The Gaining Early Awareness And Readiness For Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) was created in 1998 as part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965. As mandated by the legislation, GEAR UP grantees seek to increase postsecondary access and completion through information to students and parents, individualized academic and social support to students, parent involvement in education, educational excellence, school reform and student participation in rigorous courses.
The legislation also called for the use of not more than .75 percent of appropriated funds in order to evaluate and improve the impact of the activities assisted through GEAR UP. In response to this mandate, in 1999 the Policy and Program Studies Service (PPSS) awarded a contract to Westat, Inc. to begin the National Evaluation of GEAR UP. The evaluation sought to answer the following four key questions:
- What do the federal resources allocated to GEAR UP "buy?"
- What are the effects of GEAR UP on student preparation for college?
- What GEAR UP experiences and project strategies are most effective? Are certain program approaches or models more effective than others?
- What effect did GEAR UP have on partner schools?
To address these questions, the study employs a number of data sources including student and parent interviews, school transcripts, GEAR UP participation records, site visits to grantees and schools and the GEAR UP Annual Performance Report. A variety of student academic and behavioral outcomes beginning in the 7th grade and ending in the 8th grade will be evaluated by comparing a matched sample of 4,500 students at 18 treatment schools participating in the GEAR UP program and 17 comparison schools who are similar to the treatment schools in terms of student demographics and school characteristics who are not GEAR UP participants. The study will also compare outcomes associated with different strategies employed in GEAR UP. Finally, the study will use case study visits to a number of state grantees to describe the implementation of the state-portion of the program.
The first report to be released from the evaluation is the National Evaluation of GEAR UP: A Summary of the First Two Years. This report presents descriptive results from the evaluation regarding program implementation in the first two years of operation. Data for the report come from baseline surveys of GEAR UP participants and their parents, site visits to 20 GEAR UP partnership and 7 state grantees, and the Annual Performance Report submitted by all grantees. A future report will evaluate the effects of GEAR UP on a variety of middle-school student academic and behavioral outcomes and is expected to be released in 2004.