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IES Grant

Title: Continuous Improvement in Ninth Grade Student Outcomes through Engaging Families to Support Students in the Transition from Middle to High School
Center: NCER Year: 2015
Principal Investigator: Mac Iver, Martha Awardee: Johns Hopkins University
Program: Continuous Improvement Research in Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (7/1/2015-6/30/2019) Award Amount: $2,499,939
Type: Other Goal Award Number: R305H150081

Name of Partners: Seattle Public Schools (SPS), Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University, National Network of Partnership Schools

Purpose: The partnership formed for this research project will work with middle and high schools to improve family engagement with school as students make the transition from middle to high school. Partners will address truancy and course failure during ninth grade, as they have significant negative impacts on students' probabilities of graduating from high school. Although research shows that family involvement in children's schooling increases attendance and school performance, family involvement in students' education tends to decline precipitously in late middle school. By increasing family involvement, the partnership intends to increase the ninth grade course passing rate, thereby increase the likelihood that students will complete high school. At the end of the project, the partnership will have an improved strategy for increasing family engagement during the transition to high school, and the district will have greater capacity for implementing this strategy.

Project Activities: The partnership will coordinate activities of the research team, family engagement staff within the district, staff and students within middle and high schools, and families and adults within the school community. The partnership will utilize family engagement teams that include school leaders, teachers, parents, community members, and students working together to promote family involvement. Beginning in Year One, the partnership will implement the engagement team approach, which has been successfully implemented in elementary schools. During Years Two and Three, through yearly improvement cycles at the district level and shorter cycles at the school level, the partnership will revise and adapt its family engagement approach for students as they transition to high school.

Products: The products of this research include a fully-developed family engagement strategy for the high school transition, guides that district leaders and schools staff can use to implement this family engagement strategy, and resources for families to help them understand the transition to high school. Researchers will also produce peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This project will take place in schools located in a large urban district in Washington State.

Sample: Study participants will include about 2200 students per year, attending 12 high schools in each of the 2015–16, 2016–17, 2017–18, and 2018–19 school years. Forty percent of students in these schools receive free or reduced-price lunches; nine percent are English learners; and 58 percent come from racial/ethnic minority groups (African American, Asian, Hispanic, and Other).

Approach: Six main principles guide the family engagement approach: supportive parenting for child and adolescent development; two-way school-family communications; parental participation/volunteering in school activities; parent-student interactions for learning at home; decision making that includes parents' voices in school policies and decisions; and school-community collaboration. The partnership will employ innovative methods to engage all parents, such as text, videotape and voice mail messages in parents' preferred languages, as well as public service announcements in community news sources. Researchers will provide middle schools with useable interactive homework activities that enable eighth graders to conduct conversations with their families about the steps, requirements, and value of a successful transition to high school. Middle and high schools will provide parents and students with multiple orientations to high school, including training on how to use web-based portals for parents to monitor their teens' academic progress throughout the school year.

Research Design and Methods: This project employs plan-do-study-act improvement cycles at the district level, and within the school-based family engagement teams. At the district level, the executive teamóincluding district staff and project researchersówill meet monthly to review summaries of administrative and survey data collected from school staff and parents. An ethnographer will interview project participants and review relevant documents to assess whether the project is on track to meet its objectives, and will report to the executive team on a quarterly basis. Each summer, the executive team will review summaries of data collected during the school year, as well as end-of-year outcome data, in order to revise the approach for the upcoming school year. At the school level, engagement teams will review data that they collect as well as data provided by the executive team, to drive revisions within their own plan-do-study-act cycles. To assess the promise of the approach for improving students' attendance and academic outcomes, researchers will carry out an ongoing comparison study with an interrupted time series design.

Control Condition: Nine high schools in a comparable, urban district in Oregon will serve as comparison sites. The comparison sample will include approximately 2200 students per year from these schools. As in the intervention schools, a large proportion (42 percent) of students in the comparison group receive free or reduced-price lunches; fifteen percent are English learners; and 44 percent are from racial/ethnic minority groups (African American, Asian, Hispanic, and Other).

Key Measures: Short-term measures to inform short-cycle improvements will include quarterly summary statistics of school attendance and grades, and qualitative measures indicating the alignment of school documents with the family engagement approach. Long-term measures will inform annual improvement cycles and include student attitudes from surveys, parent attitudes and behaviors from parent surveys, and measures of usability and feasibility from structured interviews with school leaders. Researchers will use end-of-year grades and attendance measures for the annual improvement cycles, as well as for the ongoing comparison study. Measures of comparison group practice will come from interviews with central office administrators and high school principals in the comparison district.

Data Analytic Strategy: For the improvement process, the research team will employ descriptive statistics computed at the school level, and for specific student sub-groups, to analyze within- and across-school trends in student outcomes, usability, and feasibility. The team will also conduct content analysis of qualitative data from school staff to assess implementation, usability, and feasibility. For the ongoing comparison study, researchers will use a two-level regression model of ninth graders nested within high schools to analyze intervention-comparison differences in student outcomes.