Making Progress Toward Graduation: Evidence from the Talent Development High School Model

James J. Kemple, Corinne M. Herlihy, and Thomas J. Smith, MDRC
May 2005

This well-named publication reports the findings from a federally-funded study of the "Talent Development" high school reform design as it was implemented in five Philadelphia schools. This model, developed in 1994 by the Johns Hopkins-based "Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed At Risk" (CRESPAR), combines many reform elements still in vogue today: smaller learning communities; an intensive, standards-based ninth-grade program; and an upper-level curriculum that links academics to career pursuits. The results were positive, though modest, as the title implies. Ninth graders participating in the program did better in terms of attendance, credits earned, and promotion to the tenth grade, and maintained these advantages through their next several years of school. As for test score gains, slight increases were detected in eleventh grade once the program had been in place for several years. Meanwhile, graduation rates rose by 8 percent. Still, as the study points out, these schools remain in desperate straits; even with the program, only half of all ninth graders will graduate within four years. High school reformers should read it for a dose of sobering reality even as researchers squabble over its "quasi-experimental" design. You can download it here.

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