Facilitating Academic Success and Emotional Well-Being Among High School Students in Accelerated Curricula
Co-Principal Investigator: Elizabeth Shaunessy-Dedrick
Purpose: The purpose of this project is to develop and test a prevention program to help high school students in AP and IB classes manage the stress inherent in this type of accelerated coursework. This project applies findings from a recently completed IES Exploration study, Intrapersonal Factors Associated with Academic Success among High School Students in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate (AP-IB) Programs. The number and diversity of high school students who take AP/IB classes is growing. These students report higher levels of stress than those in general education classes, and attribute much of their stress to academic demands such as an overwhelming academic workload combined with pressure to succeed. A host of negative outcomes stemming from these academic demands (chronic fatigue and maladaptive coping strategies such as substance use and self-isolation) along with higher rates of internalizing mental health problems highlight the need to proactively provide these students with skills to avoid such negative outcomes.
Project Activities: The research team will use design-based research to iteratively develop the intervention. Once the intervention is developed, researchers will carry out a cluster randomized control pilot study with 16 high schools randomly assigned to participate in the intervention or a no-treatment control group. The pilot test will allow the team to assess fidelity of intervention implementation and impacts of the program on student outcomes.
Products: The research team will produce a fully developed universal prevention program for students enrolled in AP/IB courses to help them manage the academic stressors inherent in their accelerated coursework. Researchers will also produce peer reviewed publications.
Setting: This study will take place in Florida.
Sample: Approximately 1000 ninth grade students enrolled in AP/IB courses across about 20 high schools will participate in different stages of the project (development and implementation trials). Other key stakeholders, including their teachers, parents, administrators, and school mental health providers will also participate.
Intervention: Based on the empirically-derived theory of change produced in the earlier Exploration study, this intervention is intended to help students adaptively manage academic stress and increase their engagement with school, leading to improved mental health and academic achievement. The intervention is implemented in two stages as students enter AP/IB programming in ninth grade. In stage one, universal prevention focuses on helping students develop adaptive coping skills (e.g., problem-focused versus avoidant) and increasing their connections to schools. For students who show signs of academic or mental health risk, a student check-up is implemented to assess individual student strengths followed by a feedback session with motivational interviewing to help the student formulate a plan for positive change. Teacher training and parent information sessions help these adults understand the coping strategies students are taught and recommend strategies that teachers and parents can implement to increase student engagement. The parent sessions will also focus on authoritative parenting strategies, methods to reduce parent-child conflict, and techniques to enhance parent involvement in school.
Research Design and Methods: In Year 1, the research team will collaborate with key stakeholders to develop the two intervention components. In Year 2, the team will implement the full program model with a new set of participants in order to obtain feedback, and make additional revisions to improve credibility, usability, feasibility, and fidelity. In Year 3, the researchers will conduct a randomized pilot study to determine the promise of the model for improving students' mental health and academic outcomes. In Year 4, the team will analyze data collected during the pilot study and use those results to make any final modifications to the model to enhance feasibility, fidelity, and student outcomes.
Control Condition: Schools randomly assigned to the control group will provide typical services to their AP/IB students.
Key Measures: Students will provide self-report data on coping, student engagement, mental health (e.g., Students' Life Satisfaction Scale and the Youth Self-Report) and academic outcomes (course grades and performance on AP exams).
Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers will use data from interviews, focus groups, and checklists/questionnaires to inform the development of the intervention and address issues of usability, feasibility, and fidelity. The research team will also use multilevel models to evaluate the impact of the intervention on students' mental health and academic outcomes. Researchers will examine fidelity of implementation as a potential moderator of impact.