Extra classes, better marks: also later: short supplementary report on the PlusTime Project
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The Shuttleworth Foundation, the Western Cape Education Department and the Human Sciences Research Council agreed in 2006 to undertake a joint study during 2007. The study piloted or demonstrated an intervention procedure aimed at increasing teaching time for a group of Grade 8 learners in Mathematics and English to improve their performance in the two learning areas. It was hoped that more would be learned about how one could try and improve the underperformance of learners, which was considered in part to have resulted from poor foundational knowledge. The intervention programme was implemented from July to November 2007. It involved 20 hours of extra classes after school hours in the two learning areas mentioned. Learners in project schools volunteered to attend these extra lessons in only one or both of the learning areas. Baseline information had been collected
on learners' achievement levels and related contextual information before the project started. The learners came from pairs of well-selected project and control schools. To keep as many conditions as consistent as possible, schools from only one Education District in the Western Cape (Metropole-South) participated. Eight potential control schools had initially been invited to complete baseline information. These eight were reduced to four before the project started. This was done on the basis of how similar
conditions at each of the four schools were to the conditions at the project school that had to form the other member of each pair. Baseline information comprised learner achievement on a multiple-choice Mathematics and English test, as well as various pieces of contextual and background information from learners, their parents, teachers, tutors and school principals. Classrooms and school sites were also observed, and document review took place at the level of schools, teachers and learners on aspects such as facilities, systems and management practices. The same learner tests were administered after completion of all the extra lessons.
The technique used to determine if learners from project schools benefited from the extra lessons, was to compare how much their performance level improved over time in comparison with that of learners from the control schools. Findings from the initial project in 2007 were inconsistent. The improvement of project-school learners' performance was also smaller than hoped for. Project-school learners with high attendance levels at their Mathematics tuition sessions consistently improved more over time than those project-school learners who had attended less well. In terms of English tuition, project-school learners' performance improvements slightly exceeded those of control-school learners. Many contextual and background factors seemed to have influenced the findings further. They included: the expertise of tutors; some school and classroom factors (such as levels of order and discipline, and time on task); and many parental and learner factors (such as opportunity to read and write, and general learner support). The findings suggested that learners who had fallen behind and failed to master foundation knowledge, even as early as the Foundation
Phase, struggled with their performance in Grade 8. They were also unable to benefit from the extra lessons. In the report on the 2007 study it was recommended that the original cohort of learners be traced into their school future. The present study obtained a set of common marks for the original project and control learners another year down the line. These marks entailed their Grade 9 exit score compiled from continuous assessment during 2008 and Common Tasks of Assessment (CTAs) towards the end of the year.
Findings from the 2008 follow-up work point to learners' language ability, particularly its improvement, being a strong factor influencing their performance in almost all other learning areas, that is, across the curriculum. The effects of the earlier additional tuition after school seem to have become stronger and more widespread over time. Learners from project schools gained much more, over a very broad front, compared to learners from control schools. The size and consistency of the outcomes for project-school learners who had attended their tuition sessions very well were even more encouraging. Initial Mathematics tuition had lasting effects on the expected numbers-based learning areas such as Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Economic and
Management Sciences. The initial English tuition also benefited learner performance over time in these learning areas, but also in the more closely related text-based learning areas. Additional Language learners benefited more than First Language learners.
The effects observed in the 2008 study were much more consistent and widespread than those initially observed for the original 2007 study.