“It’s Normal for AP to be a Challenge”: A Randomized Controlled Trial of a Social-Belonging Intervention for First-Time Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate Students
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
In the randomized controlled trial with over 5,000 students at more than 20 schools across four states, high school students (the majority of whom were underrepresented students of color or students from low-income backgrounds) taking their first AP/IB course completed either a belonging intervention customized for the AP/IB context or a study skills control exercise. The exercises, randomized at the student level, were embedded in an online survey and took approximately 30 minutes to complete.
Analyses indicated that students did not differ by condition in how helpful they reported the exercises to be. However, compared with students who completed the study skills control exercise, students who completed the belonging exercise saw difficulties in the transition to AB/IB as more common--a point the belonging intervention directly makes. The students in the belonging exercise condition were also more confident in their ability to handle upcoming challenges in AP/IB. Intervention effects on academic outcomes were mixed.
In addition, a pre-intervention measure of classroom belonging was found to predict academic outcomes, such that students with higher scores on the measure had significantly higher end of term grades in their AP/IB courses. For example, a one standard deviation increase in belonging was positively associated with a 0.21 grade point increase in AP/IB grades.
These findings extend prior work indicating that students’ sense of belonging predicts their academic performance, over and above past performance, by generalizing the effect to high school students and their experiences in advanced college-prep courses. Further, they suggest that belonging interventions, which have largely been examined when students transition between different academic contexts (from middle school to high school, or from high school to college) may also improve outcomes when students take on new academic challenges within the same academic context. However, the mixed academic effects indicate that there is still much to learn.