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Early Progress Reported on High School Reform Experiment

 Adding tutoring and after-school programs are easier to implement compared to introducing new curricula and changing teacher practices, according to early reports from an experiment aimed at improving graduation rates in high-poverty, urban high schools. 

Researchers are examining the effects of the Diplomas Now school reform model in 32 high schools in 11 districts across the country, compared to 30 other schools that do not receive the intervention.

The pilot, funded by a U.S. Department of Education Investing in Innovation validation grant (i3), is being carried out by three nonprofit organizations: City Year (an AmeriCorps program), Communities In Schools (a dropout prevention nonprofit), and Johns Hopkins' Talent Development Secondary, which provides organizational and curricula support to schools.

The Diplomas Now tiered invention model works with schools to ensure that students are getting the support they need to get to class, arrive there ready to learn, and keep up with the lessons being taught. The report refers to the "ABCs" of attendance, behavior, and course performance as core to the approach. It works both with reforms for the entire school and individual student intervention.

The approach embraces small learning communities within a high school, professional development and peer coaching for teachers, tiered student support, and creating a "can-do," positive school culture.

Results of the program in year one of the three-year pilot were just released. Researchers described the model as having "achieved some traction," but noted  that complex reforms typically take a few years to reach full implementation. To date, DN schools had successfully implemented about 61 percent of the 111 separate program components , according to the report.

Progress was most evident in identification of student needs (catching students who are off track) and connecting them with coordinated programs and personnel to get back on track. It was more challenging for DN schools to change classroom content and adopt peer coaching models, both of which require gaining the trust and investment of school administrators and teachers. Researchers found school staff members were not always convinced of the value of the new curricula and some teachers were reluctant to be "coached," the report said.

The report noted that it takes time to build relationships and for reforms to take hold. Initially, it may have been unclear what the roles and responsibilities of the staff members from the Diplomas Now organizations were, and that could have hampered the early model implementation, according to the report.

This report was the first of three that will follow the progress of the Diplomas Now model, which is desigend to get more students to graduate and ready for postsecondary education and work. MDRC and ICF International are conducting the independent evaluation of the implementation and impacts of the reform.

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