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Reports & Research

Studying the Dynamics of NAF’s Impact on Academic Performance


For more than 30 years, NAF has sought to transform the American high school experience by joining the corporate and education worlds to help ensure that students graduate high school prepared for college and careers. Since 2014, NAF has partnered with ICF to evaluate school districts across its network in an effort to continuously improve its program. NAF’s education design incorporates an academy-development framework, alongside rigorous career-themed curricula and instruction, an advisory board of business and community leaders, and a continuum of work-based learning. ICF developed a rigorous study with a longitudinal quasi-experimental design to track the academic performance of more than 7,000 NAF students in grades 9-12 alongside an equivalent comparison group of non-NAF students. ICF also conducted overall comparisons between NAF and non-NAF, as well as subgroup comparisons based on grade 9 on-track/at-risk status,1 to examine whether NAF services have greater impact on certain subgroups.

The study found that, overall, the NAF program has a positive impact on students and that the program has an even greater impact on at-risk students. Further, the study demonstrates that student persistence in NAF participation until their senior year is vital for the success of the program. Supporting these results is the fact that certified or model academies2 have a greater impact than member academies (adherence to the model is important) and that four-year academies have a greater impact than do three-year academies (length of exposure to the model matters).

These results provided guideposts for NAF’s work with schools, districts, and partners moving forward to increase both the quality of existing academies, expand the reach of the NAF model, and emphasize the importance of student persistence. NAF and ICF will continue their partnership to examine the data from this study to gain a deeper understanding of the dynamics of the greater impact on at-risk students and the factors affecting students who leave the program early. NAF will also seek to mine the data gathered by this study to determine the characteristics of students who enter but do not graduate from a NAF academy, with the goal of developing approaches that will increase the graduation rate from NAF academies.

1. A student who fails to meet any of the four performance indicator benchmarks (e.g., GPA, credits earned, English course, and math course) is considered at-risk for not graduating from high school. Conversely, a student who meets all four indicators is considered on-track.
2. NAF academies are categorized into four academy membership or implementation levels (i.e., under review, member, certified, and model) based on academy assessment scores received on NAF’s annual academy assessment.