Dr. Moore is a senior scholar and senior program area director for youth development at Child Trends since 1982. Dr. Moore was the founding chair of the Effective Programs and Research Task Force for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. She currently serves on the Evaluation Advisory Committee for the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, and the evaluation and research committee for Big Brothers Big Sisters. She is currently working on multiple evaluation projects, including evaluations of Abriendo Puertas, Pregnancy Prevention Approaches, Personal Responsibility Education Program, and Trauma Systems Therapy for KVC. Dr. Moore earned her Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Michigan.
Educational achievement is not only critical to later workforce success; but education contributes to adults’ physical, mental, and social health as well. Unfortunately, educational success is not assured, especially for children from families and communities that are economically and socially distressed. These students tend to have numerous unmet needs that interfere with their school success.
While tutoring and strong academic instruction are important to educational success, experience demonstrates that it’s not enough. Fortunately, the importance of non-academic competencies and strengths for academic success is being recognized. Students can’t succeed in school if they cannot see the board, and they can’t concentrate if they fear being bullied. Also, students whose families are homeless and adolescents who are depressed aren’t going to be fully engaged in learning.
A new model has evolved in many communities to provide the kinds of integrated, comprehensive, child-focused supports that many children need to succeed academically. Integrated Student Supports (ISS) approaches take varied forms, but they share a common goal — they offer individualized supports to the child in the school setting and/or in the community; in addition, supports are offered to families.
Child Trends examined numerous ISS programs “on the ground” and developed a theory of change (below) to describe the common elements of the ISS approach, based on what we learned. The programs examined include Communities In Schools, City Connects, Beacons Schools, and the Children’s Aid Society. These programs serve 1.5 million students, of whom three-quarters receive free or reduced price lunch. We have shared the theory of change that we developed with numerous practitioners, and they have affirmed that it describes what they are doing.
Then, Child Trends tested this model against what we know from child development research (see p. 21), from evaluation studies, and from analyses of return on investment. Importantly, our review indicates that the integrated student supports model is not just something that communities like; but it is deeply and properly embedded in research about how children develop. For example, it is student-centered. It isn’t focused on adults, but on the specific needs of individual students. In addition, ISS models recognize that students live in families, schools, communities, and the larger world, which is a basic tenet of the ecological model. The lifecourse model, which recognizes that early experiences affect children’s outcomes later in life, is a working assumption of ISS programs. And, ISS explicitly recognizes the whole child perspective, understanding, for example, that physical and emotional health affect how well children can learn, and that how well children learn affects their health.
While the details vary, five core components were identified. To my surprise, two of them rely on collecting and using data! First, ISS programs do a needs assessment to identify issues that students, families, or communities have that can impact successful outcomes. Importantly, schools then actually use this information to develop community partnerships and coordinate student supports that meet the needs of individual students. In addition, efforts to support student success are integrated within the school. This means that the activities of school staff, administrative staff, ISS staff, and service providers are coordinated on behalf of the student. Finally, data are collected to monitor the success of the model. While this should feel seamless and comprehensive to the student, it is in fact very intentional and planful.
At present, evaluation data are emerging and are generally promising. One finding has emerged that echoes what we know about child care, early education, and after school programs – quality matters. In fact, one study found that programs of modest quality were no different than no program. Moreover, so far, several studies of the return on investment for ISS have found very positive returns — $10 or more for a dollar invested. These analyses include the cost of implementing and coordinating but not the costs of services provided outside of the ISS program, a decision that aligns with the ISS theory of change.
As a researcher and evaluator, I would urge that more research, evaluation, and cost-benefit analyses be conducted on this model. But the important thing to share is that this is a model deserving of further attention. It is a model that has evolved in community schools; it aligns with what we know about child and youth development; it has an emerging evidence base; and there is a commitment in the field to data and evaluation. As such, it is a promising approach to addressing poverty and inequality.