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New Study: Diplomas Now Increases Percentage of Students without Early-Warning Signs

Diplomas Now3_coverDiplomas Now increases the percentage of sixth- and ninth-graders with no early-warning signs in attendance, behavior and course performance, according to a major new study released today.

This finding is important because prior research shows that sixth- and ninth-graders without early warning indicators graduate at rates two to three times higher than students with such issues. Prior research shows that graduation rates for sixth-graders with just one early warning sign can be as low as 25 percent.

“One of the best moves high-poverty secondary schools can make to dramatically change their students’ life trajectories is to help them get through school without any early warning signs by increasing their attendance, helping them stay out of trouble, and enabling them to do good coursework,” said Robert Balfanz, a research scientist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education and co-founder of Diplomas Now. “It moves kids from a path of dropping out toward one of graduating from high school. These exciting findings show that even in the nation’s toughest secondary schools, Diplomas Now was able to help schools do that.”

Read the Washington Post and Ed Week stories!

In 2010, Diplomas Now won a $30 million federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from the U.S. Department of Education to implement the model in 11 school districts and validate its effectiveness. The PepsiCo Foundation provided $11 million in private matching funds to support the implementation of Diplomas Now in the study schools in Boston, Chicago, Columbus, Ohio, Detroit, Washington, D.C., East Baton Rouge, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Philadelphia, and San Antonio. MDRC, an independent research organization, is conducting the study, which, when completed in 2019, will be one of the largest and longest randomized studies of secondary school reform ever conducted. Diplomas Now is a partnership of Talent Development Secondary, City Year and Communities In Schools.

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The ambitious study involved some 40,000 low-income students in 62 of the nation’s most challenged middle and high schools. Thirty-two schools were randomly assigned to implement Diplomas Now, and 30 implemented other reforms, allowing researchers to compare the two groups of schools. The findings released today look at Diplomas Now’s impact on reducing early warning indicators after students experienced the first year of a multi-year intervention starting in the sixth and ninth grades.

“After two years, implementation of the Diplomas Now secondary school reform model produced a statistically significant, positive impact on the percentage of students with no early warning indicators,” the MDRC report says. “The focus of the Diplomas Now model, particularly with its early warning system and tiered support, is to reduce the percentage of students with early warning indicators, and this finding suggests those efforts are starting to make a difference after two years.”

Statistically significant findings like these are rare — the Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy found that fewer than 1 in 10 education randomized control trials included in the What Works Clearinghouse produced positive, meaningful impacts.

“We are pleased that through the Department’s  signature i3 program, Diplomas Now has  generated the highest level of evidence from a large, randomized trial demonstrating that chronic absenteeism can be reduced in the nation’s high-poverty secondary schools through early warning and response systems,” said Leslie Cornfeld, special advisor to U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. “The results underscore the impact of the Diplomas Now approach of using a multi-tiered model of combining early warning systems with additional student supports provided by teachers, school staff and other school-linked partners, such as AmeriCorps.  These results further validate the potential impact of the My Brother’s Keeper Success Mentor model being rolled out in 30 communities in collaboration with the White House, the Department of Education and the Everyone Graduates Center at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education. That model relies on the very early warning and response system validated in today’s report.”

Diplomas Now also achieved statistically significant impact in increasing the percentage of students who have better than 90 percent attendance in sixth grade — meaning it reduces chronic absenteeism — as well as the percentage of sixth graders without any early warning indicators.

The positive impact on reducing chronic absenteeism in the sixth grade is particularly relevant as Diplomas Now has served as one model for the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper Student Success Mentor Initiative now involving 30 school districts across the nation.

Although Diplomas Now schools saw overall improvement in attendance and course passing and declines in suspensions, the comparison schools, many of which were also pursuing ambitious reforms, also improved. As a result, there was not a statistically significant difference between Diplomas Now and the comparison schools on these grade-level outcomes on average.

The study also revealed several areas for improvement, including further reducing suspensions and enhancing the model’s approach to meet the size and intensity of student need in large, highly challenged high schools. During the third year of implementation, the Diplomas Now team worked with many of its schools to implement a restorative approach to student discipline, which empowers students to resolve conflicts. The impact of this effort will be examined in future studies.

Diplomas Now schools also had greater success than the comparison schools in keeping students who were academically proficient in 5th grade, on-track in 6th grade, and keeping students who did not have early warning indicators in 8th grade, on-track in 9th grade. This shows the value of using early warning and tiered response systems to help guide and support students through the perilous transitions to middle and high school in high poverty environments.

Other early outcomes include a positive, statistically significant impact on teachers’ perceptions of school climate, and students were more likely to report that they had a positive relationship with an adult at the school who was not a teacher. In addition, students reported participating in more academically-focused afterschool activities than their peers schools without Diplomas Now.

The study also revealed several areas for improvement, including further reducing suspensions and enhancing the model’s approach to meet the size and intensity of student need in large, highly challenged high schools. During the third year of implementation, the Diplomas Now team worked with many of its schools to implement a restorative approach to student discipline, which empowers students to resolve conflicts. The impact of this effort will be examined in future studies.



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