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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

July 2017


What does the research say about programs or practices associated with student agency in grades 6-12? Do the effects associated with these programs or practices vary by students' race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and descriptive studies on programs and practices associated with student agency, or “how students can take action or make efforts on their own behalf” (Akos, 2004), and if the effects associated with student agency varied by students’ race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.1 For details on the databases and sources, keywords and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. We have not evaluated the quality of references and resources provided in this response, but offer this list to you for your information only.

Research References

Albright, R. L. (2016). The qualitative impact of adventure based counseling on sixth grade general education students. Journal of School Counseling, 14(8). Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “General education, middle school students’ experience and outcomes related to their participation in adventure based counseling (ABC) were investigated through the use of qualitative research case study design. Research questions examine what students expect, experience, and perceive as the impact of an adventure based intervention. Analysis of interviews, researcher observations, field notes, and journaling provide key insights into ABC programming. Students' expectations were such that they expected to have fun, but were fearful, yet confident. An examination of their immediate reactions to the intervention revealed that the students experienced physical challenge and success, social challenge and success, emotional challenge and success, as well as cognitive challenge and success. A key finding from an interview session with students completed well after the activities took place revealed that students believed that the intervention had a positive impact socially for themselves as well as their classmates. These insights into ABC provide facilitators, school counselors, teachers, and administrators valuable information on the constructs through which participant growth occurs and recommendations for planning and facilitating such programming.”

Bitter, C., Taylor, J., Zeiser, K. L., & Rickles, J. (2014). Providing opportunities for deeper learning. Findings from the study of deeper learning opportunities and outcomes: Report 2. Washington, DC: American Institute for Research. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The ‘Study of Deeper Learning: Opportunities and Outcomes’-funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation-aimed to determine whether students attending high schools with a mature and at least moderately well implemented approach to promoting deeper learning actually experienced greater deeper learning opportunities and outcomes than they would have had they not attended these schools. In this report-our second in a series of three-we focus specifically on the key question: Did students who attended deeper learning network schools have more opportunities to engage in deeper learning than would likely have been the case had they not attended the network schools? This question addresses a fundamental assumption that underpins the deeper learning initiative: that a well implemented approach to deeper learning can result in greater opportunities for students to develop deeper learning competencies. This analysis includes 11 pairs of matched deeper learning network and comparison schools in California and New York…Key takeaways include the following: 1. On average, students who attended the network schools in the study reported greater opportunities to engage in deeper learning than did similar students who attended non-network schools. Positive effects were found across all measures including opportunities for complex problem solving, opportunities to collaborate, opportunities to communicate, opportunities to learn how to learn, opportunities for creative thinking, opportunities to receive feedback, opportunities for assessments aligned with deeper learning, opportunities for interdisciplinary learning, and opportunities for real world connections. 2. Since the study schools served substantial populations of students living in poverty and, in some cases, large populations of English language learners, the results demonstrate that these opportunities were provided to a diverse group of students, including traditionally underserved subgroups of students. 3. The effects of attending a participating network school on deeper learning opportunities were similarly positive for initially high- and low-achievers and for students who did and did not qualify for free or reduced price lunch. 4. Teachers’ most challenging assignments collected from the network schools exhibited greater opportunities for independent learning in mathematics and for real-world connections in English language arts than those collected from the non-network schools, but were not significantly different on other opportunity measures (including complex problem solving, communication, and conceptual understanding of mathematics). 5. The opportunities for deeper learning experienced by individual students, regardless of the school they attended, were associated with those students’ deeper learning outcomes.”

