New Report Details Positive Outcomes for City Connects Students, Schools

Fifteen years ago, a small team of school, university, and community partners began working on creating the system of student support that is now City Connects. We were  hopeful that we would be able to demonstrate that addressing students’ out-of-school needs would lead to improvements in academic achievement and student well-being.

Our hopes have been more than realized. City Connects not only supports student thriving in school, but contributes to significant academic gains as well.  Our longitudinal research shows that for children who attended City Connects in elementary schools, the beneficial effects continue into high school. We can definitively say that the City Connects system of student support makes a positive and long-term difference in the lives of children.

We are pleased to announce the publication of The Impact of City Connects: Progress Report 2014, detailing results from the 2011-12 academic year in City Connects’ Boston and–for the first time–Springfield, MA, public schools. Highlights include:

  • Lower rates of dropout
    Students who attended City Connects elementary schools beginning in kindergarten have 50% lower odds of dropping out of high school than students never in a City Connects school. See page 25 of the report for the full analysis. 
  • Improved standardized test scores
    After leaving City Connects elementary schools at the end of grade 5, students go on to outperform their peers in middle school and achieve close to state averages on both English and Math statewide standardized test scores (MCAS). Benefits are especially pronounced for students most at risk, like English Language Learners. See page 22 of the report for the full analysis.
  • Supporting school transformation
    After one year of implementing City Connects in Springfield’s persistently underperforming (“turnaround”) elementary schools, the gap between these schools and other Springfield schools was significantly reduced in grades 3, 4, and 5 for both English and Math MCAS. See page 35 of the report for the full analysis.

“The data in this report make clear that thoughtful strategies and rigorous practices that provide non-academic supports for students can make a significant difference toward closing the achievement gap for children living in poverty,” said Mary E. Walsh, Ph.D., Executive Director of City Connects and the Kearns Professor at the Boston College Lynch School of Education. “Schools have always made efforts to address students’ out-of-school needs. This report shows that using evidence to inform practice, making effective use of community resources, and tailoring a plan for every student can alter trajectories for children. It has implications for changing the way school counselors, social workers, and other student support staff meet the needs of students.”

For more information:

New Publication: The Lasting Impact of Optimized Student Support

Cover of Winter 2014 ImpactAs we ring in the new year, we are excited to share a new publication. City Connects: The Lasting Impact of Student Support is an updated overview of our system of student support and the positive results it has on students and schools.

It debuts some exciting new findings about City Connects’ direct positive impact on school dropout. In grades 9 through 12, students who attended City Connects elementary schools beginning in kindergarten are significantly less likely to drop out of high school than students never in City Connects. The difference translates to about 50% lower odds of dropping out of high school!

We also feature our positive impact Massachusetts statewide Math test (MCAS) scores, on which City Connects students surpass their peers never in City Connects and approach the state average.

You can find more information on our results and additional City Connects publications on our website.

Four City Connects Turnaround Schools Upgraded as Statewide Test Results Announced

Four City Connects schools in Massachusetts have been upgraded from “Turnaround” status with the results of the 2012-13 MCAS statewide tests, announced today by the Mass. Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. We extend our congratulations to the following schools:

  • Boston Public Schools:
    • JFK Elementary
    • Orchard Gardens K-8
  • Springfield Public Schools:
    • Gerena Elementary School
    • Zanetti K-8

City Connects is proud to be a part of the large Turnaround effort that had positive results in these schools!

For more information:

MCAS Results Released

Results from Massachusetts’ statewide standardized tests, the MCAS (short for Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System), were released last week. The Boston Globe summarized the results:

Nearly two-thirds of Massachusetts public schools are falling short of performance targets under the state’s new evaluation system, even as struggling urban districts achieve solid gains, state officials reported Wednesday.

In Boston, as well as other city districts, results on the standardized tests were mixed. Scores among 10th-graders rose to new heights. But in the lower grades, results were largely stagnant, and in a number of cases dropped.

