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Learning in adversity: A longitudinal study of academic progression and personal growth in Sierra Leone

Tue, March 27, 11:30am to 1:00pm, Fiesta Inn Centro Histórico, Floor: Lobby Floor, Room C

Proposal

Introduction
This longitudinal study follows three cohorts of secondary school students in Sierra Leone over a period of three years and looks at their learning progression in that time. Longitudinal studies are notoriously difficult under the best conditions for all the obvious reasons including attrition and absenteeism. In Sierra Leone these factors are compounded - poverty, seasonal work, natural disasters such as the recent floods and mudslides combine to confound both the notion of absenteeism and the stability of sample sizes. It is also clear that in Sierra Leone students are as likely to ‘drop-in’ as they are to drop out of school.

The study makes a significant contribution to our understanding of learning and rates of progression, and available tools and methodologies for studying learning progression in developing countries.

This paper presents the findings at the end of the second year of the study. It traces the progress that students have made in reading and mathematics across a time series of 6 assessments, the last of which was completed in June 2017.

Design and Methods
Three cohorts are selected randomly. The gains and progress they make towards achieving learning targets in mathematics and reading, is assessed on 9 occasions over a period of three years. Changes in learning and cognition are assessed through the use of a computer adaptive test.
Findings
Students in intervention schools achieve a gain of 98-scaled scores over a period of 18 months compared to 48-scaled scores for private comparison schools and a gain of 44-scaled scores for government schools.

The overall gain for intervention schools in the improvement of student reading ages is over 10 months. This is twice the gain in reading age recorded for comparison cohorts.

In mathematics, when compared to other cohorts, the cumulative gains made by RAN students significantly exceed those achieved by comparisons schools. RAN schools achieve a gain of 56-scaled scores over a period of 18 months compared to 23-scaled scores for private comparison schools and a gain of 17-scaled scores for government schools.

When asked whether schools are making fast enough progress in the attainment of reading targets, the study shows that intervention schools achieve an average growth rate of 5.4-scaled scores per month compared to a growth rate of 2.66-scaled scores per month for private comparison schools and 2.44-scaled scores per month for government funded schools.

And In mathematics intervention schools achieve an average growth rate of 3.11-scaled scores per month compared to a growth rate of 1.27-scaled scores per month for private comparison schools and 0.9-scaled scores per month for government funded schools.

When the question is asked whether there is equivalence in outcomes between girls and boys, the answer is that boys in intervention schools make better gains in reading than girls but not significantly so. It is interesting that girls in intervention schools make significantly better gains than both girls in private comparison schools and government schools as well as boys in those same schools. The gains made by boys in intervention schools far exceed that of boys and girls in comparison schools.

But when we look at the gains by reading age, girls in intervention schools have made as much progress as boys. Both groups have increased their reading ages by 10 months although boys have a slightly higher average reading age (2 months) than girls.

When the question about patterns of transition between performance bands is asked, the findings show that In intervention schools, the number of girls making a transition into better performance bands (working at or above benchmark) increases from 1 to 6 in reading and from 10 to 35 in mathematics.

At the other end of the spectrum, 44 female students (80% of the total) were in the worst performance banding at the beginning of the study (time 1). By the 6th test interval, the number of female students in the worst performing band reduced to 25 (45.5% of the total). Male students too responded well to schooling over time. There were no male students in the highest performing group at the beginning of the study. Their share increased to 3 by the 6th test interval. And the worst performing male student band was reduced from 34 (73.9%) to 16 (34.8%) between the first and sixth test intervals.

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