Transcript of NCSET teleconference call held on January
Increasing Rates of School Completion:
Moving from Policy and Research to Practice
Camilla Lehr, Research Associate
Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota
Sandra Christenson, Professor
Department of Educational Psychology, University of Minnesota
MS. JOHNSON: Hi everyone, and welcome. Today we
are presenting “Increasing Rates of School Completion: Moving
from Policy and Research to Practice.” I'm Donna Johnson,
Project Coordinator with the National Center on Secondary Education
and Transition at the University of Minnesota. Today we're pleased
to have Dr. Camilla Lehr and Dr. Sandra Christenson as our presenters.
I also want to give a special welcome to any of our Exiting TA community
Dr. Lehr is a Research Associate with the Institute on Community
Integration at the University of Minnesota, and a principal investigator
and director of alternative schools research project, a three year
federally funded project studying alternative schools across the
nation, and the role they play in preventing dropout, providing
quality education for students at risk, and serving students with
disabilities. Prior to directing the alternative schools research
project, Dr. Lehr co-directed Check & Connect, a truancy prevention
and student engagement project for children and youth in elementary
and middle schools. Her research interests include dropout prevention,
engaging children and youth placed at risk in school, and promoting
positive school climate. Dr. Lehr is the author of numerous articles
on dropout prevention, and an essential tool entitled "Increasing
Rates of School Completion: Moving From Policy and Research To Practice."
We're also pleased to have Dr. Sandra Christenson, who is a professor
of educational and child psychology at the University of Minnesota.
She's also coordinator of the school psychology program here at
the University. Her research is focused on interventions that enhance
student engagement and learning, identification of contextual factors
that facilitate student engagement, and student success in school
for students in general and special education settings. She's also
working on the identification of the effective family school partnership
variables for enhancing student outcomes.
Dr. Christenson is particularly interested in populations that
are most alienated from traditional schools and/or at highest risk
for school failure and non-completion. She has been the principal
investigator on several federally funded projects in the areas of
dropout prevention and family school partnerships. She has conducted
research on the efficacy of Check & Connect for students with
and without disabilities and in urban and suburban schools across
grades K-12 for 12 years.
With that, I'm going to turn it over to Dr. Lehr and Dr. Christenson.
DR. LEHR: This is Cammy Lehr. Thank you, Donna,
for organizing and hosting this teleconference. I'm going to start
out by highlighting information about the magnitude of the dropout
problem, especially in relation to students with disabilities. And
then move on to talk about what we know with regard to key concepts
in understanding dropout, who is at increased risk of dropout, understanding
why students drop out of school, and what we should focus on in
order to keep kids in school. Obviously because of the time limitations,
these will be brief summaries, and I'm hoping that you will be able
to access some of the resources that I will be talking about to
get additional information about these topics.
Lastly I will emphasize some information that was gathered through
an integrated review of intervention studies that have shown some
evidence of success. I will also describe some of the types of interventions
that have been used to address dropout or factors associated with
dropout, such as attendance, academic performance, or behavior.
Now before I begin, I want to let you know that much of the information
that I will be summarizing is taken from a manual that was developed
for policy makers, administrators, and educators, and it's published
by the National Center on Secondary Education and Transition here
at the University of Minnesota. The manual is part of a series of
what are called Essential Tools, and this one is called Increasing
Rates of School Completion: Moving From Policy and Research to Practice.
This manual was developed for the distinct purpose of helping
to bridge that gap that often exists between the research literature
and what is going on in day-to-day lives of children and in our
schools. In addition to providing key information about preventing
dropouts, the essential tool has abstracts of 11 interventions that
have shown some evidence of effectiveness. Now I can tell you how
to download the document, and the way that you can do that is by
accessing the community of practice on exit at http://www.tacommunities.org/.
And if you go to the Web site, you can click on Community of Practice
on Exiting, click on library, and a draft of the essential tool
on school completion will be available to download.
After I provide some of the background information, Dr. Christenson
will talk about Check & Connect, which is an example of an intervention
model that's been used in a variety of settings, and with a variety
of students to promote engagement in school and learning, and ultimately
to decrease dropout.
