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)

Effective interventions for emotional well-being

This paper, written by Tracey Bywater and Jonathan Sharples from the Institute for Effective Education, summarises a selective review of effective school-based social and emotional learning programmes, and draws lessons for policy and practice regarding choice and implementation. The evidence suggests that among universal and targeted evidence-based interventions, multi-modal/component approaches work in promoting cross-context competence and well-being. However, the scaling up of effective programmes remains difficult, and there are too few analyses of the cost-effectiveness or cost-benefit of effective programmes.

Choosing a programme “that works” is not enough to guarantee success; implementing the programme with fidelity takes time and resources, but is necessary to achieve the desired outcomes. A shift from being narrowly focused on “clinical effectiveness” and outcomes to being more inclusive of cost and process evaluations should result in more promising approaches, with a good potential for long-term financial and societal savings.

Source: Effective evidence-based interventions for emotional well-being: lessons for policy and practice (2012), Research Papers in Education, 27(4)

Are grammar schools failing to challenge their more able pupils?

A new report from the Schools Network suggests that some grammar schools may be failing to challenge their more able pupils because the current benchmark of 5+ A*–C GCSE passes including English and maths is too low.

The University of York’s Professor Jesson, the report’s author, suggests that for grammar schools this should be raised to 5+ A/A* GCSE passes including English and maths. Currently around 58% of pupils in comprehensive schools achieve 5+ A*–C GCSE passes including English and maths, compared with 55% in grammar schools achieving the suggested higher performance measure. Grammar schools should have “greater expectations” when it comes to pupils’ GCSE passes.

The report, which provided a comparative analysis of performance in all UK grammar schools, demonstrated that there are wide variations in both the intake of grammar schools in different parts of England and in pupils’ performance at GCSE. In outer London 75% of pupils in grammar schools achieved 5 A*/A GCSE passes including English and maths, compared to just 44% in east England. According to Professor Jesson these substantial differences go unnoticed in standard GCSE league tables where their performance is still considered to be high against current indicators of performance.

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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