Understanding Why City Connects Works

City Connects

We’ve known that students who participate in City Connects during elementary school do well on middle school assessments of academic achievement. However, we know less about why that’s true.

What leads to the academic gains that City Connects provides?

New research is shedding light on this question by looking at the impact of three things: how elementary school academic skills, elementary school thriving skills, and the amount of time spent in City Connects affect academic achievement.

These research findings will be presented tomorrow at the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness.

One of the research papers that will be presented asks whether an additional year of City Connects boosts students’ academic outcomes. This paper will be presented by Diego Luna Bazaldua, a post-doctoral researcher who is part of an independent evaluation team of faculty and researchers within the Center for Optimized Student Support at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education.

Luna Bazaldua says this research is “as close as you can get to a real experiment.” That’s important since researchers haven’t run randomized trials on City Connects because we deliver the intervention to every child in a school.

This analysis resulted from the intersection of Kindergarten enrollment policy in Boston Public Schools with the launch of City Connects in new schools. It’s assumed, Luna Bazaldua says, that children’s dates of birth are random. Focusing on the year schools first implemented City Connects, his analysis studies children who entered kindergarten in different years based on whether or not their date of birth was before or after the school system’s September 1st cut-off. Because they started school in different years, the two groups of students experienced the intervention for different lengths of time: at a given grade, students born after the cut-off received an additional year of City Connects compared to those born before. Both groups of City Connects students also can be compared to students who never attended a City Connects school

According to the research abstract:

“The results show that longer exposure to the intervention enhances students’ academic performance; moreover, students receiving the intervention for an additional year tend to reach the performance levels of their peers in comparison schools within the district.”

Click here to download the research poster.

A second paper that will be presented by Laura O’Dwyer, professor of Educational Research, Measurement, and Evaluation at the Lynch School of Education, looks at some of the factors that account for why being in City Connects during elementary school leads to improved middle school academic achievement. This paper includes methodological innovations such as multi-level controls for potential sources of bias at both the student and school level.

The results? First, the analysis found that participating in City Connects had a significant, positive impact on teacher ratings of reading, writing, and mathematics in elementary school. This improvement in elementary school academic skills accounted for some of the positive impact of City Connects on later middle school achievement test performance.

The analysis also found that City Connects had a significant, positive impact on teacher ratings of skills such as academic effort, classroom behavior, and work habits in elementary school. However, there was no evidence that these gains accounted for some of the City Connects effect on middle school academic achievement.

These findings suggest that by tailoring supports and opportunities to every student during elementary school, City Connects helps children learn and engage in school, setting a foundation for continued academic performance gains.

Click here to download the research poster.

More research is in the pipeline.

“Current areas of evaluation and research,” Luna Bazaldua says, “include understanding more about the impact of City Connects in early childhood and the effects of this student support intervention in other school districts that have been implementing City Connects.”

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