In 2005, researchers from the Philadelphia Education Fund (PEF) and Johns Hopkins University conducted an analysis of 13,000 sixth graders and discovered that students exhibiting one or more of certain risk factors had only a 10-20% chance of graduating high school. These risk factors included: 1) attending school less than 80% of the time; 2) receiving a poor final behavioral mark; and 3) earning a failing grade in math or literacy. Between 1,000 and 2,000 sixth graders in Philadelphia presented with one or more of these risk factors. In response to these findings, PEF created Diplomas Now, a comprehensive dropout prevention/intervention model for middle school students. The program was implemented in four Philadelphia middle schools, and preliminary results were promising; however, the model was in need of a comprehensive assessment.
Through her Emerging Leader Fellowship, Stefany Tobel worked with the Philadelphia Education Fund to evaluate the impact of PEF’s whole-school, targeted, and intensive supports by linking survey data to student outcomes for attendance, behavior, and course performance. Specifically, she helped PEF and its Diplomas Now partners determine which supports worked best with risk-specific student populations. Stefany also helped produce three major reports and served as a PEF liaison to the School District of Philadelphia. She took the lead in establishing a data infrastructure for the Diplomas Now program and authored an accompanying data manual to help ensure its sustainability.