Should You Bother Reaching Out? Performance Effects of Early Direct Outreach to Low-Performing Students
13 Pages Posted: 29 Jan 2018 Last revised: 18 Sep 2018
Date Written: January 20, 2018
Do early alerts to students at-risk in a law school course affect their performance? Increased use of formative assessments throughout higher education, and now their required use in legal education, permits identification of students whose performance suggests they are at-risk early in a course. In legal education, formative assessments must “measure and improve student learning and provide meaningful feedback to students,” and recent research suggests individualized feedback to law students can improve students’ overall performance. Outside law schools, higher education has increasingly used early alert systems to identify and reach out to at-risk students, but their utility at improving performance is still in question.
Beyond simply giving formative assessments with feedback, can faculty affect student performance by making individualized outreach with an early alert? I hypothesized that an early alert, through direct, personalized email outreach to low-performing students, followed by a one-on-one meeting, would improve their overall grade in the course as compared to that of students who did not receive the alert and were performing at similar levels at the same stage of the class. This paper reports the results of that experiment, conducted over two successive academic years. A quasi-experimental design was used that targeted students who performed in the lowest quintile on the first of five multiple-choice tests, with students who scored very slightly better on the first test as a control group. All students received elaborate feedback electronically within twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Performance effects were assessed by comparison of these two groups’ final course grades, which revealed no statistically significant difference between them. The implications for combining early alerts with formative assessments are discussed.
Keywords: Outreach, Assessment, Performance
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