First of all let me mention a few facts that point out the magnitude
of the problem. I think these facts tend to drive home the importance
of attending to the problem by recognizing the large numbers and
percentages of students who are affected. For example, one of the
facts that I've come across in the literature suggests approximately
one in eight children in the United States never graduate from high
school. And based on calculations per school day (this is from the
Children's Defense Fund) one high school student drops out every
nine seconds. That's an interesting statistic to consider.
We have lots and lots of different ways of calculating dropout
and graduation rates. One of the most recent statistics reported
through the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research shows the percentage
of eighth grade students who graduate five years later ranges from
a low of 55 percent in Florida to a high of 87 percent in New Jersey.
There are lots of other kinds of statistics that could be reported,
that indicate the magnitude of the problem.
Now for students with disabilities, the dropout rate is a special
concern. The U.S Department of Education Office of Special Education
Programs has reported the dropout rate for students with disabilities
for the 1998-99 school year. Overall the dropout rate was reported
at 29 percent of students with disabilities dropping out for that
year. The highest rate of dropout was for students with emotional
behavioral disorders, followed by students with learning disabilities.
And the rate for students with –emotional behavioral disorders
was actually 51 percent. So I think these key facts really highlight
the enormity of the problem.
Now if we're going to address the problem of dropout effectively,
we must first understand the process of dropout. Over the years
research has accumulated that can help to frame our thinking and
the design of effective interventions. For example, we know that
dropping out of school is a process of disengagement that begins
early. Dropping out of school is the ultimate outcome, but it's
not an instantaneous event, and it's typically preceded by early
signs of withdrawal, such as truancy, suspension, or failing grades.
Some retrospective studies have correctly identified students
who dropped out by examining information on student attendance,
grades, and behavior from the early elementary years. This suggests
that we should begin our interventions early, before students reach
high school. Now in conjunction with this, we must then invest in
the time and effort it takes to monitor the effectiveness of the
interventions that are put into place early on, and measure their
effectiveness in relation to the students' enrollment status. That
is - does the student actually graduate from high school? Unfortunately
it's often difficult to get schools, districts, counties, or states
to fund longitudinal studies that follow students throughout their
We also know that facilitating school completion is much broader
than simply preventing dropout. Now let me give you an example of
what I mean by this. One way of preventing dropout is to increase
student attendance. We can improve attendance by physically ensuring
that we get a student to school. One strategy might be to go and
get a student and physically bring them to school when they oversleep
or miss the bus. But this does not mean that the student is actually
engaged in school on learning. Once the student is actually at school,
it is more likely that they will participate in class, complete
work, or feel as though they belong. But it is important to recognize
that engaging students in school and learning is really the key
ingredient in preventing dropout and keeping kids in school. Students
who actively participate in school, identify with school, and have
a personal investment in learning are much more likely to remain
in school and graduate.
All of the dropout prevention programs that have been identified
as having some evidence of effectiveness have strategies that are
designed to facilitate student engagement, and subsequently school
completion. I will talk about some of those examples a little bit
Now in order to effectively improve rates of graduation and school
completion, we must target our interventions to those who are most
at risk of school failure. The research has been helpful in identifying
factors that place students at risk of leaving school early. Some
of the factors are considered what are called status variables.
These variables are difficult to change, or unlikely to change.
Some of the group variables associated with increased likelihood
of leaving school early include coming from a poor socioeconomic
background, being of Hispanic or Native American descent, living
in large urban areas, having high rates of mobility (that is, changing
schools frequently), or having a disability.
Now although these variables might contribute to our understanding
of groups that are at higher risk of dropout on average, these variables
alone do not accurately predict who will drop out of school. There
are many students who come from a low SES, or live in large urban
areas who do in fact graduate successfully. So, additional variables
that might be more useful in screening students who might be at
increased risk of dropout are those that are considered alterable.
These variables are more amenable to change and can be influenced
by students, parents, educators, and community members. Many of
these variables are indicators of student engagement or disengagement.
Some of them include student attendance in terms of absences or
tardies; academic performance as reflected in grades or homework
completion; and behavior as indicated by, for example, number of
suspensions or office referrals. Determining student's attitudes
towards school and whether they feel as though they belong in the
school community are also good indicators of student engagement,
and may be useful indicators of whether a student is at risk of
leaving school early. Although the research identifies factors for
students at increased risk of dropout, the challenge, which is difficult,
is to use these indicators in an efficient manner that accurately
identifies students who would benefit most from interventions. We'd
like to maximize the intervention resources and strategies directed
towards facilitating school completion by using them with the students
who are most at risk. Unfortunately this is not an exact science
at this point.
