IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Updating Our Recommendations to Prevent Dropping Out

By Dana Tofig, Communications Director, IES

Almost a decade ago, the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) released Dropout Prevention, one of its first practice guides, which offered six recommendations for keeping students in school, based on the findings from high-quality research and best practices in the field. Since its release in August 2008, the practice guide has been downloaded thousands of times by practitioners across the country. In fact, the guide was downloaded more than 1,500 times in 2016, alone.

However, over the past decade, the research and knowledge base has grown in the area of dropout prevention, which is why the WWC decided to update this guide to reflect the latest evidence and information about keeping students in school and on track toward graduation.

This updated guide, Preventing Dropout in Secondary Schools, builds on the 2008 guide in two significant ways.

First, it reflects improvements in practices related to monitoring at-risk students, including advances in using early warning indicators to identify students at risk for dropping out. Secondly, it covers an additional nine years of research that were not a part of the previous guide. In fact, 15 of the 25 studies used to support the recommendations in this updated guide were published after the first guide was published. In addition, studies from the previous guide were reviewed again against current, more rigorous WWC evidence standards.

Preventing Dropout in Secondary Schools offers four evidence-based recommendations that can be used by schools and districts:

  • Monitor the progress of all students, and proactively intervene when students show early signs of attendance, behavior, or academic problems;
  • Provide intensive, individualized support to students who have fallen off track and face significant challenges to success;
  • Engage students by offering curricula and programs that connect schoolwork with college and career success and that improve students’ capacity to manage challenges in and out of school; and
  • For schools with many at-risk students, create small, personalized communities to facilitate monitoring and support.

Each of these recommendations includes specific strategies for implementation and examples of how this work is being done around the country (see one such example in the image to the right).

Like all of our practice guides, the recommendations were developed with a panel of educators, academics, and experts who brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to the process. Two of the panelists on this updated guide were also involved in the development of the first dropout prevention guide—Russell Rumberger, from University of California, Santa Barbara, and Mark Dynarksi, of Pemberton Research LLC. The other panelists for the new guide were Howard (Sandy) Addis, of the National Dropout Prevention Center and Network; Elaine Allensworth, from the University of Chicago; Robert Balfanz, from The Johns Hopkins University; and Debra Duardo, superintendent of the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

Please download this free guide today and let us know what you think. We would especially love to hear from people who are using the recommended strategies in schools. You can reach us through the WWC Help Desk or email us at Contact.IES@ed.gov

Putting Your Ideas into Action: Instructional Tips for Educators

By Christopher Weiss, Program Manager, What Works Clearinghouse

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) is always looking for ways to improve. We want it to be as easy as possible for our users to connect with the evidence they need, so they can make informed educational decisions.

Last year, we undertook a comprehensive, multi-faceted self-study. Through surveys, interviews, and focus groups, we asked a variety of different WWC users to tell us what we were doing well and, more importantly, what we could do better. (Click here if you’re interested in all the results.)

Some of the specific suggestions we received focused on the WWC Educator’s Practice Guides, which combine the best available research evidence and practitioner expertise on a topic to provide educators with strategies to use in their school or classroom. Based upon a review of the research literature and the guidance of a panel of nationally recognized experts, practice guides synthesize evidence and the wisdom of practitioners.

One particular suggestion that came from the self-study was to create a separate, stand-alone document with concise and specific information that a teacher or school would need to carry out some of a practice guide’s recommendations. It was a great suggestion – and we put it into action.

On July 25, we released our first Instructional Tips publication (PDF), which was created to help educators carry out the recommendations in the Improving Mathematical Problem Solving in Grades 4 through 8 practice guide. We provide tips for three of the Practice Guide’s five recommendations:

  • Assisting Students in Monitoring and Reflecting on the Problem-Solving Process;
  • Teaching Students to Use Visual Representations to Solve Problems; and
  • Helping Students Make Sense of Algebraic Notation.

As an example, for the recommendation on visual representations, we offer two instructional tips. First, we suggest that teachers demonstrate how to select the appropriate visual representation for the problem they are solving and we provide specific steps and examples for implementing this tip. Second, we suggest teachers use think-alouds and discussions to teach students how to represent problems visually and, again, provide specific steps and work examples. Here's one of the examples from the publication:

An accompanying document (PDF) to the Instructional Tips describes the evidence base that supports these recommended practices.

We are planning additional Instructional Tips publications down the road, but we want to hear from you first. If you have questions or ideas for how we can improve this resource, we’d love to hear them. Please send them through an email to the WWC Help Desk.

The Instructional Tips are just one of several ways we are working to improve the WWC. Over the past two years, we have redesigned our website and created a new Find What Works tool to make it easier for users to find the evidence they need. We have also increased our use of Facebook and Twitter to help us better connect with new audiences; published new briefs and held several webinars to explain WWC processes and resources; and have launched a new Reviews of Individual Studies database to give the field quicker access to the research we have reviewed. And all of this has been done while we continue to identify interventions, practices and programs that show evidence of improving student outcomes across a wide array of educational topics.

