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Measuring Youth Program Quality: A Guide to Assessment Tools, 2nd Edition

Nicole Yohalem and Alicia Wilson-Ahlstrom, The Forum for Youth Investment with Sean Fischer, New York University and Marybeth Shinn, Vanderbilt University
February 4, 2009
Program quality assessment and improvement continue to be central themes in the after-school and youth development fields. This guide compares the purpose, history, structure, methodology, content and technical properties of different program observation tools.

With the after-school and youth development fields expanding and maturing over the past several years, program quality assessment has emerged as a central theme. This interest in program quality is shared by practitioners, policy makers and researchers in the youth-serving sector.

From a research perspective, more evaluations are including an assessment of program quality and many have incorporated setting-level measures (where the object of measurement is the program, not the participants) in their designs. At the policy level, decision-makers are looking for ways to ensure that resources are allocated to programs likely to have an impact and are increasingly building quality assessment and improvement expectations into requests for proposals and program regulations. At the practice level, programs, organizations and systems are looking for tools that help concretize what effective practice looks like and allow practitioners to assess, reflect on and improve their programs.

With this growing interest in program quality has come an increase in the number of tools available to help programs and systems assess and improve quality. Given the size and diversity of the youth-serving sector, it is unrealistic to expect that any one quality assessment tool will fit all programs or circumstances. While diversity in available resources is positive and reflects the evolution of the field, it also makes it important that potential users have access to good information to help guide their decision-making.

This guide was designed to compare the purpose, structure, content and technical properties of several youth program quality assessment tools. For each tool, a one page summary is provided as well as a longer description. There are also cross-instrument comparison charts and tables for those who want to get a sense of what the landscape of program quality assessment tools looks like. Should you decide to use one of these instruments or want to take a closer look at two or three, you could share this information with key stakeholders.