Abstract: A Mixed-Method Pilot Study of a Motivational Interviewing Intervention to Prevent High School Dropout (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

279P A Mixed-Method Pilot Study of a Motivational Interviewing Intervention to Prevent High School Dropout

Friday, January 18, 2019
Continental Parlors 1-3, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Aidyn Iachini, PhD, Associate Professor, University of South Carolina
Background and Purpose: The use of motivational interviewing (MI) with students in schools is gaining attention, particularly as several studies have demonstrated the positive impact on middle school students’ academic outcomes. Few studies, however, have examined the use of MI with high school students, and no study has examined the impact of MI with high school students who are at high risk for dropout. The purpose of this study was to address this gap through development and pilot testing of a motivational interviewing intervention, the Aspire program, designed for students who are repeating the ninth grade in an effort to prevent high school dropout. Specific research questions included: 1) Do students who participate in Aspire improve in their perceptions of academic motivation and school connectedness? 2) What are students’ perceptions of the program? 3) What factors influenced implementation of the program by social workers?

Methods: This two-year pilot study utilized a mixed method study design. Twenty-six students (50% female) from three different high schools who were repeating the ninth grade participated in the program. A majority of students (65%) received free or reduced price lunch. In terms of race/ethnicity, 68% of students self-identified as African American/Black, 18.2% White, and 13.6% as two or more races. Students completed a pre/post survey that assessed school connectedness and academic motivation (Anderson-Butcher et al., 2012) on a 5-point Likert Scale (1=Strongly Disagree and 5=Strongly Agree) along with overall satisfaction with the program on a 6-point Likert Scale (1=Extremely Satisfied to 6=Extremely Dissatisfied). The post-survey also asked students open-ended questions about their experiences in the program. Notes also were taken from field seminar meetings with the social work students who implemented the program. Quantitative data were descriptively analyzed and paired sample t-tests were conducted in SPSS. Qualitative data were analyzed in MaxQDA using provisional codes and then second-cycle axial coding to differentiate themes.


Students’ feelings of school connectedness slightly declined over the course of the program from 3.93 (SD=1.83) to 3.65 (SD=.79); t(22)=.664, p=.51. Students’ perceptions of their academic motivation slightly improved from 3.46 (SD=.88) to 3.67(SD=.69), although not significantly; t(25)=-1.04, p=.31. Despite this, students reported being satisfied with the program (M=1.78; SD=.74). Themes from the qualitative data suggested that students learned 1) critical skills related to educational performance and 2) reported feeling more motivated to perform better in school. Factors that influenced implementation included 1) challenges related to territoriality within the school about program implementation, 2) students were already experiencing significant behavioral challenges prior to participating in the program, and 3) attendance at school made it difficult to connect with students on a consistent basis.

Conclusions and Implications: Overall, despite study limitations, findings indicate the potential promise of this MI program with high school students once implementation factors are addressed. Implications of this study for research, practice, and policy related to the use of MI in schools with students to prevent high school dropout will be shared.