Effects of Word Generation on academic language, vocabulary, and reading comprehension outcomes

Effects of Word Generation on academic language, vocabulary, and reading comprehension outcomes

A study published in the Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness reports on the impact of Word Generation on academic language, vocabulary, and reading comprehension outcomes for students in grades 4 to 7.

Word Generation (WG) is a vocabulary program designed to teach academic vocabulary words through English, math, science, and social studies classroom activities. For this study, 7,725 4th to 7th grade students from 25 schools in the northeast U.S. were randomized within pairs to either treatment or business-as-usual control conditions. In treatment schools, the program was implemented throughout the school year. In grades 4 and 5, this involved 12 ten-day long units of 45-50 minutes per day. For grades 6 and 7, the program was implemented in six-week long units designed to take 45 minutes each day in science and social studies classes.

At the end of the first year, students in grades 4 and 5 also made improvements on their academic language skills (ES = +0.06), and in their reading comprehension at the end of the second year (ES = +0.15). Reading comprehension also improved at the end of the second year for students in grades 6 and 7 (ES = +0.10).

The study also showed gains on tests of the specific words emphasized in the program, but these effects are considered potentially inflated.

Is a government-mandated reduced-class size policy likely to improve second graders’ achievement in France? The data say yes.

Is a government-mandated reduced-class size policy likely to improve second graders’ achievement in France? The data say yes.

As in the U.S., French students from impoverished areas demonstrate lower achievement than their more affluent peers. In an effort to close this achievement gap, the French government issued a policy in 2017 reducing first grade class size in high-priority educational areas to no more than 12 students, extending to second grade classes and priority educational areas in 2018. In order to provide evidence regarding the feasibility of such a policy, researchers used data from a 2003 first-grade-class-size-reduction policy in France to examine its carryover effects into second grade.

The 2003 study involved assigning first grade classrooms to either small (12 students/class n=100 classes) or large (20-25 students/class, n=100 classes) class sizes. At the start of the 2002-03 school year, children were pretested on pre-reading skills and matched. In posttests at the end of the school year, results favored the small-class-size group on word reading (ES=+0.14) and word spelling (ES=+0.22). These effects are very small in light of the costs of halving class size.

The new study examined these students’ reading achievement at the end of second grade, where the students formerly placed in smaller first grades had been placed in full-sized classes again. Subjects were 1,264 students (663 E, 601C) who had received both the initial testing in first grade and had test scores at the end of second grade. Results showed that while both groups were equivalent at the start of first grade, and by the end of Grade 1 the small-class-size group showed greater academic achievement than the control group, this gain diminished over summer vacation and had completely disappeared by the end of Grade 2. That is, there was no long-term impact of one year of reduced class size.

Authors state that because reducing class size in first grade improved student achievement, and because these gains did not carry over into second grade when the students were placed in larger classes, class size reduction should be continued into second grade.

For more information, the original 2003 study was reported in Best Evidence in Brief in July.

Using technology to facilitate personalized learning

Using technology to facilitate personalized learning

An article published in Frontiers in Psychology reports how technology is used to facilitate personalized learning in China. Xiaofeng You and colleagues examined the Chinese Learning Diagnosis System (CLDS) developed by a Chinese educational evaluation company designed for providing timely feedback to students and teachers.

The CLDS analyzes students’ assignments for their mastery of various attributes and generates feedback to students and teachers. Consequently, students can identify their strengths and weaknesses, and teachers can modify their instruction using the information. To examine the CLDS’s effectiveness, the achievements, self-efficacy, and academic motivation of 547 high school students enrolled in an experimental school in 2012 were compared to 396 high school students in a school where CLDS was not used. Achievement in the pretest was measured by high school entrance examination scores, and achievement in the posttest 3 years later was measured by the college entrance examination scores; both are high-stakes tests in China. The results indicated that:

  • While the pretest scores of the experimental school students and the control school students did not show a significant difference, the experimental school students obtained higher scores than the control school students on the posttest (ES= +0.31 for humanities students; ES= +0.66 for science students).
  • Self-efficacy of students in the experimental school significantly increased (ES= +0.38), while no significant changes were found in students in the control school.
  • Academic motivation was found to be increased among both students in the experimental school (ES= +0.33) and the control school (ES= +0.31).

