MDRC’s study of Talent Development, a program meant to lower dropout rates and increase academic success in low-performing high schools, produced encouraging results. In this seven-minute video, researcher Corinne Herlihy summarizes the findings.
Making Progress Toward Graduation
In low-performing public high schools in U.S. cities, high proportions of students drop out, students who stay in school typically do not succeed academically, and efforts to make substantial reforms often meet with little success. The Talent Development High School model is a comprehensive school reform initiative that has been developed to address these challenges. Targeting some of the most troubled schools in the country, the model seeks to raise the expectations of teachers and students and to prepare all students for postsecondary education and employment.
MDRC, a nonpartisan, nonprofit education and social policy research organization, conducted an independent, third-party evaluation of Talent Development. This rigorous evaluation focuses on the first five high schools to begin using the model in the School District of Philadelphia. The evaluation follows 20 cohorts of ninth-grade students for up to four years of high school using a comparative interrupted time series research design.
Talent Development produced substantial gains in attendance, academic course credits earned, and promotion rates during students’ first year of high school. These impacts emerged in the first year of implementation and were reproduced as the model was extended to other schools in the district and as subsequent cohorts of students entered the ninth grade.
Talent Development’s strong positive impacts during the first year of high school are consistent with the model’s intensive initial focus on the ninth grade and its emphasis on combining high-quality curricular and instructional enhancements with pervasive structural reforms aimed at building supportive and personalized learning environments.
The improvements in credits earned and promotion rates for ninth-graders were sustained as students moved through high school. Improvements in student performance on the eleventh-grade state standards assessment began to emerge for later cohorts of students as the most intensive components of the model were extended beyond the ninth grade. There are also early indications that Talent Development is improving graduation rates.
This rigorous evaluation focuses on the first five high schools to begin using the model in the School District of Philadelphia. The evaluation follows 20 cohorts of ninth-grade students for up to four years of high school using a comparative interrupted time series research design.
The report describes the context in which Talent Development operates, details the model’s components, and documents its implementation in five high schools in a large, urban school district. It presents findings on Talent Development’s effects on student achievement during the first three years of program operation, focusing on impacts for ninth-graders. The analysis is based on an innovative quasi-experimental research methodology.
Key Implementation Findings
The high schools in the study are characterized by low student engagement, poor prior preparation among entering ninth-graders, low ninth-grade promotion rates, and continued problems in the upper grades.
Each Talent Development high school focused its initial implementation on the ninth grade by creating small learning communities, enacting curricular reforms, and providing professional development for teachers. The implementation process was supported by a team of Talent Development organizational facilitators and coaches.
Key Impact Findings
For first-time ninth-grade students, Talent Development produced substantial gains in academic course credits and promotion rates and modest improvements in attendance. The percentage of ninth-graders completing a core academic curriculum increased from 43 percent on average before the implementation of Talent Development to 56 percent after implementation began. This increase is about three times the level of increase in similar schools in the district. Promotion rates in the Talent Development schools increased by just over 6 percentage points, while they fell by 4 percentage points in the comparison schools.
Improvements in ninth-grade course credits earned, promotion, and attendance were strongest in the first three schools to begin using Talent Development, and these schools sustained improvements into the second and third years of implementation.
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