BASB Publications

2015 Annual ReportBoston Learns TogetherFour Strategies for Closing Boston's Opportunity Gap Strategy 1: Summer Learning Strategy 2: Skills for Success Strategy 3: Learning & Earning Strategy 4: Strategic Partnerships

Boston Learns Together: Building Skills, Creating Opportunity 

annual report

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Boston Learns Together

bltBoston stands at the forefront of education and youth development in the effort to close the achievement and opportunity gaps. In recent years, opportunities for youth have expanded dramatically. The number of students participating in after-school programs has doubled, with a program serving every school. The number of summer program slots has surpassed 11,000. The number of youth summer jobs exceeds 10,000.

Few—if any—other cities can boast these results. This foundation presents an unprecedented opportunity for the City of Boston, its elected officials, community organizations, businesses, and institutions of higher education, working with youth and their families, to take the next steps in closing the achievement and opportunity gaps.

The Partnership Council—a growing coalition of more than 60 organizations which, collectively, provide tens of thousands of program slots for Boston’s young people—has outlined a set of principles for ensuring that we close the opportunity gap for all children in the city.

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Four Strategies for Closing Boston’s Opportunity Gap

boston learns togetherRight now we have an opportunity to shape a new agenda for Boston’s children and youth. Up to this point, local investments have focused heavily on improving our public schools, but emerging research points to a broad and growing “opportunity gap” that extends far beyond the school day and is a major contributor to gaps in achievement between low-income students and their more affluent peers.

Higher income families far outspend lower income families on enriching activities, exposure to novel environments, and other out-of-school supports that help their children build the skills and background knowledge they need to succeed in school and beyond.

The good news is that Boston is rich in resources that, if well coordinated, could go a long way toward closing the opportunity gap and putting all students on a path to success. Our children’s afternoons, weekends, and summers (80% of their waking hours) could be filled with quality programming matched to their interests and developmental needs. By working together across sectors, with common strategies, we can support all Boston youth to learn and thrive.

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Strategy 1: Summer Learning

summer learningThe achievement gap between low-income students and their higher-income peers is explained largely by unequal access to learning opportunities beyond the school day. Summer is an especially precious resource. Students who don’t participate in summer learning programs lose substantial knowledge and skills gained during the school year. This well-documented “summer learning slide” most adversely affects low-income students, is cumulative across a young person’s lifetime, and represents an expensive leak in our educational pipeline. Mounting evidence suggests that quality summer programs can stem this loss and, in some cases, even accelerate students’ progress.

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Strategy 2: Skills for Success

skills for successIndividuals need a range of skills to thrive as learners, workers, and citizens. A growing body of research in education and psychology identifies a set of skills, like creativity and persistence, which people need to succeed in school, college, and 21st century careers. Sometimes referred to as soft skills or “non-cognitive” factors, these learned behaviors are even more predictive of long-term success than traditional measures, like the SAT. In other words, young people who approach new tasks with confidence and creativity, organize their time to achieve their goals, collaborate and communicate well with others, and believe in their own capacity to learn and grow have an edge over everyone else—no matter their prior test scores.

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Strategy 3: Learning & Earning

learningearningWhen it comes to helping teens to achieve in school and beyond, motivation is crucial. Teens make their own choices about how to spend their time and effort both in and outside of school, and they are more likely to engage with opportunities that have clear value, provide  income, or advance them toward personal goals. Such “learning and earning” opportunities have the potential boost outcomes for all teens, including the most disengaged, by providing personally meaningful and tangibly rewarding ways to advance their knowledge and skills.

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Strategy 4: Strategic Partnerships

strategic partnerships

Community partners play an important role in enhancing student learning. Through after-school programs, offerings that extend the formal school day, and enriching summer experiences, partners reinforce and supplement the knowledge and skills students acquire in the classroom. Partners help students develop foundational skills for long-term success through a variety of engaging activities—for example, modeling teamwork and peer relationships in sports programs, improving attendance and learning habits through one-on-one mentorship, and boosting language and literacy skills through the arts.

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Digital Badges

Badging Practice BriefDigital Badging and Micro-CredentialingDigital Badges in AfterschoolThe Practicality of Digital BadgesAre Badges Useful in Education?

