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Common outcomes and potential impacts of STEM afterschool programs

January 01, 2016

This Knowledge Base article was written collaboratively with contributions from Amy Grack Nelson and CAISE Admin. This article was migrated from a previous version of the Knowledge Base. The date stamp does not reflect the original publication date.

Overview 

STEM afterschool programs, sometimes referred to as out-of-school time programs, reach youth during non-school hours, which include before school, after school, on weekends, and in the summer. In some instances afterschool programs are linked to formal education, other times they are independent. Schwartz & Noam (2007) describe various levels of integration with formal schooling that afterschool programs may take (unified, associated, coordinated, integrated and self-contained). Regardless of type, the National Center for Quality Afterschool (2009) has identified eight principles of effective afterschool science programs:

  • are for all students;

  • are intentional and standards-based;

  • are active, interesting, and relevant to students;

  • reflect current research and practices;

  • are age-level appropriate;

  • integrate skills from different subjects;

  • incorporate staff training in science teaching; and

  • are based on ongoing assessment of student needs and progress.

However, these principles may apply more or less, depending on the relative emphasis of academic outcomes versus youth development.

Findings from Research and Evaluation 

Outcomes of STEM afterschool programs

The afterschool field has developed a number of resources around common outcomes and indicators for afterschool programs in general (Partnership for After School Education, 2010; The Forum for Youth Investment & National Collaboration for Youth Research Group, 2012; Wilson-Ashlstrom, Yohalem, DuBois, Ji, & Hillaker, 2014). In 2011, the Afterschool Alliance reviewed 19 evaluations of STEM afterschool programs and identified outcomes common to these programs. They categorized the findings of these the evaluations into three overarching outcome categories. For each outcome, they identified impacts common across a number of the evaluations (listed below each outcome category). See the paper for specific findings for each evaluation.

1. Improved attitudes toward STEM fields and careers.

  • Increased enrollment and interest in STEM-related courses in school.

  • Continued participation in STEM programming.

  • Increased self-confidence in tackling science classes and projects.

  • Shift in attitude about careers in STEM.

2. Increased STEM knowledge and skills.

  • Increased test scores as compared to non-participants.

  • Gains in knowledge about STEM careers.

  • Gains in computer and technology skills.

  • Increased general knowledge of science.

  • Gains in 21st century skills, including communication, teamwork, and analytical thinking.

3. Higher likelihood of graduation and pursuing a STEM career

  • High rate of high school graduation among participants.

  • Pursuit of college and intention of majoring in STEM fields.

In 2013, the Afterschool Alliance worked to further define outcomes for STEM afterschool programs. They carried out a consensus study with experts that included afterschool providers and afterschool STEM supporters to identify outcomes specific to STEM learning in afterschool programs. The study resulted in a consensus set of outcomes, indicators, and sub-indicators. The three overarching outcomes state that through STEM afterschool programs, children and youth:

1. Develop an interest in STEM and STEM learning activities.

2. Develop a capacity to productively engage in STEM learning activities.

3. Come to value the goals of STEM and STEM learning activities.

As described in the report, “the outcomes, indicators and sub-indicators identified through this study are intended to help provide a common framework and language for programs to utilize as they define appropriate goals for their programs and then describe the impact of their afterschool STEM program” (Afterschool Alliance, 2013, p.5).

(Also see Schwartz & Noam (2007) for a comprehensive literature review of afterschool STEM programs.)

References 

Afterschool Alliance. (2013). Defining youth outcomes for STEM learning in afterschool. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://informalscience.org/research/ic-000-000-003-885/Defining_Youth_Outcomes_for_STEM

Afterschool Alliance. (2011). STEM learning in afterschool: An analysis of impact and outcomes. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://informalscience.org/research/ic-000-000-010-600/STEM_Learning_in_Afterschool

National Center for Quality Afterschool (2009). About academic enrichment in afterschool science. Retrieved from http://www.sedl.org/afterschool/toolkits/about_toolkits.html?tab=science

Partnership for After School Education. (2013). Afterschool youth outcomes inventory. New York, NY: Author. Retrieved from http://pasesetter.org/initiatives/youth-outcomes/the-afterschool-youth-outcomes-inventory-second-edition

Schwartz, S.E. & Noam, G.G. (2007). Informal science learning in afterschool settings: A Natural Fit?. National Research Council. Retrieved from http://informalscience.org/research/ic-000-000-008-501/Informal_Science_Learning_in_Afterschool

The Forum for Youth Investment, & National Collaboration for Youth Research Group. (2012). A shared vision for youth: Common outcomes and indicators. Washington, DC: Authors. Retrieved from http://www.readyby21.org/resources/report/shared-vision-youth-common-outcomes-and-indicators

Wilson-Ahlstrom, A., DuBois, D., Ji, P., & Hillaker, B. (2014). From soft skills to hard data: Measuring youth program outcomes. Washington, DC: The Forum for Youth Investment. Retrieved from http://forumfyi.org/content/soft-skills-hard-data-