New Study Highlights Promising Approach for Closing Education Achievement Gaps

February 25, 2014

Bethesda, Md.— More than 60 percent of America’s black and Hispanic school children are living in poor or low-income families, and more than one in five children overall are in poverty, putting many of these students at risk for educational failure. Child Trends reported today on a promising strategy for providing at-risk students the academic and non-academic supports necessary for educational success.

Child Trends conducted an extensive review of the research and evaluations underlying Integrated Student Support (ISS) approaches operating in elementary, middle, and high schools across the country. ISS approaches promote academic success by securing and coordinating supports tailored to the specific needs of at-risk students. These supports can include tutoring and mentoring, linking students to physical and mental health care, and connecting their families to parent education, family counseling, and food banks. A key component of all these models is the use of assessments to identify supports needed and data to monitor progress over time.

“Overall, we found that ISS is solidly grounded in decades of research on child and youth development, there is promising initial evidence that ISS models improve academic outcomes, and there are preliminary studies finding a positive return on investment,” said Kristin Anderson Moore, Ph.D., senior scholar Child Trends and lead author of the study. “Because the evidence is both promising and preliminary, we urge the field to continue to refine and test ISS models.”

Leading organizations with ISS approaches include: Beacon Initiative, Children’s Aid Society Community Schools, City Connects, Comer School Development Program, Communities In Schools, Say Yes to Education, and School of the 21st Century. Child Trends estimates that about 75 percent of the students served by an ISS approach are black or Hispanic, and largely from low-income families. The largest provider is Communities In Schools, which serves 1.3 million K-12 students in 2,200 schools.

Core Findings

In an extensive scholarly report and shorter white paper, Child Trends reported the following findings:

  • There is emerging evidence that ISS models can contribute to student academic progress as measured by grade promotion, credit completion, math achievement, overall GPA; attendance, and for reading achievement. This finding is based on 11 rigorous evaluations completed to date; but the evidence is more consistent from quasi-experimental studies as opposed to the more rigorous random-controlled evaluations.
  • Preliminary studies find a positive return on investment in ISS. To date, there have been three studies of the long-term payback for investments in ISS. While there were variations in study methods, all of the studies found positive ROIs, ranging from more than $4 to $15 saved for every $1 invested.
  • ISS, as a student-centered approach, is firmly grounded in child and youth development research. ISS models embrace a “whole child” perspective that recognizes the importance of a child’s health and safety, socio-emotional development, behavior, and relationships to his or her educational success. ISS also recognizes that educational success is affected by multiple contexts, in and out of school. Research clearly indicates that the likelihood of academic success is enhanced by a more comprehensive set of supports.
  • ISS is also aligned well with empirical research on the varied factors that promote educational success. A large body of empirical research, as well as new analyses by Child Trends, indicate that school success (or failure) is the product of multiple and varied factors at the individual, family, and school levels. This suggests that providing an array of academic and non-academic supports in a coordinated fashion, as ISS does, is a more effective strategy than focusing on one, or a small set of, supports.
  • High-quality implementation is important to achieve positive outcomes. This finding is consistent with studies of early childhood and after-school programs. However, evidence from ISS implementation evaluations, about which specific practices and/or services contribute to better outcomes, is mixed and inconclusive, warranting further study. 

Achievement Disparities and School Success

Disparities in test scores between poor and wealthier U.S. students have grown in the past ten years; the income gap is now larger than the black-white achievement gap. However, black and Hispanic children are approximately twice as likely as white children to be living in poverty, with the myriad disadvantages that poverty implies. Both black and Hispanic students are at least twice as likely as white students to drop out of high school. When it comes to attaining a bachelor’s degree, white students are 75 percent more likely to do so than are blacks and are more than one-and-a-half times more likely to do so than are their Hispanic peers.

“ISS approaches recognize that academic success depends on a range of factors, which makes these programs well suited for addressing the academic and non-academic needs of at-risk students, if they are implemented with quality,” added Moore. “These programs complement reform efforts to improve the academic performance of our schools.”

About the Study

Child Trends drew on research in child and youth development, examined the empirical research on the factors that affect school success, conducted additional quantitative analyses, examined existing program evaluations, and interviewed leading practitioners in the ISS field. Bloomberg Philanthropies and AT&T provided funding for the Child Trends’ research report and its dissemination.

About Child Trends:  Child Trends, based in Bethesda, Md., is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center that provides valuable information and insights on the well-being of children and youth. For more than 30 years, policymakers, funders, educators and service providers in the U.S. and around the world have relied on our data and analyses to improve policies and programs serving children and youth. Our work is supported by foundations; federal, state and local government agencies; and by nonprofit organizations. Child Trends has more than 100 employees and annual revenue of about $13 million.