Here at City Connects, we know that providing students with services — such as tutoring, housing, and medical care — helps them succeed in school because we have the data.
Nationally, Child Trends, a nonprofit research organization, has taken look at integrated student supports (ISS) — a school-based approach to promoting academic success by providing support for the whole child to addresses academic and nonacademic barriers to achievement — and found a growing evidence base.
As Child Trends explains in its new report — “Making the Grade: A Progress Report and Next Steps for Integrated Student Supports” — integrated services help children and families and “further our nation’s collective efforts to close education opportunity gaps, raise graduation rates, and better compete on the international stage.”
In 2014, Child Trends did an earlier evaluation of integrated support programs and found that the evidence base was still “emerging.”
In 2015, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act explicitly encouraged schools to provide integrated services, a first-time event in federal lawmaking.
Now that this federal recognition is in place and ISS programs are expanding, “country, school districts and principals are in need of a more current review of the evidence to guide school implementation,” Child Trends explains.
The current report finds a strong research base for a number of ISS programs, including City Connects.
“Formal programs—such as Communities in Schools, City Connects, or community schools more broadly—have contributed to the rapid nationwide expansion of ISS models in the last decade,” the report says. “However, ISS models have also expanded informally, school by school, because experienced principals and staff who work directly in schools recognize the importance of supporting students’ nonacademic needs in structured and systematic ways.”
It’s work that needs dependable evidence. Among the report’s findings on the existing evidence base:
• “Evaluation studies find a mix of positive and null (non‐significant) findings, but there are virtually no negative effects across the evaluations.”
• “New evidence from an application of a microsimulation model” finds “that students’ participation in effective ISS interventions will have long‐term benefits.”
• “Nonacademic outcomes are rarely measured… even though they are central to the conceptual model, which limits our understanding of the mechanisms driving ISS success,” and
• the evidence base does not clearly identify the specific, concrete elements that make implementation of ISS programs successful. At City Connects, we’ve been asking a similar question: How, specifically, does our model achieve its results over time?
The report also suggests ways to enhance future research by:
• changing evaluation methodologies “to tease apart small but significant effects in a way that current studies were unable to do”
• encouraging the use of similar measures across research studies to make it easier to compare studies, and
• increasing the focus on program implementation to discern some of the differences between successful and unsuccessful ISS programs
Policymakers can help by:
• providing resources for the school‐based coordinators who connect students to services
• requiring schools to make plans for providing integrated services, and
• developing lists of the services that are available in different communities
And funders, such as foundations and local governments, could support “a consortium of researchers and practitioners” who would work together “to identify critical constructs for future evaluations and provide a common set of measures for the field.”
While the evidence base for integrated services still has to grow and mature, Child Trends says it is “cautiously optimistic about the potential for this approach to improve student outcomes, especially in schools with concentrations of at‐risk students.”
City Connects is optimistic, too. Our model — and our robust evidence of positive impacts — demonstrates the potential of integrated student support approaches more broadly. We welcome the national conversation on ISS and related research. The more we know, the easier it will be to help students succeed in school — and in life.