While educators and officials across the United States are struggling with how to raise student achievement and improve graduation rates, very few programs have been shown to work at scale in achieving either goal. In 2010, through the Investing in Innovation (i3) Fund, the U.S. Department of Education selected several promising programs for expansion and further evaluation. One of the selected programs, Diplomas Now, is a secondary school model focused on meeting the holistic needs of all students in grades six through twelve. It is designed to be robust and intense enough to transform or turn around high-poverty and high-needs middle grade and high schools attended by many students who fall off the path to high school graduation. Diplomas Now combines programming developed by each of the three organizations that created it: Talent Development, City Year, and Communities In Schools. Specifically:

  • Talent Development provides organizational, instructional, and professional development reforms, including integrating an early warning indicator and a multitiered student support system.

  • City Year places diverse teams of 10 or more young adults in Diplomas Now schools to provide schoolwide and targeted supports, which include attendance and behavior monitoring and coaching, tutoring, mentoring, homework support, and extended-day activities.

  • Communities In Schools provides schoolwide prevention and climate support as well as case management and high-intensity supports for the most challenged students in order to address the underlying issues hindering their success.

Diplomas Now, with MDRC as a partner, received one of 15 validation grants awarded as part of the first i3 competition. In 2014, Diplomas Now received an additional i3 grant to extend the evaluation. The i3 Fund provides competitive grants to expand the implementation of, and investment in, innovative practices that are demonstrated to have an impact on improving student achievement or student growth, closing achievement gaps, decreasing dropout rates, increasing high school graduation rates, or increasing college enrollment and completion rates. The i3 Fund is administered by the federal Department of Education and was created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Agenda, Scope, and Goals

As the lead evaluation partner for the i3 grants won by the Diplomas Now team, MDRC is conducting a national, school-level random assignment evaluation of the Diplomas Now school reform model. The evaluation will offer lessons about the Diplomas Now model, its viability at scale, and its impact on keeping students in school and helping them succeed there.

Design, Sites, and Data Sources

The MDRC evaluation investigates both the impact and the implementation of the Diplomas Now model. The study includes 62 secondary schools (middle and high) located in 11 school districts across the country.

The impact analyses evaluate the effect of Diplomas Now on student academic and behavioral outcomes. The interim findings after two years of implementation focus on attendance, in-school behavior, and course performance. The extension grant allows for investigating the impact of Diplomas Now on graduation for high school students and ninth-grade completion for middle school students after four years of participation.

Additional research is investigating the fidelity with which the Diplomas Now model is implemented, comparing teacher and student support at Diplomas Now and non-Diplomas Now schools, and identifying lessons learned that can inform future replication and scale-up. This implementation research is being conducted in partnership with ICF International.