Conducting longitudinal research in school-based settings: Challenges and strategies for success learned from a federally funded evaluation in Florida
School-based longitudinal studies with adolescents face specific challenges in retaining participants, including competing academic obligations and difficulty reconnecting with students who move, withdraw, or graduate from school.
The University of South Florida conducted a randomized controlled trial in 26 high schools across 10 non-metropolitan Florida counties to evaluate the effectiveness of the Teen Outreach Program, an evidence-based positive youth development program. A paper-and-pencil survey was administered in schools at three timepoints: baseline, immediately post-program completion, and one-year following program completion. The evaluation team used previously collected contact information to follow-up with participants who did not take a follow-up survey due to school withdrawal, graduation, or absence. Participants were contacted by mail, email, text message and/or phone, and asked to complete an abridged survey. The evaluation team identified lessons learned to most effectively reach youth at risk for study attrition.
Challenges to follow up efforts included: 1) rapid migration of youth and their families; 2) frequent changes in contact information; 3) evaluation staffing limitations; and 4) technical issues. Testing, adapting, and monitoring follow-up procedures is essential for success. Additional keys to success included strategically using multiple contact methods, offering a variety of survey modes, cultivating positive relationships with parents, and leveraging technology resources to maximize efficiency.
Longitudinal evaluations play a fundamental role in strengthening the evidence-base of adolescent health programs, but particular challenges exist in retaining youth in school-based studies. Future studies would benefit by considering these challenges during the planning and implementation phases of youth programs.
Learning Areas:Conduct evaluation related to programs, research, and other areas of practice
Public health or related research
Discuss challenges to longitudinal study design in a school based setting. Identify strategies for retaining youth in longitudinal studies.
Keyword(s): Evaluation, Adolescents
Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I led the longitudinal follow-up efforts for this RCT evaluation which is implemented in 26 Florida high schools and funded ($2.5 million) by the U.S. Office of Adolescent Health
Any relevant financial relationships? No
I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.