The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Preventing School Disengagement With Secondary Students: Results From a Randomized Controlled Trial

Saturday, January 18, 2014: 8:00 AM
HBG Convention Center, Room 003B River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Michael G. Vaughn, PhD, Associate Professor, Saint Louis University, St. Louis, MO
Greg Roberts, PhD, Associate Director, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Sharon Vaughn, PhD, Executive Director, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Anna-Mari Fall, PhD, Research Associate, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Purpose: Dropping out of school can be conceptualized as a result of a developmentally sensitive and cumulative process of disengaging from school. Although several studies have examined the effect of the construct of student engagement with (and disengagement from) school, very few studies have used randomized designs to estimate the effects of treatments for increasing student engagement, which represents a critical gap in the evidence base.  The present study used Check & Connect (C&C), a preventive intervention that involves school social workers in a systematic monitoring of levels of student engagement (“check”) and connecting structured activities to increase competence, autonomy, and relatedness. The purpose of this presentation is to present two-year results of our evaluation of the effect of (C&C) compared to business-as-usual on patterns of growth in adolescents’ perceived school engagement (e.g., behavioral, psychological, and cognitive engagement) and goal-setting/problem solving skills.

Method: Three diverse high schools in a large urban southwestern US district participated in the study, with approximately a third of the sample from each site. The majority of students were male (62.4%, n = 285) and Hispanic (44.9%, n = 205). Just over 17% (n =80) were Anglo, 31.5% (n =144) were African American, and 5.9% (n =27) were Asian. Consenting students were randomly assigned to C&C and business as usual conditions. Outcome variables were behavioral, cognitive, psychological engagement and goal-setting/problem solving skills. Outcomes were assessed using the School Dropout Risk Inventory (SDRI), which assesses dispositional and contextual sources of school dropout risk. Multi-level growth mixture models were employed to evaluate group differences in slope between students in treatment and comparison groups. Effect sizes for between-group slope differences were computed as the ratio of the difference in the slope means for the two groups divided by the standard deviation of the slope growth factor.

Results: Initial findings indicated no significant differences in students randomized to the C&C and control conditions on demographic variables at baseline. Outcome results from growth models revealed that significant treatment gains were found for treated students from the beginning of 9th grade till the end of 10th grade on all outcomes except cognitive engagement. Specifically, behavioral engagement showed the strongest effect (g = .90), followed by psychological engagement (g = .62), and goal-setting/problem solving skills (g = .34). 

Implications: This study demonstrates school engagement’s malleability by revealing meaningful improvement in key components in areas associated with dropping out of school such as behavioral and psychological engagement and goal-setting/problem solving skills under experimental conditions. Importantly, study findings suggest that school social workers can be provided with a measurement tool (SDRI) and intervention framework (C&C) to collaborate with teachers and support staff to monitor and effectively intervene with secondary students who are at risk of dropping out of school.