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Leslie K. Grier on Evaluation Practices in Out-of-School Programs

My name is Leslie K. Grier and I am an Associate Professor of Child and Adolescent Studies at California State University, Fullerton.  I am interested in quality programming and evaluation practices in out-of-school time programs.  My interests also include moral and character development and their relationship to academic achievement.

Although the terms moral and character development are often used interchangeably, historically moral development has focused on how individuals think and reason about moral issues.  Character on the other hand is broader and incorporates behavioral tendencies.

In out-of-school time programs, there is a focus on positive youth development.  This involves providing youth with nurturing contexts such as support from caring adults.  It also involves opportunities to build core competencies such as character.  Programs attempt to develop character in a variety of ways.  Some use well established approaches, while others promote ideals informally by laying out expectations for conduct across various venues including social and academic, and promoting these expectations.  With evaluation practice in out-of-school time programs, one must be concerned about formative and summative evaluation.  Although promoting character and other social competencies is important, it is ultimately expected these will contribute to more concrete outcomes such as academic achievement.

Lessons Learned

For character development initiatives, two types of formative assessments are useful.  First an assessment of character that includes positive and negative attributes.  Both relate to academic achievement, albeit in different ways.  It is also important that character assessments include an element of what Davidson, Lickona, and Khmelkov (2008) referred to as “performance character.”  This involves translating moral ideals into positive and optimum actions.  My research suggests this may be important in children’s transfer of skills developed in out-of-school time programs to other contexts.  Therefore, formative character assessments should include behaviors reflective of moral initiative or impetus that go beyond simple compliance with rules and expectations.

Second, formative assessments should reflect the quality of relationships between children and program staff.  Children tend to adopt the values of those in which they have solid interpersonal relationships.  Second, positive relationships between children and program staff can help neutralize the destabilizing impact of children’s anti-social behavior on learning and achievement in programs (e.g., Baker, Grant and Morlock, 2008).  Pertinent assessments might include children’s perceptions of social support from, and children’s level of bonding or affection towards program staff.

Davidson, M., Lickona, T., & Khmelkov, V. (2008).  Smart & Good Schools:  A new paradigm for high school character education.  In L.P. Nucci & D. Narvaez (Series Eds.).  Handbook of Moral and Character Education.   Routledge:  New York.

Baker, J.A., Grant, S., & Morlock, L. (2008).  The teacher student relationship as a developmental context for children with internalizing or externalizing behavior problems. School Psychology Quarterly, 23, 3-15.


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