One way to increase our accuracy is to take individual student
information into consideration. An exaggerated example of this could
occur during the referral process with students for participation
in an intervention. Perhaps one of the criteria would be to obtain
a list of students who have a history of being absent more than
15 days in a school year. It would be important to consider each
student's history individually to determine whether the reasons
for absence were due to extended illness, or a vacation, or whether
they were indeed unexcused. It's helpful to identify students on
the basis of more than one indicator. Research suggests that the
presence of multiple risk factors increases the risk of dropout.
Other alterable variables that have been associated with increased
rates of dropout at graduation provide additional insight with regard
to effective intervention. For example school policies such as a
heavy reliance on out-of-school suspension have been associated
with increased rates of dropout. Another study using a large national
sample found that weak adult authority, a climate of truancy and
low expectations, large school size, and lack of stimulating curriculum
contribute to dropping out. Schools with higher rates of graduation
have discipline policies that are perceived as fair, relationships
between teachers and students that are perceived as caring, and
there is an emphasis on academic pursuits in a safe and orderly
Analysis of data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study
identified some very specific school level variables that were associated
with school completion for students with disabilities. These included
offering direct individualized tutoring and support to complete
homework assignments, receiving support to attend class and stay
focused on school, participation in vocational education classes,
and participation in community based work and experience programs.
I think some of these examples point to the important role that
schools can play in school policies in preventing dropout, and promoting
In addition the extent to which there is parent support for learning
has been shown to be associated with student success. Parents can
provide this support in two ways, they can assist with academic
tasks and activities, but they can also provide motivational support
to their children. Studies suggest that motivational support for
learning can play a significant role in student success, and may
be even more important than providing academic support such as helping
with homework or various assignments. This research suggests that
it's especially important for school staff and communities to communicate
the message to parents about the important role that they play in
engaging their children in school and learning. Many of the interventions
that show some evidence of effectiveness have a parent or family
component in place.
Increasing the graduation rates can also be informed by the research
that has investigated why students drop out of school. Some of the
research that's been conducted by Larry Kortering and his colleagues
has been very helpful in this regard. His research draws on the
results of over 600 interviews and 4,000 surveys with high school
youth. Some of his work is highlighted in the most recent Impact
issue that has just been put out by the Institute on Community Integration,
here at the University of Minnesota. His findings suggest that students
have to have a reason to want to complete school. They must understand
the relevance of graduation in relation to their future. Secondly,
students need and want access to an adult who will encourage them
to stay in school and help them to succeed. Now this doesn't have
to be a parent, and in many cases students who are at risk of not
graduating may not have a parent to fill this role. Third, students
need to have skills necessary for succeeding in today's schools,
including knowledge of how to learn. Schools must provide strategies
that promote success in today's measures of performance. Fourth,
students who stay in school often have found a way to become engaged
in the non-academic side of school, be it a sport, a club, or some
kind of extracurricular group. All this information from student
voices -- fits very nicely with what we know about the role of engagement
and staying in school and persisting to graduation.
It's also helpful to think about why students drop out of school
by categorizing the reasons in terms of push and pull effects. For
example, some students are pulled towards disengaging from school
and dropping out by factors external to the school environment that
weaken or distract from the importance of school completion. Students
may drop out of school because they are pregnant or parenting, perhaps
they must work at a job to help earn money for their family, or
perhaps they have friends that have dropped out of school. Other
factors influencing student's reasons for dropping out are referred
to as push effects. These are situations or experiences within the
school environment that aggravate feelings of alienation, failure,
and dropout. These might include establishing higher attendance
or performance standards that are implemented without providing
supports, or a heavy reliance on suspensions, or a school climate
that is not safe or does not foster respect between students and
teachers or between peers. In order to increase rates of graduation,
our goal is to decrease the factors that can influence and push
kids out of school, as well as minimize or help students cope with
the effects of factors that pull students out of school.
Now let me switch gears for a minute and talk a little bit about
the interventions that we've reviewed that show some evidence of
effectiveness. Annie Hanson, Mary Sinclair, Sandra Christenson,
and I conducted an integrated review of dropout interventions described
in professional journals. We started out with over 300 articles
focused on dropout prevention or intervention. And of those we found
45 that were published in professional journals, focused on dropout
prevention, and included impact data. We wanted to know what kinds
of interventions were being implemented, with whom, and what is
being measured to determine effectiveness.