Badging Practice Brief: Recommendations from Boston Beyond’s 2015-16 Badging Pilot Program

Badging Practice BriefIn the summer of 2015 and the 2015-16 school year, seven long-time partners of Boston Beyond with experience measuring program quality and skill outcomes for youth piloted this digital badging system. These programs predominantly served students in grades 6 through 8, with one program serving 4th and 5th graders. Based on interviews with the educators who piloted the digital badge system, this brief contains promising practices and recommendations for others looking to implement the system.

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Digital Badging and Micro-Credentialing

digital badging paperWhat does badging really represent for PK-12 educators dedicated to studentcentered
learning? This paper explores that answer with the help of voices directly
involved in badging and micro-credentialing and educators thoughtfully watching
it. It reflects on the potential of using badging with students and with educators,
as a strategy to transform professional development. The perspectives included
here are based on one-on-one interviews with more than 25 badging experts and
practitioners, a review of badging literature and research, a scan of national and New
England badging and micro-credentialing activity, and discussions with educators
involved with and not involved in badging. Boston Beyond’s badging system is featured in this report.

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Digital Badges in Afterschool: Connecting Learning in a Connected World

afterschoolThis compilation of case studies written by The Afterschool Alliance, examines exemplary digital badge pilots across the nation including our valued partner, PASA. Complete with a comprehensive list of lessons learned by each pilot and a brief explanation of the technical software supporting digital badges, this body of work serves as a powerful orientation tool to digital badges.

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The Practicality of Digital Badges

practicalityThis document presents the positive applicability of digital badges specifically in the Career and Technical Education field. John C. Foster, the President/CEO of the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute quantifies the impact of badges on the motivation, academic interest, and self advocacy levels of high school students.

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Are badges useful in education? It depends upon the type of badge and expertise of learner

badges usefulThis commonly referenced study by Samuel Abramovich from the Learning Research and Development Center out of the University of Pittsburgh, is among the first of it’s kind tracking the impact of badges on students.

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Summer Learning

Summer 2015 ReportRAND Report: Ready for Fall?RAND Report: Getting to Work on Summer LearningRAND Report: Making Summer Count

The Boston Summer Learning Community: A Model for Massachusetts 

2015 summer reprtBSLC continued to grow and expand its reach, from 58 programs serving 3,504 students in 2014 to 79 programs serving 5,626 students in 2015. Evaluation results show program quality remained high, and students improved their social-emotional skills and proficiency in math and English language arts.

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Ready for Fall? Near-Term Effects of Voluntary Summer Learning Programs on Low-Income Students’ Learning Opportunities and Outcomes 

Ready for Fall ImagePrior research has determined that low-income students lose more ground over the summer than their higher-income peers. Prior research has also shown that some summer learning programs can stem this loss, but we do not know whether large, district-run, voluntary programs can improve students’ outcomes. To fill this gap, The Wallace Foundation launched the National Summer Learning Study in 2011. This five-year study offers the first-ever assessment of the effectiveness of large-scale, voluntary, district-run, summer learning programs serving low-income elementary students. The study, conducted by RAND, uses a randomized controlled trial to assess the effects of district-run voluntary summer programs on student achievement and social and emotional skills over the short and long run. All students in the study were in the third grade as of spring 2013 and enrolled in a public school in one of five urban districts: Boston; Dallas; Duval County, Florida; Pittsburgh; or Rochester, New York. This report, the second of five that will result from the study, looks at how summer programs affected student performance on mathematics, reading, and social and emotional assessments in fall 2013.

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Getting to Work on Summer Learning: Recommended Practices for Success

gett toThis report offers guidance to district leaders across the country who are interested in launching summer learning programs or improving programs that are already established. Our recommendations are based on the evaluations of summer programs in six urban districts in the summer of 2011. These districts—Boston; Cincinnati; Dallas; Duval County, Florida; Pittsburgh; and Rochester, New York—were selected for a multiyear   demonstration project funded by The Wallace Foundation to assess their effectiveness in improving student achievement. They are among the nation’s most advanced in their experience with comprehensive, voluntary   summer learning programs.

