Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Measuring Learning in Afterschool

Corey Newhouse
By Guest Blogger, Corey Newhouse of Public Profit

In this blog post, I explore the ways in which we can measure learning in afterschool. This requires two complementary approaches:
  1. Understanding the ways in which an afterschool program is structured to promote learning.
  2. Exploring the extent to which young people are actually learning.

Why focus on how programs are set up? Aren’t we really just interested in whether the kids are learning something? Yes! But…

Program evaluation is all about establishing a strong link between participation and outcomes. We want to be able to state that a young person got better at something while they were in an afterschool program because the program is structured to do this. Without this link, any good things that happen for kids is more likely the result of other things, like what they’re doing in school or their other extracurricular activities, rather than to the afterschool program.

First, select a self-assessment or observational tool that explore whether afterschool programs are structured to support learning. (See the Learning in Afterschool Crosswalk article for some examples.) Select a tool that incorporates measures of:
  • Whether young people have the opportunity to make meaningful choices;
  •  Whether they have regular chances to reflect on what they are doing;
  • The extent to which youth are encouraged to do more challenging things over time;
  • The ways in which youth have opportunities to present their work to others.
Depending on the ages of the kids in the program, a program-level assessment should also explore the program’s “paths to leadership” – the structured ways that youth can assume successively higher levels of autonomy and responsibility.

There are lots of options to document the extent to which young people are learning new things. First and foremost, ask the kids! With a little context setting, youth can articulate the new things they’ve learned in afterschool, whether through a survey or quick interview. Asking youth to respond to the statement “I got better at something I care about in this afterschool program” is a simple way to establish whether participants attribute their own growth to the afterschool program.

Consider incorporating rubrics into assessments of young people’s accomplishments. Rubrics document different levels of performance, helping young people assess their own progress and making external reviews (i.e., by staff members or peers) clear and consistent. Rubrics are terrifically flexible, and can be developed for presentations, final products or portfolios. There’s a very good, free, guide to developing rubrics from University of San Francisco and a wonkier version from SRI.

To support continuous program improvement, explore links between program structure and kids’ growth. Are youth in particular activities showing especially strong progress? Do kids credit a particular method or routine as a really big help? This kind of input can point the way to further enhancements to assure that all kids are learning in afterschool.
Corey Newhouse is Public Profit’s Founder and Principal.  Ms. Newhouse has a wide range of experience in evaluating programs that serve children and families. Ms. Newhouse earned her Bachelor’s degree from Columbia College and her Master’s degree from the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.

Prior to founding Public Profit, Corey managed the evaluation division of Hatchuel Tabernik and Associates (HTA) where she was responsible for managing and performing dozens of youth service organization evaluation contracts totaling more than $1 million annually. Subsequent to her work at HTA, Ms. Newhouse was a Senior Policy Associate at Children Now where she was responsible for the development and publication of several widely released research reports.

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