Borman, G. D., Grigg, J., Rozek, C., & Hanselman, P. (2015). The sustained effects of a brief self-affirmation intervention on students’ academic outcomes across middle and high school. Paper presented at the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness Conference, Washington, DC. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This article proposes closing the academic performance gaps between African American and Latino students and their White counterparts particularly in the line of research that concerns the idea of ‘stereotype threat.’ Stereotype threat is predicated on the notion that people often fear behaving in a way that fits the negative cultural image associated with a group stereotype, thereby marking them as inferior. If an intervention reduces stereotype threat and general anxiety before a test and boosts performance on that test, then that seemingly ‘small win’ can reduce an individual's fear of fulfilling negative stereotypes and improve future performance in evaluative situations. The intervention proposed was a self-affirmation writing exercise developed by Geoffrey Cohen and his colleagues (Cohen et al., 2006). The outcome suggested that apparently subtle mindset interventions that spark small but early alterations in trajectory can have long-term effects that endure across several years and across key schooling transitions.”

Denson, C. D., & Hill, R. B. (2010). Impact of an engineering mentorship program on African-American male high school students’ perceptions and self-efficacy. Journal of Industrial Teacher Education, 47(1), 99-127. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of an engineering mentorship program on African-American male high school students’ perceptions of engineering as a viable career choice. In this study, indicators included students’ perceptions of engineering, their self-efficacy in the area of mathematics, and their self-efficacy in the area of science. Using an independent t-test to determine a difference of statistical significance, inferential statistics were provided to answer the following research questions: (a) Is there a significant difference in perceptions of engineering for students who participated in the NCETE/NSBE mentorship program when compared with non-mentored students?, (b) Is there a significant difference in self-efficacy in the area of mathematics for students who participated in the NCETE/NSBE mentorship when compared with non-mentored students?, and (c) Is there a significant difference in self-efficacy in the area of science for students who participated in the NCETE/NSBE mentorship when compared with non-mentored students?”

Durham, R. E. (2014). A preliminary examination of Baltimore Ingenuity student outcomes: Classes of 2008 and 2013. Baltimore, MD: Baltimore Education Research Consortium. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The Ingenuity program was designed to ‘provide Baltimore’s brightest middle school students with a free, highly accelerated, and challenging mathematics and science curriculum’ (Ingenuity Project, 2014). It started in 1993 at two middle schools, one on the east side of Baltimore and the second on the west, but as of SY 2014-15 the program is in place in several middle schools and one high school. Students must participate in a competitive application process, and those selected represent some of Baltimore’s brightest and most motivated students, a group who some worry is too often ignored in urban school districts. Participants benefit from an extraordinary opportunity for enriched, accelerated math and science course taking and mentorship. Students served by Ingenuity are less likely to be African American or receive free/reduced price meals than the district in general. The program serves approximately 270 middle school students (approximately 90 students in each grade) and 120 in high school (around 30 in each grade per year). Ingenuity Project is offered at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute (Poly) and in the middle grades at Hamilton, Mt. Royal, and Roland Park K-8 schools. Research questions for this analysis were developed using a participatory model that included staff from the Ingenuity Project, Baltimore City Schools, the Abell Foundation, and university researchers of BERC. Questions are primarily focused on whether the program has an impact on high school and postsecondary outcomes, as well as student self-efficacy. The analysis features a comparison with a set of similar students who never participated in Ingenuity. It also includes current and former participants’ responses to an online survey about their career plans and progress. The findings show that a cohort of students who participated in the Ingenuity program ‘during middle school only’ out-performed comparable peers in terms of high school academic behaviors (e.g., advanced course and AP exam-taking), and outcomes (e.g., course grades or SAT scores). Students who participated in the ‘high school component’ also showed significantly higher outcomes relative to similar peers who did not participate, and were also more likely than comparable students to have completed a four-year college degree after four years. According to current Ingenuity students' survey responses, over 95% intend to pursue a four-year degree, and approximately three-fourths are interested a STEM field of study. Likewise, about 95% of former Ingenuity students reported they were enrolled in a four-year degree-granting college, with two-thirds studying for a STEM career. Respondents from both groups most commonly were interested in, or were pursuing studies in biology and/or medicine. Among alumni participating in the survey who are now enrolled in college, virtually all are making expected (or accelerated) progress towards a degree.”

