- Daniel Rodriguez-Segura
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School closures induced by COVID-19 placed heightened emphasis on alternative ways to measure student learning besides in-person exams. We leverage the administration of phone-based assessments (PBAs) measuring numeracy and literacy for primary school children in Kenya, along with in-person standardized tests administered to the same students prior to school shutdowns, to assess the validity of PBAs. Compared to repeated in-person assessments, PBAs did not severely misclassify students’ relative performance, but PBA scores did tend to be further from baseline in-person scores than repeated in-person assessments from each other. As such, PBAs performed well at measuring aggregate but not individual learning levels. Administrators can therefore use these tools for aggregate measurement, such as in the context of impact evaluation, but be wary of PBAs for individual-level tracking or high-stakes decisions. Results also reveal the importance of making deliberate efforts to reach a representative sample and selecting items that provide discriminating power.
Covid-19-induced school closures generated great interest in tutoring as a strategy to make up for lost learning time. Tutoring is backed by a rigorous body of research, but it is unclear whether it can be delivered effectively remotely. We study the effect of teacher-student phone call interventions in Kenya when schools were closed. Schools (n=105) were randomly assigned for their 3rd, 5th and 6th graders (n=8,319) to receive one of two versions of a 7-week weekly math-focused intervention—5-minute accountability checks or 15-minute mini-tutoring sessions—or to the control group. Although calls increased student perceptions that teachers cared, accountability checks had no effect on math performance up to four months after the intervention and tutoring decreased math achievement among students who returned to their schools after reopening. This was, in part, because the relatively low-achieving students most likely to benefit from calls were least likely to return and take in-person assessments. Tutoring substituted away from more productive uses of time, at least among returning students. Neither intervention affected enrollment. Tutoring remains a valuable tool but to avoid unintended consequences, careful attention should be paid to aligning tutoring interventions with best practices and targeting interventions to those who will benefit most.
Access to quality secondary schooling can be life-changing for students in developing contexts. In Kenya, entrance to such schools has historically been determined by performance on a high-stakes exam. Understandably then, preparation for this exam is a high priority for Kenyan families and educators. To increase the share of students gaining entry to these schools, some educational providers offer targeted instruction for students they believe have a chance of securing a spot. We experimentally evaluate the impact of these “symposia” programs—week-long, sleep-away camps where eighth grade students receive a burst of academic instruction from teachers selected based on merit. While similar models have been tested in the U.S., less is known about this intervention in developing settings. Our results suggest these programs are not particularly effective for the average nominated student relative to a typical week of school. However, we find large, positive effects among students attending schools from which few students are nominated for symposia. We provide suggestive evidence that this was because students from low- representation schools had less pre-camp practice test resources outside of school. The results have implications for program design and contribute to the growing literature on the effectiveness of appropriately targeted individualized instruction.