Making the Grade: A Progress Report and Next Steps for Integrated Student Supports

Research BriefHealthy SchoolsDec 7 2017

In recent years, the education field has come to recognize the role of schools in supporting student health, safety, and well-being by developing integrated student support initiatives. These offer specific services and supports to students and their families to build a foundation for academic success. These initiatives, referred to as community schools and wraparound supports as well as integrated student supports models, help schools connect struggling children with secure housing, medical care, food assistance, tutoring, and other critical supports. While they are understood to be vital components of community efforts on behalf of children and families, they also further our nation’s collective efforts to close education opportunity gaps, raise graduation rates, and better compete on the international stage.

Child Trends evaluated these initiatives in a 2014 overview of the evidence regarding integrated student supports (ISS)—implementation models in which schools secure and deliver coordinated, school-based supports that target various barriers to student achievement.[1] In general, ISS relies on five essential elements to support service delivery: community partnerships, student support coordination, integration into the school setting, needs assessments, and data tracking. The 2014 overview clarified that ISS was an emerging field of practice. With limited rigorous evaluations, Child Trends’ researchers posited that ISS was a promising way to improve academic outcomes and see a substantial return on investment.

Since then, interest in ISS models has grown. Educational achievement remains a major vehicle for individual and family success. Although the high school graduation rate has risen over the past decade, the United States still lags behind other countries, and large disparities persist in academic outcomes. ISS models aim to bolster academic performance by recognizing the importance of addressing students’ nonacademic needs. Indeed, the 2015 reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA) encourages implementation of ISS for the first time. As written, ESSA now expressly permits schools and school districts to incorporate ISS into Title I targeted assistance programs for eligible students at risk of failing state academic achievement standards, and into Title IV, Part A activities that support student health and safety. Further, ESSA now makes available new federal formula dollars to states (under Title VI, Part A) to implement models that address student health, which could be utilized to support broader ISS models.

With ISS now codified in federal law and expanding across the country, school districts and principals are in need of a more current review of the evidence to guide school implementation. To this end, Child Trends updated its review with a synthesis of findings from relevant resources—including evaluations, child development research and theory, implementation reports, interviews with principals, benefit/cost analyses, and analyses using the Social Genome Microsimulation model.

Key Findings

Based on this updated review, the authors are optimistic about the effectiveness of ISS. The report highlights a growing evidence base in support of ISS while serving as a reminder to the field that the evidence is not yet complete.

  • Evaluation studies find a mix of positive and null (non-significant) findings, but there are virtually no negative effects across the evaluations.
  • Several strong evaluations find support for particular ISS models, including City Connects, Communities in Schools in Chicago, the Harlem Children’s Zone’s Promise Academy, and Diplomas Now.
  • New evidence from an application of a microsimulation model, which allows for a forecast of long-term outcomes—as well as evidence from four benefit/cost studies—finds that students’ participation in effective ISS interventions will have long-term benefits.
  • In addition to this evidence, the ISS model continues to rest on a solid base of research and best practices from child development research and theory.
  • While the five essential components of ISS models (Figure 1) continue to support service delivery, identification of the specific, concrete elements that comprise successful implementation of each ISS component—and how they are implemented—is evolving slowly among researchers and educators. This work represents the critical frontier for research and practice.
  • High-quality program implementation is important and will require adequate resources.
  • Nonacademic outcomes are rarely measured as part of the evaluations, even though they are central to the conceptual model, which limits our understanding of the mechanisms driving ISS success.

Photo courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

[1] Moore, K.A., Caal, S., Carney, R., Lippman, L., Li, W., et al. (2014). Making the Grade: Assessing the Evidence for Integrated Student Supports. Child Trends. Bethesda, MD. Available at: