Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Who Repeats Algebra I and How Does Performance Improve the Second Time?

Many high school students repeat algebra I, but few studies have examined students’ performance when they repeat the course.

Developed in collaboration with the Silicon Valley Research Alliance, this REL West study examined how many students repeat algebra I, how student characteristics relate to the likelihood of repeating, and how well students perform when they repeat the course.

Using six years of data from a cohort of 3,400 first-time seventh grade students in a California school district, authors found that 44 percent of students repeated algebra I.  Of the students who repeated the course, 22 percent had achieved proficiency on the end-of-course standardized assessment.

 Overall, student performance improved on average by approximately one-half of a letter grade and a little less than one-third of a performance level on the CST when students repeated the course. But when the data was disaggregated based on initial performance in the class, higher-achieving students experienced variation in improvement levels. Repeating students who initially received average course grades of at least a “C” in Algebra I earned higher CST scores but lower course grades on average when they repeated the course. Students who initially scored Proficient on the Algebra I CST experienced increases in course grades but declines in CST scores on average when they repeated the course.

Overall, researchers found that performance improved when students repeated algebra I. However, when researchers looked at the data separately for lower and higher performing students during their first taking of the algebra I course, the findings were not as consistent:
  • Low-performing students who repeated the source tended to improve on academic measures.
  • Higher-performing students who repeated the course improved on some measures but performed worse on others. For instance, students who initially received average course grades of at least a “C” scored higher on the end-of-course standardized test after repeating the course but had lower course grades on average the second time around.

Few Low-Performing Schools with Large Number of English Language Learner Students Seek ELL Teaching Expertise

Federal School Improvement Grants (SIG) support turnaround efforts in the nation’s lowest-performing schools, including many that serve a large number of English Language Learner Students (ELLs). This evaluation brief examines 11 high-ELL SIG schools’ efforts to improve teacher capacity for serving their ELLs.

Key findings include:
  • Few of the 11 schools used staffing strategies to improve teacher capacity for serving ELLs: 3 considered ELL expertise when hiring classroom teachers; 2 considered ELL expertise when assigning teachers to classrooms.
  • Most teachers participated in ELL-related professional development (PD) during the 2011–12 school year. On average, ELL-related PD accounted for less than 20 percent of their total PD hours.
  • Teachers who felt that their PD had a greater focus on ELL-related topics generally also felt that their PD more greatly improved their effectiveness as teachers of ELLs.
Findings are based on 2011–12 and 2012–13 site visits and teacher survey responses in 11 SIG schools that have high percentages of ELLs located in 9 districts and 4 states. These case study schools were part of a cohort that received SIG over a three-year period (school years 2010–11 to 2012–13).

Mixing different kinds of problems improves math learning

Most mathematics assignments consist of a group of problems requiring the same strategy. For example, a lesson on the quadratic formula is typically followed by a block of problems requiring students to use that formula, which means that students know the appropriate strategy before they read each problem. 

In an alternative approach, different kinds of problems appear in an interleaved order, which requires students to choose the strategy on the basis of the problem itself. 

In the classroom-based experiment reported here, grade 7 students (n = 140) received blocked or interleaved practice over a nine-week period, followed two weeks later by an unannounced test. 

The mean test scores were greater for material learned by interleaved practice rather than by blocked practice (72 % vs. 38 %, d = 1.05). This interleaving effect was observed even though the different kinds of problems were superficially dissimilar from each other, whereas previous interleaved mathematics studies had required students to learn nearly identical kinds of problems. 

Interleaving improves mathematics learning not only by improving discrimination between different kinds of problems, but also by strengthening the association between each kind of problem and its corresponding strategy.

