What we're asking in education

What are the benefits of after-school programming for children?

Effective after-school programming can bring a wide range of benefits to youth, families, and communities. Programs have the potential to develop pro-social skills, improve academic performance, reduce risky behaviors, promote health and wellness, and provide a safe, structured environment for the children of working parents. Understanding conditions that are necessary to improve outcomes for children through after-school programming is critical in effectively filling service gaps for children and families in need. For over fifteen years, PRG has conducted outcomes research and annual evaluations of an after-school program in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Results from a First-Year Evaluation of Academic Impact of an After-School Program for At-Risk Students

This paper, published in the Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk in 2007, presents the research findings of an evaluation of the academic impacts of 21st Century Learning Centers (CCLC) in Louisiana. Using quasi-experimental design, the article operationalizes academic achievement as core and subject test performance on nationally standardized pre- and posttests (Iowa Test of Basic Skills; ITBS). Based on previous research and evaluation requirements, the article (a) employs outcomes of interest to policymakers (standardized test scores); (b) uses program attendance as a key independent variable; (c) uses efficient methods to control for extraneous impact on the dependent variable; and (d) focuses the evaluation on a specific group of students—at-risk children in Louisiana. Findings indicate that the 21st CCLC program is having a positive academic impact on participants who attend the program for 30 days or more. Further, impacts are shared across specific grantee programs, specific subjects, and subgroupings of students. Finally, the study finds that intensity of attendance is positively related to academic impact.

Jenner E., Jenner L., Results from a First-Year Evaluation of Academic Impact of an After-School Program for At-Risk Students, Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk (2007), doi: 10.1080/10824660701261144

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Student Perspectives on the Influences of Participation in an Afterschool Program

At the end of each academic year, PRG research analysts conduct focus groups with roughly thirty elementary and middle school children to explore how an afterschool program is influencing school performance, attitudes toward school, and social-emotional capacities.  Focus groups consistently suggest that the afterschool program positively impacts academic skills, by providing dedicated time for students to complete homework in a structured environment and time to review class lessons outside of school, often with the support of peers and instructors. Each year, conversations touch on several themes concerning participants’ understanding of social-emotional skills such as cooperation, empathy, and managing conflict. Although participants are not always able to clearly define concepts related to these social skills, they are often able to provide examples of why these skills are important or instances in which they have used these skills during afterschool programming.

Can simulation-based science learning in elementary school improve STEM engagement and achievement?

Jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) pay better on average and are projected to grow at higher rates than non-STEM jobs. Virtually all STEM occupations require post-secondary education, yet fewer than 20% of American students obtain a STEM-related degree. Persistent academic engagement is a well-established predictor of academic achievement. While research has documented the decline in STEM interest among students from elementary to high school, little evidence exists to demonstrate why student perceptions of STEM curricula and careers change during this time. Opportunities to interact with problem-based, immersive, or simulation-based learning in elementary school may motivate students to engage with and better achieve in STEM subjects. Employing approaches that range from large-scale cluster-level RCTs to in-depth qualitative interviews with students and teachers in the Mid-Atlantic region, PRG’s research examines the potential impact of simulation-based science learning experiences on students’ engagement with science, self-efficacy in science, and interest in pursuing careers in the STEM field. PRG’s work has also explored the classroom conditions under which simulation-based learning experiences are most effective and why.

Teachers’ Perspectives on Improving Simulation-Based Science Learning for the Classroom

EngiLearn, a computer-simulation based ocean science curriculum and professional development program, was piloted in fifth-grade classrooms in Virginia. Through feedback questionnaires administered after the pilot, science teachers provided insight into the feasibility of the program for classroom-based teaching and the conditions under which it could be improved. Findings indicate that students were highly motivated by the new technology and readily engaged with the more innovative and collaborative aspects of the curriculum. Reading and writing components of the intervention, however, were not dynamic enough to engage students with varied literacy levels.

PRG’s research examines the potential impact of simulation-based science learning experiences on students’ engagement with science, self-efficacy in science, and interest in pursuing careers in the STEM field. Through the implementation of a large-scale randomized controlled trial (RCT) from 2014-2018 and a pilot study that will continue through 2020, PRG is contributing to the evidence base surrounding effective interventions to improve STEM achievement and engagement.

EngiLearn. PRG collected data from over 2,500 students across 30 schools for this Investing in Innovation (i3)-funded RCT. Findings from the study did not indicate that the simulation-based science learning experience improved engagement and self-efficacy in science, however, qualitative analysis from teacher interviews provided useful feedback for intervention improvements to better align with classroom instruction that would be enjoyable for a diverse population of students

Aquatic Investigators 3.0. The findings from the i3-funded research has provided a foundation for a subsequent NSF-funded pilot study that will examine the potential effectiveness of a series of STEM simulation-based learning experiences on students’ engagement with science, self-efficacy in science, and interest in pursuing a STEM career. In addition to assessing the intervention’s effect on these outcomes, PRG’s evaluation will examine the relationship between these social and emotional learning outcomes and effective methods for measuring them.

Can a mentoring program aimed at developing social and emotional skills improve educational outcomes?

Literature suggests that there is a window of opportunity to prevent the consequences of disengagement for students who may be on the path towards school dropout, by developing targeted interventions that focus on the transitions into middle and high school. PRG is conducting several studies to examine the efficacy of school transition and mentoring programs that aim to improve academic outcomes, social and emotional skills, and school connectedness.

Peer Group Connection – High School (PGC-HS)

PRG is conducting an individual-level RCT with 9th grade students in rural North Carolina schools. PGC is a high school transition and cross-age peer mentoring program that aims to improve academic outcomes, social and emotional skills, and school connectedness. The sample is fully enrolled and consists of 1,532 students.

Peer Group Connection – Middle School (PGC-MS)

PRG is conducting an individual-level RCT with 6th grade students in New Jersey, Maryland and rural North Carolina middle schools. PGC-MS is a middle school transition and cross-age peer mentoring program that aims to improve academic outcomes, social and emotional skills, and school connectedness. The sample is fully enrolled and consists of 1,530 students.

Achievement Mentoring (AM)

PRG will investigate the efficacy of AM, a one-to-one adult mentoring intervention for 10th and 11th graders identified as high-risk for dropping out of school. The project will serve high-need students in up to 20 high schools in low-income communities in rural North Carolina and urban districts on the East Coast. PRG will conduct an experimental study to measure impacts on social-emotional learning, educational mindsets, and student engagement. PRG aims to enroll approximately 800 students into the study, beginning in September 2020.

Impact on Antecedents of Student Dropout in a Cross-Age Peer Mentoring Program

Funded through an Investing in Innovation (i3) development grant, The Peer Connection Study, investigates the impact of Peer Group Connection – High School (PGC-HS) on student outcomes related to dropout prevention. Designed through a robust evaluator-practitioner relationship, the Peer Connection Study involves complementary impact and implementation studies that aim to assess the efficacy of the program as implemented during the grant period.

PRG has submitted an abstract to SREE (Society for Research and Educational Effectiveness) 2020 to present findings from this study. The presentation abstract will be available here in December, following acceptance.