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.

Identifying students who may drop out

Many schools in the US now use early warning systems to help them identify students at risk of dropping out. Staff then intervene and monitor these at-risk students to try to keep them on course to graduation.

A new guide from the Institute of Education Sciences and REL Northwest reviews studies of these early warning systems. It summarises what is known about promising practices of early dropout warning systems and how schools can apply these research results. The results of several studies are discussed regarding:

  • Creating and training an early warning intervention team;
  • Establishing warning indicators that a student is off track;
  • Designing reports and applying report data;
  • Intervening appropriately with individual students; and
  • Assessing the intervention’s effectiveness and student progress.

Source: A Practitioner’s Guide To Implementing Early Warning Systems (2015), Institute of Education Sciences.