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Impacts of after-school programs on student outcomes

Additional Info

  • Authors: Susan Goerlich Zief, Sheri Lauver, Rebecca A Maynard
  • Published date: 2006-05-07
  • Coordinating group(s): Education
  • Type of document: Review
  • Title: Impacts of after-school programs on student outcomes
  • See the full review:

This review sought to answer the following questions with the available high quality experimental studies of programs that combined academic programming with other activities such as youth development or recreation:

  1. To what extent and in what ways does access to after-school programs impact student context (i.e., student location, supervision, and safety), participation in enriching activities, behaviors, social and emotional development, and academic outcomes for youth?
  2. Do the effects of after-school programs vary among subgroups of youth defined by their baseline characteristics?
  3. Among the program models and settings evaluated, do some seem more beneficial to youth than others? What are the distinguishing characteristics of those more and less successful programs?

An extensive search of the literature uncovered only five studies that met the inclusion criteria for this review. The five evaluated programs were fairly homogenous along many dimensions, including their target populations and settings—primarily elementary youth living in lower- income, urban settings. These similarities prevented an analysis of the variation in impacts by youth characteristics or program settings.

The programs themselves placed different emphases on promoting positive behaviors and reducing negative ones. However, it does not appear that any one approach was more or less effective at contributing towards improved behavioral outcomes or other estimated effects. The studies included in this review also provide no evidence that any one program model is more effective at changing students’ context or improving academic outcomes.

A complementary process evaluation of the Cooke Middle School After-School Recreation Program revealed some aspects of that program model were successful at improving future aspirations and participation in activities (Lauver, 2002). Program youth had significantly higher college aspirations than nonparticipants, and this finding suggested that the relationship participants developed with a college student volunteer at the program who shared many background characteristics with the youth was important. Furthermore, the program had a significant, positive impact on increasing youth participation in strength training activities, a primary goal of the program and consistent program feature.

The estimated pooled effects from two program evaluations included in this review suggest that participation positively influenced the participation in athletic and art/music/dance/drama activities. While the effects are small (less than .10 of a standard deviation), they are significant (p = .04, .02, respectively). This finding is encouraging as such changes are possibly necessary to support participants’ further growth and development.

The pooled results from three after-school programs revealed that the incidence of self-care decreased by more than .5 standard deviations (p = .03). It is important to consider that these findings are pooled from three small sites of one program—the Maryland After-School Community Grant Program—and should not be generalized to other programs. And additional data from one of the studies revealed that the program had a significant, negative effect on peer associations. Programs may need to pay attention to the kind of supervision they are offering— students may be supervised but are not in an environment conducive to promoting positive behaviors.

While the overall average standardized reading test scores show that the programs did not contribute to higher reading achievement for participants (d = .028, p = .67), after-school programs may be having more of an impact on raising grades. However, these impacts were quite small and not significant (d = .083, p = .16). Yet they are of interest given that they present the second largest measured pooled effects. A logic model for understanding the mechanisms for changing outcomes as a result of participation in after-school programs suggests that higher grades might occur after changes in students’ behaviors and social and emotional outcomes (see Appendix 1). However, our analysis shows stronger effects for improved grades than for the behaviors that could impact grades, like improved school attendance and decreased television viewing.

Notably, looking across the 97 impacts measured by the five studies included in this review reveals primarily null findings—84 percent showed no significant differences between the program and control youth. Also, not one of these studies reported impacts for parents. In this era of welfare reform, it might be important to understand how this type of intervention targeting low-income youth may impact parents’ job attendance and retention or parental levels of stress while balancing the demands of work and child care. Such parental outcomes could arguably mediate student social and emotional, behavioral, and academic outcomes.

See the full review

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