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IES Grant

Title: Centering the Whole Child: Understanding the Role of Comprehensive Student Support in Promoting Student Learning and Equity in Indiana
Center: NCER Year: 2023
Principal Investigator: Leigh, Yan Awardee: Boston College
Program: Using Longitudinal Data to Support State Education Policymaking      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (09/01/2023 – 08/31/2026) Award Amount: $1,000,000
Type: Exploration Award Number: R305S230013

Co-Principal Investigators: Walsh, Mary; Dearing, Eric; Kim, Deoksoon; Clarke, Michelle

Partner Institution: Indiana Department of Education

Purpose: The Mary E. Walsh Center for Thriving Children at Boston College and the Indiana Department of Education will collaborate to understand the potential role of comprehensive student support in closing the gap in access to resources and helping students and schools succeed. This project team aims to examine the extent to which academic achievement and behavioral outcomes for marginalized students have changed since the COVID-19 pandemic disruptions and then focus on investigating the impact of one form of comprehensive student support many schools throughout the state have implemented—the City Connects intervention—on closing achievement gaps for marginalized students in schools.

Project Activities: The research team will first examine the extent to which academic achievement and behavioral outcomes for marginalized students in Indiana have changed since the pandemic disruptions while also seeking to understand the types of support districts are providing to close established and growing achievement gaps. Using this information as a foundation, the project team will then investigate the impact of the City Connects intervention on closing achievement gaps for marginalized students in schools. Building on these quantitative analyses, the team will also collect qualitative data to help Indiana decisionmakers understand how and why outcomes may be shifting for marginalized groups in City Connects schools.

Products: The primary products of this project will center on a deeper understanding of the role of comprehensive student support on the success of students from marginalized communities. The project team will produce peer-reviewed publications, research reports, and social media updates to disseminate their findings. The project team will also provide a specific set of presentations and materials for City Connects program managers and coordinators in schools to support training and professional development. Based on a summary of the key findings, the project team will produce additional dissemination products (such as policy briefs) that reach a broader group of education stakeholders, such as school administrators and policymakers in Indiana and nationally.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The project will take place across elementary and middle schools in the state of Indiana.

Sample: This project will include data from students attending Indiana public and private schools from 2015–16 through the 2024–25 school year. The first research question will consist of all schools in Indiana. For the second research question, the researchers will compare student subgroups from over 70 Indiana schools that implemented City Connects in the 2021–2022 and 2022–2023 school years with subgroups of students from selected comparison schools in the state. The researchers will survey and interview teachers, principals, and program coordinators from within the City Connects schools as part of the second research question.

Key Issue, Program, or Policy: Indiana has prioritized addressing existing and growing inequities in resources and academic outcomes for historically marginalized groups, especially because these inequities have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although all student groups experienced declines in achievement from pre-pandemic times, decreases in proficiency were greater for African American students, English language learners (ELL), and economically disadvantaged students. While students from such marginalized backgrounds exhibit significant developmental strengths, they are also subject to a number of structural barriers, limiting their access to high-quality resources inside and outside of school. Harnessing school district and local community resources, City Connects addresses the unique strengths and needs of every student in a school across a variety of areas (such as academic, social-emotional behavioral, health, and family). The state has acknowledged the role of comprehensive student support systems in addressing these systemic inequalities and is interested in exploring the extent to which schools that have adopted these strategies through the City Connects program have narrowed these disparities.

Research Design and Methods: Using an embedded mixed methods design, the project team will integrate quantitative and qualitative approaches to address the research questions. The quantitative evidence will include descriptive and correlational analyses along with a quasi-experimental design (difference-in-differences). These analyses will compare changes in outcomes for schools implementing City Connects relative to comparison schools. The researchers will use thematic analysis for qualitative data, and all data sources will be synthesized.

Control Condition: The project team will compare outcomes for student subgroups over time between students in Indiana City Connects schools and their peers in non-City Connects schools. They will focus on comparisons between African American and White students, ELL and non-ELL students, as well as economically disadvantaged and non-economically disadvantaged students. In addition to the subgroup analysis, they will also explore within-subgroup heterogeneity.

Key Measures: The project team will focus on mathematics and English language arts achievement as measured by state standardized tests, along with attendance and suspension in grades 3 through 8 as outcome measures. The team will also collect information (such as student needs, support, and resources) directly from principals, teachers, and program coordinators via surveys and interviews.

Data Analytic Strategy: The project team will use an embedded mixed-methods design with concurrent data collection. The project team will first descriptively present changes in key outcomes for schools implementing City Connects and comparison schools. Schools operating City Connects were not randomly assigned to the intervention; therefore, the team will use quasi-experimental methodologies to explore the quantitative research components. Specifically, the project team will use difference-in-differences models to estimate changes in the given outcome variables for City Connects schools relative to changes in comparison schools, based on the common trend assumption. The qualitative components of the project will analyze survey and interview data and will be used to support the interpretation and understanding of the quantitative analysis.

State Decision Making: This project team will provide actionable information to the state of Indiana to support decision-making about comprehensive student support and a whole-child approach to support student learning. Findings will be of value to Indiana and other states that want to improve equity in access to high-quality education and academic achievement through effectively establishing a system for comprehensive student support. Specifically, the findings help Indiana as they consider whether and to what extent City Connects—as an evidence-based, comprehensive student support program—facilitates the success of students, particularly marginalized student subgroups identified as the state's priorities, and whether modifications should be considered. Secondly, findings offer guidance to school districts on considering and adopting the comprehensive student support approach such as City Connects, as well as target assistance in implementing comprehensive student support in schools and developing best practices for student support. Thirdly, findings can help Indiana allocate federal and state resources related to student support more efficiently to narrow achievement gaps and engage local stakeholders to improve student support in schools.

Related IES Projects: Assessing the Efficacy and Implementation of City Connects: A Systemic Approach to Student Support (R305A170471) and SLDS grants to IndianaP-20 Comprehensive Data System (R372A070013),  Indiana Education and Workforce Data System (R372A120027), Indiana's Next Level SLDS (R372A200027)