Research corner

`Spending more of the school day in math class: evidence from a regression discontinuity in middle school' by Eric Taylor

Journal of Public Economics, 117: 162-81, September 2014 (Elsevier)

If a student is not doing well in a particular subject, the remedy may seem to be simple: give them extra time.

However, if new research is to be believed, such interventions may not have a long-term benefit on progress.

Eric Taylor, a doctoral student at Stanford University's Center for Education Policy Analysis in the US, studied a cohort of pupils in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools system in Florida - the country's fourth-largest school district. Administrators there had decided to schedule an extra maths class for 6th-grade students (aged 11-12) who had scored below the 50th percentile in a state-wide test during the 5th grade. After taking an extra class for a year, the students returned to the same number of lessons as their peers.

Taylor analysed data on roughly 80,000 middle-school students, looking at their annual test scores, class schedules and demographics from 2003 to 2013. Focusing on students who had scored just above and just below the cut-off score for the extra lessons, he found that at the end of the 6th grade, those who had received additional lessons were scoring higher than their peers.

However, by the time these students reached high school at 14, there was no discernible difference between those who had received the extra lessons and those who had not.

So should schools provide extra tuition for underperforming students?

Speaking to the Stanford News Service, Taylor said that the effects were unlikely to be seen until later: "It ultimately depends on whether there are other longer-run effects such as helping students get to college or succeed in college."

He added that thought needed to be given to what students were missing as a consequence of receiving extra tuition in one subject: "How we should take a student's school day and divide it between reading, math, art, science and PE is an important policy question."

Sarah Cunnane

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