WWC review of this study

Impacts of dropout prevention programs: Final report.

Dynarski, M., Gleason, P., Rangarajan, A., & Wood, R. (1998). A research report from the School Dropout Demonstration Assistance Program evaluation. Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. (Michigan study).

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
     examining 
    172
     Students
    , grades
    6-8
At least one statistically significant positive finding
Meets WWC standards with reservations

Reviewed: July 2008

Progressing in school outcomes—Statistically significant positive effects found
Outcome
measure
Comparison Period Sample Intervention
mean
Comparison
mean
Significant? Improvement
index

Highest grade completed after two years

Accelerated Middle Schools vs. business as usual

End of 2 years

Michigan;
172 students

7.3

6.8

Yes

 
 
39
Staying in school outcomes—Statistically significant positive effects found
Outcome
measure
Comparison Period Sample Intervention
mean
Comparison
mean
Significant? Improvement
index

Dropped out after two years (%)

Accelerated Middle Schools vs. business as usual

End of 2 years

Michigan;
172 students

2

9

Yes

 
 
33

Characteristics of study sample as reported by study author.


  • Female: 41%
    Male: 59%
  • Race
    Black
    61%
    Not specified
    5%
    White
    33%
  • Ethnicity
    Hispanic
    2%
    Not Hispanic
    98%
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    Michigan

Setting

The Michigan study was conducted in the Flint Community Schools school district in Flint, Michigan

Study sample

The Michigan study used a randomized controlled trial research design. The study sample included 198 students who entered the 6th grade in the Flint Community Schools district in the 1992/93 and 1993/94 school years. All students were two or more years behind grade level and were typically 13- or 14-years-old when they entered the program. One hundred twelve students were randomly assigned to the accelerated middle school group and offered admission to Accelerated Academics Academy. The other 86 students were randomly assigned to the control group and typically attended one of the four traditional middle schools in the district. District staff members identifi ed new students for the academy each spring from 5th graders who were two or more years overage for grade. From this group they selected students they considered most likely to benefit from the accelerated program. They made these assessments based on the students’ academic performance, as well as interviews with school staff, parents, and the students themselves. About 60% of students were African-American; most others were White. About 60% were male. About half the participants lived in households that received public assistance. More than two-thirds had had discipline problems in the previous school year. Results summarized here are drawn from a follow-up survey administered two years after random assignment: 100 intervention-group students (89.3%) and 72 control-group students (83.7%) responded. Because these response rates represent differential attrition of more than 5 percentage points, the WWC rated this study as meeting evidence standards with reservations. Researchers compared the baseline characteristics of follow-up survey respondents in the two research groups on 13 demographic, socioeconomic, and school performance measures. A statistical test of the overall difference between the research groups on the full set of 13 baseline characteristics found that the groups were not signifi cantly different at the 0.10 significance level. Even so, researchers used regression models to adjust for small differences in the initial characteristics of intervention- and control-group students when estimating the effects of the program.

Intervention Group

During the evaluation period the Accelerated Academics Academy (AAA) served middle school students who were two or more years behind grade level. (The school continues to operate, but this description focuses on its operations during the evaluation period.) The goal of the program was to accelerate instruction so that behind-grade-level students could enter high school with their age peers. AAA was a self-contained program that occupied an entire fl oor of a former middle school. The other two floors were occupied by a private school. Enrollment in the school was limited to 100 students. The program offered smaller classes than other middle schools in Flint and placed a greater emphasis on thematic instruction and integrating the curriculum across core academic subjects. Teachers often used nontraditional approaches, such as cooperative learning groups, instructional technology, collaborative teaching, and peer tutoring. The curriculum was flexible and not driven by textbook content. To make the curriculum more relevant and engaging, instruction often centered on current issues and events. AAA offered five core subjects: language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, and art. In addition, the regular schedule was compressed each Wednesday to make room for a “Wonderful Wednesday” class that included a rotating set of topics chosen based on student interests, such as algebra, Spanish, quilting, and science club. Each school day began with a 30-minute “family period” in which a group of 10 students met with a staff member. These sessions could include a mix of activities, such as cooperative learning, tutoring, counseling, silent reading, or group discussions. During the sessions students had the opportunity to discuss issues of concern to them, such as violence in the community, substance use, and family relationships. The school employed a full-time counselor and a full-time social worker for students. This substantial in-house student support may explain why fewer intervention-group students than control-group students reported receiving referrals to outside social service agencies, 5% compared with 18% (Dynarski et al. 1998). The school also employed two paraprofessional “student advocates” who provided in-class tutoring and other supports to students.

Comparison Group

Control-group students typically attended one of the four traditional middle schools in Flint.

Outcome descriptions

Two relevant outcomes from the Michigan study are included in this summary: the dropout rate and highest grade completed. (For a more detailed description of these outcome measures, see Appendices A2.1 and A2.2.) The study also examined the program’s effects on absenteeism, English and math grades, self-esteem, and perceived likelihood of completing high school. These outcomes do not fall within the three domains examined by the WWC’s review of dropout prevention interventions (staying in school, progressing in school, and completing school) and are not included in this summary.

Support for implementation

AAA instructional staff members were regular classroom teachers from the Flint Community Schools school district. No additional information was available concerning their training.

In the case of multiple manuscripts that report on one study, the WWC selects one manuscript as the primary citation and lists other manuscripts that describe the study as additional sources.

  • Hershey, A., Adelman, N., & Murray, S. (1995). Helping kids succeed: Implementation of the School Dropout Demonstration Assistance Program. Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.

  • Dynarski, M., & Gleason, P. (1998). How can we help? What we have learned from evaluations of federal dropout prevention programs. Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research.

  • Rosenberg, L., & Hershey, A. M. (1995). The cost of dropout prevention programs. Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.

  • Dynarski, M., & Gleason, P. (1998). How can we help? What we have learned from evaluations of federal dropout prevention programs. Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research.

  • Hershey, A., Adelman, N., & Murray, S. (1995). Helping kids succeed: Implementation of the School Dropout Demonstration Assistance Program. Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.

 

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