What contributes to a successful program?

The importance of student attendance, group size, and the frequency of small group tuition.

Student attendance, group size, and the frequency of small group tuition are critical elements of the COVID intensive learning support program. They are core components of program fidelity, defined as the extent to which a program or intervention is delivered as intended. The amount of deviation from intended delivery can have a significant impact on student progress and outcomes.

There are four key features of program fidelity which are particularly relevant to the implementation of small-group tuition:

  • Adherence – the extent to which the program content, methods and activities are delivered as intended. For small-group tuition, group sizes of two to five students will align with program recommendations.
  • Exposure – the number of sessions, attendance rate, and the frequency and duration of sessions. Encouraging attendance at small-group tuition at least three times per week will help ensure that students have sufficient exposure to the program.
  • Quality of delivery – use of evidence-based techniques, enthusiasm, interaction style, respectfulness, confidence, and ability to respond to questions and communicate clearly. The department will provide resources that will support teachers and additional educators to deliver high quality tuition.
  • Student responsiveness – the level of interest in the program, perceptions about the relevance and usefulness of a program, level of engagement, enthusiasm, and willingness to engage in discussion or activities. For further information about student engagement, review Student engagement and wellbeing in NSW.

For strategies to improve student engagement in Years 7-9, review Summary of strategies to improve engagement, effective teaching practices and achievement.

Fidelity can impact effectiveness

Good fidelity that involves adherence to recommended program content, sufficient exposure, high quality delivery, and strong participant engagement, can have a significant impact on program effectiveness. Programs that are delivered with good fidelity are associated with greater amounts of positive change compared to those that are implemented with poor fidelity. A review of over 500 studies revealed that effect sizes were two to three times greater when programs were implemented with good fidelity.

An example from a reading program in NSW public schools

In an Australian context, a recent evaluation of MiniLit, a literacy intervention for the bottom 25% of readers in Years 1-2, highlighted the importance of good program fidelity. Student outcomes for those who received at least 80% of MiniLit lessons were significantly better than those who received less than 80% of lessons. However, only 55% of students met this minimum exposure requirement. The challenge of delivering the minimum number of lessons also influenced adherence to program content. Staff delivering the lessons made modifications and omissions based on the time they had available.

Generally, research suggests that achieving good program fidelity can be quite difficult. And where there is poor program fidelity, it can be impossible to know if poor outcomes are due to the failure of an intervention or incomplete implementation. Schools can be particularly dynamic environments, where absences and behavioural issues can make it challenging to cover sufficient program content in the time available. The MiniLit evaluation suggested that student engagement and behaviour management strategies could help improve these elements of program fidelity.

Encouraging good fidelity

The COVID intensive learning support program offers flexibility to schools in terms of the subject areas that are targeted, the students who are selected, and the programs, strategies or interventions that are used. However, the department strongly encourages schools to emphasise the importance of attendance, group size, and the frequency of small group tuition to students, teachers, and additional educators. These components of small group tuition should:

  • involve groups of two to five students
  • involve sessions that are 20-50 minutes duration
  • occur at least three times per week over 12-20 weeks dependent on the impact on learning.

Schools may wish to monitor their fidelity alongside their monitoring of student progress. This will help schools identify barriers to achieving good fidelity which will ultimately contribute to better outcomes for students. Review Effective practice (staff only) for more information.

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