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AVID: Still Proving Ourselves After 31 Years - A Response to the Education Week Article

By: Rob Gira, Executive Vice President, AVID Center

When a proven college readiness system like AVID has been in place for over 30 years, there is no shortage of analyses on how AVID works, why AVID works, and for whom AVID works.  Third-party research teams have worked with the AVID Center and with sites and districts to study myriad aspects of AVID since the 1980s, including AVID’s  impact on cognitive development, academic and social scaffolding, AP and dual enrollment participation, success in mathematics and literacy, attendance,  teacher leadership, principal leadership, drop-out prevention, college readiness and enrollment,  and the list goes on.

In all of this, it is sometimes forgotten that AVID was implemented by Mary Catherine Swanson in 1980 and developed as a schoolwide vehicle for enrolling more students in college, especially those students who are often overlooked and underserved.

All the other aspects of AVID’s impact are vital, but none are more so than enrollment and persistence in college by our AVID graduates.

In the words of Australian researcher John Hattie, in the AVID world, we sometimes feel we are “awash in data.”  Adding to this mountain of information is the fact that the AVID Center annually collects data from its sites, both general and senior data, and annually engages in a certification process focused on fidelity to the AVID model, unlike any other effort of this nature we can find in the educational world.

In other words, we feel as if we have proven that AVID works and is effective in a variety of settings if implemented with fidelity. 

Still, we occasionally find ourselves in the spotlight when a publication like Education Week chooses to report preliminary findings from 14 high schools in Chicago and notes in a headline “mixed results.”  Never mind that the study has yet to be published or peer reviewed. 

Never mind that results shared were based on the ninth grade year only, and that AVID Center has never claimed that the ninth grade year alone is a predictor of success in college enrollment, and we insist that students be enrolled in AVID for at least three years in high school.

Never mind that lead researcher Jenny Nagaoka, from the highly regarded Chicago Consortium on School Research, was quoted in the article, saying, “We’re not really trying to say, does AVID work or doesn’t it, but what has been the impact in the Chicago context.”  

Never mind that the forum at AERA, the platform for sharing the CCSR study, referred to AVID as an “intervention” and focused on AVID as a study skills program, wrongheaded on both counts.

Suffice it to say, we are getting questions, so allow me to address some of them.

What is the overall picture for AVID in Chicago Public Schools?

AVID is implemented in 84 schools in Chicago Public Schools, 33 middle, 44 high schools and 6 serving both middle and high school grades.  We have two National Demonstration sites, John Marshall Harlan Community Academy and Phoenix Military Academy.  The most compelling high school data we have gathered looks like this:

In Chicago Public Schools, 752 seniors from 25 schools participated in the AVID Senior Data Collection in 2009-2010.


  • 59%      Black or African American
  • 32%      Hispanic or Latino
  • 4%        Multi-Racial (2 or more)
  • 2%        White (not Hispanic)
  • 2%        Asian
  • 1%        Other
  • 0.3%     American Indian or Alaska Native

Socio-Economic Status

  • 87%        Free or Reduced Lunch Eligible
  • 9%          ELL Participants
  • 60%        Of parents had no college experience
  • 75%        Submitted the FAFSA


  • 88%        Enrolled in AVID for 3 or more years
  • 96%        Took the ACT, SAT, or both
  • 69%        Took at least 1 AP, IB, or dual enrollment course while in high school


  • 91%        Completed college entrance requirements
  • 90%        Applied to a four-year university
  • 74%        Accepted to a four-year university
    •  82% of those that applied
  • 50%        Planned to attend a four-year university
    • 67% of those accepted
  • 30%        Planned to attend a two-year college
  • 80%        Planned to attend a postsecondary institution

Chicago Public Schools is still tallying their senior data for this year.  Ron Raglin, the long-time district director and a former AVID teacher himself, gave me a few highlights on this year’s group of over 1,000 AVID grads in CPS:

  • 94% of the AVID seniors are taking a fourth year of math
  • 75% are in an AP class
  • 75% are taking a fourth year of science
  • 95% of the eligible AVID seniors completed a FAFSA form

The following facts from Mr. Raglin point out why AVID is an important part of Chicago’s comprehensive approach to postsecondary access.  In CPS, he said, AVID students face great odds:

  • 2%  live with both parents
  • 74% have family members incarcerated
  • 77% witnessed gang activity
  • 68% witnessed beatings or shootings

If you want to learn about a Chicago Public School graduate who beat the odds, read Shantell Steve’s story.  The CPS graduate, who is now at the University of San Diego, was recognized by President Obama in his 2009 Back to School Event.

What do we know about the CCSR findings so far in CPS?

Mostly, it is too early to tell, but their team has provided excellent survey feedback to AVID sites, based on interviews with AVID students and teachers.  One of the more challenging statements in the Education Week article notes the apparent lack of impact AVID had on “changing trajectory” of ninth grade AVID students toward graduation.  While AVID students do much better than the general ninth grade student in CPS as far as potential for “B” grades in key subjects, the results so far are less dramatic when they are compared to their “propensity match,” those students who more closely fit the AVID profile.  In an earlier study, the CCSR team reported that the AVID students did improve their attendance when compared to similar students, though the research team noted the effect was not significant enough in their opinion.  This is a tricky area, but we have looked at copious research indicating that improved attendance leads to better grades, affinity for school, and graduation. 

