Skip Navigation

Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships in Education Research


- OR -


- OR -


- OR -

FY Awards

- OR -

Students in Foster Care: The Relationship between Mobility and Educational Outcomes

Year: 2015
Name of Institution:
University of Northern Colorado
Goal: Researcher-Practitioner Partnership
Principal Investigator:
Clemens, Elysia
Award Amount: $378,019
Award Period: 2 years (7/1/15–6/30/17)
Award Number: R305H150007


Co-Principal Investigator: Martinez, Judith

Partnership Institutions: Colorado Department of Education; Colorado Department of Human Services; the State Court Administrator's Office; Mile High United Way; and Morgridge Family Foundation

Purpose: In this project, researchers from the University of Northern Colorado partnered with the Colorado Department of Education, the Colorado Department of Human Services and others to

  • track the residential and educational stability of Colorado students in foster care;
  • document the academic outcomes of Colorado students in foster care; and
  • identify how changes in foster care placement and school stability are related to each other, and ultimately, to student academic achievement.

Project Activities: This partnership expanded on a pre-existing data use agreement between the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado Department of Human Services to match foster care and education data records for all public-school students who had a foster care placement since July 1, 2007. Through this project, the partners aligned their education and human services data systems to examine the outcomes of foster care youth. Researchers first used the matched data to create an initial picture of the general school mobility, academic achievement and progress through the K–12 system of students in foster care. Next, they established metrics for capturing school changes that were associated with foster placement changes. Finally, researchers used regression analyses to identify how the interaction between residential stability and school stability related to student achievement. The partnership used these research results to develop benchmarks, improve accountability reporting, and inform policy and future research.

Key Outcomes:

  • Clemens et al, 2016 found that students in the foster care cohorts changed public schools an average of 3.46 times during their first four years of high school. As the average number of school changes increased, the odds of earning a high school diploma decreased and the odds of earning an equivalency diploma (e.g., GED) or exiting high school without a credential increased. Grade level analysis suggests that educational stability in ninth and twelfth grades may be particularly important to closing the high school graduation gap for students in foster care.
  • This partnership drafted the Colorado House Bill 18-1306, Improving Educational Stability for Foster Youth. In addition, research findings from this project informed the Colorado House Bill 18-1323, Pay for Success Contracts Pilot Program Funding. The first project launched in Colorado by the Governor's Office under a Pay for Success model was called “Fostering Opportunities” and results in $1.5M of direct service dollars being invested to develop and implement an intervention to support highly mobile students in foster care.
  • Colorado Department of Human Services has budgeted $25,000 annually to sustain this secondary analysis research. In addition, the Colorado Evaluation and Action Lab, a partnership with the Colorado Governor's office, has awarded the University of Northern Colorado approximately $26,000 to describe postsecondary participation of former foster youth..

Structured Abstract

Setting: This project took place in Colorado public schools and foster care systems.

Sample: Since July 2007, Colorado has had more than 23,000 public school students who have had at least one out-of-home placement through the foster care systems. Researchers used a joint human-services/education database to track the progress of foster care students through the K–12 education system. For this study, the dataset included all Colorado youth ages 5–21 who experienced one or more foster care placements between 2007–08 and 2013–14 and were enrolled in a Colorado public school.

Education Issue: Across the United States, federal and state policies are encouraging collaborations between human services and education agencies to improve the education outcomes for students who are in foster care. In Colorado, only 27.5 percent of students in foster care graduated from high school on time in 2012–13, and the gap between the graduation rates of students in foster care and other students has been steadily increasing.

Research Design and Methods: This project used descriptive statistics and regression analysis to examine the mobility, characteristics of foster care youth, and their school outcomes.

Key Measures: Key measures included student achievement on state-wide end-of-grade assessments, grade retention, high school graduation, foster care placement, and school mobility.

Data Analytic Strategy: First the partnership and research team linked Colorado state-level child welfare data with their education records. They tracked foster youth placement changes, school moves, and academic achievement measures for students who moved across county and school district boundaries. The project further used regression analysis to investigate the relationship between foster care mobility and student outcomes.

Products and Publications

ERIC Citations: Find available citations in ERIC for this award here.

Project Website: The Colorado Study of Students in Foster Care

Select Publications:

Clemens, E. V., Klopfenstein, K., Lalonde, T. L., & Tis, M. (2018). The effects of placement and school stability on academic growth trajectories of students in foster care. Children and Youth Services Review, 87, 86–94.

Clemens, E. V., Klopfenstein, K., Tis, M., & Lalonde, T. L. (2017). Educational stability policy and the interplay between child welfare placements and school moves. Children and Youth Services Review, 83, 209–217.

Clemens, E. V., Lalonde, T., Klopfenstein, K., & Sheesley, A. (2020). Early warning indicators of dropping out of school for teens who experienced foster care. Child Welfare, 97(5), 65–88.

Clemens, E. V., Lalonde, T. L., & Sheesley, A. P. (2016). The relationship between school mobility and students in foster care earning a high school credential. Children and Youth Services Review, 68, 193–201.

Clemens, E., Martinez, J., McNaught, K., Klopfenstein, K. (2017). Advocating for educational stability for youth in foster care. CLP Online, 36(3), 57–59.

Lalonde, T., Tsai, C. L., Clemens, E. V., Myers, K., Sheesley, A. P., Tolliver, L., & McElhinney, C. (2020). Flattening the college curve: Lessons learned from foster care to improve postsecondary participation for all youth (Report No. 107A). University of Northern Colorado.