First of all, the bottom line is that the interventions used to
prevent dropout varied widely in terms of actual strategies that
were used. Also, many of them addressed and measured factors or
indicators associated with dropout. Although there are many programs
that are being implemented in school across the country, we were
struck with the relatively small number we found in the professional
research literature that were empirically validated using sound
methodology. In our integrative review of the literature, we came
up with about 45 programs that had some evidence of effectiveness.
And of those, only 25 had statistically significant findings. Furthermore,
many of these findings were focused on indicators of engagement
rather than enrollment status.
Just to give you an example of what's out there, we organized
the interventions into five categories. First, many of them had
a personal affective focus. For example, these included retreats
designed to enhance self esteem, regularly scheduled classroom based
discussions, individual counseling, or classes focused on teaching
social skills or interpersonal relations. Academic strategies were
the second most common category, and included provision of special
academic courses such as bilingual services or individualized instruction
and tutoring. Next, we saw some strategies that we categorized as
family outreach. These programs utilized strategies such as increased
feedback to parents or home visits. We saw strategies that focused
on changing the nature of the school’s structure; implementing
a school within a school, redefining of the role of homeroom teachers,
reducing class size, or creating an alternative school. We also
saw strategies that were focused on work related issues. And these
included providing things like vocational training, as well as implementation
of volunteer programs and activities. It is interesting to note
that nearly 75 percent of the interventions included several components
that fell into two or more of the categories.
I think that my time is nearly up, so in conclusion I would love
to have you tap into the Web site to look at the Essential Tool
because it has more examples of interventions that have some evidence
of effectiveness behind them. There are 11 abstracts that include
descriptions and information about participants, evidence of effectiveness
and implementation considerations. I would also like to say that
it's important to remember that there is not necessarily one best
program, and if a school district or state is going to adopt an
established program, it's critically important to consider the existing
intervention in relation to the needs, demographics, resources,
and other circumstances of the local school or district. Additionally
when surveying existing programs, it's important to be sure that
any claims of effectiveness are supported by adequate research and/or
Now I'm going to finish with that. I have given a broad overview
of how we can use the research on dropout to guide the design of
effective interventions. Now Sandy will talk about a specific intervention
called Check & Connect that actually incorporates many of these
DR. CHRISTENSON: Thank you, Cammy. Check &
Connect is actually one of the few evidence-based interventions
that addresses school completion for students with disabilities.
We think of Check & Connect as a model, a model designed to
promote student engagement at school and with learning. Our approach
is based on enhancing the strengths of individuals and connections
among home, school, and community specifically through relationship
building, problem solving, and persistence.
As you might be able to anticipate, there are two components:
Check & Connect. Check refers to systematically assessing students'
connection to school, and I'll say a bit more about that in a minute.
Connect refers to the timely response or intervention implemented
based on students' educational needs. Specifically, students’
type and level of risk, - what we think of as signs of early school
withdrawal or disengagement – are of interest.
Now let me go back to Check & Connect. For the check component,
we have an individual referred to as a monitor who checks those
indicators of disengagement that are alterable. The monitoring of
students’ level of engagement would be done daily to at least
weekly. And generally we monitor student performance in three categories.
Attendance would be the first thing we monitor. We check absences,
tardies, or skips. Another category is the social and behavior area,
which includes such things as suspensions, behavioral referrals,
or detention. The last category is academic performance and could
include checking course failures, credits earned, GPA, or teacher's
ratings of academic performance.
When you think of check you should be seeing an individual who
monitors systematically those early, alterable signs of school withdrawal.
When you think of connect, you need to think about how our role
as interventionists can be to enhance protective factors for students
who are showing those early signs of disengagement. All students
who get Check & Connect receive at least one level of intervention.
We don't believe in only checking, that would be in a sense just
admiring the problem. Rather, we want to make a difference and intervene.
All students receive basic intervention. This could include sharing
the monitoring data with the student, talking about the importance
of school, and perhaps engaging the student in a five-step problem
solving strategy where the student could learn to resolve conflict
and cope with life challenges that are being presented to the student.
