Teacher postcards to reduce absences

Teacher postcards to reduce absences

By José L. Arco-Tirado, Faculty of Education, University of Granada (Spain)

A recent study published in the Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness examines the effectiveness of sending teacher-written postcards home to reduce absences in preschool through second grade.

The authors implemented a randomized intervention across schools and classrooms in two urban school districts involving an analysis sample of 5,552 students with no significant differences in pretreatment characteristics between the treatment and control groups.

For a duration of 13 weeks, following an absence, school staff sent postcards to parents detailing how many days of school their child had missed, alongside a handwritten note from their teacher summarizing the academic material covered during the absence. In the control classrooms, no changes were made to how teachers addressed absences.

Results showed that the treatment reduced absences by 0.45 days (95% CI, 0.14–0.76) relative to the control mean of 5.42 days absent. The point estimate corresponds to an 8.3% reduction in absences. The results are similar to other previous studies and provide evidence that a postcard intervention designed and implemented by schools and teachers can be effective in reducing absences. The teachers’ annotations with personalized academic and absence information were a unique feature of the intervention that suggests areas for further research.

Learning English as a foreign language during early childhood: A burden or a boost?

Learning English as a foreign language during early childhood: A burden or a boost?

By Elaine Lau, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Around the world, there is a wave of educational policies mandating an early start on learning English as a foreign language (EFL) in order to better prepare children for the globalized world. What makes China different in this wave is that, while the government encourages an earlier start on EFL, it also prohibits English being taught before third grade in public elementary schools in order to “protect” children’s development of their native language.

The general public thinks otherwise, however, which has created an unprecedented passion in society to have children starting EFL very early on at private institutions:  

Chen et al. performed a study with 892 children in China to explore the impact of early childhood EFL on later academic achievement in elementary school. In order to reduce selection bias, they employed propensity score matching (PSM) and coarsened exact matching (CEM) techniques to generate balanced samples based on children’s demographic, parent-child interactional, and socio-economic characteristics. Results showed that learning English in early childhood boosted children’s language competence in English and interestingly, in Chinese as well, demonstrating that learning a second language early does not have negative effects on the development of a child’s native language. Children who received earlier EFL also have a more positive attitude towards learning English. The researchers take this as evidence to suggest that quality early English learning programs should be launched nationwide instead of delaying the learning of English. Parents should also provide a rich literacy environment at home to help children develop a genuine interest in English learning and maintain a high level of motivation in children at a very young age.

Mathematics summer learning

Mathematics summer learning

By Justin Hill, Johns Hopkins University

A recent meta-analysis by Kathleen Lynch and colleagues provides fresh insight on contemporary research focused on the effects of summer programs for mathematics. The authors noted that studies cited in previous meta-analyses of the effects of summer programs on mathematics achievement are now approximately 20 years old, and thus a new meta-analysis on the topic was warranted. The authors used data from 37 studies to analyze the effects of summer programs on mathematics achievement, the characteristics of summer programs which moderate their effectiveness, and the relationship between summer learning programs and noncognitive outcomes.

The primary finding of the meta-analysis was that summer programs demonstrated a mean pooled effect size of +0.10 standard deviations (p < .05) on all mathematics outcomes and +0.10 standard deviations (p < .01) on standardized mathematics test scores. For context, the authors indicated this is equivalent to approximately a 4 percentile point difference on a standardized test. Delving more into the details of these summer programs, the analysis found that average effect sizes were larger for programs focused specifically on mathematics than for those with a more general academic focus. Also, programs focused on work from textbooks were less effective than those that did not incorporate textbook work. Finally, the analysis indicated that students who participated in summer programs performed better in noncognitive skills, but only eight studies in the analysis included these noncognitive measures.

This meta-analysis provides a better understanding of the impacts of summer school in the context of more recent schooling experiences and provides a much-needed update to the literature. Despite demonstrating that certain aspects of summer school were more effective than others, the authors pointed out that programs with less effective elements (e.g., textbooks) were still more effective than the absence of summer programs. The authors connected these findings to the COVID-19 pandemic, suggesting that summer programs may be a valuable tool in helping students catch up on material missed during school closures.

<strong>Addressing students’ needs to avoid assignment to special education</strong>

Addressing students’ needs to avoid assignment to special education

By Andrea Ochoa, Johns Hopkins University

Research shows that students of color and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds are disproportionately represented among those receiving special education services. Although special education is meant to provide students with individualized support, qualifying for special education services may negatively impact student outcomes. For example, teachers and parents may hold students in special education to low academic and behavioral standards. Further, students may perceive a stigma associated with receiving special education services. Thus, it is important to provide students with the proper support to decrease the likelihood that they will be incorrectly assigned to special education.

Hingstman and colleagues conducted a systematic review of programs that tested whether they decreased the number of elementary school students assigned to special education. The review included 12 studies evaluating nine programs: four targeted academic and behavioral skills, three focused on academics, and two focused on behavior. The authors found that programs that included a tutoring component, emphasized sustained professional development, and ensured some level of parent engagement were most effective in decreasing the number of students assigned to special education services. Although the review only included 12 studies, the findings suggest programs that include these components may reduce the number of students unnecessarily referred to special education when implemented in the early grades and with fidelity.