Panel Paper: Check & Connect: Impacts of a High School Dropout Prevention Program on at-Risk Youth

Saturday, November 8, 2014 : 10:55 AM
Galisteo (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Mindee O'Cummings, Jessica Heppen, Nicholas Mills, Kristina (Krissy) Zeiser and Lindsay Poland, American Institutes for Research
High school graduation rates remain unacceptably low in the U.S., especially among disadvantaged youth, with troubling implications for future earnings and employment status. Check & Connect is an individualized program that pairs a trained mentor with participating students to closely monitor their progress in school and match them with targeted academic and social supports, with the goal of increasing student engagement and performance in school and improving on-time graduation rates. Initially developed for use with students receiving special education, the program is now used by some school districts with low school completion rates to prevent dropout among general education students as well. Prior research has demonstrated the effectiveness of Check & Connect on school persistence and progression among students receiving special education services, but no rigorous studies have tested the efficacy of the program for general education students at heightened risk of dropping out of high school.

To address this gap, the High School Persistence Study is testing the impact of Check & Connect on school engagement, attendance, and completion outcomes among general education students at high risk of dropping out, using a block-randomized controlled trial. The study is being conducted in a large urban school district. The study sample includes the students in ten high schools who were most at risk of dropping out based on 8th/9th grade risk factors in the year prior to the start of the study (2010-11). To identify at-risk students, we first identified the risk factors from grades 8 and 9 that were most predictive of on-time graduation, using historical data from the district. Students with the lowest predicted probabilities of on-time graduation were then randomly assigned within each school to receive Check & Connect mentoring or to a business-as-usual control group. Study implementation began at the end of students’ 9th grade year, and is continuing through the students’ expected graduation date in spring of 2014 (2011-12, 2012-13, 2013-14).

This paper will present full study findings about program implementation and impacts of Check & Connect on student outcomes, including engagement, progress toward school completion, and graduation. In impact analyses to date, we have found no significant impact of Check & Connect on interim measures of engagement and student progress toward graduation, including credit accrual, standardized test scores, behavior measures, and enrollment status. These results are not consistent with previous studies. However, ongoing analyses are examining potential impacts on engagement in credit recovery opportunities; these analyses, along with those through the end of the 2013-14 school year, will be completed by or before September 2014, well in advance of the APPAM conference. In addition to presenting full impact analyses, this presentation will provide a summary of our rich implementation data, which capture the frequency, duration, and focus of mentors’ work with their individual students. We will consider the findings in terms of cost-benefit of intensive (e.g. one-on-one) interventions for students, and in so doing, provide valuable insight to policymakers and practitioners struggling to find effective ways to improve outcomes for at-risk students across the nation.