The second level of intervention is for those students who are really
showing high-risk behavior. These intensive interventions are individualized
for the student, really tailored to the student, and fall in varied
areas, including academic support (i.e., tutoring), direct teaching
of coping strategies, extensive problem-solving strategies, problem
solving across home and school, transition support, or involving
the student actively in more recreational activities or service
I've referred to the individual who actually implements the Check
& Connect components as the monitor. I really need to underscore
the role of the monitor. The monitor is integral to the success
of Check & Connect. We think of this person as a neutral person
who's responsible for helping the student stay connected to school.
In fact their primary goal is to keep education and learning ‘on
the table’ or a salient issue, not only for the student, but
also for their family members and their teachers. The monitor is
a cross between a mentor, a coach, an advocate, and a case manager.
For our one secondary project with students in ninth through twelfth
grade, the monitor also helped the student make constructive life
choices. The monitor may have helped youth understand the impact
of under-estimating their life potential, starting a family at a
young age, abusing substances, engaging in criminal activities,
or coping with parent's mental health challenges.
Let me mention a little bit about Check & Connect, both in
terms of its origin as well as its theoretical underpinnings. Then
I would like to give you some actual data that we have on Check
& Connect. Check & Connect began as a partnership between
the University of Minnesota and Minneapolis Public Schools on an
OSEP-funded grant in 1990 to develop and field test dropout prevention
strategies for middle school youth with disabilities. That grant
actually ran the period of 1990 to '95, and we did several things
I think that were really wise at that time.
For one, we developed an advisory committee that was comprised
of students that were currently in middle school, students that
had gone on to ninth grade, students who potentially were at risk
for dropping out, and students who had decided to stay in school
even though they appeared to have some of the indicators of dropping
out. We also had parents, educators, and community professionals
on the committee, trying to draw in the notion of additional researchers
to help design this intervention.
The advisory committee was exceedingly helpful. A lot of people
had input, and it allowed us to be very responsive to the needs
of multiple stakeholders and to a specific context. Equally important
though was the theoretical base of Check & Connect. Cammy talked
about how dropping out is the outcome of a long process of disengagement
and alienation, and that dropping out really is preceded by alterable
variables, those less severe types of withdrawal like truancy, suspension,
and failing classes that we can do something about. We really learned
about this was from Jeremy Finn's (1989) work in terms of his participation-identification
model of early school withdrawal. We were very excited about our
ability as interventionists to begin to take charge of some of those
variables that were within our power to change. Theoretically that
We also were influenced by McPartland's (1994) critical analysis
of essential engagement variables. He has summarized a lot of literature,
and concluded that highly engaged students are provided with opportunities
for success in school work, communication of the relevance of education
to their future endeavors, a caring and supportive learning environment,
and help with personal problems. Taking his work, we kept thinking
in the development of Check & Connect, how can we address this
kind of theoretical literature and review that have been done?
Additionally, the research on resilience was significant for us.
We knew that many of our kids were resilient, and that we wanted
to promote protective factors as well. We were also influenced by
the cognitive behavioral intervention literature and systems theory.
From these theoretical underpinnings, we designed Check & Connect.
After several applications of the model, we can extract core elements
that we believe are important for engaging students and fostering
their school completion. Let me briefly touch on the seven elements.
The core elements are important because they help us to understand
what needs to be in place for addressing the issue of school completion
for students with and without disabilities.
The first is relationship building. The monitor really works to
build relationships and mutual trust through open communication.
This is nurtured through a long-term commitment that's focused on
how the monitor can work with that student and others to promote
the student's educational success.
The second element is something we refer to as ‘persistence
plus” that is made up of persistence, continuity, and consistency.
The monitor is really a source of academic motivation because they're
there persistently; they simply do not give up on kids. They're
checking on them regularly, they're trying to connect students with
interventions; they're building the relationship through that daily
or weekly connection. They also have continuity with the student;
they're familiar with the child or adolescent, and the family across
school years. We really ideally like to have the monitor work with
an adolescent in his or her family for two years, and we do connect
during the summer. And then for consistency, the monitor works to
pull together many to deliver the message that education is important
for the student’s future.
A third component is systematic monitoring, and of course that's
the routine monitoring of alterable variables. But that leads to
individualized and timely intervention, those two levels of intervention
described previously. Part of the reason why we have two levels
of intervention is that we have to pay attention to the finite resources
in our schools. Some of the students who drop out need more Check
& Connect time from the monitor than others so we individualize
in that regard.
