Preventing Dropout Among At-Risk Youth: A Study of Project GOAL With English Learners


This project will determine the effects of an individualized reading intervention and a dropout prevention intervention separately and in combination with adolescent English learners (ELs) who are struggling readers and are at risk for school dropout.


Research is ongoing.

Project Design


Students with reading difficulties are at a four times greater risk of dropping out of school than typical readers (Hernandez, 2011), and students who are ELs are also at a very high risk for low literacy and school dropout. There is limited and conflicting evidence on effective interventions for adolescent struggling ELs. Also, although several dropout prevention programs have been or are being evaluated by using experimental designs, including Check & Connect in our own work, there is no information on the effect in EL samples, on the relationship of implementation and treatment effects, or on their interactive effects when implemented in concert with more individualized, reading-focused interventions. The purpose of this project is to address these gaps in the evidence base through a randomized controlled trial.


Students were randomized to one of four conditions: (1) reading intervention for struggling adolescents only, (2) Check & Connect only, (3) reading intervention for struggling adolescents plus Check & Connect, or (4) school-initiated “business as usual.” Students will participate in the intervention during years 1 and 2 (9th and 10th grades) and then will be followed for 2 additional years. The research team hired and trained all reading interventionists and dropout advisors who work with the participants.

Reading Intervention for Struggling Adolescents

Previous studies of this intervention with struggling high school readers (non-ELs) showed improved reading comprehension on the Gates-MacGinitie assessment (g = .43, p < .01). Intervention is provided in small groups (fewer than 15 students) daily for 55 minutes or every other day for 90 minutes over the course of 8 months for 2 school years. The intervention focuses on word study, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension at the sentence and paragraph levels.

Check & Connect Dropout Prevention Intervention

Check & Connect (Sinclair et al., 1998; Sinclair et al., 2005) is a fully developed model of sustained intervention used to enhance and maintain at-risk students’ engagement with school.


Participants were recruited in ninth grade from three moderate- to high-poverty high schools in Houston Independent School District. To be eligible for the study, students had to meet the following criteria:

  1. Be classified as an EL, which was defined as any student who had the Texas school designation of “limited English proficient” or had been reclassified out of that status within the previous 5 years
  2. Be identified as having reading difficulties and being at risk for school dropout—students were identified as having reading difficulties by using their eighth-grade State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) scores. Students scoring below (or within a half standard error of) the passing score on this assessment were considered eligible for the study.

The sample does not include adolescent newcomer ELs, a subgroup of ELs who enroll for the first time in U.S. secondary schools with little formal schooling experience and very limited English (Francis et al., 2006; Short & Fitzsimmons, 2007)