Statewide, about 1,000 of nearly 1,600 public schools did not meet the new targets on the standardized tests this year, ­either for “high-needs” students, such as those with disabilities or from low-income families, or for the student body as a whole.

Here at City Connects, we are especially proud of four of our Springfield Public Schools–these ” turnaround” schools made double-digit gains in scores over the last two years: Homer Street, Zanettti, Brookings, and Gerena.

Our evaluation shows that students in City Connects schools outperform their Boston peers in middle school and achieve close to state proficiency levels in both English and Math MCAS. After leaving a City Connects school at the end of grade 5, significant long-term effects continue through eighth grade. Learn more about our impact on MCAS scores here.

For more information:

MCAS Scores and the Achievement Gap

The 2011 MCAS scores were released last week (check out our roundup of the news). The Boston Globe published its own review of the results yesterday in which they examined the scores by income level. The article, “MCAS scores appear stuck in income gap,” found that “schools with substantial numbers of low-income students are consistently failing to meet academic benchmarks under the No Child Left Behind law, with more than 60 percent falling short of standards in English, and math, and lagging well behind schools with wealthier students.”

The article cited language barriers, lack of after-school care, homelessness, and mobility as “out-of-school” factors affecting low-income students. These are exactly the types of supports and services to which our School Site Coordinators connect students and families, in addition to enrichment opportunities like music, art, and athletic programs. We believe that this comprehensive method of delivering student support makes students better able to learn and thrive in school.

Our results show that City Connects (CCNX) students outperform their Boston Public School (BPS) peers on MCAS English Language Arts and Math, even after they leave a City Connects school and go on to middle school. The graphs below shows MCAS ELA results using 2009-10 data; City Connects students approach the state average by grade 8. To give you an idea of low-income status, 82% of our City Connects students in 2009-10 were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. We think this is strong evidence that student support is a powerful mechanism that can help narrow the achievement gap.


2011 MCAS Results Released

Today, the results of the 2011 statewide standardized tests, MCAS, were announced. You can see full results and search for scores among school districts across the state here. While there is still room for improvement, the good news is that scores increased at 16 of the 35 underperforming schools across Massachusetts.

Congratulations to the many City Connects schools in Boston and Springfield who saw improvements in the number of students scoring proficient or advanced–check out a Boston Globe graphic here.

For more information:

City Connects in Education Week’s ‘Futures of School Reform’ blog

As we wrote about earlier this week, Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville has been writing this week about the importance of addressing non-school factors in education reform. Today, he authored a blog post, “Bolder, Broader Action: Strategies for Closing the Poverty Gap,” that mentions City Connects as a successful strategy for addressing out-of-school factors. As Secretary Reville wrote:

“… the challenge now is to translate our analysis into action by implementing a series of strategies, coupled with measurable outcomes, to ensure success.”

We feel strongly about evidence informing our practice and have conducted rigorous evaluation of our work. Learn more about City Connects’ positive impact on:

Boston Public Schools “Acceleration Agenda Dashboard” Unveiled

Superintendent Johnson
Boston Public Schools Superintendent Carol Johnson

In a move to make more data available about the progress of  Boston Public Schools, the district has unveiled an”Acceleration Agenda Dashboard.” It includes information about the district’s strategies, as well as its progress toward four target goals:

  • Strengthen teaching and school leadership
  • Replicate success and turn around low-performing schools
  • Redesign district services for effectiveness, efficiency, and equity
  • Deepen partnerships with parents, students, and the community

An example of information available on the dashboard: the goal “Reading to learn in grade 3” is measured by the number of third-graders proficient or advanced in the MCAS English Language Arts statewide test. Currently, the dashboard shows that 37% of students achieve this goal, which is shy of the 59% target. One goal on the dashboard that shows success is “Academic growth for students with disabilities.” The number of special education students demonstrating high or very high growth on the MCAS Math exam is 36%, in excess of the 32% target.

The district says that the site will be updated as new data become available, eventually drilling down to provide individual school-level data.