Problem solving is the fifth element; we have used a cognitive
behavioral approach to promote skills for the student. We want students
to be able to resolve conflict constructively, to use productive
coping strategies, and think about solutions rather than blaming
others. And it's really important for us to have students be self-determined,
so they're not dependent on the monitor. Through the five step problem
solving structure, the monitor helps the student begin to think
through what's happening to them, about options he/she can try,
and about the consequences of personal decisions. We want responsible
We try to have students also affiliate with school and learning
by having them have access to active participation in school-related
activities and events. The last element, and this has been a very,
very important element for us, is the notion that the monitor follows
the student and the family. It's truly more of a long-term commitment;
we're following highly mobile youth and families to the degree possible
from school to school, and program to program.
Let’s turn now to the evidence for Check & Connect.
We have conducted two experimental studies with secondary level
students with disabilities. The first study involved 93 students
in grade nine who were identified with learning or behavior disabilities.
From this study we learned that students in the treatment group,
those who received Check & Connect, were significantly more
likely to be enrolled in school, have persisted in school, and on
track to graduate within five years (i.e., accruing credits) than
students in the control group, those students who had not received
Check & Connect during that ninth grade year. Students who persisted
in school never interrupted; they didn't miss school for a week,
come back, miss school for a week, and come back. They didn't have
this interruption pattern; rather they tended to persist in school.
In a second study (one that we have just been writing up, and
I'm very excited about our data here), we worked with 150 high school
students who were identified with emotional and behavioral disabilities;
71 students received Check & Connect, they were in the treatment
group, and 79 were in the control group. We began working with the
students in ninth grade, and we worked with them through twelfth
What we found in that study is that students in the treatment
group, those who received Check & Connect, were less likely
to drop out, more likely to persist in school each year, more likely
to be enrolled and on track to complete school in four years than
students in the control group. Treatment students were also significantly
more likely to have completed high school, graduated at the end
of five years, and to have an IEP written during high school. Findings
related to transition goals were interesting. Students who received
Check & Connect were more likely to have transition goals across
the five areas, (e.g., job training, home living), to have their
parents attend the meeting, and to have their preferences reflected
in the IEP. The latter finding was very important to us because
we strive to build a sense of self-determination for students.
I am aware of the time, let me just very quickly say that I believe
the lessons we have learned on this project extend way beyond our
findings that Check & Connect is working to reduce truancy,
or that Check & Connect is working to actively engage students
and families at school and with learning. We also have learned many
lessons about the importance of sustained intervention. Students
need intervention across school years, and we have some data to
support that. We also know the importance of considering the role
of contextual factors, whether it's due to mobility, school climate,
parental expectations and home support for learning. For example,
our high school youth with a very tenuous connection to schooling
were highly mobile. Only 10 percent of these students, or 15 students,
were in the same school for four years. They were more likely to
live in poverty; they were overage, a year older on average; they
were more likely to engage in high risk behaviors; and in terms
of norm referenced test results, they were rated below the twentieth
percentile on academic and social competence by their teachers,
and above the -- percentile on problem behaviors.
As we discuss and think about questions, I'm hoping that you will
be thinking about the importance of early and sustained intervention,
the importance of multiple referral criteria and systematic monitoring
of school performance, and the importance of the construct of engagement.
If we engage students as learners – help them make a personal
investment in learning - we truly can have students leave our high
schools with skills, which from my point of view means that they
have postsecondary enrollment options available to them.
With respect to the importance of following students and families,
we need to begin to think in terms of intra-district and inter-district
efforts. And let me be a little bold, maybe even inter-state to
help some of our students, and certainly the points related to the
role of contextual factors. We have many factors that we can begin
to take charge of, making a difference if we facilitate student
engagement in our schools.
MS. JOHNSON: Thank you very much. We'd like to
take questions from the audience now. And if you have a question,
I ask that you please state your name and the state from which you
are calling before you ask a question. So I'll open it up to the
audience. If you have any questions, please go ahead.
MR. LEVINE: Yes, I'd like to ask you a question,
please. My name is Cy Levine from the Virgin Islands from St. Croix;
I'm the State Supervisor for the Department of Education in the
area of special education. And I'd like to know, Dr. Lehr gave us
a Web site, which I wrote down, and she sent us to check out some
area of the Web site. Can you just repeat that Web site again, please,
and the area that we should check to get more information on what
DR. LEHR: Sure, I can. It is http://www.tacommunities.org/.
