In July 2016, ICI launched a five-year, $750,000 grant-funded project from the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) titled, "Using Check & Connect to Improve Graduation Rates in Minnesota for Black and American Indian Students with Disabilities." Check & Connect is a comprehensive intervention developed at the Institute that is designed to enhance student engagement in school and with learning for marginalized, disengaged students in grades K-12. It focuses on relationship building, problem solving, capacity building, and persistence. In this project, Check & Connect serves as a targeted or intensive intervention that will complement MDE's Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS), coordinating and collaborating with existing practices and supports such as response to intervention (RtI) and positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS).
The project goal is to ensure a comprehensive approach that leads to increased graduation rates for Black and American Indian students with disabilities in four Minnesota school districts: Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth, and Osseo. "We look forward to the benefits that African American and American Indian students with disabilities will experience both academically and socially working closely with Check & Connect mentors in these four districts," said project director Jean Echternacht in announcing the grant award. Taking over leadership of the project in 2017 following her retirement were Eileen Klemm and Maureen Hawes, Systems Improvement Group co-director.
The Institute's Check & Connect program has reached south of the equator. The comprehensive student engagement intervention is being implemented in Australia and New Zealand. Check & Connect director Jean Echternacht (now retired) and ICI director David R. Johnson were warmly received in August 2016 when they spent nearly three weeks "down under" promoting it. "It was rewarding to see how a relationship-based, evidence-based model developed at the University of Minnesota is being implemented with fidelity so far from home," says Echternacht.
In 2015, Check & Connect mentors from Australia and New Zealand presented at the program's 25th anniversary conference in Minneapolis. Echternacht and Johnson returned the favor by co-presenting at conferences in both countries.
"More than 100 people who were informed and interested in Check & Connect attended our presentation at the New Zealand Schoolwide Conference on Positive Behavior Supports; we were invited to speak there because they implement Check & Connect as part of PBS," says Echternacht. They also discussed Check & Connect with officials from the New Zealand Ministry of Education, which has used it in high schools and middle schools. And Echternacht packed another ICI export in her luggage: "I brought along Expanding the Circle , a transition curriculum originally designed for American Indian students, to help with their indigenous students, and the Ministry staff were delighted."
The Institute’s David R. Johnson and Martha Thurlow were among the education experts contributing to the report of findings from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2012 (NLTS 2012) released in April 2017. The NLTS 2012, which is part of the congressionally-mandated National Assessment of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, is based at Mathematica Policy Research, and the research team for the study consisted of key staff from Mathematica and from ICI. The report, published by the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, provides a national picture of secondary school students in special education and how they compare with their peers.
Based on surveys of nearly 13,000 parents and 11,000 youth in the U.S., it sheds light on challenges the youth can face in socioeconomic status, health, communication, and social functioning at school, as well as areas such as academic supports and preparation for life after high school. "The study provides the most recent understanding regarding the educational experiences and future aspirations of youth with disabilities for postsecondary education and employment," notes Johnson. "Of special interest is the first-time available comparison of students with and without disabilities."