The power of data: from collection to action

At City Connects, we believe that to be able to effectively help children succeed in school and in life, we need to take a customized, comprehensive, coordinated, and continuous approach to student support. And one of the most critical ways to do this is to carefully collect data — because data leads to action.

“Our collection of data is one of the most powerful tools we have,” Mary Walsh, the Executive Director of City Connects, explains. “It’s a record of what we’ve done. It enables us to tailor services and identify trends. It’s a source of insights about what we could be doing. And, it turns out, it’s proof that our model of helping students works.”

Coordinators collect data from whole class reviews. They collect data from individual student plans, from service referrals, and from both school-based and community providers.

All of this information is entered into our highly secure Student Support Information System, a proprietary database.

On a grand scale, this data is used for:


• monitoring, evaluating, and enhancing City Connects’ implementation

• researching City Connects’ effectiveness, and 

• building a community of practice in schools

But data also enables us to better help individual students. It can help smooth student transitions and help school staff respond to student needs. As Abby Westcott, City Connects coordinator in Boston’s Thomas Edison K-8 School, explains, “people don’t think about how you would use data in counseling. But data is capturing student information, school information, teacher information. It enables me to monitor every student’s progress throughout the year, year after year.”

Data also helps identify and respond to trends and unmet student needs. Coordinators and program managers use data to spot trends in classrooms, schools, and districts. That makes it easier to work with community partners and city agencies to respond, for example, to a rise in homeless students. And that makes it easier to fill gaps, such as providing a theater program to meet students’ interests or looking for community partners who can provide tutors.

Because we look at every student in a school, it’s also easier to keep quieter students from falling through the cracks.

“What makes City Connects different is having the opportunity to look at students within the four domains,” adds Charlene Diaz the former City Connects Program Manager in Hartford, Conn. “So not just academic data, but also looking at health, family, and social and emotional behavior.”

We know, as our 2018 Progress Report explains, that Micah, for instance, a fourth grade public school student on the East Coast, received nine services and enrichment opportunities, including access to a gardening program and to a music program.

This gives us a larger picture and enables us to provide more customized, comprehensive, coordinated, and continuous support to students.

And thanks to data, we know what impact we’re having on our students, schools, and communities. As our 2018 Progress Report explains:

• “Despite starting with lower report card scores in first grade, students in City Connects schools demonstrated significantly higher scores than those in comparison schools in reading, writing, and math by the end of fifth grade. The magnitude of these positive effects was as large as the negative effects of poverty.”

• “Immigrant students who experienced City Connects significantly outperformed immigrant students who never experienced the intervention on both reading and math achievement test scores. City Connects also narrowed achievement gaps between immigrant students and their English-proficient peers,” and

• “Students enrolled in City Connects elementary schools demonstrated lower rates of chronic absenteeism in middle and high school (defined as being absent from school 10% of days or more) than students in comparison schools”

We were also able to evaluate the long-term impact of our intervention, and found that elementary-school students who experienced City Connects see their dropout rates cut in half compared to children who don’t attend City Connects schools.

At the end of the day, all this data also enables us to communicate more effectively what we know about student support and about the impact we have on students, schools, and communities.

“Some great things have happened in schools, especially Catholic Schools, but a lot of what we know about these achievements is anecdotal,” Laurie Acker, the City Connects’ Program Manager in Minnesota, says. “But sometimes parents want to compare schools, so we need the data to show that ‘yes, the kids really are doing well, they are thriving, we do have a much higher graduation rate, we do have a lower dropout rate.’ With data, we do a better job of telling our story.”

“Having data to backup your practices is something that in 2018, you have to have whether you’re in advertising or business or in a school,” according to Abby Westcott. “With City Connects we can come in with a model that we’ve proven works.”

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