Teachers in the experimental school reported that the time taken for unit tests was also reduced, enabling them to provide detailed instructions to individual students who made mistakes in the tests.

More evidence for growth mindset

More evidence for growth mindset

The findings of an MDRC evaluation of a growth mindset intervention have suggested a positive impact on students’ academic performance.

To test whether a growth mindset intervention could improve students’ academic performance, the National Study of Learning Mindsets implemented a randomized controlled trial of a low-cost growth mindset intervention specifically designed for ninth grade students. The intervention included two 25-minute self-administered online training modules on the topic of brain development. Students in the intervention group were given modules about growth mindset and were asked to answer reflective questions in a survey. Instead of learning about the brain’s malleability, students in the control group learned about basic brain functions, and they were also asked to answer survey questions.

The results of the evaluation found a positive impact on students’ average grade point average (GPA) (effect size = +0.04), as well as their math GPA (effect size = +0.05). Other results from the evaluation suggest that:

  • The intervention changed students’ self-reported mindset beliefs, their attitudes towards efforts and failure, and their views on academic challenges.
  • Immediately after the intervention, students were more likely to attempt more challenging academic tasks.
  • Students who were lower performing at pretest benefited more than their higher-performing peers.
Little evidence of the effectiveness of PD

Little evidence of the effectiveness of PD

This Campbell systematic review looks at the effect of professional development (PD) approaches for education professionals on educational and social outcomes for children, and also any effects on professional practice.

The review summarizes evidence from 51 studies, including 48 randomized controlled trials, however, only 26 studies were included in the meta-analysis. The 51 studies were grouped into three PD areas: social and emotional development interventions, language and literacy development interventions, and stress reduction interventions.

The main findings of the review were:

  • No effect of PD on social and emotional development interventions on student academic outcomes. The weighted average effect size = +0.05.
  • No effect of PD language and literacy development interventions on student academic outcomes. The weighted average effect size = +0.04.
  • It was not possible to draw any conclusions concerning the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of PD on social and emotional development or language and literacy development interventions on teacher outcomes.
  • As there was only one study in the PD category of stress reduction interventions, it was not possible to draw any conclusions.

The researchers conclude that there is insufficient evidence for conclusions to be drawn, with the exception of language and literacy development interventions. For this type of PD, there seems to be no positive impact on student academic outcomes.

No evidence of impact for a modularization and self-paced computer-assisted approach to college math

No evidence of impact for a modularization and self-paced computer-assisted approach to college math

One of the greatest challenges facing community colleges in the U.S. is that most students’ math skills are below college level. These students are often referred to developmental math 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 modularized, computer-assisted approach that allows students to move at their own pace through the developmental math course has any impact on students’ likelihood of completing the developmental math course, compared with more traditional teaching.

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

Do private schools give students an educational advantage? A study from England

Do private schools give students an educational advantage? A study from England

Researchers at the Institute of Education at University College London have conducted a study that looks at whether there are any educational advantages to attending private schools in the upper secondary years (Years 12 and 13/Grades 11 and 12).

Published in the Oxford Review of Education, the study used data from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies’ Next Steps cohort study and linked this to national student achievement information between 2005 and 2009. The researchers followed a sample of 5,852 students who attended a private or state school while doing their A levels (high-stakes exams taken at the end of Year 13, and important for university admission).

The profiles of the two groups of students were very different – students arrived in private school sixth forms with significantly higher prior attainment in GCSEs (exams taken at the end of 10th grade), and from households that had twice the income of families whose children attended state school sixth form. However, the researchers used the data available from Next Steps to allow for socio-demographic characteristics and prior achievement. Allowing for these characteristics, students at private schools outperformed those at state schools in their total A level score by eight percentile points. Private school students also performed better on those subjects deemed to be more important to elite universities.

The researchers suggest that the reason for the difference may lie in the vastly superior resources per pupil in private schools (three times the state school average), including smaller pupil-teacher ratios (roughly half the state school average). However, they caution that their results are not truly causal.