Stories from the Field
Los Angeles, CA
When the word best is part of your name, people expect great things from your afterschool programs. To ensure that they are living up to their name, the staff at LA’s BEST (Better Educated Students for Tomorrow), an afterschool enrichment program that offers out-of-school activities for elementary students at 180 sites across Los Angeles, California, have included evaluation in their program administration since the organization was created in 1988.
LA’s BEST has relied on external evaluations, such as a recently completed 4-year study, which found that students who participated in the program for 3 or more years were 20% less likely to drop out of school than their peers.1 Senior educational research analyst Jim Sass notes that the organization’s ability to provide evidence of effectiveness has helped it “grow, maintain funding and positive governmental relationships, and have constructive influence on afterschool policy and practice.”
While long-term external evaluations have helped the organization observe more general results and trends, ongoing internal evaluations are key to helping programs meet their goals. Internal evaluations monitor four general areas: 1) academics, 2) social development, 3) parent involvement and satisfaction, and 4) delinquency prevention and safety. Sass says that staff in the evaluation department try to make the data they collect directly useful to both the staff conducting observations and collecting data as well as the site staff who work at the programs being evaluated.
Successful evaluations depend on strong relationships between the evaluation department and the field staff who conduct site visits and collect data. They also require an effort to help all staff understand the reasons for collecting data. “This helps in managing the burdens of data collections and seeing opportunities to use the data,” Sass says.
For programs that are just beginning the processes of developing and using evaluations, Sass urges them to be both proactive and realistic—proactive in seeing evaluation as a foundational component of a successful program but realistic in that measurable outcomes in children often require regular attendance over many months.
1The study was completed by the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST). Although this was an independent project, CRESST is also a member of the National Partnership for Quality Afterschool Learning.
Read this story in the March 2007 issue of Afterwords.
Photos courtesy of LA's BEST