New WWC practice guide on preventing dropout in secondary schools

The What Works Clearinghouse has released a new practice guide, Preventing Dropout in Secondary Schools , that offers research-based recommendations for reducing dropout rates in middle and secondary schools. The goal is to help educators and administrators learn strategies for identifying at-risk pupils and addressing the challenges they face.

The WWC and an expert panel chaired by Russell Rumberger from the University of California, Santa Barbara synthesised existing research on the topic and combined it with insight from the panel to identify the following four recommendations, which include a rating of the strength of the research evidence supporting each recommendation:

  • Monitor the progress of all pupils, and proactively intervene when pupils show early signs of attendance, behaviour, or academic problems (minimal evidence).
  • Provide intensive, individualised support to pupils who have fallen off track and face significant challenges to success (moderate evidence).
  • Engage pupils by offering curricula and programmes that connect schoolwork with college and career success and that improve pupils’ capacity to manage challenges in and out of school (strong evidence).
  • For schools with many at-risk pupils, create small, personalised communities to facilitate monitoring and support (moderate evidence).

Each recommendation provides specific, actionable strategies; examples of how to implement the recommended practices in schools; advice on how to overcome potential obstacles; and a description of the supporting evidence.

Source: Preventing dropout in secondary schools U.S. (September 2017), What Works Clearing House, Institute of Education Sciences Practice Guide

Early warning indicators for risk of dropout among EALs

School districts in the US are using early warning indicators such as attendance, grade point average and suspensions or expulsions to identify and provide support for pupils at risk of dropping out. A new report prepared for the Institute of Education Sciences in the US examines whether these early warning indicators work just as well for pupils with English as an additional language (EAL).

The study compares data for pupils in six school districts in Washington State who were classified as EAL at any point in their education (n=2,652) with data for non-EAL pupils (n=6,943). Pupils were identified as at risk of dropout if they triggered one or both early warning indicators – six or more absences plus at least one course failure in grade 9 (Year 10), or at least one expulsion in grade 9. The results show that early warning indicators are unable to accurately identify future dropouts. Overall, 23.8% of pupils triggered one or both early warning indicators, with EAL pupils triggering one or both early warning indicators only slightly more (24.2%) than non-EAL pupils (23.6%). These percentages are substantially higher than the percentage of pupils who actually dropped out (all pupils = 5.4%; EAL pupils = 5.9%; non-EAL pupils = 5.2%). Only 9.2% of EALs who were identified in grade 9 as at risk dropped out.

Source: Are two commonly used early warning indicators accurate predictors of dropout for English learner students? Evidence from six districts in Washington state (March 2017), Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Northwest.

Applied STEM improves outcomes for secondary pupils with learning disabilities

Studying an applied STEM course could help pupils with learning disabilities (LD) complete secondary school and transition successfully to higher education, according to a US study published in Educational Policy.

Pupils with learning disabilities face significant academic challenges in secondary school, as well as greater risks of dropping out altogether. Studying courses like applied STEM, which focus on applying maths and science skills more directly to practical job experiences, may help them to make the connection between learning and opportunities beyond secondary school, and to see the importance of continuing with their studies.

In order to examine the role applied STEM might have in improving outcomes for LD pupils, Jay Stratte Plasman and Michael A Gottfried analysed data from the US Department of Education to see if there was any link between studying applied STEM and dropout. While pupils generally appeared to benefit from studying applied STEM, the advantages were greater for those with learning disabilities. They calculated a two percent dropout rate for LD pupils who study applied STEM versus 12 percent for LD pupils who do not. Their analysis also demonstrated that LD pupils who study applied STEM are 2.35 times more likely to enrol in college immediately after secondary school, and 2.23 times more likely to go to college two years after completing secondary school, than LD pupils who did not study applied STEM.

Source: Applied STEM coursework, high school dropout rates, and students with learning disabilities (October 2016), Educational Policy

Promising results for Career Academies

Career Academies is a US dropout prevention strategy for young people considered most at risk of dropping out of secondary school. The programme integrates academic curricula with career themes, including health care, finance, technology, communications, and public service, and includes work experience through partnerships with local employers.

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) has released an intervention report that looks at research on the programme. In particular, the WWC analysed a randomised controlled trial that included approximately 1,400 young pupils in the US who applied to an academy before their ninth- or tenth-grade years (Year 10 or Year 11). The academies were located in eight urban areas in six states.

Based on the research, the WWC found Career Academies to have potentially positive effects on completing school and no discernible effects on staying in school or progressing in school for secondary school aged young people.

Source: WWC Intervention Report: Career Academies (2015), What Works Clearinghouse.

Updated research on Check & Connect

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) has released an updated report on Check & Connect, a US intervention that aims to help pupils stay in school by continually monitoring school performance and providing individualised attention through mentoring, case management, and other supports. The “check” component is designed to monitor pupil performance and progress. The “connect” component involves programme staff giving individualised attention to pupils in partnership with other school staff, family members, and community service organisations.

The WWC identified two studies of the programme that met WWC research standards. Together, these studies included 238 pupils who attended Minneapolis high schools and entered the programme in the beginning of ninth grade (Year 10).

Overall, Check & Connect was found to have positive effects on staying in school, potentially positive effects on progressing in school, and no discernible effects on completing school for high school pupils with learning, behavioural, or emotional problems.

Source: WWC Intervention Report: Click and Connect (2015), Institute of Education Sciences.

First-year effects of the Communities in Schools programme

MDRC has released a report describing the first-year results of a randomised study of the Communities in Schools (CIS) programme. This is a programme designed to prevent at-risk middle and high school pupils in the US from dropping out by providing them with academic, behavioural, and emotional supports through an organised, in-school, case-managed system.

The study took place in 28 schools during the 2012-2013 school year. The sample included 2,230 pupils, of which 1,140 were assigned to the CIS group, and 1,090 were assigned to receive the regular support services provided by their schools. Both groups were predominantly ethnic minority and low income, and similar in terms of attendance rate, academic achievement, and EAL status, the only difference being that the experimental group was 2.8% more likely to receive free- or reduced-price lunches.

Following one year of services, CIS pupils were more likely than the controls to report having positive relationships with adults outside the home or school setting, to report positive peer relations, and to view education as valuable. However, the case-managed group did not demonstrate more gains in attendance, academics, or discipline than the control group.

The authors discuss areas for improving the programme and will examine the second year of data to continue to assess findings.

Source: Case Management for Students at Risk of Dropping Out: Implementation and Interim Impact Findings from the Communities In Schools Evaluation (2015), MDRC.