We think that CCSR is in agreement with us that one year of AVID exposure is not enough.  Moreover, our work on schoolwide transformation indicates that attention must be paid to leadership, systems, instruction, and culture, if maximum gains are to be made.

What does the research say about how the AVID system helps students progress toward graduation and college enrollment?

Many researchers have studied AVID’s success with low-income and first generation students completing four-year requirements and enrolling in college.  Drs. Hugh Mehan, Lea Hubbard, et al., followed a cohort of over 1,000 AVID students from eight San Diego High Schools through high school and into college (for two years) and published the book Constructing School Success.  The data are compelling, especially for low-income as well as African-American and Hispanic students.  Overall, AVID graduates enrolled in college at a rate 33 percent higher than local and national averages, and 89 percent were still in college after two years.  While one year in AVID helped their traction toward graduation, a minimum of three years in AVID provided the most efficacious results and removed SES as a factor.

Moreover, Mehan and Hubbard also studied AVID student behaviors and sociological effects, which are developed in the AVID Elective class and include academic discourse and achievement ideology.

Our own yearly data collection indicates that AVID graduates far exceed the national average in completing the requirements for four-year colleges and universities, and our annual senior data collection indicates over 20,000 AVID seniors are achieving at a high level.

In addition, other research teams have replicated the Mehan and Hubbard work.  They include Dr. Larry Guthrie, who conducted longitudinal research and found AVID graduates far outpaced other California graduates.  Dr. Karen Watt and her team from the University of Texas-Pan American have studied AVID in many settings in Texas and continue to track AVID graduates.

In a longitudinal study of cohorts of Hispanic AVID and GEAR UP students, Watt, Huerta & Lozano (2007) and Lozano, Watt & Huerta (2009) found that AVID students had significantly higher academic preparation, in the form of Advanced Placement® course-taking, higher level mathematics classes taken in high school, and course-taking for college credit than did the control group. AVID students also raised their anticipations level from Associate’s to Bachelor’s over a two-year period.

In a couple of recent studies of Hispanic AVID graduates (Mendiola, Watt, Huerta, 2010; Watt, Huerta, & Alkan, 2011; Watt, Huerta, & Reyes, In Press), researchers found that 79 percent of the AVID students in the sample were on track to graduate from college in six years, compared to 54 percent nationally and only 28 percent locally. Despite being from groups that are underrepresented at the college level, AVID graduates showed even greater retention rates and potential graduation rates than some state and national populations. Being enrolled in AVID for more than two years, taking college courses while in high school, and taking a fourth year of mathematics in high school were predictive of AVID student success in college. In addition, many AVID graduates who had to enroll in developmental courses once in college were still on track to graduate and were persisting at rates higher than their peers.

How does AVID affect schoolwide transformation?

AVID has been thoroughly researched as a schoolwide transformation effort as well, beginning in 1991.  The most extensive research on schoolwide AVID has been conducted by Dr. Karen Watt, focusing on schools in Texas.  The summary of schoolwide AVID research also includes Dr. Larry Guthrie’s The Magnificent Eight, which details how AVID demonstration sites transform themselves by leveraging AVID strategies and adhering to the AVID Essentials.

In Texas, three studies were conducted from 2002-2006 on ten high schools in Texas that implemented AVID as a Comprehensive School Reform model (Watt, Yanez, & Cossio, 2002; Watt, Powell, & Mendiola, 2004; Watt, Powell, Mendiola, & Cossio, 2006). Over a four-year period, the ten high schools in five districts were examined to determine if schoolwide or districtwide accountability measures improved over the period of study, compared to demographically and geographically similar non-AVID high schools and districts. Researchers found the following:

1)  AVID students of study outperformed their peers on state-mandated exams, grade point averages, and most notably, AVID student attendance rates improved and surpassed the general population.

2)  AVID high schools improved their accountability ratings and dropout rates over the four-year study period.

3)  AVID schools and districts showed increases in graduation and completion rates, while non-AVID schools and districts evidenced declines.

A fourth study (Watt, Huerta, & Cossio, 2004) found that supportive and involved principals led to successful AVID CSR implementation efforts in the district of study. AVID’s certification instrument was utilized as a main source of data.

Two other sources on schoolwide AVID transformation include AVID Center’s case study “Our Journey to Schoolwide” and an article written by Mary Catherine Swanson and me, titled “Schoolwide and Districtwide AVID – Recommendations for Implementation.”

Look for our next blog from Dr. Dennis Johnston, AVID Center’s Director of Data and Evaluation, who will discuss AVID student development, the need for time in the elective class, and the need for fidelity to the AVID Essentials.

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Reader Comments (2)

Thanks for all the good data for me to share. I find that if I just read articles and don't go to the original source, I miss out on the facts. Learned that in my science based education in nursing. Thanks for the continued impact that AVID has made in the lives of our students.

May 31, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnn Herfindahl


Thanks for your continuing interest and support.

June 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRob Gira

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