Boosting student achievement: what actually works?

Boosting student achievement: what actually works?

Schools are bombarded with options for how to spend their time and money. Increasing demands from all government or administrative levels, school boards or councils, parents and community groups add complexity and pressure. Further, the huge variety of professional development offerings contribute to the temptation for schools to take on multiple agendas.

Thus, it is difficult for schools to choose and stick to two or three genuine priorities and follow these through. However, it is possible. It takes guts, commitment and resolve. It generally also means giving up some current practices to make way for “even better ones,” as Dylan Wiliam says, because "when everything is a priority nothing is."

Given the personal investment intertwined with ideas, projects or agendas within schools, it’s worth choosing priorities based on solid evidence about what works best to educate our students.

Even taking into account the limitations of Hattie’s methodology and the need to filter any research through the lens of the local setting, the effect size of various approaches is a helpful guide to efficacy. These measure the impact of strategies on student achievement.

For those unfamiliar with interpreting Hattie’s effect sizes, the “hinge point” – representing a year’s worth of growth for a year in school – is 0.4. Effect sizes above this are thus desirable and the higher the better.

I have focused only on those factors within the control of the school.

It appears that what has the most impact on student achievement is what teachers do with students in the classroom (pedagogy). This comes as no surprise.

Regardless, it is imperative schoolsstick with any agenda for 2 to 5 years without changingor diversifying to whatever the latest educational push may be. Continuity is one of the biggest success factors when adopting any approach and lack of a single long-term consistent approach is one of the main reasons so many good ideas do not succeed or are not sustained within schools.


Related effect sizes


Students are taught how to make meaning (read, listen, view, and other sub-skills) of content

Students are taught how to create meaning (write, speak, perform, compose, design etc.) for a purpose (inform, describe, calculate, persuade, justify, evaluate, compare, analyse, entertain etc.)

Students rely on these skills to access content and to demonstrate their learning.

Literacy thus becomes a foundational priority, as without it, the other focus areas are meaningless.

Behaviour, for example, is a big factor in the learning environment and teacher stress, but there’s no point having beautifully behaved students if they are not taught anything and have acquired no skills. Further, literacy is a requirement of every subject at every year level for every student, regardless of background. It is the one universal requirement of all schools.

  • strategy to integrate with prior knowledge - 0.93
  • scaffolding - 0.82
  • classroom discussion - 0.82
  • summarisation - 0.73
  • jigsaw method - 1.2
  • concept mapping - 0.64
  • planning and prediction - 0.76
  • notetaking - 0.5
  • underlining and highlighting - 0.5
  • rehearsal and memorisation - 0.73
  • outlining and transforming - 0.66
  • elaboration and organisation - 0.75
  • mnemonics - 0.76
  • exposure to reading - 0.43
  • transfer strategies      - 0.86


Critical content and skills necessary for success are pinpointed, enabling the teacher to logically select and sequence what is taught. Based on this, a clear purpose and rationale for each lesson are devised and shared with the students.

Students are taught using the gradual release of responsibility model (modelling – I DO; guided/joint practice - WE DO; independent practice – YOU DO).

Student response as evidence of understanding is sought at each stage of the process.

Consistent with the gradual release of responsibility approach, instructional delivery is characterised by clear descriptions and demonstrations of a skill followed by supported practice, scaffolding and timely feedback. Student accountability and ownership are increased throughout.

  • strategy to integrate with prior knowledge - 0.93
  • scaffolding - 0.82
  • classroom discussion - 0.82
  • mastery learning - 0.57
  • deliberate practice - 0.79
  • teacher clarity - 0.75
  • feedback - 0.7
  • direct Instruction - 0.6
  • spaced vs massed practice - 0.6
  • rehearsal and memorisation - 0.73
  • seeking help from peers - 0.83
  • mnemonics - 0.76
  • elaboration and organisation - 0.75
  • concept mapping - 0.64
  • transfer strategies - 0.86
  • cognitive task analysis - 1.29
  • teacher credibility      - 0.9


  • clarifying, sharing, and understanding learning intentions and criteria for success – getting the students to really understand what their classroom experience will be and how their success will be measured.
  • tasks give solid evidence of learning – developing effective classroom instructional strategies allowing for the measurement of success.
  • feedback provides students with the information they need to better understand problems and solutions – so THEY can improve their own work
  • activating learners as instructional resources for one another – getting students involved with each other in discussions and working groups can help improve student learning.
  • activating learners as owners of their own learning – self-regulation of learning to improve student performance.
  • strategy to integrate with prior knowledge - 0.93
  • teacher clarity - 0.75
  • feedback - 0.7
  • evaluation & reflection - 0.75
  • classroom discussion - 0.82
  • practice testing - 0.54
  • seeking help from peers - 0.83
  • response to Intervention - 1.29
  • teacher credibility - 0.9


The other factors with significant impact on STUDENT ACHIEVEMENTtend to be things which create the optimum conditions for learning to occur.  


    Teachers adjust their content, planning, purpose, goals, expectations and pedagogy according to their estimate of student achievement. Teachers who genuinely believe ALL students are capable of making progress and achieving success, and who take the attitude that any failure of the student can be addressed by THE TEACHER changing or adding a useful educational practice, make powerful gains in student achievement.

    • teacher estimates of student achievement - 1.62

    Of high significance is the collective belief of staff in their ability to positively affect students. Teachers believe students can be helped and that they are qualified and able to successfully provide that help. In other words, staff members believe they possess the capabilities to organise and execute the action required to produce given levels of attainment (Bandura).

    • collective teacher efficacy - 1.57

    During micro-teaching a teacher’s lesson is filmed. When they watch themselves afterwardsteachers evaluate the effectiveness of their practices (sometimesfora specific purpose). Usually they are accompanied by a mentor, coach, peer or expert to provide perspective, discussion opportunities and further insight. The teacher uses this new insight to change, embed or add to their teachingor to confirm their current practice.

    • micro teaching - 0.88
    It’s not surprising that behaviour has an impact on achievement. It also has a large impact on teacher morale and stress levels. Tight, clear, consistently applied behaviour management policies at each level of a schoolare helpful.
    • classroom behavioural - 0.62