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FY Awards

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Freshman Success: Implementation of Comprehensive Universal Supports for School Engagement

Year: 2015
Name of Institution:
University of Oregon
Goal: Development and Innovation
Principal Investigator:
Flannery, K. Brigid
Award Amount: $1,481,588
Award Period: 3 years (9/1/2015-8/31/2018)
Award Number: R305A150010


Co-Principal Investigator: Kent McIntosh

Purpose: In this project, researchers will develop and test the Freshman Success Model, an intervention that includes peer mentors to promote school engagement for all ninth grade students in high schools with School-Wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (SW-PBIS). Prior research has shown that disengagement from school can start early for both low- and high-achieving students as they transition into the new, unfamiliar high school environment. The consequences of disengagement unfold rapidly, with disengaged students skipping school or classes and falling behind in credits. Freshman Success will promote engagement at the point of entry into high school by providing all ninth grade students with knowledge and skills to promote school engagement and get them to graduation.

Project Activities: In the first two years of the project, the researchers will work with two high schools to develop the model using design-based research techniques, including focus groups and small-scale implementation with data collected to inform revisions. In the final year of the study, researchers will randomly assign four schools to implement the Freshman Success model or serve as controls to determine the promise of the model for increasing student engagement and academic achievement.

Products: This project will result in the Freshman Success Model, an intervention designed to promote ninth grade students' school engagement as a pathway to high school graduation, and all materials to support school-based implementation (e.g., manuals, fidelity of implementation measures). Researchers will also produce peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The study will take place in urban school districts in Oregon.

Sample: Two high schools will participate in the development activities (approximately 720 ninth grade students, 46 mentors, 28 ninth grade teachers, two administrators, and six school support staff). Four schools will participate in the final pilot study of promise (approximately 1,200 ninth grade students, two peer mentors per ninth grade class, and their teachers and building administrators).

Intervention: The Freshman Success Model is intended to increase school engagement for ninth grade students as they transition into high school. The model consists of a prevention-oriented engagement curriculum that researchers will implement with all ninth graders within a school-wide multi-tiered system of support. The curriculum will focus on knowledge and skills to promote the development of engagement in three domains: cognitive (e.g., perceived relevance of school, interest in learning), behavioral (e.g., attendance, class participation), and emotional (e.g., sense of belonging, perceived support). The curriculum is planned as fifteen 30–45 minute lessons that can be embedded into a common class format (e.g., health or an advisory period). It will also include opportunities to practice these skills during brief activities at the beginning or end of class. Eleventh and twelfth grade students will serve as mentors to ninth grade students to help them navigate the high school environment while serving as prosocial models of school engagement.

Research Design and Methods: In Year 1, the researchers will conduct focus groups with ninth grade students and form a design team (including an administrator and a few ninth grade teachers) in each of two high schools to identify necessary systems-levels of support and develop the curriculum, training materials, and fidelity measures. The researchers will also test the usability of these components through an iterative design process with small groups of ninth graders and their teachers and peer mentors. In Year 2, the researchers will conduct a feasibility study of the full model (systems and curriculum) with all ninth graders in the same two high schools. The researchers will make revisions to the model as needed during the feasibility study, and assess preliminary associations with student engagement. In the final year, the researchers will randomly assign new schools (two pairs matched on enrollment and free and reduced priced lunch rates) to implement the Freshman Success model or to serve as controls to determine the model's promise for increasing student engagement, retention, and academic and behavioral outcomes.

Control Condition: Schools randomly assigned to the control group will conduct business as usual with entering ninth grade students.

Key Measures: The research team will collect data using several process measures (e.g., feedback forms, the Primary Intervention Rating Scale, and checklists and observation forms of implementation fidelity). Researchers will measure student engagement using the Motivation and Engagement Scale for High School and will use school records (attendance, GPA, credit accrual, course failures, and discipline referrals) to measure school performance.

Data Analytic Strategy: During the development phase, the researchers will use a three-step qualitative data analytic process (record, organize and manage raw data; reduce data; interpret data) and descriptive and inferential statistical techniques (means, standard deviations, paired t-tests) to inform development of the model. During the pilot study, the researchers will use structural equation modeling to analyze the impact of the intervention on student engagement and school outcomes.