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When Challenged, Average Kids Succeed

By Jennifer Jacobson

In both Answers in the Toolbox and The Toolbox Revisited (see "Focusing on Academic Intensity and the Road to College Success"), Adelman urged policymakers to use his findings to help more students complete bachelor’s degrees by ensuring the intensity and quality of the high school curriculum. As he wrote in Answers to the Toolbox, it "is the only component of pre-college preparation that we can do something about, the only component in which everybody can be at the top—provided a) that they have the opportunity-to-learn and b) that they take advantage of the opportunity."

AVID certainly provides that opportunity. Although the program has been evaluated only to a modest extent, AVID’s own data indicate that it’s quite successful.* As of last year, 94 percent of students who completed AVID had enrolled in college, 77 percent at a four-year college and 17 percent at a two-year college. AVID’s four-year college-going rate is more than double the national average of 35 percent. AVID’s success with minority students is also compelling. Latino AVID graduates attend four-year colleges at almost two times the national average. And its African-American graduates do so at one and a half times the national average.

Unfortunately, there are no data on the number of AVID graduates who actually earn four-year degrees. But researchers have studied AVID graduates’ retention rates in college, at least in the short-term. According to one study, after two years, 89 percent of the AVID students in one four-year university were still enrolled and on track to graduate—a retention rate that well exceeded the college average (Mehan et al., 1996).

A study by Texas researchers found that AVID also contributes to overall school improvement (Watt et al., 2006). The study examined 10 high schools that had received federal grants to implement AVID in the fall of 1999. The researchers followed these 10 schools, which were in five districts, over four years. Compared to schools without AVID, the AVID high schools had improved their accountability ratings substantially. Using Texas’ terminology, three of the 10 schools went from "low-performing" in 1999 to "acceptable" in 2002. Two schools went from "acceptable" to "exemplary," two schools went from "acceptable" to "recognized," and three schools remained "acceptable" from 1999 to 2002. None of the AVID high schools’ accountability ratings dropped in the four-year period, and none are now classified as "low-performing." The study notes that these changes occurred after two or three years of the program—not right away. In comparison, the high schools without AVID increased their accountability ratings, on average, but only slightly. Only two of the schools went from "acceptable" to "recognized," and one dropped from "acceptable" to "low-performing."

Think AVID Might Be Right for Your School?

Contact one of AVID's regional offices and then attend an AVID "awareness session" to learn about AVID's core strategies, known as WICR (writing, inquiry, collaboration, and reading), as well as AVID's 11 essentials, which include voluntary participation on the part of students and teachers, scheduling the AVID elective class during the regular school day, and submission of AVID student achievement data to the AVID Center. Next, visit an AVID school to see the program in action.

Implementing AVID takes about a year. A school must form a site team, made up of content area teachers, the AVID coordinator, an administrator, and a counselor. The site team must attend AVID's summer institute to develop an implementation plan, and learn how to identify and recruit students and tutors. Then in the fall, the school enrolls its first AVID class.

All this, of course, costs money. Schools must pay a membership fee to consult with the AVID regional offices and receive newsletters and other publications. The summer institute costs $4,760, not including travel and lodging. The AVID curriculum and other materials cost $4,500 for high schools and $4,000 for middle schools. Along with the program's other features, including professional development, the total cost of adopting AVID approaches nearly $20,000 annually.

Once schools have offered the program for several years, they can apply to become AVID national demonstration sites, of which there are about 100. (In San Antonio, Edison High School is one.) The recognition signals that a school has implemented a college-going culture and expanded AVID strategies, such as Cornell notes, schoolwide, and has done an outstanding job engaging parents and recruiting students.


Jennifer Jacobson is the assistant editor of American Educator. Previously, she was a journalist with the Chronicle of Higher Education.

*It also has more evidence of its effectiveness than two widely known federal programs developed to help disadvantaged students prepare for college: Upward Bound and GEAR UP. For example, an evaluation of Upward Bound found that it had limited or no effect on total high school credits or grades and no effect on the college-going rates of the average participant. It did, however, increase the four-year college going rates of students who, when they began the program, did not expect to earn a bachelor’s degree (Myers et al., 2004). GEAR UP fares a little better: Recent research indicates that GEAR UP increases students’ knowledge of, and desire to attend, college—but it is not as effective as AVID in increasing students’ enrollment in advanced courses, a factor that previous research has found is strongly related to completing college (Watt et al., 2007). (back to article)