The latest research

Report: Years 1, 2 and 3 Principal Survey Data Analysis: England

A new report from Durham University forms part of a comparative study to measure the impact of school inspections on teaching and learning in eight European countries.

The report describes the results from three years of data collection in England, which ran from January 2011 to December 2013. Each year head teachers in primary and secondary schools were asked to complete an online survey. The survey included questions on educational quality and change capacity in schools, changes made in the quality and change capacity of the school, inspection activities in the school, the school’s acceptance and use of feedback, the extent to which inspection standards set expectations and promote self-evaluations, and choice/voice/exit of stakeholders in response to inspection reports. The survey results were used to create a number of scales, such as capacity building, school effectiveness, setting expectations, and accepting feedback.

The authors found that on all the scales used, in the first two years of data collection, schools that received their main inspection and an extra monitoring inspection scored higher on average than the schools that received only a main inspection. In the third year, this was also true on almost all scales. A number of these differences (particularly the scales where schools were commenting on their improvement activities compared to last year) were large and statistically significant in the first year of data collection.

Authors: Jones K, Tymms P, and Anane E.

Where? Website of the School Inspections project,

Report: Experimental Evaluations of Elementary Science Programs: A Best-evidence Synthesis

A systematic review in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching analyses the achievement outcomes of all types of approaches to teaching science in primary schools. It concludes that science teaching methods focused on enhancing teachers’ classroom instruction throughout the year – such as cooperative learning and science-reading integration, as well as approaches that give teachers technology tools to enhance instruction – have significant potential to improve science learning.

Study inclusion criteria included the use of randomized or matched control groups, study duration of at least four weeks, and use of achievement measures independent of the experimental treatment. A total of 23 studies met these criteria. Among studies evaluating inquiry-based teaching approaches, programs that used science kits did not show positive outcomes on science achievement measures (weighted effect size (ES)=+0.02 in 7 studies), but inquiry-based programs that emphasised professional development but not kits did show positive outcomes (weighted ES=+0.36 in 10 studies).

Technological approaches integrating video and computer resources with teaching and cooperative learning showed positive outcomes in a few small, matched studies (ES=+0.42 in 6 studies).

Authors: Slavin R, Lake C, Hanley P, and Thurston A.

Where? Journal of Research in Science Teaching 51(7).

Report: “My Baby & Me”: Effects of an Early, Comprehensive Parenting Intervention on At-risk Mothers and Their Children

An article published in Developmental Psychology examined the efficacy of a parenting intervention called My Baby & Me. The intervention runs from the third trimester of pregnancy until children are 2½, and focuses on changing specific aspects of mothers’ responsive behaviors with their children. It is delivered through 55 personal coaching sessions, 22 of which are based on the Play and Learning Strategies (PALS) curriculum.

A total of 361 high-risk mothers (with low income and educational achievement) from four states were enrolled in the study.

Half were randomly assigned to the full 55 session high-intensity (HI) coaching program (in the mother’s home or a place of her choice), and half to a low-intensity (LI) condition that included monthly phone calls from a coach, printed information, and community resource referrals. Videotaped observations of mother–child play were coded at five time points for a variety of maternal and child behaviors and skills.

The study found that, compared to mothers in the LI group, mothers in the HI group showed higher levels of contingent responsiveness, higher-quality verbal stimulation, and more verbal scaffolding by 30 months, with higher levels of warmth and greater decreases in physical intrusiveness and negativity when their children were 24 months. By 30 months, children in the HI group showed more rapid increases and higher levels of engagement with the environment, expressive language skills, and social engagement, as well as more complex toy play and fewer behavior problems than those in the LI group.

The authors conclude that the positive outcomes for the program can be explained by a strong theoretical framework, a consistent focus on maternal responsiveness, high dosage, and trusting relationships with coaches beginning before the child was born. However, they also note that it can be very challenging to keep participants engaged in such a lengthy intervention.

Authors: Guttentag C et al.

Where? Developmental Psychology, 50(5).

Report: Improving Writing Quality

A new study has used memorable visits and self-regulation to improve the writing of children in Year 6 and 7 (grades 5 and 6).

The Education Endowment Foundation project involved 23 primary schools and their Year 6 teachers in the UK. While 11 schools were randomly allocated to receive training, from an external consultant, in the Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) approach, 12 schools were allocated to the comparison. SRSD provides a clear structure to help children plan, monitor, and evaluate their writing, and aims to encourage them to take ownership of their work. Memorable experiences, such as trips to local landmarks or visits from World War II veterans, were used as a focus for writing lessons.

The project appeared to have a large positive impact on writing outcomes. The overall effect size for writing, comparing the progress of children in the project to similar children who did not participate, was +0.74. This was statistically significant, and equivalent to approximately nine months’ additional progress. The approach was even more effective for those eligible for free school meals, although this was not statistically significant.

Authors: Torgerson D et al.

Where? Education Endowment Foundation.

Report: Instructional Alignment as a Measure of Teaching Quality

A new study has looked at the link between instructional alignment (how teaching is aligned with standards and assessments), value-added measures of teacher effectiveness, and composite measures of teacher effectiveness using multiple measures.

The issue is important as, in the US and around the world, there is more emphasis on measuring teacher effectiveness and rewarding effective teachers. The study looked at 324 teachers of fourth and eighth grade (Year 5 and Year 9) mathematics and English language arts in five US states. They completed a Survey of Enacted Curriculum to measure their instructional alignment. This was then compared with value-added measures (taken from state assessments and two supplementary assessments) and teacher effectiveness (using Framework for Teaching scores, widely used by states).

The results showed modest evidence of a relationship between instructional alignment and value-added measures, although this disappeared when controlling for pedagogical quality. The one significant relationship they found was that the association between instructional alignment and value-added measures is more positive when pedagogy is high quality. There was no association between instructional alignment and measures of teacher effectiveness.

These results suggest that the tests used for calculating value-added measures are not able to detect differences in the content or quality of classroom teaching.

Authors: Polikoff M and Porter A.

Where? Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis.

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December 2014