Monday, November 24, 2014

School Lunches from Home Not Up to National Lunch Program Standards

Lunches brought from home by elementary and middle school students are not measuring up to the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) guidelines used for meals served in schools, according to a study published online by JAMA Pediatrics.
In 2010, Congress passed the first update to the U.S Department of Agriculture's core children's nutrition program in more than 30 years. That included new requirements for school meals. Major changes included minimum and maximum calorie allowances, increased servings of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, a gradual reduction in sodium and the elimination of high-fat milk. While the new regulations changed school meals, they did not address food brought from home for lunch.
Michelle L. Caruso, M.P.H., R.D., of the Houston Department of Health and Human Services, and Karen W. Cullen, Dr.P.H., R.D., of the Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, examined lunches over two months brought from home by students at eight elementary (kindergarten to grade 5) schools (n=242) and four middle (grades 6-8) schools (n=95) in a Houston area school district on the basis of quality and cost. Nutrient and food group content were compared with the current NSLP guidelines. Per-serving prices for each item also were averaged.
Lunches brought from home did not fare well when compared with the NSLP guidelines, according to the study findings. Lunches brought from home contained more sodium (1,110 vs less than or equal to 640 mg for elementary and 1,003 vs. less than or equal to 710 mg for middle school students) and fewer servings of fruit (0.33 cup for elementary and 0.29 cup for middle school students vs. 0.50 cup per the NSLP guidelines). There also were fewer servings of vegetables in home lunches (0.07 cup for elementary and 0.11 cup for middle school students vs. 0.75 cup per the guidelines) and whole grains (0.22-ounce equivalent for elementary and 0.31-ounce equivalent for middle school students vs. 0.50-ounce minimum in the guidelines) and milk (0.08 cup for elementary and 0.02 cup for middle school students vs. 1 cup in the guidelines).About 90% of lunches from home contained desserts, snack chips, and sweetened beverages, which are not permitted in reimbursable school meals.
Study results show the cost of home lunches averaged $1.93 for elementary students and $1.76 for middle school students.
"Because of the problem of childhood obesity, much attention has been given to the school food environment and the NSLP. However, it is apparent that a large component of the school food environment - foods brought from home - has not been thoroughly investigated and could be a contributing factor to child overweight status," the study concludes.

Editorial: A Look at the New School Lunch Criteria

In a related editorial, Virginia A. Stallings, M.D., of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and University of Pennsylvania, writes: "Future studies and educational activities are needed to encourage families who choose to provide lunch from home to prepare meals that are similar to the NSLP diet patterns and the health promotion goals. Little contemporary information is available about families and students who choose not to participate in the school lunch and may result in less healthful lunch alternatives or skipping lunch."

Breakfast in Classroom Program Linked to Better Breakfast Participation, Attendance

Schools offering Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC) had higher participation in the national school breakfast program and attendance, but math and reading achievement did not differ between schools with or without BIC, according to a study published online by JAMA Pediatrics.
BIC is usually served in the classroom at the start of the school day and is typically a universal free meal. Evidence suggests breakfast may improve cognitive function and other outcomes for children and has been used to argue for the expansion of such programs to try to narrow the achievement gap between underserved children and their more affluent peers. However, more evidence is needed to draw causal inferences about the long-term impact of school breakfast on academic outcomes, according to the study background.
Stephanie Anzman-Frasca, Ph.D., of ChildObesity180, Tufts University, Boston, and co-authors used data from 446 public elementary schools in a large, urban school district in the United States to look at the impact of BIC on participation in the School Breakfast Program (SBP), school attendance and academic achievement. A total of 257 schools (57.6 percent) implemented a BIC program during the 2012-2013 academic year but 189 schools (42.4 percent) did not.
The study found that BIC was linked to increased participation in the SBP during the academic year with average participation rates of 73.7 percent in the BIC schools vs. 42.9 percent in schools without BIC. Grade-level attendance rates also were higher for the BIC schools compared with non-BIC schools across the school year (95.5 percent vs. 95.3 percent). Although the group differences in attendance were not large in the study, they reflected 76 additional attended days per grade per month. However, there were no differences in grade-level standardized test performance in math or reading.
"Additional research is needed to examine impacts on academic achievement across different demographics and for longer periods and on outcomes in other domains, such as energy balance. Continuing the expansion of this evidence base can inform policy decisions and promote the health and well-being of the whole child," the study concludes.
(JAMA Pediatr. Published online November 24, 2014. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2014.2042. Available pre-embargo to the media at http://media.jamanetwork.com.)
Editor's Note: This study was supported by the JPB Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Please see article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, etc.
Editorial: Breakfast is Still the Most Important Meal of the Day
In a related editorial, Lindsey Turner, Ph.D., of Boise State University, Idaho, and Frank J. Chaloupka, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois at Chicago, write: "In this issue, Anzman-Frasca and colleagues at Tufts University provide even more evidence about the importance of school breakfasts."
"Although Anzman-Frasca and colleagues did not replicate previous findings that breakfast improved academic achievement, this should not be interpreted as a lack of benefit for breakfast programs. ... In the current study, academic achievement was measured with standardized tests administered in spring 2013, which was concurrent with the time of year when participation in the SBP peaked. Given the likelihood that program implementation may need to be sustained for several months to affect achievement tests, another interesting approach would be to examine test scores during a subsequent school year when the SBP intervention is relatively mature, thus allowing the intervention dosage to be high and sustained during most of the school year," the authors note.
"Finally, innovative breakfast programs, with their wide reach and high implementation rates, have the potential to address the achievement gap in the United States," the authors conclude.