Stay up to date on new WWC products, events, and resources by signing up for the IES News Flash (under NCEE) and following us on Facebook and Twitter

Bringing Evidence-based Practices to the Field

By Dr. Barbara Foorman, Director Emeritus, Florida Center for Reading Research, Florida State University

The Institute of Education Sciences recently released a What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) educator’s practice guide that has four recommendations to support the development of foundational reading skills that are critically important to every student’s success. The recommendations in Foundational Skills to Support Reading for Understanding in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade are based on a comprehensive review of 15 years of research on reading, and guidance from a national panel of reading experts, of which I was the chair.

Recently, the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Southeast at Florida State University has developed a set of professional learning community (PLC) materials and videos to help teachers and other practitioners implement the guide’s recommendations in classrooms.

Over the past few months, REL Southeast has shared the practice guide and PLC materials with practitioners and policymakers in two states – North Carolina and Mississippi, which both have K-3 reading initiatives and reading coaches who assist with implementation. I’m excited by the feedback we are getting.

During these presentations, we shared the format of the ten 75-min PLC sessions and accompanying videos that demonstrate the recommendations and action steps in actual classrooms. We filmed the videos in partnership with Dr. Lynda Hayes, Director of the PK Yonge Developmental Research School at the University of Florida, and her primary grade teachers.

In North Carolina, we trained K–3 regional literacy consultants, elementary teachers and reading coaches, and higher education faculty on the PLC Facilitator’s Guide in Charlotte and Raleigh. The K-3 regional literacy consultants are organized by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

In Mississippi, we trained the 90 Mississippi Department of Education reading coaches and district-supported special education specialists in Jackson. In turn, the state coaches will train the K–3 teachers who are a part of the reading initiative in the practice guide recommendations and action steps. Additionally, the coaches will work with the primary grade teachers in each of their assigned schools to implement the PLC. Having the state coaches oversee the implementation of the PLC will help ensure commitment and instill depth to the PLC sessions.

Also present at the training in Mississippi were faculty members from the University of Mississippi and Belhaven University. I accepted an invitation from the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning Literacy Council to speak to higher education faculty about the guide and PLC materials. The invitation is timely because Mississippi recently completed a study of teacher preparation for early literacy instruction.

I hope you will download the practice guide and PLC materials. If you have any thoughts, comments, or questions, please email Contact.IES@ed.gov. You can learn more about the work of the Regional Educational Laboratories program and REL Southeast on the IES website.  

Dr. Foorman is the Director of REL Southeast, located at Florida State University

Practice Guides: How to Use What Works in the Classroom

By Diana McCallum, NCEE

With new education research released every day, it can be difficult to know which teaching methods and classroom practices have been tested and shown to improve student outcomes. You want to know what really works and how to use evidence-based practices in your school or classroom.

What Works Clearinghouse practice guides help bridge the gap between research and practice by examining the findings from existing research studies and combining them with expert advice about applying these findings in the classroom. For each guide, a team of nationally-recognized practitioners and researchers work closely with the WWC to combine evidence from research with guidance from hands-on experience.

Practice guides offer specific recommendations that include a description of the supporting research, steps for carrying out the recommendation, and strategies you can use to overcome potential challenges. Many of the guides also feature supplementary materials, like videos and summaries, to help you quickly find what you need.

One example is our most recent practice guide, Teaching Strategies for Improving Algebra Knowledge in Middle and High School Students. Mastering algebra helps students move from arithmetic operations to understanding abstract concepts, and is for a key to success in future mathematics courses, including geometry and calculus. Teaching Strategies for Improving Algebra Knowledge in Middle and High School Students presents three evidence-based recommendations educators can use to help students develop a deeper understanding of algebra, promote process-oriented thinking, and encourage precise communication. These recommendations help address common challenges in algebra instruction and focus on:

  • Utilizing the structure of algebraic representations to make connections among problems, solution strategies, and representations; 
  • Incorporating solved problems into classroom instruction and activities to help students develop their algebraic reasoning skills; and
  • Comparing and selecting from alternative algebraic strategies to give students flexibility when solving problems. 

You can read the Practice Guide Summary for a quick overview of these recommendations or spend a few minutes watching videos in which Jon Star, of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, explain the recommendations.  

The Teaching Strategies for Improving Algebra Knowledge in Middle and High School Students is just one of 19 practice guides available on the What Works Clearinghouse website. Some of the others are:

  • Teaching Math to Young Children: Preschool and kindergarten teachers can get details on how to improve math lessons with this guide, including strategies to create a math-rich environment. You’ll find examples of classroom activities and games that can supplement lesson plans and provide opportunities for children to learn math.

You can find information and links to all 19 practice guides on our website. We also cover a variety of other math and literacy topics, as well as guides focused on dropout prevention, using data to monitor student progress and make decisions, and preparing students for college.

Visit whatworks.ed.gov to find the practice guide that’s right for you or to suggest a topic you’d like us to explore.

Dr. McCallum is an education research analyst on the What Works Clearinghouse team.

About the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC)

For more than a decade, the goal of the WWC has been to provide educators with the information they need to make evidence-based decisions with the aim of improving student outcomes. Established by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, the WWC strives to be a central and trusted source of scientific evidence on education programs, products, practices, and policies. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.