Unconditional Education Program Shows Promising Results

NOTE: This article was updated in October 2016 to reflect revisions to the initial findings made by Seneca Center. 

Seneca Family of Agencies released the findings from an evaluation of its Unconditional Education model, implemented in a select group of Oakland schools with funding from a federal Department of Education grant.

Seneca is a wrap-around service system that provides youth with programs from foster family finding to mental health and special education services in public schools. The Unconditional Education Model aims to offer more integrated academic, behavioral and socio-emotional interventions for students in schools that “serve a significant population of students who face barriers to academic success.” Students facing barriers might be those who qualify for free or reduced price lunch, English Language Learners, and/or students in special education.

The model does things like integrate special education services into the overall school program, and require that “ALL staff are responsible for providing interventions and [working] together to address the needs of the whole child,” not just staff for a special education program (which students must qualify for in order to receive services).

According to results from the 2014-2015 school year, the model is yielding encouraging outcomes.

The almost $3 million grant was part of the Department of Education’s Investing in Innovations (i3) program, which focuses on connecting nonprofit and educational agencies with schools to improve student achievement, close the achievement gap, and increase rates of high school graduation and college attendance.

Seneca put the grant to work in five Oakland schools and two San Francisco schools, ranging from elementary through high school. In the end, the data focused on the Oakland schools, which were able to provide a large enough sample population to compare with “similar students in schools that did not participate in UE,” according to the report.

To evaluate the Unconditional Education model, independent researchers from the Center for Education and Human Services at SRI International asked if students in the schools using Unconditional Education demonstrated higher achievement in math and English Language Arts. They also considered if students had better attendance, and lower suspension/expulsion rates. What they found was significant positive difference in most of these areas for students.

“The results highlighted demonstrate that we are on the right track … particularly when looking at subgroups of students with disabilities, African American and Latino students, and English Language Learners, we see great progress academically, especially in mathematics,” Seneca’s CEO Ken Berrick said in the report.

Specifically, achievement in math was found to be statistically significant and positive in students served by the Unconditional Education model.

Researchers saw “positive effects” for African American students in math achievement, although it was not statistically significant. Finally, there was a significant positive impact on Latino students and English Language Learners in both math and English Language Arts.

The evaluation looked at 13 additional outcomes for students with disabilities, which fell into categories of school attitude, self-concept, literacy, and mathematics. Students with disabilities improved within nine of the 13 outcomes, and for four outcomes improvement was significant.

According to a press release from the organization, Seneca will use these findings in its efforts to apply for a $12 million i3 grant to apply the Unconditional Education model to 40 schools throughout California. For the evaluation highlights, click here.

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