How effective are after-school programs? |

How effective are after-school programs?

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” There are hundreds of students in Eagle County being helped by volunteer tutors, mentors and after-school programs run by nonprofit groups like the Youth Foundation, the Literacy Project and SOS Outreach.

What educators can’t say for sure is how effective these programs are and if students getting after-school help are improving in the classroom.

That’s why the school district is piloting a data-sharing program this year that would match standardized test scores and demographics to information provided by nonprofit groups who run youth programs.

The database would track which students are involved with which programs, if they’re improving in the classroom, and determine which programs are most effective for specific demographic groups, said Andre Birjulin, director of research and evaluation for the school district.

The school district could analyze, for instance, what programs are having the biggest impact on students who are on free and reduced lunch, or which programs are best at helping kids learning English as a second language.

It also would help identify students who may need the help of an after-school program, but for some reason, have been overlooked, Birjulin said.

“We’re trying to find out how these programs work and see if they really do lead to student achievement,” Birjulin said.

In the past, most information about the effectiveness of after-school programs has been anecdotal and informal, says Katie Bruen, marketing and event coordinator for the Youth Foundation.

Surveys and questionnaires are routinely sent home with kids ” but those aren’t nearly as telling as the sophisticated data analysis you gather with standardized tests.

“It can be a challenge for nonprofits to know really how to evaluate their impact, and it’s certainly been a challenge for the Youth Foundation,” Bruen said. “We’re not able to look at things like school attendance and if their attendance is improving or if their grades are improving or if their test scores are improving.”

Knowing this kind of information could help nonprofits bring in money, Bruen said. Potential donors are really interested in effectiveness, and numbers could prove a program is actually making a difference, and therefore worth the investment.

“Numbers really go a long way ” they really look for that, and they want to see results,” Bruen said.

Overall, this program will help improve communication among the nonprofits, said Christina Gair, director of the Eagle River Youth Coalition.

“Each program knows who they’re serving, but we want to know as a collaborative if we’re missing the boat on any group of kids,” Gair said.

The need for this type of data sharing has been discussed for years, but its taken a long time for it to become feasible, said John Kuglin, director of technology for the school district.

The Teacher Incentive Fund grant, awarded to the school district in 2006, allowed the district to hire a data analyst (Birjulin) which is really necessary to make sense of the piles of information available.

“It took a while for it to reach a point where we could exchange data in a meaningful way ” we’ve reached that plateau now,” Kuglin said.

One of the trickiest parts about the data-sharing program is making sure confidential student information is kept confidential, Kuglin said.

“There’s always a caution with what information can be shared, and what cannot be shared,” Kuglin said. “This won’t be a free-flowing sharing of information. Student identities will be protected.”

School officials say they test this system during this school year, and could roll out a more complete program by the spring or next school year.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or

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