Charting a Path to Graduation and Striving for Student Success

Liam Julian

Jason C. Snipes, Glee Ivory Holton, Fred Doolittle, and Laura Sztejnberg
MDRC
July 2006

This report evaluates the effectiveness of Project Graduation Really Achieves Dreams (GRAD), a national high school improvement program first launched in Houston and now active in 12 school districts--and much touted and lauded and financed by all manner of high profile folk. The program seeks to improve high school achievement by intervening in elementary and middle schools where teachers implement specific and demanding reading and math curricula with an eye toward ensuring that students are better prepared when they reach 9th grade. But does it work? With support from the Ford Foundation, the MDRC research group looked at test scores in fifty-two elementary schools in four districts (Houston; Atlanta; Columbus, Ohio; and Newark, New Jersey), and at scores in three Houston high schools, as well as other high schools in Atlanta and Columbus. At the elementary level, Project GRAD participants didn't fare any better on state tests than students in similar local schools, but on national tests minor improvement was evident--in that GRAD students' scores declined less than those of other youngsters. The high school study yields less than dazzling results. Students at Project GRAD's flagship, Houston's Jefferson Davis High, were more likely than other students to complete a core academic curriculum on time. The positive effects were not, however, evident in other high schools. The report posits that Project GRAD may need more time to demonstrate its effectiveness (although it started nearly 13 years ago and has benefited from tens of millions of dollars of Congressional pork). It also puts forth some ways that Project GRAD could increase its effectiveness. On the whole, not too scintillating. But you can still read the two studies here. 

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