Name of Institution: University of Maryland College Park
Principal Investigator: Dr. Denise Gottfredson
Title: Effects of Enhanced After-School Programs on Educational Outcomes: A Randomized Trial
Purpose: Considerable government funds are being invested in after-school programs. In addition to providing supervision of children while parents are working, after-school programs are often intended to improve academic performance and to alter related student behavior such as attendance, drug use, and conduct. Yet rigorous research on the effects of after-school programs has been unable to verify such outcomes. Community interest and support is strong, so more study of stronger program models is needed. The purpose of this study is to learn if an enhanced middle school after-school program improves academic performance and the behavior of students in grades 6-8 relative to a 'treatment as usual' control group. The enhanced program includes several new components, such as specialized training to reduce the likelihood of substance abuse and other risky behavior, structured tutoring in academic subjects, and attendance incentives. At the end of the project, the results will show whether an enhanced after-school program in one large district improves middle school students' academic outcomes and behavior.
Setting: Five middle schools in the Baltimore County Public Schools, an urban fringe district that serves students from a wide range of racial/ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, are participating in the evaluation.
Population: The potential participants are middle school students in grades 6-8, predominately minority (71%) and about half (51%) qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
Intervention: The enhanced middle school after-school program combines three enhancements: Structured Tutoring, the All Stars Curriculum, and Attendance Monitoring and Reinforcement. Structured Tutoring will be conducted by teachers, adult volunteers, and students for 1.5 hours per week. The All Stars Curriculum is a comprehensive program focusing on building attitudes and beliefs that are inconsistent with substance use and other risk behaviors, and teaching skills necessary for healthy decision-making. Attendance Monitoring and Reinforcement will provide rewards, such as fun outings, clothing, and CDs, to students and groups with good attendance in school. The program will operate for nine hours per week for 30 weeks. Previous research showed evidence of effectiveness for each of these components when offered during the school day.
Research Design and Methods: The evaluation is a randomized controlled trial with 500 students randomly assigned to the enhanced after-school program (treatment N=250) or to 'treatment as usual' control group (N=250).
Program observations to measure fidelity of implementation, dosage, and social climate will be conducted 18 times (twice per month).
Control Condition: Control group students are free to enroll in any available after- school program that is offered off-site from their schools; some control group members will likely be in community-based after-school programs, others will likely not be in an after-school activity.
Key Measures: School record data on attendance, grades, promotion, achievement test scores, and discipline records will be collected in September 2006, which will cover the previous school year, and in June 2007. Teacher ratings from teachers in academic subject areas will be collected in June 2007. The teacher ratings will measure conduct, academic competence, and social skills. Youth surveys will be administered twice in September 2006 and July 2007, and will collect information related to academic outcomes and student behaviors (school attendance, social skills related to substance abuse, attitudes about substance abuse, substance use, school conduct, educational plans and aspirations, commitment to academics, and studying behavior).
Data Analytic Strategy:The data analysis will examine whether attending an enhanced after-school program improves academic and behavioral outcomes compared with usual after-school activities. The academic outcomes of interest are promotion to the next grade, school grades, and standardized achievement test scores. The behaviors of interest are school attendance, social skills related to substance abuse, attitudes about substance abuse, substance use, school conduct, educational plans and aspirations, commitment to academics, and studying behavior.