Study: ‘Intentionally brief’ middle school mentoring programs yielded better grades, fewer absences

Mentoring programs are getting more popular, some to great success others with more mixed effects. This new study examined why sometimes mentoring programs go wrong. The study from the University of Houston College of Education argues that school-based mentoring programs often fail because they lack sufficient time, mentor training and a research foundation. Interesting to notice in this study is that the effects are clearcut for e.g. math, English and absences, but not for e.g. behavior.

From the press release:

“While community-based mentoring programs have been shown to be effective, the largest form of mentoring–school-based mentoring–has produced small, null and sometimes harmful results,” said Samuel D. McQuillin, assistant professor in the college’s department of psychological, health and learning sciences. “We believe that one way to address this is by developing models of mentoring that are brief, effective and reproducible.”

In his study “Brief Instrumental School-based Mentoring for Middle School Students: Theory and Impact,” McQuillin presented findings from a series of revisions and evaluations of an “intentionally brief” school-based mentoring program. Their program is informed by social science theories (social cognitive theory, cognitive dissonance theory, motivational interviewing) and research in academic enablers.

“Middle school youth typically have decreased academic motivation and life satisfaction along with higher truancy than elementary students. Mentoring can play a significant role in combatting these,” McQuillin said. “But nationally, very few programs provide meaningful training, which may prompt mentors to stop the program, leaving their mentees with a sense of loss or even rejection.”

In his study, 72 middle school students in an urban Houston charter school were divided, with about half receiving eight mentoring sessions over 12 weeks and the other group continuing with their regular school routine. Mentors applied for their positions and completed a mentor training program and performance test requirements. Training involved an online training module, in-person training on campus and the mentoring site. The mentoring sessions all were supervised by individuals who also received training. After the three month program, students in the mentoring group saw increases in their math and English grades, compared with the students who did not receive the mentoring. Additionally, McQuillin says they reported more satisfaction with their life and fewer absences in school. Their results were based on school academic records, behavior records and students self-surveys on life satisfaction.

“This study provides promising evidence that brief, instrumental mentoring programs can improve school-relevant outcomes for middle school students,” he said.

The study was published in the journal Advances in School Mental Health Promotion.

Abstract of the study:

This study evaluated the efficacy of an intentionally brief school-based mentoring program. This academic goal-focused mentoring program was developed through a series of iterative randomized controlled trials, and is informed by research in social cognitive theory, cognitive dissonance theory, motivational interviewing, and research in academic enablers. In previous research, the program was found to produce effects on students’ math grades, life satisfaction, and disruptive behavior. In the current study, a revised version of the program was tested in a randomized controlled trial, wherein 72 middle school students were randomly assigned to receive an eight-week mentoring curriculum, or to a no-treatment control. Following the treatment, middle school students who participated in the mentoring curriculum had statistically significantly higher math grades (d = .42), English grades (d = .59), life satisfaction (d = .49), and .82 fewer absences. Small, but not statistically significant effects were also found for science (d = .25) and history (d = .15). Near zero effects were found for behavioral infractions.

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