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IES Grant

Title: Reducing Achievement Gaps at Scale Through a Brief Self-Affirmation Intervention
Center: NCER Year: 2018
Principal Investigator: Borman, Trisha Awardee: American Institutes for Research (AIR)
Program: Improving Education Systems      [Program Details]
Award Period: 5 years (07/01/2018 - 06/30/2023) Award Amount: $3,681,819
Type: Effectiveness Award Number: R305A180230

Co-Principal Investigator: Borman, Geoffrey

Purpose: In this study, researchers will test the effectiveness at scale of a low-cost self-affirmation mindset intervention on the achievement, behavior, and attitudes of 7th grade students testing specific hypotheses about the intervention’s impact on Black and Hispanic students. These minority student groups are susceptible to the threat of conforming to or being judged by negative stereotypes about the general underperformance of their racial/ethnic group ("stereotype threat"). The hypothesis is that the self-affirmation intervention will buffer these students from the harm of stereotype threat by affirming their core values in multiple domains, thus allowing students to increase their well-being and perform better in school. Prior evidence of the efficacy of this intervention has been mixed, depending on the school demographic composition and intervention implementation features.

Project Activities: The researchers will recruit 48 schools and randomly assign students within the schools to either the intervention or control condition. All students will take a survey at the beginning and end of the school year. The teachers will be trained on how and when to administer the intervention (or control activity) during the year, prior to high-stakes assessments. The researchers will then collect student survey data (socio-emotional constructs) and school records (attendance, grades) to examine the effects of the intervention.

Products: Researchers will produce evidence of the effectiveness of the self-affirmation mindset intervention when implemented at scale. The researchers will also produce peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This project will take place in schools sampled primarily from 48 districts that are part of the Strategic Education Research Partnership (SERP) and the Minority Student Achievement Network (MSAN). SERP tends to include medium-sized to larger urban districts, while MSAN tends to include smaller urban or inner-ring suburban school districts.

Sample: The study sample will include approximately 9,600 students.

Intervention: The self-affirmation mindset intervention consists of four 15-minute in-class writing exercises, which prompt seventh-grade students to choose two-to-three personally important values from a list of 11 – including, for example, friends, family, music, religion, or sports – and to write about why these values are important to them. The exercise is meant to remind students of values other than academics that are important to their identity and thus provide them with resources to buffer them against the anxiety of social identity threats.

Research Design and Methods: The research team will conduct a multisite randomized controlled trial (RCT) in 48 middle schools in six districts. They will select a sample of districts and schools from the participating consortia that is stratified with regard to racial diversity. They also will stratify student-level random assignment by race/ethnicity to ensure balance. This is a double-blind experiment, in which both students and teachers are unaware of each student's randomly assigned condition. Prior to randomization, during the first week of school, all seventh-grade students will complete a survey, with a follow-up survey shortly after receiving final administration of the intervention, and at the end of eighth grade. Researchers will conduct the study with two separate cohorts of seventh-grade students for two years to allow for a test of the consistency and replicability of the intervention's processes and outcomes. Each year, the researchers will administer the first exercise at the beginning of school and three follow-up exercises just prior to a consequential assessment activity (e.g., a standardized test). The research team will track Cohort 1 for three years (through ninth grade) to look at sustained impacts in high school, and track Cohort 2 for two years (through eighth grade).

Control Condition: The control condition also focuses on values and requires the same amount of reading and writing, but is not designed to deliver a self-affirming message. The control prompts ask students to select the two to three least important values from the same list read by treatment students and explain why they may be important to someone else.

Key Measures: The primary academic outcomes are student grades and standardized test scores, and the primary behavioral measures are student attendance and disciplinary records. Key measures of students' academic attitudes and well-being include valuing academics, teacher expectations, locus of control, self-complexity, construal, belongingness, supportive relationships, self-control and evaluation anxiety. In addition, researchers will collect data that assesses key moderating factors such as school-level racial bias and discrimination, and individual- and school-level perception of stereotype threat.

Data Analytic Strategy: The research team will conduct an Intent-to-Treat analysis using a three-level multilevel model that takes into account students' pretest scores and treatment status (treatment or control), nested within school sites, within districts. Researchers will examine proximal and longer-term intervention effects on students' attitudinal, behavioral, and academic outcomes. The researchers will also conduct tests for interaction effects to identify the conditions under which, and for whom, the intervention has the strongest effects. Finally, they will conduct moderation analyses to examine whether the effects vary by student or school characteristics, and mediation analyses to explore socioemotional mechanisms for how the intervention works.

Related IES Projects: An Efficacy Trial of Two Interventions Designed to Reduce Stereotype Threat Vulnerability and Close Academic Performance Gaps (R305A110136)