Methods. In 2005-2006, in collaboration with a North Carolina school district, we introduced an intervention called CareerStart to 7 randomly assigned middle schools (with 7 control schools). We followed a cohort of 2,500 students that began in sixth grade. We hypothesized that CRI would improve the math and reading scores of students in the treatment schools relative to students in the control schools. We used a mixed methods design, considering the influence of perceived levels of teacher-specific CRI by students using survey data, employing intent-to-treat (ITT) analyses of CareerStart and treatment on the treated (TOT) analysis of school mean CRI as a measure of the dosage. For the analyses of student perceptions we used ANCOVA and hierarchical linear modeling (HLM), for ITT we used HLM, and for TOT we used HLM with an econometric approach known as instrumental variables (Ebbes, Bockenholt & Wedel, 2004).
Results. Data on perceived CRI indicate that low-income and minority students especially benefit, resulting in a significant reduction in the achievement gap on math and reading scores. ITT analyses indicate a marginally significant effect of CareerStart on higher math scores in 8th grade, relative to control schools. TOT analyses confirm the student-level perception results, indicating that higher levels of CRI are associated with greater performance on 8th grade reading and math exams. Qualitative data indicate that students find value in CRI. One female student said, “I like it when they [teachers] talk about career stuff, because then I'll get an idea of my future. But I would like it if they would do it a bit more.”
Conclusions and Implications. This study has broad policy and research implications. This universal, pedagogical approach to closing the achievement gap has begun to demonstrate evidence of its effectiveness despite an underpowered design (14 schools) and is attracting the attention of policymakers. The intervention brings together social workers and educators in a strategy that transforming middle schools and is enthusiastically supported by a growing number of school superintendents.