A new research agenda: Integrated Student Support

City Connects makes connections. We connect students and their families to tailored sets of resources. We connect schools to an array of community partners. And we connect what we are learning about integrating school and community resources to larger, national conversations.

Our work is a leading example of how schools can help students overcome hardships by providing “integrated student support” that weaves services and enrichments into the fabric of schools.

Now a new report — Comprehensive Services for Children in Poverty: Setting the Research Agenda for Integrated Student Support — lays out what researchers know and poses questions that could produce new knowledge that would benefit students and inform policymakers.

Released by the Center for Optimized Student Support — the home to City Connects and a part of Boston College’s Lynch School of Education — the report’s findings draw on a conference that was held at Boston College and co-sponsored by the American Educational Research Association.

The conference gathered scholars from a range of fields, including the developmental sciences, economics, educational research methodology, and law. And they came to consensus on several key points:

• social, demographic, and economic factors make this a critical time to do more research

• there is a strong, theoretical underpinning and an emerging base of evidence that provides a foundation for more research (the national nonprofit Child Trends released a report on the evidence in December)

• and researchers need to know more about how and why integrated student support efforts are successful

“Our nation is seeing a proliferation of attempts to meet the complex needs of children in schools,” the report notes, adding, “In addition, research is producing insights with broad implications for both policy and practice.”

For students, integrated supports may be essential in helping them become productive members of “today’s globalized, technology-driven economy” where “more jobs require high levels of analytic and social skills.” 

So far, research findings suggest that integrated student supports can:

• improve report card grades and standardized test scores

• improve attendance

• lower high school dropout rates

• improve classroom behavior and school climate, and

• produce a positive return on investment

Conference attendees, together with the Center for Optimized Student Support, also created a research agenda to advance useful knowledge about how best to integrate school and community resources for students and families. Sharing these strategies and effective practices with our schools and the nation is a core part of City Connects’ work. 

To move this effort forward, the research agenda asks a number of questions such as:

• What conditions are needed in a school or community for ISS efforts to succeed?

• How do program features — such as types of partners, staff characteristics, and populations served — differ in various ISS programs?

• What short- and long-term indicators and outcomes can be expected?

• And, how can we more effectively communicate important research findings with policymakers?

As the report concludes, more research on Integrated Student Support “is needed, and it is needed now.”

“Research on ISS is of critical importance, as these approaches have the potential for a strong return on investment, providing both long- and short-term impacts on student and family outcomes, while also providing a cost-effective way to prepare future generations of the American workforce to compete in a rapidly changing economy.”

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