Posted by: afterschoolclub | October 21, 2010

Outcomes Linked to High-Quality Afterschool Programs: Longitudinal Findings from the Study of Promising Afterschool Programs

by Deborah Lowe Vandell, University of California, Irvine
Elizabeth R. Reisner, Policy Studies Associates, Inc.
Kim M. Pierce, University of California, Irvine

Summary
A new study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Policy Studies Associates, Inc. finds that regular participation in high-quality afterschool programs is linked to significant gains in standardized test scores and work habits as well as reductions in behavior problems among disadvantaged students. These gains help offset the negative impact of a lack of supervision after school. The two-year study followed almost 3,000 low-income, ethnically diverse elementary and middle school students from eight states in six major metropolitan centers and six smaller urban and rural locations. About half of the young people attended high-quality afterschool programs at their schools or in their communities.
Background on the Study
The Study of Promising Afterschool Programs was designed to examine relations between high-quality afterschool programs and desired academic and behavioral outcomes for low-income students. The study was grounded in an assets orientation, which understands that all young people, including those living in poverty, have capacities to make healthy, positive choices if given the opportunity. The research team reviewed previous research on child and youth development in order to depict the processes that lead to positive student outcomes, as shown in Exhibit 1.

Exhibit 1
Theoretical Linkages between Afterschool Experiences and
Student Outcomes in the Elementary and Middle Grades

Findings
Exhibit 2 summarizes the results of the statistical analyses.
Outcomes of Elementary School Students

Academic Outcomes
Elementary school students who regularly attended the high-quality afterschool programs (alone or in combination with other activities) across two years demonstrated significant gains in standardized math test scores, compared to their peers who were routinely unsupervised during afterschool hours. Regular participation in the programs was associated with gains of 20 percentiles in math achievement test scores over the two-year period for the Program Plus group relative to the Low Supervision group (effect size = .73) and 12 percentiles for the Program Only group relative to the Low Supervision group (effect size = .52.)

Program Only and Program Plus students also posted gains in teacher reports of work habits (effect sizes of .31 and .35, respectively) and task persistence (.23 and .30, respectively) over the two-year period. The students also reported gains in their work habits (effect sizes = .24 to .41). These gains in work habits and task persistence may have provided important support that contributed to the gains in math achievement.

Social Outcomes
Program Only and Program Plus students posted significant gains in teachers’ reports of students’ social skills with peers (effect sizes = .21 to .30) and prosocial behaviors (effect sizes = .21 to .23). Program Only and Program Plus students also posted significant reductions in aggressive behaviors with peers (effect sizes = .29 to .34).

Problematic Behaviors
Reductions in elementary students’ reports of misconduct (e.g., skipping school, getting into fights) over the two-year period were reported by the Program Only and Program Plus groups, relative to unsupervised students (effect sizes of .66 and .51, respectively).

Outcomes of Middle School Students
Academic Outcomes
Middle school students who regularly attended the high-quality afterschool programs (alone or in combination with other activities) across two years demonstrated significant gains in standardized math test scores, compared to their peers who were routinely unsupervised during afterschool hours. Regular participation in the programs was associated with gains of 12 percentiles in math achievement test scores over the two-year period, relative to students who were routinely unsupervised after school. These gains generated effect sizes of .57 for the Program Plus group and .55 for the Program Only group, relative to the Low Supervision group.

Middle school students who regularly participated in high-quality afterschool programs had significant gains in self-reported work habits, relative to unsupervised students (.33 for Program Plus and .20 for Program Only).

Behavioral Outcomes
Reductions in misconduct over the two-year period were reported by Program Plus and Program Only middle school students, relative to the Low Supervision group (effect sizes of .64 and .55, respectively).

Middle school students who regularly participated in afterschool programs also reported reduced use of drugs and alcohol, compared to those in the Low Supervision group. The effect sizes (.47 for Program Only and .67 for Program Plus) are four to six times larger than those reported in a recent meta-analysis of school-based substance-abuse prevention programs aimed at middle school students (Gottfredson & Wilson, 2003).

Conclusion
This study found positive outcomes among youth who regularly attended high-quality afterschool programs, either alone or in combination with varied sets of additional enrichment experiences available in their neighborhoods. In contrast, low supervision coupled with intermittent participation in an unstructured program of extra-curricular activities posed developmental risks to both elementary school and middle school youth.

The study focused on economically disadvantaged, minority youth, many of whose families were recent immigrants. The research team could not know for certain whether the same sets of experiences and outcomes would characterize youth in different cultural groups. The findings, however, demonstrate the benefits of continuous participation in high-quality afterschool programs, community activities, and supervised home settings for youth from economically disadvantaged families.

These findings suggest that plans for high-quality afterschool programming should span entire communities. When communities and program providers unite to recruit and engage youth in high-quality afterschool experiences, programs can provide the types of benefits described here

for the largest number of students. As found in this research, a lack of supervision after school is associated with seriously negative outcomes for disadvantaged youth. Working together, youth-service providers, schools, local governments, and civic organizations can reach out to youth who would otherwise be unsupervised after school and can match them with organized, adult-supervised activities in the afterschool hours.

References
Decker, P., Mayer, D., & Glazerman, S. (2004, June). The effects of Teach for America on students: Findings from a national evaluation. Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.

Finn, J., & Achilles, C. (1999). Tennessee’s class size study: Findings, implications, misconceptions. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 21(2), 97-109.

Gottfredson, D. C., & Wilson, D. B. (2003). Characteristics of effective school-based substance abuse prevention. Prevention Science, 4(1), 27-38.

Jenner, E., & Jenner, L. (2007). Results from a first-year evaluation of academic impacts of an after-school program for at-risk students. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 12(2), 213-237.

Kane, T. (2004, January). The impact of after-school programs: Interpreting the results of four recent evaluations (Working paper). New York: William T. Grant Foundation.

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