Study points to outside help for lowering dropout rate

SCHOOLS: Child Trends says Integrated Student Support Systems raise success rates

of the GatewayMarch 5, 2014 

A new study shows an integrated approach to student learning can lower dropout rates.

The study, by Child Trends, a nationwide nonprofit, showed that Integrated Student Support programs improve student success. ISS is a school-based approach to achievement that looks at academic as well as outside factors.

Tackling outside issues, as well as academic problems is a way to lower dropout rates, according to the study.

The report estimates ISS programs reach 1.5 million students in 3,000 different schools nationwide. Locally, Communities in Schools of Peninsula uses an ISS approach. The program is in 10 Peninsula School District schools. The statewide chapter of Communities in Schools serves 54,000 students in 160 schools.

Executive Director Colleen Speer said Communities in Schools of Peninsula aims for a “whole child” approach. She said they work to bring students to their appropriate grade level, and it’s as much about academic as it is about outside barriers.

ISS is sort of a new catchphrase, Speer said. It’s a term that opens the door for an approach that includes outside factors, not just academics. Students may be in need of family counseling, career preparation or help with medication.

The study, named “Making the Grade: Assessing the Evidence for Integrated Student Support,” says investment in a student-centered approach has a high return. Communities in Schools of Washington’s internal numbers are an example of that high rate of return.

Internal data from CIS shows 99 percent of potential dropouts served stayed in school, while 96 percent of secondary students were promoted or graduated, according to a news release from the Washington chapter.

The Child Trends study is encouraging for Speer and the CISP organization.

“It really validates the model that we’ve been working at for the last couple of decades,” Speer said.

The Communities in Schools approach comes from the site coordinator. Their role is to be the point of contact inside the school and to assess student needs. Then, the site coordinator brings in community volunteers to help with mentorship and tutoring.

Speer said that’s the importance of the I in CIS — it puts the community “in” the school.

“(It’s about) trying to solve the problem at the school, where the kid spends most their time,” Speer said. “It’s really about looking at that (student) and meeting that child one-on-one.”

Speer would like to see the program expand. Communities in Schools of Peninsula is in 10 of Peninsula School District 15 schools and has half-time site coordinators in five schools. Financial restraints keep the program from expanding, she said.

Based on need, most of the programs are on the Key Peninsula, Speer said. Yet ISS models are not determined by geography or even need.

All students could benefit from an integrated support system, Speer said.

“I think every school could benefit from this model,” she said.

Reporter Karen Miller can be reached at 253-358-4155 or by email at karen.miller@gateline.com. Follow her on Twitter, @gateway_karen.

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