April 13, 2017Partner Material

MDRC: Using Research Evidence to Strengthen Support for At-Risk Students A Case Study of Communities In Schools

Nonprofit/ Nonprofit Fellows/ 2017/

One in four public schools in America is a high-poverty school — one where more than 75 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. Many of these students face serious challenges such as housing instability and hunger, and the high levels of stress in their daily lives can affect their school attendance and performance. While high school graduation rates have increased nationwide, students from poor families still lag far behind other students.

Communities In Schools (CIS) works to integrate a variety of support services for students to keep them on a path to graduation. CIS takes a tiered approach to service provision: some services are broadly available to all students at a school and others are directed at those most at risk of dropping out. CIS has partnered with evaluators over the years to better understand the implementation and effects of its services; one such recent evaluation was conducted by MDRC.

This brief takes a closer look at the CIS model and describes how the organization has used evaluation findings to enhance and modify its services, a story that could provide important lessons to many states and school districts in the years to come. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA — the law that replaced No Child Left Behind) pushes schools to adopt evidence-based practices and integrated student support services like those in the CIS model, and the steps CIS has taken to improve that model may help schools and districts with their own continuous improvement efforts.