Fraze, L. B., Wingenbach, G., Rutherford, T., & Wolfskill, L. A. (2011). Effects of a recruitment workshop on selected urban high school students’ self-efficacy and attitudes toward agriculture as a subject, college major, and career. Journal of Agricultural Education, 52(4), 123-135. Retrieved from:

From the ERIC abstract: “The purpose of this study was to determine if selected high school students’ participation in a summer agricultural communications workshop affected their self-efficacy and attitudes toward agriculture as a subject, college major, and/or as a career. Data were gathered from an accessible population (N = 145), from which a purposive sample (n = 94) was derived. Data were collected with researcher-developed questionnaires, adapted from Mitchell’s (1993) study of Ohio State University minority students’ knowledge, perceptions, and career aspirations related to agriculture. Results indicated that urban students’ pre-workshop attitudes were positive toward agriculture as a subject, college major, and as a career, and were significantly more positive after participation in the summer agricultural communications workshops. Students may be more likely to study agriculture, pursue college majors in agriculture, and choose agricultural careers if they favorably viewed teachers’ workshop participation and/or their friends successfully completing workshop tasks. Additional research should be conducted on the importance of teacher influence on a student’s self-efficacy in agricultural science subjects.”

Gamble, B. E., Kim, S., & An, S. (2012). Impact of a middle school math academy on learning and attitudes of minority male students in an urban district. Journal of Urban Learning, Teaching, and Research, 8, 13-25. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “A growing number of single-gender and after-school programs for youth continue to gain popularity within schools despite little empirical research regarding how these programs should be designed to achieve maximum success. The present study examined the effectiveness of a comprehensive middle school male academy program in terms of student achievement and attitudes toward learning. The results indicated that students who participated in the program improved their algebra readiness and interest in mathematics. Furthermore, there were gains in students’ perceived importance of assignment completion, attitudes toward learning, goals for college, and self-concept. Implications for similar programs and future studies are discussed.”

Sallee, C. W., Edgar, D. W., & Johnson, D. M. (2013). Student perceptions of instructional methods towards alternative energy education. Journal of Agricultural Education, 54(2), 130-142. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The effectiveness of different methods of instruction has been discussed since the early years of formal education systems. Lecture has been deemed the most common method of presenting information to students (Kindsvatter, Wilen, & Ishler, 1992; Waldron & Moore, 1991) and the demonstration method has been symbolized as the most effective tool developed for teaching (Seevers, Graham, Gamon, & Conklin, 1997). Engaging students is paramount to allowing instructors to expand student knowledge levels. The purpose of this study was to determine if the Arkansas Secondary Biodiesel Education Program (ASBEP) over alternative fuels had an effect towards student interest. A significant difference was found between student interest in method of presentation, t(7) = 8.29, p < 0.05. Furthermore, a strong positive correlation (r = 0.73) was found between posttest scores and student tinkering self-efficacy. Tinkering self-efficacy was also found to be positively and significantly correlated with method of instruction. Through understanding perceptions held by student being taught through different methods, instructors can capitalize and further knowledge acquisition by students.”

