Pathways to Success: Developing a Teacher-Led, Teacher-Trained School-to-Jobs Intervention to Improve School Attendance and Academic Achievement
Co-Principal Investigator: Nicholas Sorensen (American Institutes for Research)
Purpose: This development study addresses two challenges: high school failure itself and the need to transform theory- and evidence-based dropout prevention programs into usable, feasible, scalable school-based programs to reduce risk of school failure. School to Jobs (STJ) is an intervention rooted in identity-based motivation theory, which predicts that to do well in school, children need to experience the present as psychologically connected to their future self, and interpret difficulties in school as signaling the importance of school to attaining their future self. In prior research, STJ has been shown to be effective in improving the critical predictors of on-time graduation such as attendance, core course performance, and effort in school at the end of 8th grade. These effects sustained into 9th grade, with effects growing over time. In this study, the goal is to develop a new training model for STJ that is called Pathways to Success, which transitions it from an external-trainer model to a teacher-led, teacher-trained model to facilitate usability, feasibility, and ultimately scalability in schools.
Project Activities: The research team will train teachers using the current STJ training model and gather feedback to inform revisions that will support training and implementation without the involvement of external trainers. With a second cohort of teachers, the teacher-based training model will be tested for usability and feasibility. Finally, the researchers will conduct a pilot test using a third cohort of teachers as their own comparison group, comparing student outcomes in the year prior to STJ training and implementation to student outcomes of the same teacher’s homeroom students the year after he or she received training in the newly developed teacher-led, teacher-trained STJ program.
Products: The products of this project include a fully developed standardized training manual and a set of training videos from which teachers can train other teachers to deliver the School to Jobs intervention. In addition, materials to support the evaluation of STJ (fidelity measures of implementation and training) will be produced. The project will provide evidence of usability, feasibility and fidelity of implementation of the teacher-led, teacher-trained STJ model and whether STJ implemented in this way leads to improved student identity-based motivation, self-regulatory behaviors in school, and academic performance. Peer reviewed publications will also be produced.
Setting: This study takes place in a large urban school district in Illinois.
Sample: Across 10 K-8 schools, 30 8th grade homeroom teachers and 600 students will participate. An additional 240 8th-grade students (students of participating teachers from the year prior to the pilot study) will form the comparison group. In this district, about 87 percent of students come from low-income families, 12 percent are limited English proficient, and a large percentage of students are from minority groups (42 percent African American, 44 percent Latino). The high school graduation rate is 61 percent.
Intervention: The School-to-Jobs (STJ) intervention focuses on changing the meaning children make of their experienced difficulty in school by helping children see these experiences as normative and as signaling task importance rather than task impossibility. STJ consists of 11 sessions delivered during home room in the beginning of the 8th grade year. In its current form, STJ is implemented by two external trainers. The proximal goal of STJ is to create school contexts that facilitate sustained engagement in schoolwork as a means of attaining future-self goals. In each STJ session, children engage in activities to (1) link images of their future adult self with school success, (2) make school success and strategies (e.g., studying) feel congruent with important social identities (e.g., race-ethnicity, gender, social class), and (3) help them avoid misinterpreting difficulties at school as meaning that a positive school-identity is impossible to attain.
Research Design and Methods: Through two development cycles – each with a unique cohort of teachers – the research team will refine STJ so that it is usable and feasible for homeroom teachers to implement after being trained by fellow teachers. Prior to the first development cycle, current STJ instructions for implementing activities will be tailored to a single-teacher model, and photographs used in one of the STJ sessions will be updated with new media. In the first development cycle, teachers in three schools will be trained to implement STJ using the current external-trainer model. Best implementation examples will be documented as a video training resource. Observed implementation fidelity and usability and feasibility feedback will be used to revise implementation and training manuals for a second development cycle in three new schools, where training will be led by exemplary teachers from the first development cycle. Fidelity, usability, and feasibility will again be formatively assessed and materials revised. In the pilot study, STJ will be teacher-trained (by teachers from the second development cycle) and teacher-led (by new teachers) in four new schools. Eighth grade outcomes of students receiving STJ from the newly trained teachers will be compared to outcomes from these teachers’ students in the year prior (i.e., not receiving STJ), controlling for their prior-year performance. Student outcomes reflecting each element of the process model will be assessed for each set of students.
Control Condition: The control condition is standard home room activities for 8th grade students in the participating schools.
Key Measures: Students’ identity-based motivation (school-focused possible selves and strategies to attain them, interpretation of difficulty) is assessed using researcher-developed measures previously used to assess these constructs. Self-regulatory behaviors in school are assessed using school records of unexcused absences, student report of time spent on homework, student and teacher report of disruptive behavior, and teacher report of initiative-taking behavior. Academic performance is assessed using grade-point average, course failures, and the Illinois Standard Achievement Test and/or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).
Data Analytic Strategy: In this study, researchers will use multiple imputation to address missing data. Qualitative data will be independently double-coded and inter-rater agreement assessed. Researchers will conduct analyses of student outcomes and use fixed-effects models with students clustered within teachers. Effect sizes using Hedges’ g will be computed for student outcomes from the pilot study and compared to effect sizes from the prior efficacy study. Fidelity of implementation will also be analyzed as a predictor of student outcomes in the pilot study.