Rendering of the St. James Academy Spark Center for Academics

Impact Study: Spark Center for Academics

A study conducted by Dr. Michael Ralph in collaboration with St. James Academy and the Brown Family Foundation June 27, 2023

Multistudio worked with St. James Academy, a Catholic high school in the Kansas City area, to create a new academic support hub within their campus – the Spark Center for Academics. The Spark Center serves as a meeting place for students, mentors, and faculty to collaborate in the pursuit of each student’s learning. These spaces have been popular among high schools in the region, and St. James Academy hoped to use the Spark Center to boost student college readiness in key subjects like English and Math.

About The Study

The Multistudio Research Center is collaborating with St. James Academy and the Brown Family Foundation to study the impact of the Spark Center for students using the space. The Spark Center is already popular among students – most used it in the 2022-2023 academic year (Table 1). This translated to 3,245 total student visits! However, we wanted to measure whether Spark Center use statistically predicted significant improvement in college readiness as measured by the ACT college entrance exam.

Table 1 title reads: Overall Spark Center Visits Header Row reads: Class, Student Visitors, Total Students, Percent Row 1 values, "Class: 2023, Student Visitors: 124, Total Students: 211, Percent: 59% Row 1 values, "Class: 2024, Student Visitors: 136, Total Students: 209, Percent: 65% Row 1 values, "Class: 2025, Student Visitors: 179, Total Students: 232, Percent: 77% Row 1 values, "Class: 2026, Student Visitors: 201, Total Students: 260, Percent: 77%
Table 1
Note: Visits are only one of multiple ways we consider engagement.

The team looked at student data from St. James Academy students representing their progress in English and Math at multiple stages of their high school career. We incorporated high school placement scores, multiple progress assessment scores, and ACT scores taken during a common administration date to construct a sophisticated statistical model of student performance. That model uses state-of-the-art Rasch modeling to estimate Spark Center engagement using a variety of attendance measures, and then creates a multiple regression to predict ACT performance based on historical data and Spark Center engagement.

The Results

The results showed Spark Center engagement indeed moves the needle! Imagine a student with typical entrance and progress scores takes the ACT. The model from student data predicts the student’s ACT: English and ACT: Math scores will both be significantly higher if they have Spark Center engagement compared to if they have no engagement (Figure 1).

Figure 1 shows two specific examples. James: With lots of engagement, the predicted ACT: English Scores are 27.0*. With no engagement, the predicted ACT: English scores are 26.4*. Bernadette: With lots of engagement, the predicted ACT: Math Scores are 23.3*. With no engagement, the predicted ACT: Math scores are 22.6*.
Figure 1
*Note: The ACT doesn’t report individual scores with a decimal, but it is useful here for thinking about overall trends

This study was Year 1 of a multiyear study. We’re excited to see how the project continues to impact students over the full 3-year window. Click below to read the Year 1 report in full, and check back in the spring of 2024 for the Year 2 results.

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