About one million students drop out of school yearly. Communities In Schools (CIS), a program active in about 2,500 schools in high-poverty areas of the United States, is trying to reduce that number. Through its network of local affiliates, CIS brings a range of what it calls Level 1 services—from clothing distribution to career fairs—to the entire student body at its schools. The organization also provides what it calls Level 2 support—targeted help in academics, behavior management, social skills and other areas—to individual students at heightened risk of dropping out.

These two studies examine the impact of CIS’s work. One, a randomized controlled trial, compares two otherwise identical groups of students eligible for Level 2 services: those who received the services and those who did not because there were too few Level 2 slots for everyone. The other, based on a “quasi-experimental” design, looks at the impact over three years of the CIS program as a whole (both Level 1 and Level 2 services) on the students at 53 elementary, middle and high schools.

The researchers found a mixture of positive results and no effects. The quasi-experimental study found that attendance rates at CIS elementary schools improved by a statistically significant amount above that of comparison schools. The randomized controlled study found that the Level 2 efforts helped students in such areas as attitudes toward education, although they did not have a measureable impact on academic outcomes such as grades.

The studies also suggest the importance of keeping high-risk students engaged over the long term in services to help them, especially in light of the fact that the randomized controlled trial found that the highest-need students in Level 2 groupings did not receive more help than Level 2 peers with fewer needs. In response to the evaluation findings, CIS has made a number of changes to its programming, including introducing a third tier of services providing more intensive support to the students with the greatest need. The reports offer insights for the field of “integrated student support”—that is, programs that bring outside services into schools. One is the necessity of both assessing the quality of the services and making sure they reach the students who most need the assistance offered. Another is the potential benefit of beginning intensive services to children at important turning points in their school careers, such as 6th grade and 9th grade.

 Points of Interest

  • It can be challenging for integrated student support organizations to monitor the quality of services offered by outside organizations.
    A challenge for integrated student support programs: monitoring the quality of services they bring into schools.
  • Sixth- and ninth-grade are turning points for kids. These milestone years may also be the opportune moment for offering support services to those at the greatest risk of dropping out.
    Study of @cisnational : 6th/9th grades may be ripe moments to start support for kids at high risk of dropping out.