From Soft Skills to Hard Data

  • Wilson-Ahlstrom A
  • Yohalem N
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Youth programs operating during the non-school hours are important partners that work alongside families and schools to support learning and development. Some programs prioritize academics; others prioritize enrichment, recreation or leadership development; others weave together a combination of these. Whether focused on sports, art or community service, most of these programs aim to develop cross-cutting skills that will help young people be successful now and help ensure they are ready for college, work and life. Helping to build what are often referred to as social-emotional or 21st century skills is an important contribution that many youth programs make and more could be making. Yet these efforts remain underrepresented in the program evaluation literature, in part because they cannot be measured using administrative records or other databases to which schools and programs might have easy access. Practitioners and funders regularly ask us for advice about how to measure these skills. In response we developed this guide, which summarizes information about tools that programs can use to measure youth progress in these areas. The guide builds on and complements several related resources available in the field (for a listing, see Other Collections of Youth Outcome Measures, page 5). Our goal is to help practitioners choose conceptually grounded and psychometrically strong measures of important skills and dispositions that cut across academic achievement and other distal youth outcomes like risk behavior, mental health and employment. We also hope to encourage the development of additional measures in areas where our review reveals gaps. In a time of increasing pressure on programs to improve policy-relevant outcomes, we want to facilitate access to good measurement tools. This can help advance the out-of-school time (OST) field and facilitate collaboration among practitioners working toward common goals, both in school and out.

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  • Alicia Wilson-Ahlstrom

  • Nicole Yohalem

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