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UTA researchers to study Foundation High School Program outcomes

Monday, April 1, 2019 • Media Contact: Dana Jennings

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Two College of Education researchers at The University of Texas at Arlington are launching a statewide, longitudinal study of a new program designed to better prepare high school students for college and careers.

Supported by a $265,531 grant from the Greater Texas Foundation, associate professor Yi “Leaf” Zhang and professor Maria Trache are following Texas students who participated in the Foundation High School Program (FHSP), which began in 2014 and is designed to improve high school students’ readiness for postsecondary education and the workforce. They anticipate their research also will give parents and faculty better information when students are planning their academic programs.

Dr. Yi "Leaf" Zhang, UTA associate professor of educational leadership and policy studies

“We want to know how this program is affecting students’ high school graduation, college choice, major selection, college persistence, academic performance and degree attainment,” Zhang said. “Our findings will shed light on how this program relates to overall student performance and serve to inform future research, policy and practice on the matter.”

FHSP provides students with five choices of endorsements, or areas of study, to complete on their path to graduation: science, technology, engineering and mathematics; business and industry; public service; arts and humanities; and multi-disciplinary studies.

According to the Texas Education Agency, endorsements consist of a related series of courses grouped together by interest or skill set to provide students with in-depth knowledge of a subject area.

“Though the program is almost five years old, it’s still a new policy in terms of what we understand about it,” Zhang said. “We want to test the main purpose of this program: Are these endorsements preparing students to succeed and complete their degree in these specific fields of study?”

Dr. Maria Trache, UTA professor of educational leadership and policy studies

Trache added: “We talk often about how students go into secondary school without knowing what they want to do, and this program tries to alleviate that by giving them clearer educational and career goals at an earlier age. But no evidence of student success has been provided, and we hope to make the program more efficient and effective for administrators and students by finding empirical answers to our study’s questions.”

Zhang and Trache are focusing on ninth graders who entered high school as FHSP was implemented in 2014 and will follow them through high school graduation and the first four years in higher education via restricted, statewide longitudinal data housed in the Texas Education Research Center (ERC). The Texas ERC is the state’s official clearinghouse of student-level data for scientific inquiry and policymaking purposes

“One major question we have is if there’s a difference in student performance among the five endorsements,” Trache said. “And are they choosing majors related to their endorsement? If they are, is it making them take college courses more efficiently? If a student comes into school with little idea of what they want to do, it can lead to wasted time and more money spent.”

Teresa Taber Doughty, dean of the College of Education, noted that the University “has committed to programs and initiatives that support PK-16 education in Texas. We focus on preparing highly effective teachers, school leaders and higher education administrators as our faculty engage in impactful research that shapes education-related policies and practices.”

“Drs. Zhang and Trache commit tremendous time and effort to research that will ensure our practices and the state’s education policy serve students,” she continued. “Their research examining student outcomes achieved through the FHSP will result in findings that will inform our future practices. I continue to be impressed by the work in which Drs. Zhang and Trache are engaged and am excited to see how these Mavericks continue to shape the landscape of education in Texas.”

Zhang and Trache are analyzing data from a cohort of more than 400,000 students. The funding from the Greater Texas Foundation supports four years of study. This study is a continuation of a one-year project sponsored by Texas OnCourse the two conducted previously. The researchers say the new funding will allow them to study the educational experience of the cohort from the time they selected their endorsements to anticipated college graduation.