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Making Summer Count: How Summer Programs Can Boost Children’s Learning 

making summer countSummer learning programs have the potential to help children and youth improve their academic and social-emotional learning outcomes. This is especially true for children from low-income families who might not have access to educational resources throughout the summer months and for low-achieving students who need additional time to master academic content. However, summer learning programs are often an afterthought of school districts or not offered at all, especially in restrictive funding environments.

To focus attention on the potential of such programs, this monograph reviews the literature on summer learning loss and the effectiveness of summer learning programs, determines key cost drivers of and available funds for summer programs, and gathers information about how such programs operate in district and city contexts, including facilitators and challenges.

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Measurements for Quality Improvement

Every Hour Counts Measurement FrameworkOverview of Measurement ToolsSample PRISM

Every Hour Counts Measurement Framework: How to Measure Success in Expanded Learning Systems 

every hour countsThe Every Hour Counts Measurement Framework is designed to serve as a blueprint for understanding the impact of programs on youth outcomes, making improvements at the system and program levels, and influencing policy.

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Overview of Measurement Tools


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Sample Program Report for Improvement and System Measurement (PRISM)

sample prism

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STEM Learning Is EverywhereFUSE: Next Generation BriefAssessing the State of STEM in Boston

STEM Learning is Everywhere: Summary of a Convocation on Building Learning Systems

18818-0309306426-covers200Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) permeate the modern world. The jobs people do, the foods they eat, the vehicles in which they travel, the information they receive, the medicines they take, and many other facets of modern life are constantly changing as STEM knowledge steadily accumulates. Yet STEM education in the United States, despite the importance of these subjects, is consistently falling short. For decades, efforts to improve STEM education have focused largely on the formal education system, but students do not learn about STEM subjects just in school. Much STEM learning occurs out of school–in organized activities such as afterschool and summer programs, in institutions such as museums and zoos, from the things students watch or read on television and online, and during interactions with peers, parents, mentors, and role models.

STEM Learning is Everywhere, authored by the National Research Council, explores how engaging representatives from the formal, afterschool, and informal education sectors in California and from across the United States could foster more seamless learning of STEM subjects for students in the elementary and middle grades. The report also discusses opportunities for STEM that may result from the new expectations of the Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core Standards for Mathematics and Language Arts.

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FUSE: Next Generation

FUSE report coverThis brief by TASC, Every Hour Counts and ORGE Innovation Consulting presents a strategy to create real-world science learning experiences for kids that integrate Next Generation Science Standards with social and emotional learning experiences. Leveraging external experts, community integration and project-based learning, the model builds flexible science programs in both formal and informal settings. While intended for use by New York, Boston and Providence, the Frontiers in Urban Science (FUSE) initiative cities, this brief could be useful to STEM educators, community partners and district leaders nationwide who are forging new paths to expand access to STEM learning and opportunities.

This strategy employs cross-cutting concepts, activities to build social and emotional competencies, science-rich environments and diverse bodies of educators in an effort to positively impact student outcomes. To build successful learning experiences, the model endeavors to marry auxiliary support systems–like technology, public support systems, youth development opportunities, assessment tools and policy implementation–into a cohesive unit. 

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Assessing the State of STEM in Boston

STEMThe Boston STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Network, in partnership with the Boston Public Schools, Boston After School & Beyond, and the Boston PIC released its first report this spring titled “Assessing the State of STEM in Boston”.  The report provides a foundational understanding of Boston Public School student achievement and interest in STEM subjects and careers as well as the capacity of the out-of-school time STEM community to serve our students.


Click here to read the cover letter. Click here to read the full report.

Teen Expanded Learning Opportunities

Rennie Center Report: Beyond School WallsRennie Center Report: From Schooling to LearningA Complete Definition of College and Career ReadinessDesigning Assessments for College and Career Readiness: Performance Tasks

Beyond School Walls: Earning Credit for Expanded Learning Opportunities

Beyond-School-Walls-234x300In Boston, public schools and community-based organizations are experimenting with expanded learning opportunities (ELOs) as a way to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century learner. ELOs blend in-school experiences with community-based activities, encouraging innovation that can engage and empower students. A key facet of the work in Boston has been to grant academic credit to students participating in out-of-school learning. By piloting various ELO-for-credit models, the district has begun to articulate additional pathways to a high school diploma and success in college and careers. This brief examines ongoing work in Boston and efforts by Boston After School and Beyond to advance the development of a formalized system for providing students with ELOs for academic credit.

