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IES Grant

Title: Promoting School Belongingness and Academic Performance: A Multisite Replication Trial of a Scalable Student Mindset Intervention
Center: NCER Year: 2018
Principal Investigator: Borman, Trisha Awardee: American Institutes for Research (AIR)
Program: Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Context for Teaching and Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (07/01/2018 - 06/30/2022) Award Amount: $2,811,594
Type: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305A180220

Co-Principal Investigator: Borman, Geoffrey

Purpose: The purpose of this study is to test the efficacy of a brief writing exercise designed to promote school belongingness and academic performance in middle school students. This study is a direct replication of a prior IES efficacy study to understand more fully how, for whom, and under what conditions a brief, inexpensive, school belongingness mindset intervention may impact students' achievement at the transition to middle school.

Project Activities: The research team will randomly assign two cohorts of 6th grade students to complete the school-belongingness writing exercise (treatment) or a neutral writing exercise (control) two times early in their 6th grade year. The team will test both short- (end of 6th grade) and long-term (end of 7th and 8th grade) impacts of the intervention on student social-psychological, behavioral, and academic outcomes.

Products: Researchers will produce evidence of whether the positive impacts of a brief mindset writing intervention to promote school belongingness at the transition to middle school can be replicated in a different geographic setting with a different student population to support generalizability of findings. The researchers will disseminate findings through peer-reviewed publications and other reports shared via institutional websites, e-newsletters, and social media.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This study will take place in two school districts in Texas with a large number of economically disadvantaged students (greater than 50 percent) and relatively large minority student populations (30-60 percent Hispanic and 8-40 percent African American).

Sample: The sample for this study includes approximately 6,000 6th grade students across 12 middle schools.

Intervention: The intervention is a 15-minute reading and writing exercise that students complete in class. Students are asked to read the results of a fictitious survey, along with illustrative quotes, from the current 7th grade students in their school and the academic and social challenges they faced. The survey and quotes indicate that these students felt they didn't fit in or belong in 6th grade but that now as 7th graders almost all feel they fit in and belong. Students are asked to reflect on the survey by writing about why 6th graders like themselves might worry at first about fitting at school but feel more sure over time in an effort to help them internalize the message of the intervention.

Research Design and Methods: The research team will randomly assign 6th grade students within schools to test the impact of the school belongingness intervention on academic and social competencies. Two consecutive cohorts of students will receive similar writing exercise packets with identical cover sheets, and investigators, teachers, and students will be blind to condition. The two exercises are administered by classroom teachers early in the school year (September and November) in order to target students' belonging uncertainty before negative cues (e.g., report cards) can confirm a lack of belonging.

Control Condition: The control exercise is identical to the belongingness exercise except it asks students to write about neutral middle school experiences that are not related to belonging uncertainty, like dealing with a loud lunchroom and learning about politics.

Key Measures: The researchers will use school record data (state assessments, grades, attendance, disciplinary referrals) and student surveys of well-being and engagement (e.g., belongingness, self-control, evaluation anxiety, engagement, motivation, and help seeking) as the primary outcome measures. The researchers will also analyze students' written responses to assess implementation fidelity and the degree to which the message of the intervention was internalized and resulted in a reappraisal of adversity.

Data Analytic Strategy: The researchers will use a two-level multilevel model to determine the effect of the intervention on student outcomes. They will run additional analyses that model outcomes as longitudinal growth trajectories to explore mechanisms that help understand how the intervention works and to identify potential contextual differences across schools related to treatment heterogeneity. In addition, the team will use the "ingredients method" to estimate the cost to schools to implement the intervention.

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