentoring programme on reading outcomes

This article from the Journal of Early Childhood Research presents findings of a randomised controlled trial evaluation of the effects of a volunteer mentoring programme on reading outcomes among struggling readers aged eight to nine years. The trial involved children from 50 primary schools who received two 30-minute mentoring sessions per week from volunteer mentors that involved paired reading activities.

The evaluation showed that the programme was effective in improving decoding skills, reading rate, and reading fluency. However, no evidence was found of the programme having an effect on reading comprehension or reading confidence and enjoyment of reading. The findings make an important contribution to the existing evidence in this area, and show that mentoring programmes that use non-specialist volunteers, rather than teachers or highly trained mentors, can be effective in improving some core reading but may be less effective in improving reading comprehension.

Source: The effects of a volunteer mentoring programme on reading outcomes among eight- to nine-year-old children: A follow up randomised controlled trial (2012), Journal of Early Childhood Research, 10(2)