The Georgia study was conducted in the Griffi n-Spalding school district south of Atlanta, Georgia.
The Georgia study used a randomized controlled trial research design. The study sample included one cohort of 160 students who entered the 7th or 8th grade in the Griffin-Spalding (Georgia) school district in the 1993/94 school year. All students had been retained in grade at least once. Eighty students were randomly assigned to the accelerated middle school group and were offered admission to Griffi n-Spalding Middle School Academy. The other 80 students were randomly assigned to the control group and generally attended one of the other three traditional middle schools in the district. Participants were, on average, 14-years-old when they entered the program. About 60% of students were African-American; most others were White. More than 70% were
male. About three-quarters of participants had discipline problems in the previous school year.
Results summarized here are drawn from a follow-up survey administered two years after random assignment: 67 intervention-group students (84%) and 73 control-group students (91%) responded. Because the response rates represent differential attrition of more than 5 percentage points, the What Works Clearinghouse (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 a statistically significant baseline difference did exist between the research groups (at the 0.10 significance level). Study authors report that intervention-group students were more likely to be from two-parent families, less likely to receive public assistance, and less likely to be frequently absent from school. Researchers used regression models to adjust for these differences when estimating the effects of the program.
During the study period Project ACCEL served 6th and 7th graders who were retained in grade at least once. (The program is no longer in operation.) The aim of the program was to allow behind-grade-level middle school students to accelerate their studies and “catch up” with their age peers. Sixth graders typically stayed in the program for two years and covered three years of curriculum material. Seventh graders were in the program for one year and covered the 7th and 8th grade curriculum. Project ACCEL operated in fi ve district schools in Newark, some that were organized as K–8 elementary schools and others that were organized as grades 5–8 middle schools. Project ACCEL used a school-within-a-school approach and operated out of a cluster of classrooms within these schools. Each of the five programs served about 50 students, taught by a team of four teachers who each covered one of four subjects: English, math, basic skills, and science/social studies. (In contrast, in other Newark classrooms for middle-grade students at that time teachers typically taught all subjects and worked with only one group of students throughout the day.) Project ACCEL instructional staff used team teaching strategies and collaborated to link the curriculum thematically across subjects. The program had a strong emphasis on discipline and attendance monitoring. Students who missed more than nine days of school were subject to termination from the program. Teachers assigned more homework than was typical in other Newark schools to facilitate the coverage of an accelerated curriculum. Classes were small and generally included 12 or 13 students. One full-time guidance counselor was available to the program and worked closely with ACCEL students and teachers. Consistent with the program’s emphasis on counseling and case ,anagement, on follow-up surveys more intervention-group students than control-group students reported having received counseling during the fi rst follow-up year—74% compared with 59%.
Similarly, more intervention-group students reported having received a referral to an outside social services agency during this period—27% compared with 15% (Dynarski et al. 1998). Project ACCEL staff members were supervised by the school principal. However, each Project ACCEL team had considerable autonomy in operating their program.
Control-group students typically remained in one of the three traditional middle schools in the Griffi n-Spalding school district.
Two relevant outcomes from the Georgia 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
Instructional staff members at Griffi n-Spalding Middle School Academy were regular classroom teachers from the Griffi n-Spalding district. According to evaluation team researchers, they did not receive additional training as part of their assignment to the academy.