Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

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

Thursday, November 12, 2015 : 8:30 AM
Tuttle Center (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Mindee O'Cummings, Lindsay Poland, Nicholas Mills, Kristina (Krissy) Zeiser and Jessica Heppen, American Institutes for Research

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. The goal of the program is to increase student engagement, persistence and performance in school with the ultimate goal of improving graduation rates. Initially developed for use with students with disabilities, 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, nor its impacts on on-time graduation.

To address these gaps in the research, the High School Persistence Study tested the impact of Check & Connect on outcomes among general education students at high risk of dropping out using a block-randomized controlled trial. The study was conducted in a large urban school district. The study sample included students in 10 high schools who were at highest risk of dropping out as of the second semester of their first year of high school (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 (from prior cohorts of students with known graduation outcomes). Grade 9 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’ ninth grade year and continued through the students’ expected graduation date in spring of 2014 (2011-12, 2012-13, and 2013-14).

This paper will present full study findings about program implementation and impacts of Check & Connect on student outcomes including engagement, academic and graduation outcomes. After three years of implementation, the data related to program delivery suggest that Check & Connect was generally implemented with fidelity, although there was much variation in student-level implementation of the program due largely to high rates of mobility. Contrary to hypotheses, our analyses show that Check & Connect had no effect on most interim measures. The program did have a positive impact on summer 2013 course-taking and credit accrual as well as two college and career readiness measures, but these gains did not translate into a positive effect on graduation—analyses based on preliminary graduation data show that program students were not more likely to graduate on time than control students. Nonetheless, the lessons learned from implementing an intensive one-on-one program sustained over multiple years despite major challenges related to mobility will help the participating district and the broader field consider and refine their approaches to supporting the most at-risk students.