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IES Grant

Title: Getting Students to the Finish Line: An Efficacy Study of a Ninth Grade Early Warning Indicator Intervention
Center: NCER Year: 2012
Principal Investigator: Balfanz, Robert Awardee: Johns Hopkins University
Program: Improving Education Systems      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (7/01/2012-6/30/2016) Award Amount: $3,458,989
Type: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305A120677

Co-Investigator: Marcia Davis

Purpose: Each year in the United States, more than a million students fail to graduate with their high school class. The process of disengagement with schooling which culminates in students dropping out generally manifests itself behaviorally in high absenteeism, behavior problems, and course failure, including both the failure to complete assignments and failure to pass courses. These three factors—the ABCs—are the strongest predictors of dropping out, are often interrelated, and can serve as early warning indicators of students who absent effective intervention are likely to dropout. In this project, researchers will evaluate the effectiveness of the Early Warning Intervention (EWI) Team model, developed by the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University, on absenteeism and other proximal outcomes that are related to high school graduation. In this model, facilitators are trained to work with school teams to intervene with students displaying early warning indicators of not being “on-track” to graduation.

Project Activities: Researchers will conduct a randomized experiment in 40 high schools in which half of the schools will receive EWI Teams (treatment schools) and half will not (control schools). This experiment will allow researchers to measure the impact of the Early Warning Intervention Team model on ninth grade student outcomes as well as on later outcomes on sub-samples of students who researchers can follow through the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades. Researchers will also study how the treatment schools implement the intervention and will document the strategies the control schools use to help struggling 9th grade students.

Products: The products of this project will be evidence of the efficacy of a 9th grade early warning system intervention for high school students, and peer reviewed publications.


Setting: The study will be conducted in 40 Alabama high schools (both rural and urban) with graduation rates lower than 80 percent.

Sample: The study population includes 9th grade students who attend Alabama high schools with low graduation rates. Researchers will study 9th graders at 20 high schools during the 2012/13 and 2013/14 academic years and 9th graders at an additional 20 high schools during the 2013/14 and 2014/15 academic years. This will result in four cohorts of 9th graders that include a large proportion of low-income and minority students as well as students from rural and urban areas.

Intervention: The Early Warning Intervention (EWI) Team model brings together adults within individual schools to provide services for 9th grade students identified by Alabama’s early warning system as not being “on-track” for graduation. At each participating school, an EWI Team, composed of teachers, counselors, student support services personnel and others, meets bi-weekly to set common academic and behavioral expectations and policies that are supportive of keeping students on path to graduation. EWI schools also have an on-site graduation facilitator that serves as the mediator between the school/district leadership and the EWI team. The facilitator provides regularly updated early warning indicator data (from routinely collected student data on attendance, behavior, course grades) on each student to the EWI team; and guides the EWI team in discussing students with warning indicators, planning interventions, and following up on implemented interventions during the bi-weekly EWI team meetings. A state-level facilitator and Johns Hopkins University coaches provide ongoing professional development and coaching to the on-site graduation facilitators and the EWI Team.

Research Design and Methods: This is an experimental study in which schools are randomized into the treatment condition (EWI Team model) or the control condition (business-as-usual). Before the grant award, researchers will recruit 40 schools to participate in the intervention and assign them to the treatment and control conditions (20 schools each). Half of the schools (10 treatment and 10 control) will begin participation in the study during the 2012-2013 academic year. The other 20 schools (10 treatment and 10 control) will begin participation in the study during the 2013-14 academic year. At the treatment schools, EWI Teams and facilitators will receive ongoing professional development from the intervention provider and will implement the model with incoming 9th grade students for two consecutive years. This will result in four cohorts of 9th grade students. For all four cohorts, researchers will estimate the effect of the intervention on 9th grade outcomes such as attendance, number of course credits earned in ninth grade, number of office referrals, number of in-school and out-of-school suspensions, course grades, and on-time promotion. Because of the lagged implementation, researchers will be also able to follow three cohorts through the 10th and 11th grades and one cohort through the 12th grade. This will allow researchers to estimate the effect of the 9th grade intervention on student outcomes over time.

Control Condition: Half of the study schools will be assigned to a business-as-usual control condition. Researchers will collect data on the types of services control schools offer struggling 9th grade students.

Key Measures: Ninth-grade student outcome measures include attendance, grade retention/promotion, course credits earned, grades, disciplinary infractions, and “on-track” status. Similar outcomes will be measured for subsamples of students followed through the 10th, 11th, and 12th grades. For one cohort, researchers will collect data on high school graduation. Student outcomes will also include survey-based measures of student attitudes, efforts, and motivation. Researchers will also use weekly log forms, observations of EWI meetings, and staff surveys to collect data on intervention implementation.

Data Analytic Strategy: Data analysis will be conducted using hierarchical linear modeling, nesting at least 4,000 students (an average of 100 ninth graders per school) within 40 schools for each of two years of implementation. At Level 1 (student), ninth grade outcomes are functions of prior outcomes from the eighth grade (e.g. eighth grade attendance) and a vector of student characteristics obtained from district student records (e.g. gender, race/ethnicity) and the student surveys (e.g. mediators such as self-reports on motivation measures). Similarly, percentage of courses passed/credits earned is a function of these same factors, as well as ninth grade attendance. At Level 2 (school), researchers include variables for school characteristics, including an indicator of treatment status, and covariates representing the characteristics of the school and student body. These will include the mean 8th grade test score of entering 9th graders, the percent of low-income students, and the average attendance. Supplementary analyses will be conducted with a subsample of schools and students who can be followed over four years to a graduation outcome, as well as with subsamples of schools and students with 10th and 11th grade outcomes.