Does Reading During the Summer Build Reading Skills

There are large gaps in reading skills by family income among
s chool-aged children in the United States.  Correlational evidence 
suggests that reading skills are strongly related to the amount of
reading students do outside of school.  Experimental evidence testing
 whether this relationship is causal is lacking.  

This study reports the 
results from a randomized evaluation in 463 classrooms of a summer reading program
called Project READS, which induces students to read more during the 
summer by mailing ten books to them, one per week.  

intent-to-treat estimates show that the program increased reading 
during the summer. The estimates also show significant effects on reading 
comprehension test scores in the fall for third grade girls but not
 for third grade boys or second graders of either gender. 

 that take advantage of within-classroom random assignment and 
cross-classroom variation in treatment effects show evidence that
 reading more books generates increases in reading comprehension
 skills, particularly when students read carefully enough to be able
to answer basic questions about the books they read, and particularly
 for girls.

Report Urges Caution on Approaches Equating Technology in Schools with Personalized Learning

The use of computers in the classroom – or even instead of classrooms – has generated renewed enthusiasm in influential circles. Advocates of significantly advancing the practice often refer to greater reliance on computer-based learning as “Personalized Instruction.”

Yet while its potential merits thoughtful small-scale adoption, there is little evidence that marrying digital technology to education has changed schooling for the better, according to a new policy brief published today by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC).

The reasons for such lackluster results are many, according to the report’s author, Noel Enyedy, associate professor of education and information studies at the University of California-Los Angeles. Chief among them is the absence of a clear model for what actually constitutes “Personalized Instruction”; advocates of the practice apply the term to a wide range of approaches to teaching that rely heavily on online or other digital resources.

“Computers are now commonplace in the classroom, but teaching practices often look similar, as do learning outcomes,” Enyedy writes in his policy brief, Personalized Instruction: New Interest, Old Rhetoric, Limited Results, and the Need for a New Direction for Computer-Mediated Learning. The brief is published today by the NEPC, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education.

“After more than 30 years, Personalized Instruction is still producing incremental change,” Enyedy writes. Large-scale studies, including meta-analyses, of Personalized Instruction programs “show mixed results ranging from modest impacts to no impact.”

Additionally, Enyedy points out, the highest potential for benefits appears to reside principally with so-called blended instruction programs, which make use of traditional classroom teaching in close alignment with elements that might be delivered via computer, including online. Blended learning done well, he notes, is more expensive than traditional education – undermining the frequent claim that computerized instruction can help achieve significant fiscal savings.

In light of the growing interest – yet lack of evidence to support – sweeping changes in schooling that would rely on digital media, Enyedy offers a series of recommendations for policymakers and researchers: 
  • While continuing to invest in technology, policymakers should do so incrementally. They should view skeptically claims and promotion of computerized learning that oversteps what can be concluded from available research evidence.
  • Policymakers and researchers should clearly distinguish among the key features of technologies being used in education so that research and discussions can revolve around shared ideas and concretely defined practices.
  • Much more research is needed in the K-12 education context, because the evidence primarily cited is extrapolated from research involving undergraduate students and in the professions, “where developmental and motivational factors differ,” Enyedy observes.
  • Policymakers should encourage developers of educational technologies to work with researchers and teachers in testing and validating particular software and hardware tools: “We cannot trust market forces alone to sort out which systems are effective.”
  • When investing in technology to be used in education, school administrators must ensure that there is “substantial professional development for teachers” to go with it.
  • Everyone involved with schools must understand that Personalized Instruction is just one of several models for using computers in the classroom, and all need to be open to considering alternative approaches to making greater use of technology in the learning process.
“It may be that we need to turn to new ways of conceptualizing the role of technology in the classroom—conceptualizations that do not assume the computer will provide direct instruction to students, but instead will serve to create new opportunities for both learning and teaching,” Enyedy concludes.