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IES Grant

Title: Evaluation of an Intervention to Improve Academic Outcomes for Low-Income Urban Youth through Instruction in Effective Coping Supported by Mentoring Relationships
Center: NCER Year: 2021
Principal Investigator: Grant, Kathryn Awardee: DePaul University
Program: Social and Behavioral Context for Academic Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 5 years (07/01/2021 – 06/30/2026) Award Amount: $3,799,961
Type: Efficacy Award Number: R305A210263

Purpose: Beginning in early adolescence, stress exposure increases dramatically for students who live in urban poverty. Rising stress predicts social, emotional, and behavioral problems and academic disengagement. These problems, in turn, affect long-term academic and employment outcomes and perpetuate the cycle of poverty. The purpose of this project is to evaluate a new intervention designed to change this harmful trajectory. Cities Mentor Project (Cities Project) was developed to decrease social, emotional, and behavioral problems and to increase academic engagement and achievement for students residing in low-resourced urban neighborhoods during the early adolescent period and beyond. The program teaches advocacy and coping strategies with mentor and community support through partnerships among public schools, community organizations, and universities. The research team will evaluate the efficacy of Cities Project and determine for whom this intervention works, under what conditions, and why. It will also lay groundwork for future follow-up studies on the long-term effects of Cities Project.

Project Activities: The research team will use a randomized controlled trial to test the efficacy of Cities Project with 720 students connected to 12 public schools in low-income neighborhoods.

Products: Three primary products will result from this study: 1) Data on the efficacy of Cities Project, a new intervention for youth residing in urban poverty, 2) Data on who this intervention works for, under what conditions, and why, and 3) Sustainable partnerships between the 4 largest universities in Chicago, 12 public schools, and local supporting community organizations in low-income neighborhoods.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The project will take place in Chicago, Illinois within schools in which more than 75% of students are identified as low-income.

Sample: Participants include 720 (360 intervention; 360 control) 6th graders attending public schools in under-resourced urban neighborhoods.

Intervention: Cities Project is an after-school social and behavioral intervention that was developed with prior IES funding. Cities Project promotes the behavioral/social/psychological skills necessary to remain engaged with school through: a) training in coping with stressors that impede learning and in advocacy and activism that empower youth to take part in changing the larger systems affecting their communities and schools, b) connection with university student mentors who support youth coping efforts and advocate academically with teachers and parents, and c) connection to additional high quality after-school programming at partner community organizations where youth receive additional support.

Research Design and Methods: In Year 1, the researchers will prepare for the efficacy study and for the sustainability of the intervention by randomly selecting 3 new public schools with at least 75% of students residing in low-income communities. The schools will be within a 5-mile radius of each new participating university. The participating schools will follow intervention protocol to establish sustainable infrastructures within the schools and sustainable partnerships with surrounding community organizations. In Year 2, the researchers will enroll 60 6th graders (30 randomly assigned to intervention and 30 to control) at 3 schools currently implementing the intervention in partnership with DePaul University and repeat this procedure with 3 new schools that will partner with Loyola University. In addition, a second set of 3 new schools will partner with Northwestern University, and 3 new schools that will partner with the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). In Years 3-4, the researchers will repeat the Year 2 methods with all 12 schools in partnership with all 4 universities. In Year 5, the researchers will complete the data analyses and disseminate results.

Control Condition: Students in the control condition will take part in existing after-school programming available at their home schools.

Key Measures: The research team will measure a) academic outcomes (grades, test scores, retention), b) social skills (adult engagement, advocacy, behavioral coping), c) attitudes (academic engagement, sense of efficacy, cognitive coping), c) behaviors (behavioral problems), and d) mental and physical health variables (attention, executive functioning, mental and physical health, sleep) that are affected by stress and influence academic engagement and achievement.

Data Analytic Strategy: The researchers will use a mixed methods approach to test implementation within the randomized controlled trial including qualitative analysis of observations and interviews, and quantitative analysis of implementation measures. An intent-to-treat approach will be used to test efficacy, with a 3-level design in which repeated measures at 4 occasions will be administered to students nested within schools. Primary analyses of efficacy will involve 3-level linear mixed-effects regression models with intercept and slopes treated as random effects at levels 2 and 3. Furthermore, multilevel structural equation modeling will be used to model growths in outcomes by condition (intervention vs. control) and to model mediation, moderation, and moderated mediation, in order to test the intervention's theory of change and to understand for whom this intervention works, under what conditions, and why.

Cost Analysis: The researchers calculate costs and cost effectiveness both from a societal perspective and from the perspective of the school district. To ensure accurate measurement of program inputs, multiple data sources will be used that include extensive surveys, interviews, and budgetary review. In addition to expended direct costs, the cost calculation will include volunteer time and various other implicit costs, including costs induced by program participation. Induced inputs such as after-school program costs will be estimated by using the difference in the level of after-school program participation between treatment and control. Each input will be priced using both national and local prices, and sensitivity analysis will be conducted with varying sources of price information. The cost-effectiveness analysis will determine the per-unit incremental cost of improving student grade point average and Behavior Assessment System for Children (BASC) normed T-scores, since these standard measures will facilitate comparing the cost effectiveness of Cities Project to that of other programs. For all cost analyses, researchers will determine start-up costs and maintenance costs along with calculating the total cost-effectiveness for the intervention over a 3-year timeframe.

Related IES Projects: Development of an Intervention to Improve Academic Outcomes for Low-Income Urban Youth through Instruction in Effective Coping Supported by Mentoring Relationships (R305A080562)