The impact study was conducted in 11 nonselective public high schools in Philadelphia.
The main analysis sample included first-time ninth-grade students1 from five high schools that began implementing Talent Development High Schools between 1999 and 2001 and
six matched comparison high schools. Between two and four comparison schools were matched to each of the five intervention schools based on the racial/ethnic composition
and promotion rates of the schools’ ninth-grade students (Kemple & Herlihy, 2004). A comparison school could be matched to multiple Talent Development High Schools. The study
compared the outcomes of ninth graders who entered Talent Development High Schools in the three years immediately after the program was implemented with those of ninth graders
from these schools in the three years just before program implementation and with the outcome differences over the same time period for the matched comparison schools.
Many students selected for Talent Development High Schools had low test scores and were overage for their grade. More than three-quarters were African-American and
about one in six were Hispanic. Poor attendance was common, with two-thirds missing at least 20% of scheduled school days during their ninth-grade year. In addition, many
did not make regular progress toward graduation, with just half promoted to tenth grade at the end of their ninth-grade year. Students in the matched comparison schools
were generally similar to Talent Development High Schools students on these characteristics (Kemple & Herlihy, 2004).
The study examined three cohorts of students. Cohort 1 included students in the intervention and matched comparison schools who enrolled in the ninth grade during the first
year of Talent Development High Schools implementation at the intervention schools. Similarly, Cohort 2 and Cohort 3 included students who were enrolled in the ninth grade
during the second and third years of implementation, respectively. Given the fixed period for data collection, later cohorts had shorter follow-up periods. To ensure both an
adequate follow-up and an adequate sample size for assessing program effectiveness, the WWC used second-year results based on Cohorts 1 and 2 to rate the effectiveness
of Talent Development High Schools. Longer-term results based only on Cohort 1 and shorter-term results based on all three cohorts are reported in Appendix A4.
The Philadelphia public school district implemented the Talent Development High Schools model in seven high schools. The district began to roll out the program in 1998, with
one or two high schools launching Talent Development High Schools each year over a five-year period. School administrators volunteered their schools as candidates for implementing
the new program. To allow for adequate follow-up, the impact study excluded the two Philadelphia high schools that implemented Talent Development High Schools last.
All the Philadelphia Talent Development High Schools created ninth-grade academies on a separate floor or wing of the building, which were taught by teams of four to five
teachers. Each school introduced block scheduling with 80- to 90-minute class sessions, introducing “double dose” math and English courses for ninth and tenth graders.
These double sections of English and math allowed students to both prepare for and take college preparatory classes over the course of one academic year. Six of the seven
schools offered “Twilight School” for new or repeating ninth graders with serious attendance or discipline problems.
The model for students in grades 10 through 12 centered around career academies, in which students were divided into smaller “learning communities” around a broad career
interest and the curriculum was organized around a career theme. Many Philadelphia high schools already had career academies before Talent Development High Schools was
implemented, including many non-Talent Development schools. The study authors concluded that “(i)t is likely, therefore, that the upper-grade experience of students in Talent
Development schools did not greatly differ from that of students in non-Talent Development schools” (Kemple, Herlihy, & Smith, 2005, p. 27).
The study authors reported some variation in how the program was implemented across schools (Kemple, Herlihy, & Smith, 2005). In particular, they noted considerable variation
across the intervention schools in the amount of technical assistance and support schools received from the intervention developer, as well as the amount of interventionspecific
training school staff received.
Matched comparison schools were nonselective Philadelphia high schools that did not implement Talent Development High Schools. The authors compared the intervention
group both with students in the comparison schools and with students who attended the intervention schools prior to the implementation of Talent Development High Schools.
Two relevant outcomes are included in this review: total credits earned and enrollment in the tenth grade by the end of the second year of high school (see Appendix A2 for more detailed descriptions of these outcome measures). The study also examined Talent Development High Schools’ effects on attendance and student achievement. These outcomes are not included in this report because they do not fall within the three domains (staying in school, progressing in school, and completing school) examined by the WWC’s review of dropout prevention interventions. Effects
on the percentage of students who exited the school district were also estimated. However, the WWC had concerns about the validity of this measure and did not include it in the review. The study also examined the effects of Talent Development High Schools on graduation on the two earliest implementing schools. Since these results are only available for a small subset of the full research sample, they are not considered for the effectiveness rating and improvement index.
Support for implementation
Teachers at Talent Development High Schools were regular teachers employed by the Philadelphia Public Schools. “Curriculum coaches” who had been trained by the intervention developer provided on-site technical assistance with implementing the Talent Development High Schools model. The developer also provided summer training institutes for staff.