Go to the Web site, click on community of practice on exit, and
then click on library, and a draft of the essential tool on school
completion is available to download. It is a draft, it's a working
draft right now, and it is nearly completed. But the final should
be available soon.
MR. LEVINE: OK, I appreciate that very much,
MS. JOHNSON: This is Donna Johnson, if I could
just add something to what Dr. Lehr was saying. NCSET has been asked
to help facilitate a community of practice on exiting, which really
looks at increasing school completion and decreasing the dropout
rate. I invite you all, if you're interested in this topic, to join
our community. What that means is that you would have access to
information such as the Essential Tool that Dr. Lehr has developed.
Other information such as the national longitudinal transition study,
we've got information posted. We also coordinate events such as
the one we're having today, and coordinate capacity building institutes
which would be all day teleconference -- or all day capacity building
institutes looking at the information more in depth. So you can
look at the site, be a guest, or you can be a member, and that just
means that you register with us.
MR. LEVINE: OK, thank you.
MS. JOHNSON: Any other questions?
MR. KNOFF: This is Howie Knoff, State of Arkansas,
State Improvement Grant Director. Sandy, have you had more success
with certain disability groups than others with your data?
DR. CHRISTENSON: The students with disabilities
that have been in our projects have primarily been students with
learning disabilities or students with emotional and behavioral
disabilities. We have not analyzed our data as a function of disability
status. We have not compared the effect of Check & Connect with
students identified with LD versus the effect of Check & Connect
with students identified with EBD.
Although I do not have the empirical data to address your question,
my gut level sense is that it works well with students regardless
of disability category. There are core elements that are very sound
in the theoretical literature, such as building relationships with
students, being persistent in keeping education very salient, and
helping disengaging students meet the challenge and the demands
of the school setting. They may differ a little bit for a child
who's having more of an academic issue from a behavioral issue,
but they're both critically important. And we individualize the
intervention and tailor it to student needs, family and school considerations,
and resources that can be leveraged from the community to meet either
an academic or a behavioral need. I think Check & Connect is
an intervention that works with either group. But from an empirical
point of view we haven't done an analysis with that.
MR. KNOFF: OK, thank you.
DR. LEHR: I would like to add something to that
as well, because Check & Connect has not only been used with
students with disabilities, it's also been used with students without
disabilities, ranging in grade level from kindergarten to twelfth
grade, and in a variety of settings, including urban and suburban
settings. There have been several different applications of the
DR. CHRISTENSON: In addition, we have implemented
the intervention outside of the Minneapolis area. There is an Atlanta
school district implementation that has linked to early literacy
MS. JOHNSON: Any other questions from the audience
for Cammy or Sandy?
MR. DENNIS: Sandy, it's Lawrence Dennis from
the State of Ohio. I have a quick question, I guess twofold. Of
the high school students that you were working with, what impact
did your holding the kids to the consequence of graduation exams
have to do with -- did it have any impact on these students? And
do you have any evidence that shows -- in our state many of these
kids are gone before they even get into high school. How do you
address that issue?
DR. CHRISTENSON: Let me take your second question
first. I think you've raised a critically important issue. Part
of the construct of engagement is that we really need to engage
students as learners much earlier than working with them in ninth
grade. As a matter of fact, I'm an advocate, of doing so from day
one in our schools. It would be interesting to see what would happen
if we could do that with students with or without disabilities that
were showing particular signs of early school withdrawal. What would
happen to them, or how would they look when they were in ninth grade?
When we worked on the second project (also funded by OSEP), we
followed students from ninth through twelfth grades. We went back
and did a record review for these students, and we could certainly
see many, many signs of disengagement in these students very early
on. They had very erratic attendance patterns, for example. They
had behavioral concerns and academic failures. I want to underscore
that you are absolutely right; - students many times have dropped
out. Literature varies a bit, I often read how important the transition
periods are between the eighth and ninth grade. However, many times
students will leave in the middle school, never even coming to ninth
grade, or they'll come to ninth grade for a short period of time,
and then they have very fast ‘reabocks’ and they're
out the door.
In that sample for the ninth through twelfth graders, our students
did not have to take the high school exit exam. But this is all
going to be changing tremendously across our states as more states
are requiring passing the high school exit exam for graduation.