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From Schooling to Learning: Leveraging Community Resources to Earn Academic Credit

Rennie-Report-11In 2012, Boston After School & Beyond (Boston Beyond) and EdVestors launched efforts to facilitate more strategic connections between community organizations and the Boston Public Schools. These pilot projects were designed to expand students’ access to community resources as part of earning elective academic credit. Such community-based learning experiences have been recognized nationally as promising strategies for improving students’ engagement in school. “Real world” learning opportunities—about which students express choice—offer richness to learning and help foster engagement in important civic and cultural institutions. However, community partnerships often remain limited in scope and rarely extend beyond a small network of schools. In contrast, the approaches piloted by Boston Beyond and EdVestors represent attempts to develop and sustain broader community-based learning approaches, testing the viability of expanded educational programming for credit across a large, urban district. In this brief, the Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy provides a review of the literature and documents critical knowledge gained from the effort in Boston.

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A Complete Definition of College and Career Readiness

David Conley, a researcher and expert on the topic of college and career readiness, defines what it means to be college and career ready. Although a “student who is ready for college and career can qualify for and succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing college courses leading to a baccalaureate or certificate, or career pathway-oriented training programs without the need for remedial or developmental coursework… not every student requires the same proficiency in all areas” (p. 1). In Conley’s definition, college and career readiness consists of four “keys”: Key Cognitive Strategies, Key Content Knowledge, Key Learning Skills and Techniques, and Key Transition Knowledge and Skills. The definition stated in this brief is based on 18 years of empirical study and research on this topic, from multiple research studies and “on-the-ground interactions with practitioners.”

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Designing Assessments for College and Career Readiness: Performance Tasks

Performance tasks are one way to assess students’ college and career readiness because they require students to produce authentic work that demonstrates their mastery of specific skills and content. This video explores how educators can design and score performance tasks and connects performance tasks with other education initiatives, including competency-based education, deeper learning, and employability skills.

Achieve-Connect-Thrive (ACT) Skills Framework

The Achieve, Connect, Thrive FrameworkAchieving-Connecting-Thriving SkillsACT Results FrameworkScience of LearningResults of the Framework Focus Group StudyAchieving, Connecting, Thriving - Afterschool and Summer Learning

The Achieve-Connect-Thrive Framework: A practical approach for teen-serving organizations to focus on building skills for success

This paper describes our approach to developing and measuring skills, and features a recent project with the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative to help teens be more intentional about developing skills.

This article was produced thanks to support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, as part of the Expanded Learning & Afterschool Project, in partnership with the Collaborative for Building After School Systems. To learn more about the project, visit

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Achieving-Connecting-Thriving Skills

This is a compilation of skills appropriate to the achieving-connecting-thriving domains.

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ACT Results Framework

This document presents the Achieving-Connecting-Thriving framework, intermediate and long term outcomes associated with each domain, and tools for measuring the outcomes.

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The Science of Learning: How can brain architecture research guide the design and assessment of afterschool and summer programs?

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Results of the Framework Focus Group Study

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Achieving, Connecting, Thriving: Afterschool and Summer Learning in Collaboration with Schools

big views forwardFormer Superintendent Carol Johnson and Chris Smith of Boston After School & Beyond co-authored Achieving, Connecting, Thriving: Afterschool and Summer Learning in Collaboration with Schools.  This paper will be part of a forthcoming compendium, supported by the C.S. Mott Foundation as part of the national project on the potential of expanded learning opportunities.

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Other Resources

Incorporating Youth Voice into Program DesignH.4033 - Summer Learning Bill

Strategies for Incorporating Youth Voice into Program Design: The Importance of Youth Leadership, Responsibility, Choice, and Autonomy

youth voiceThis report provides strategies to better understand the youth experience in areas of youth leadership and responsibility, and choice and autonomy. Conducted by Health Resources in Action, this new Policy and Practice Brief below offers practical strategies and recommendations, detailed and stratified by age group, on engaging youth in authentic participation and leadership.

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H.4033–An Act to increase access to high quality summer learning opportunities


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