Spence, K., & Barnett, E. (2007). Highlights from the MCNC Early College Student Survey Report (2005-06). New York, NY: National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools and Teaching (NCREST) at Columbia University. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The Middle College National Consortium (MCNC) consists of a network of high schools across the nation, located on community college campuses, which provide historically underrepresented youth with access to college. The Consortium supports these small schools in implementing six design principles that lay the foundation for an excellent high school education leading to postsecondary success. Students typically enroll in both high school and college classes. Building on this history, the MCNC, with support from the Gates, Ford, and Carnegie Foundations, has taken this initiative to the next level. The Middle-College Early-College (MC-EC) High Schools blur the border between high school and the community college to create ‘blended institutions’ that offer a dual degree program. Taking a mixture of high school and college courses, students work to attain both a high school diploma and associates degree in four to five years. For the past four years, NCREST has provided research and evaluation support to the MCNC related to the development and implementation of their Early Colleges. This brief is drawn from a larger report titled ‘Early College Student Survey Report Academic Year 2005-2006 and Longitudinal Analysis 2003-2005’ and is based on analysis of NCREST’s 2005-2006 student survey, which assesses students’ perceptions of and experiences with the schools and the Early College initiative. Schools administered the survey to their 9th and 11th graders in the spring of 2006. In all, 1,552 students were surveyed, of whom 880 (57%) were 9th graders and 672 (43%) were 11th graders. This brief provides a summary of data from the 2005-2006 academic year and tracks changes across time, from 2003 to 2005 in terms of student demographics, students' educational aspirations, students’ school-related activities and habits, students' sense of self-efficacy, attitudes, and beliefs about education in general, and students' beliefs about college and the college-going process.”

Tsikalas, K., & Martin, K. L. (2015). Girls’ challenge seeking: How outdoor exposure can support girls in taking positive risks. Afterschool Matters, 21, 1-10. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Challenge seeking is an important component of children’s personal and academic development. Defined in this paper as a set of beliefs and behaviors that propels individuals to initiate and persist at difficult ventures, challenge seeking is a key indicator of mastery goal orientation. This orientation has been linked with a number of positive and adaptive behaviors. For instance, research shows that individuals who pursue mastery goals are more likely than others to value cooperation, seek help when confused, and use deeper learning strategies such as monitoring their comprehension and actively trying to integrate new information with prior knowledge. They are also more likely to negotiate decisional ambiguities and experience positive emotions (Dweck, 1986; Grant & Dweck, 2003; Senko, Hulleman, & Harackiewicz, 2011). In Girl Scouts, challenge seeking is an essential element of leadership-a key to girls' discovery of themselves and their worlds. In moving beyond their personal and interpersonal comfort zones, girls learn their strengths and values as well as ways to interact with others. Enabling girls to seek challenges in the world involves helping them to ‘develop positive attitudes toward learning, seek opportunities for expanding their knowledge and skills, set challenging goals, and take appropriate risks’ (Girl Scouts of the USA, 2008, p. 28). Despite the importance of challenge seeking, Girl Scouts have not typically reported high levels of this outcome. A recent national evaluation, for example, found that only about 40 percent of Girl Scouts in grades 4-8 consistently endorsed positive responses, such as ‘agree’ or ‘agree a lot,’ to statements about taking positive risks (Tsikalas & Martin, 2014). Outdoor experiences often entail authentic tasks that have the potential to foster girls’ challenge seeking. For this reason, senior researcher with the Girl Scout Research Institute, Kallen Tsikalas and director of council initiatives and research for Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts, Karyn Martin used survey data to explore how the breadth and intensity of their exposure to outdoor activities affected Girl Scouts’ challenge seeking. Their findings have implications for practice not only for Girl Scouts but any out-of-school time (OST) program committed to girls’ development. The research methods and results of the study are described herein.”

Vela, J. C., Flamez, B., & Clark, A. (2015). High school counselors’ support and Latina/o students’ career development. Journal of School Counseling, 13(11). Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The current study examined the impact of high school counselors’ support of Latina/o students’ career development outcomes. We used a quantitative, predictive design to explore Latina/o students’ vocational self-efficacy and outcome expectations. Perceptions of investment, accessibility, positive regard, appraisal, and expectations from school counselors did not impact Latina/o students’ vocational self-efficacy or outcome expectations. In addition to a discussion regarding the importance of these findings, implications for school counselors and researchers are offered.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Self-efficacy

  • Mastery Goal Orientation

  • Deeper learning

  • Self-concept

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were include in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.

1Akos, P. (2004). Advice and student agency in the transition to middle school. Research in Middle Level Education, 27(2), 1-11. Retrieved from

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Region) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.