Tangible Improvement: Assessing for Youth Program Quality

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pic1bIn Minnesota our Extension Center for Youth Development made a strategic decision in 2011 to train ALL our staff working with 4-H Youth Development how to observe, assess and measure youth program quality using the Weikart Center Youth Program Quality Assessment Tool (YPQA). We made an investment in our staff but more so an investment in our youth.

The process we have implemented involves these steps:

  • Observe and score a 4-Hclub or afterschool program using the YPQA tool
  • Report the scores into the online Scores Reporter system
  • Meet with the youth and adult leaders for the club/program to review the results
  • Determine an action plan with the program staff. They choose 2-4 strategies they will implement to improve their program quality
  • Give the program time to put the action plan in place
  • Go back to observe and score the program again and discuss the results.

Three years into using their YPQA assessment tool and Scores Reporter we are now able to, on a statewide basis, see quality scores improving across our 4-H programming.  We can begin to track which strategies are being implemented to focus on improvement.  It also helps us determine where to provide staff training.

Of course, not all staff are equally engaged in this process, but as we get more staff through the full cycle of steps to assess a program, we are seeing a shift in willingness, their confidence in completing assessments, and an appreciation for pic2bthe results.  I did a phone survey with some of our staff last summer.  Here are a few quotes from our staff who completed a full cycle of quality assessment:

“I made a follow up visit within 3 months and again following one year.  The club had an action plan to add reflection into their program and they did it.  They also improved in youth engagement.   One more bonus was that the new club leadership was able to use the action plan from the previous leadership and they are also implementing the plan.

“The observation was not as difficult as I anticipated and it was easy to recognize the quality indicators in the program while I was observing.

I have become a big fan of showing tangible improvement in youth development programs.  It has become embedded in how we do our 4-H programming in Minnesota.

Margo Herman has been an Extension Educator and Assistant Professor with the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Youth Development since 2008. For more information, contact mherman@umn.edu.