Disappointing findings for Responsive Classroom approach

The always relevant Best Evidence in Brief reports on a new article in the American Educational Research Journal. The articledescribes a randomized controlled trial (RCT) to examine the efficacy of the Responsive Classroom (RC) approach on student achievement. The authors found that students taught using RC did not outperform those at schools assigned to the control condition in math or reading.

But what is Responsive Classroom?

From their own website:

Responsive Classroom is a research- and evidence-based approach to elementary education that is associated with greater teacher effectiveness, higher student achievement, and improved school climate. It has been recognized by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) as one of the most well-designed, evidence-based social and emotional learning programs. NEFC offers Responsive Classroom on-site consulting services to schools and districts; workshops and institutes for educators in locations around the country; and numerous books, videos, and other resources for teachers and administrators.

But new evidence now seem to point in another direction. As summarized in the Best Evidence in Brief:

RC is a widely used professional development intervention comprising practical teaching strategies designed to support children’s social, academic, and self-regulatory skills. More than 120,000 teachers have been trained in the approach. This trial involved 2,904 children from 24 schools. They were randomized into intervention and control conditions, and studied from the end of second grade to fifth grade.

Results showed that random assignment to RC did not have an impact on student achievement outcomes. The authors say that other RCT results linking social-emotional learning (SEL) interventions to SEL outcomes are comparably lackluster, and that there are several plausible explanations including the trial involving too few schools to detect a small effect. They also note that some outcomes (e.g., motivation and engagement) may not adequately translate into outcomes measured by state standardized achievement tests, and that adopting interventions such as the RC approach involves a long process of teacher change ranging from three to five years. Data for this study was gathered during teachers’ first and second years of RC implementation, early in the process of adoption.

So, to be clear: as with all research there are limitations to the research, still caution is warranted.

Abstract of the research:

This randomized controlled field trial examined the efficacy of the Responsive Classroom (RC) approach on student achievement. Schools (n = 24) were randomized into intervention and control conditions; 2,904 children were studied from end of second to fifth grade. Students at schools assigned to the RC condition did not outperform students at schools assigned to the control condition in math or reading achievement. Use of RC practices mediated the relation between treatment assignment and improved math and reading achievement. Effect sizes (ES) were calculated as standardized coefficients. ES relations between use of RC practices and achievement were .26 for math and .30 for reading. The RC practices and math achievement relation was greater for students with low initial math achievement (ES = .89). Results emphasize fidelity of implementation.

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