High school graduation rates are part of the AYP (academic yearly
progress) identification for schools in No Child Left Behind. I
don't have an answer to your particular question from our sample
data, but I think it's a very important question, and I’m
aware that many people will be tracking graduation rates, certainly
the effect of high stakes assessment on dropout.
MR. DENNIS: Thank you.
MR. CALDWELL: Hi, this is Keith Caldwell in Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania. You mentioned as one of your core elements for intervention
the last one mentioned was the monitor follows the youth and family
from school to school, program to program. I'm curious what the
retention rate has been with these monitors, if that's been a difficulty
or not. Because it seems like a lot of turnover we all deal with.
And also if there is a change in the monitor, has that directly
affected the success of the -- of the young person?
DR. CHRISTENSON: You know, I will speak to that,
but I'd actually like to have Cammy speak to it in terms of our
experience with the elementary and the middle school project monitors,
and then let's transition into the high school -- Cammy.
DR. LEHR: OK. When we implemented the model at
the elementary school level, we had a model where the monitor did
in fact follow our students into whatever school they transitioned
to, whether it was a mobility issue from elementary to elementary
school, or whether it was from elementary to middle school. Although
I don't have any specific data to speak from, I can say that the
relationship and staying with the student was incredibly helpful
in terms of assisting the student with the transition to the school
they were going to.
In terms of retention of our monitors, with that particular project
our retention of the monitors was very good. We hired monitors that
were either graduate research assistants, or were hired as part
of a civil service unit. And the majority, I think we had something
like nine -- monitors at one time, and a lot of them were part time.
I would say the majority of them stayed with us for at least two
years, we had some stay with us for four years. So interestingly
that wasn't as much of an issue. We do ask for that commitment up
DR. CHRISTENSON: Let me piggyback on that. We've
always asked for a two-year commitment from monitors, and because
I’m at the University of Minnesota, I'm looking for sources
of funding for graduate students. Many times our graduate students
have served as monitors, but as Cammy indicated, we've also hired
community professionals, and I think those individuals have been
excellent in terms of their commitment to the project, and their
ability to be a monitor.
Because of the core element, persistence-plus, we try to keep
the monitor with the same adolescent and their family for at least
two years. If we have to transition in order to be able to use our
resources more wisely on the project, so that the monitor is only
with the student and family for one year, we make a very careful
transition plan with the student and between the monitors, trying
to increase communication. I think the retention of the monitors
has been excellent. But one of the challenges that we've faced in
this, and perhaps it relates a bit to your question, is that the
Check & Connect is an expensive intervention. I can't always
have this as an intervention that's supported by OSEP or other sources
with funds, bringing people into the schools. So one of my challenges
that I'm beginning to try to think about is who are the school personnel
that can begin to take on a case load of students?
I think that is critically important. We have many people working
in our schools, whether they're school psychologists, counselors,
social workers, principals, teachers on special assignments, regular
and special education teachers and educational assistants. How can
we begin to look at other individuals having a smaller caseload,
but carrying out these critically important relationship-building
types of interventions for students who are showing signs of disengagement?
So one of the things I'm discussing with a school district right
now is how we might be able to redefine the role of educational
assistants. They can work under the supervision of school psychologists
and other personnel in the building. But I think that notion of
relationship building or students having a person they can connect
with, simply because many students have a fair amount of chaos,
change, or challenge in their life, is one to which we must attend
in our intervention efforts. We're trying to build very much on
what we've learned from the resilience literature - that it's a
primary caregiver or an interested person in a child's life is helpful.
And that does, I think, mean that continuity with one individual.
MR. CALDWELL: Absolutely. Great, thank you.
MS. JOHNSON: If participants on this call were
interested in exploring how to replicate Check & Connect, where
could they find more information?
DR. CHRISTENSON: Well we do have a Web site,
but I'm going to give you this Web site address only if you promise
me that if you look at it immediately you will look at it about
six weeks from now, because we do need to update it. Our Web site
Also, we hope to write a training manual for Check & Connect
this summer. We have one from the very first project, the middle
school project that could be obtained from ICI. However, there is
a lot of useful information that could be added to the next manual.
MS. JOHNSON: OK, well thank you. I think we're
going to end our call for today. Thank you everyone for participating.
END OF TELECONFERENCE
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