The effect of four-day school weeks on attendance, achievement, and discipline in high school

The effect of four-day school weeks on attendance, achievement, and discipline in high school

By Chenchen Shi, School of Education, Renmin University of China

Although the four-day school week schedule is not a new phenomenon, it has seen unprecedented growth in its adoption over the past two decades, reaching 662 public school districts in 24 states in 2019. Prior limited research shows that the schedule reduces school expenditures by a small amount, but doesn’t affect the attendance among students in grades 3-8. In a recent working paper published by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, the author assessed the impact of the four-day school week policy in Oklahoma on high school students’ attendance, achievement, and school discipline.

The author employed district-level high school data from Oklahoma and a quasi-experimental research method to provide a rigorous analysis of the effect of the four-day school week on high school students’ attendance. Results indicate that four-day school weeks have no significant effect on either math and English ACT scores as well as high school attendance rates. Findings indicate positive impacts on school discipline, with reductions in bullying, fighting, and assaults.  Other types of disciplinary infractions, such as vandalism and drugs did not show any significant impacts. While 29% of four-day week districts from a national sample of four-day school week districts say that attendance is their primary driver to adopt this schedule, this this study suggests adopting a four-day school week schedule may not improving attendance, but may have other positive impacts of interest to schools.

Does technology help students build English vocabulary?

Does technology help students build English vocabulary?

By Qiyang Zhang, Johns Hopkins University

Computer or mobile-based English enhancement programs are gaining popularity among English language learners around the world. A recent publication in the Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness investigated the effects of these technology-assisted interventions on expanding English language learners’ vocabulary.

The paper synthesized studies conducted between 2012 to 2018. Eligible studies followed treatment-control experimental designs, targeted pre-school to college-aged students who learned English as a foreign language, and reported vocabulary-related learning outcomes. Researchers identified 45 studies that met these inclusion criteria. On average, technology-supported English learning programs were conducive for building vocabulary (ES = +0.85, p < .05). Detailed analysis revealed that mobile-assisted vocabulary learning (ES = +1.09, p < .05) was more effective than computer-assisted learning (ES = +0.63, p < .05). Contrary to common assumptions, technology without gamification (ES = +0.90, p < .05) was more effective than game-based technology (ES = +0.49, p < .05). Nonetheless, both game-based and non-game-based interventions had larger impacts than traditional methods. One interesting finding was that learning in informal settings (ES = +1.37, p < .05) was more effective than learning in classrooms (ES = +0.53, p < .05). Test format also mattered for learning outcomes: fill-in-the-blank was more effective than multiple choice. This research supports the use of mobile-based programs outside classrooms for supplementary English language learning. As a side note, the authors recommended providing more instructional support for young learners to adapt to technology if such programs are to be implemented among elementary or pre-K students.

Order of instruction

Order of instruction

By Justin Hill, Johns Hopkins University

A recent meta-analysis performed by Tanmay Sinha and Manu Kapur utilized 53 studies from around the world comparing the order of instruction for a range of learners, primarily focused on 2nd graders through undergraduate students.  The focus of the meta-analysis was to investigate outcomes for students exposed to learning that introduces problem solving prior to instruction (PS-I) compared with students exposed to learning that introduces instruction prior to problem solving (I-PS).  Arguments in favor of PS-I designs emphasize the acquisition of higher-order thinking skills developed by allowing students to grapple with concepts they have not yet formally studied, while arguments supporting I-PS designs suggest that direct instruction is needed to enable students to focus on the most important aspects of the material.  Within the broader category of PS-I designs, the authors were also interested in the effects of productive failure (PF), where the problem-solving portion of the lesson is specifically designed to result in failure that can later be explored and used for student learning.

The review included 53 studies using experimental or quasi-experimental designs, outcomes related to conceptional knowledge or transfer, and citing one of the seminal studies of PF. The results of the meta-analysis indicated that PS-I designs were more effective than I-PS designs (ES = +0.36).

The authors used seven characteristics of PF to evaluate the effectiveness of this method and found higher effect sizes for PS-I designs when at least one of these characteristics was utilized.  Of the seven characteristics explored, two were found to be statistically significant moderators: instruction that builds on student-generated solutions (ES = +0.56 vs ES = +0.20) and group work (ES = +0.49 vs ES = +0.19). While most of the effect sizes calculated in the analysis supported PS-I designs, younger students (2nd grade through 5th grade) appeared to benefit more from I-PS designs than older students.  Overall, the authors interpret the findings as largely supportive of PS-I designs while acknowledging that student age may play a significant role in determining the most appropriate and effective instructional design. 

A service-learning program in science to improve academic achievement and civic engagement

A service-learning program in science to improve academic achievement and civic engagement

Marta Pellegrini, University of Florence, Italy

A recent randomized evaluation conducted by Sara Rimm-Kaufman and colleagues investigated the effects of Connect Science on student academic achievement and civic engagement. Content Science is a service-learning program, a form of project-based learning that aims to prepare students to tackle with social and environmental problems in their community. The content of the intervention in this study was related to energy use and social emotional skills in groupwork.

The study involved 41 fourth grade classes in the South-Central US randomly assigned to receive the intervention over 14-22 weeks or to continue with their regular practice. Science achievement and civic engagement were measured using quantitative tests developed by the researchers who conducted the study. Researcher-made measures may overestimate the effect of the intervention compared to independent tests, such as standardized or state tests. For this reason, the results presented below should be read with caution.

Results showed significant positive effects for science achievement (ES = +0.32) and for domain-specific civic engagement measured by Energy Attitudes & Behaviors (ES =+0.31). No statistically significant effects were found for general civic engagement (Civic Efficacy & Skills, ES = +0.21).

Although the study was well-conducted and the results showed positive effects in students’ science achievement, further research is needed to test the effectiveness of Content Science using independent measures of science achievement.