Helping Philadelphia Partners Improve Educational Outcomes for Students

The Philadelphia GEAR UP Partnership is tackling the challenge of preparing young people living in poverty to succeed in college while building data literacy for program partners.

Now, more than ever, getting an education beyond high school is critical for upward social and economic mobility, as well as improved health, civic engagement, and overall well-being. Post-secondary education is also key to preparing our future workforce for the fast-changing demands of our economy.

The School District of Philadelphia, the eighth-largest in the nation, serves a significant number of low-income families. In recent years, the district has engaged in numerous efforts to address these issues and provide the supports and opportunities that students need to succeed in school and reach their full potential.

Preparing Philadelphia’s Students for Post-Secondary Success

In September 2009, the School District of Philadelphia launched a seven-year Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) grant. Funded by the US Department of Education, the program helps prepare low-income youth for success in college and careers. The initiative brought together a strong network of partners and schools committed to improving the educational outcomes of Philadelphia public school students in 26 middle schools and seven high schools.

In 2014, Metis assisted the school district in securing a second seven-year, $4.4 million per year GEAR UP grant. This funding has supported the implementation of the College Readiness Collaborative Communities in 42 middle schools and 12 high schools, serving a new cohort of about 6,000 students.

Assessing the Impact of GEAR UP Services

From the start of the GEAR UP initiative, Metis partnered with the School District of Philadelphia to evaluate the program’s implementation and outcomes. Through a mixed-methods study, we continuously assess the initiative’s progress towards its goals and objectives, and document effective practices, challenges, and lessons learned from this critical work. The culminating impact study conducted by Metis used a rigorous quasi-experimental design, comparing the outcomes of GEAR UP students to similar non-participating students in the district. Encouraging results show that GEAR UP has had a positive, significant impact on high school graduation and college enrollment for participating students.

Furthermore, each year, dosage analyses have shown that the intensity of GEAR UP participation is associated with better attendance, credit accumulation, and behavior outcomes.

Building Data Literacy Among GEAR UP Stakeholders

To support these evaluations, Metis developed and continues to maintain a Web-enabled database of implementation and outcome measures. This tool collects and preserves a record of parent and student participation in GEAR UP activities to examine the relationship between achievement and involvement in project activities.

Through a menu of user-friendly reports, project staff and partners monitor overall programming at the student, activity, school, and partner levels. Metis has also created a Tableau dashboard that key stakeholders use to view data from different sources. These include student and parent surveys, professional development feedback forms, and demographic, achievement, suspension, and attendance records. Metis also provides technical assistance to the project team and partners on collecting, analyzing, and reporting data.

Data from the dashboard are reviewed on an ongoing basis by program staff and partners. They use the data to assess initiative objectives and to better understand how partner services vary by school, grade level, and demographic group. For example, gaps in services or outcomes can be identified for specific subgroups, thus informing GEAR UP and partners’ outreach and engagement strategies.