Collaboration and Measurement: Creating More and Better Out-of-School Programming for Youth

More and more, it is being recognized that students require skills beyond math and reading in order to succeed in college and careers. Twenty-first century skills, or “power skills,” encompass items such as critical thinking, self-regulation, relationships, and communication. In response to the growing need for a common vocabulary to articulate these domains, BASB developed the ACT Framework, which outlines many of the skills necessary for students to succeed post-secondary education. However, report cards do not capture a student’s ability to demonstrate 21st century skills. Therefore the question became, how do students obtain these skills, and how can we measure what they’ve learned?

This week, Boston After School & Beyond (BASB) met with representatives from UMass Boston’s pre-college programs, including: Upward BoundProject REACH, and Urban Scholars to discuss how these programs can best foster the development of ACT skills. Programs were asked to answer the following questions:

  1. Which ACT skills is your program designed to foster?
  2. How do students demonstrate these skills in the context of your program?

To aid in the response to these questions, programs were given their PRISM reports from the following year. The PRISM Report presents program-level data on program quality and youth skill development compared to research-informed benchmarks and cohort averages, highlighting program strengths and weaknesses to inform continuous improvement. In order to achieve continuous improvement, the programs assess domains such as activity design, and staff training, evaluation, and coaching. The PRISM report allows programs to be aware of domains that require improvement, as well as the areas to continue excelling in.

The convening allowed program representatives to communicate and brainstorm new ways to improve. Ideas ranged from new leadership opportunities for youth, how to make student choice more apparent, and how staff can best facilitate conflict. Programs left the meeting agreeing that the sharing and learning of other programs’ best practices should be a year-round project.