Wednesday, May 11, 2011

22 Approaches for Raising Student Achievement

I’m working my way through a book by Stuart S. Yeh Entitled “The Cost-Effectiveness of 22 Approaches for Raising Student Achievement” (Also available as an ebook or on paper from see:

The book (based on Studies in the States) concludes that:

The review of cost-effectiveness studies suggests that rapid assessment is more cost effective with regard to student achievement than comprehensive school reform (CSR), cross-age tutoring, computer-assisted instruction, a longer school day, increases in teacher education, teacher experience or teacher salaries, summer school, more rigorous math classes, value-added teacher assessment, class size reduction, a 10% increase in per pupil expenditure, full-day kindergarten, Head Start (preschool), high-standards exit exams, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) certification, higher teacher licensure test scores, high-quality preschool, an additional school year, voucher programs, or charter schools

I find this interesting, because this makes a very compelling argument for using computer based learning in schools. The first chapter of the book presents a nice theoretical overview that indicates how kids become disheartened if they don’t consistently have mastery experiences. If assessment and teaching can be individualized so that each learner progressively improves compared to their previous performance (rather than a comparison with peers) they are likely to feel that they are in control of their learning, and they would be more likely to stay engaged in the learning process. The chapter states:

A theory of learning may be deduced: Individualization of assessment, task difficulty and performance expectations for each student on a daily basis, in combination with performance feedback, autonomy in task execution and an accelerating standard of performance, ensures that students achieve success and feel successful on a daily basis, fostering student engagement, increased effort, and further improvements in achievement in a virtuous cycle.

Software can automate the provision of corrective feedback, and assigning of content (on a daily basis) and this has been shown to have powerful effects on learning and achievement. Yeh reports that in a study of Math Assessment, (involving 1,880 students in grades 2 through 8, 80 classrooms and seven states) they found an effect size of 0.324 Standard deviations over a 7 month period. This is a huge increase in learner performance.

Of course we need to remember that this is based on the American school system that is very different from ours. And note the study is about "Cost Effectiveness". It is not saying that the other strategies are not effective - In their context the other strategies were effective but at a higher cost than Rapid Assessment

Of course there are a few other assumptions that will have to be checked if a similar intervention is implemented in South Africa:
1) Computer infrastructure, technical support, and teacher’s abilities must be supportive of successful implementation. It is a lot harder to implement an ICT based project than one might imagine at the outset.
2) Rapid assessment cannot replace the role of the teacher – It can help learners improve, but they still have to get quality tuition from a qualified teacher.
3) Learners’ ability to interact with the software must not be blocked by poor reading / language capabilities.


Benita Williams said...

A colleague made the following observation:

Do you buy their story given their conclusion on student achievement as a way to go than comprehensive school reform. It is in the USA, particularly Cincinnati that they have conducted a study of what really makes a sustainable impact. The study promotes collective impact that focuses on one issue and in this case, education. Stakeholders looked at all variables that makes the school work and invested resources and worked on resolving those issues – this approach according to this study was the most effective way social problems should be addressed.

Benita Williams said...

1. Remember this is a cost effectiveness study. It claims rapid assessment is most cost-effective - It doesn't say the other strategies aren't effective. It says that rapid assessment is the most cost effective IN THEIR CONTEXT.

2. Context is important if we think about effectiveness. We cannot - or should not - just take what was written as the Holy Gospel about learner improvement. Although experiments and quasi experiments are usually able to protect against more of the threats to internal validity (Did A really cause x% increase in B?), they are weaker on external validity (the issue of whether the findings can be generalized to different contexts). There really is no guarantee that these results will hold in South African township schools, because the studies don't discuss the circumstances under which this is true. Think of it this way - milk may generally be a very cost effective supplement to a child's nutrition. Generally, it is a good idea for parents to give milk to their children (as part of a balanced diet which adequately covers the food groups) and it is very cost effective. EXCEPT if the child is lactose intolerant: Then making a child drink milk is going to be very cost-ineffective (think of the doctors bills!). It also won't help to give a child only milk - they probably do need some carbs and fiber and fruit too.
3. Context is important when you look at costs too. A cost effectiveness analysis cannot blindly be translated to another context - the unit costs in South Africa will be different and the assumptions about what is already available will be totally different. In American schools you probably buy software if you want to implement ICT solutions, in South Africa you have to buy the software, buy the computers, provide the technology support, and pay insurance and security for all this.

4. What I did find very useful is that the book discusses 22 strategies (I never thought of actually distinguishing and counting the different strategies) and provides a little bit of programme theory to support their use. Very nice.