Skip Navigation
Funding Opportunities | Search Funded Research Grants and Contracts

IES Grant

Title: Freshman Success: Implementation of Comprehensive Universal Supports for School Engagement
Center: NCER Year: 2015
Principal Investigator: Flannery, K. Brigid Awardee: University of Oregon
Program: Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Context for Teaching and Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (9/1/2015-8/31/2018) Award Amount: $1,481,588
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A150010

Co-Principal Investigator: McIntosh, Kent

Purpose: In this project, researchers developed and tested the Freshman Success Model, an intervention that includes peer mentors to promote school engagement for all ninth grade students in high schools with School-Wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (SW-PBIS). Prior research has shown that disengagement from school can start early for both low- and high-achieving students as they transition into the new, unfamiliar high school environment. The consequences of disengagement unfold rapidly, with disengaged students skipping school or classes and falling behind in credits. Freshman Success is designed to promote engagement at the point of entry into high school by providing all ninth-grade students with knowledge and skills to promote school engagement and get them to graduation.

Project Activities: In the first two years of the project, the researchers worked with two high schools to develop the model using design-based research techniques, including focus groups and small-scale implementation with data collected to inform revisions. In the final year of the study, researchers randomly assigned four schools to implement the Freshman Success model or serve as controls to determine the promise of the model for increasing student engagement and academic achievement.

Key Outcomes: The main features of the intervention and findings of the project's pilot study are as follows:

Structured Abstract

Setting: The study took place in urban school districts in Oregon.

Sample: Two high schools participated in the development activities (720 ninth grade students, 46 mentors, 28 ninth grade teachers, two administrators, and six school support staff). Four schools participated in the final pilot study of promise (1,588 ninth grade students, two peer mentors per ninth grade class, and 32 teachers, and building administrators).

Intervention: The Freshman Success Model is intended to increase school engagement for ninth grade students as they transition into high school. Freshmen Success (FS) has three components: (a) use of data-based decision making by a 9th-grade leadership team, (b) explicit instruction of a prevention-oriented engagement curriculum for all 9th-grade students, and (c) utilization of engagement-focused peer support from upperclassmen who share experiences and knowledge with 9th graders. The prevention-oriented engagement curriculum is intended to be implemented with all ninth graders within a school-wide multi-tiered system of support. The curriculum focuses on knowledge and skills to promote the development of engagement in three domains: cognitive (e.g., perceived relevance of school, interest in learning), behavioral (e.g., attendance, class participation), and emotional (e.g., sense of belonging, perceived support). The curriculum consists of thirteen 30—45 minute lessons that can be embedded into a common class format (e.g., health or an advisory period). It also includes opportunities to practice these skills during brief activities during the class. Upperclassmen mentors co-teach lessons and help ninth graders navigate the high school environment while serving as prosocial models of school engagement.

Research Design and Methods: In Year 1, the researchers conducted focus groups with ninth-grade students and formed a design team (including an administrator and a few ninth-grade teachers) in each of two high schools to identify necessary systems to support and develop the curriculum, training materials, and fidelity measures. The researchers also tested the usability of these components through an iterative design process with small groups of ninth graders and their teachers and peer mentors. In Year 2, the researchers conducted a feasibility study of the full model (systems and curriculum) with all ninth graders in the same two high schools. The researchers revised the model as needed during the feasibility study and assessed preliminary associations with student engagement. In the final year, the researchers randomly assigned new schools (two pairs matched on enrollment and free and reduced priced lunch rates) to implement the Freshman Success model or to serve as controls to determine the model's promise for increasing student engagement, retention, and academic and behavioral outcomes.

Control Condition: Schools randomly assigned to the control group conducted business as usual with entering ninth grade students.

Key Measures: The research team collected data using several process measures (e.g., feedback forms, the Primary Intervention Rating Scale, and checklists and observation forms of implementation fidelity). They measured student engagement using the Motivation and Engagement Scale for High School and used school records (attendance, GPA, credit accrual, course failures, and discipline referrals) to measure school performance.

Data Analytic Strategy: During the development phase, the researchers used a three-step qualitative data analytic process (record, organize and manage raw data; reduce data; interpret data) and descriptive and inferential statistical techniques (means, standard deviations, paired t-tests) to inform development of the model. During the pilot study, the researchers used multilevel linear regression to analyze the impact of the intervention on student engagement and school outcomes.

Publications and Products

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Flannery, K.B., Kato, M.M., Kittelman, A., McIntosh, K., Triplett, D. (2020). A Tier 1 Intervention to Increase 9th Grade Engagement and Success: Results from a Randomized Controlled Trial. School Psychology, 35(1), 88–98.

Nongovernment report, issue brief, or practice guide

Flannery, K. B., Kato, M. M., & Horner, R. H. (2019). Using Outcome Data to Implement Multi-Tiered Behavior Support (PBIS) in High Schools. Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.

Martinez, S., Kern, L., Hershfeldt, P., Peshak George, H., White, A., Flannery, B., and Freeman, J. (2019). High School PBIS Implementation: Student Voice. Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.

McGrath, M.K., Flannery, B., Triplett, D., and Saeturn, S. (2018). Investing in Freshmen: Providing Preventive Support to 9th Graders. In K. B. Flannery, P. Hershfeldt, & J. Freeman (Eds.), Lessons Learned on Implementation of PBIS in High Schools.