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

Panel: Preventing High School Dropout: Findings in Four Experimental Studies

Thursday, November 12, 2015: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Tuttle Center (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Panel Organizers:  Ann-Marie Faria, American Institutes for Research
Panel Chairs:  Ann-Marie Faria, American Institutes for Research
Discussants:  Becky Phillpott, Sand Diego Unified School District

Check & Connect: Impacts of a High School Dropout Prevention Program on at-Risk Youth
Mindee O'Cummings, Lindsay Poland, Nicholas Mills, Kristina (Krissy) Zeiser and Jessica Heppen, American Institutes for Research

The Struggle to Pass Algebra in Urban High Schools: Does Early Credit Recovery Help Students Get Back on Track?
Jessica Heppen1, Nicholas Sorensen1, Elaine M. Allensworth2, Jordan Rickles1, Valerie Michelman2, Suzanne Stachel1 and Kirk Walters1, (1)American Institutes for Research, (2)University of Chicago

Getting to the Finish Line in Alabama
Joanna Hornig Fox, Johns Hopkins University

This panel presents four rigorous, experimental evaluations of school-based dropout prevention programs and strategies, designed to inform the policy and practice community about how best to develop and implement programs and strategies to help get students back on track for on time graduation. Nearly one in five students fails to graduate from U.S. public schools. Graduation rates are even lower for students of color, economically disadvantaged students, and males. The personal and social consequences of dropping out of school are severe –when compared to their graduating peers, students who drop out of school are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed, live in poverty, have poor health, and become involved in criminal activities. Data also suggest that an estimated 12 million students who will drop out over the next decade will cost the nation $3 trillion in lost wages and billions more in costs to public health, criminal justice, and public assistance, thus imposing a net fiscal burden on society. This panel brings together four related but distinct experimental studies with the common theme of identifying potential levers for helping at-risk students get back on track for on time graduation. Each study was designed to test the impact of promising strategies for dropout prevention. The interventions examined in these studies include individualized mentoring, expanded opportunities for early credit recovery, and the use of data-driven dropout prevention strategies that incorporate early warning systems. All four studies focus on students who were identified as at-risk for not graduating on time early in high school, and were conducted across multiple educational settings and geographical areas. Findings from these studies suggest that even promising strategies may not have the desired effects. The first two papers demonstrate that neither individualized mentoring nor early credit recovery—both delivered directly to students—have discernable positive effects on students’ school performance through high school. A third paper examines whether initial implementation of an early warning system changes student academic trajectories and prevents dropout, and finds mixed results. In the age of “evidence-based policy making,” what do we as a research and practice community do in the face of a series of experimental trials on widely used, promising interventions that fail to show strong positive impacts on student outcomes? The final paper, a still ongoing trial of another early warning system, will consider the implications of how to incorporate the findings from the other three papers, and other recent studies, when working with schools to guide their strategies and decisions for supporting their most at-risk students. As the fall 2015 APPAM conference theme states, the half-life of the evidence-based movement could be short if the program evaluation and program development communities do not work together to address the nation’s most pressing social issues, such as high school dropout. However, how can we best move forward in the face of evidence of minimal to no impact? These questions and others will be discussed among the panelists and audience in this session.
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