As third-graders at some of the Twin Cities’ poorest schools, they were singled out for special academic help, connected to community programs, given free computers and told they would receive up to $10,000 if they stayed in school to graduate.
But five years down the road, halfway through their journey, students in the Minneapolis Foundation’s Destination 2010 initiative were struggling with attendance and discipline problems and not doing appreciably better on standardized tests than a comparison group of their peers, recently released data show.
Foundation officials caution against reading too much into the test results, given that several scores were missing and the sample size was small.
But the overall experience is being seen as a microcosm of the challenges St. Paul and Minneapolis—and, by extension, other urban districts with large concentrations of disadvantaged pupils—face as they march toward closing the racial and economic achievement gap and bringing all students to academic proficiency by 2014, as mandated by the federal government.
TEST SCORES, BUT MORE
Program officials say Destination 2010 was never about test scores as much as it was an effort to engage students in school and community activities that would lead them to graduation and productive lives after high school.
Nearly half the children who signed up for Destination 2010 as third-graders have left the program—because they moved away from St. Paul and Minneapolis or left for other, unknown reasons—and the temptations to stray will only intensify now that program participants have moved into high school, Carstarphen said.
The study tracked about 200 Destination 2010 participants from third through seventh grade—the school years 2001 to 2005. Researchers also collected data on students a year older at the same schools to use for comparison.
The students remaining in Destination 2010—90 percent of whom are minority, and 91 percent low-income—are now in ninth grade, the year students are most vulnerable to dropping out of school, Carstarphen said.
WINDOW ON A FUTURE
The study found Destination 2010 has had some success engaging students in school life, but there are some trouble spots.
The percentage of program participants who attended school at least 95 percent of the time declined in 2005 from the previous year, 71 percent to 54 percent.
Attendance at Destination 2010 events increased, and students who attended those events were more likely to also attend school, though not necessarily to perform better on tests.
Suspensions also have increased in both cities among program participants. Nineteen percent of Destination 2010 students in St. Paul received at least a day of suspension in 2002. That figure rose to 27 percent in 2005. In Minneapolis, the rate went from 21 percent to 43 percent.
Some students who have stayed with the program into ninth grade say there were times along the way when it was easy to forget they had signed up.
The test results don’t give much hope about the direct effects of long-term student support on academic achievement.
Destination 2010 students in St. Paul did better in math than a comparison group of their peers, but the results were reversed in reading.
In Minneapolis, the Destination 2010 students did about the same in reading and worse in math than their peer subgroup.
Program officials say the test results are not surprising and, in fact, may get worse as the students progress through high school and are increasingly subject to distractions and peer pressure.
Only one group of Destination 2010 students outperformed their classmates across the entire district in 2005: St. Paul students in math.
But within that accomplishment was a problem familiar to St. Paul and many urban districts: Only 69 percent of black students were average or above in math, compared with 80 percent to 90 percent for other student groups.