Expanding Time for Learning Both Inside and Outside the Classroom: A Review of the Evidence Base

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Expanding Time for Learning Both Inside and Outside the Classroom: A Review of the Evidence Base

Expanded learning opportunities (ELO) models provide educational supports as well as enrichment and recreational opportunities to young people and their families during nonschool hours. For the purposes of this review, ELO models include a wide range of social interventions, they may school-based or community-based, but they must provide at least one academic component that targets student learning outcomes.

Below is a summary of key findings based on our review of evaluations focusing on ELO program models.

Outcome Study Findings:

  • Impacts varied considerably across the evaluated programs, but the review found that ELO programs have the potential to positively impact a range of educational outcomes.
  • Overall, the ELO programs included in this review tended to be more effective in improving predictors of academic achievement, such as educational expectations and scholastic behaviors, than in improving academic achievement outcomes.
  • The ELO programs included in this review were more often than not effective in improving scholastic behaviors, such as academic skills, homework completion, and study habits.
  • The ELO programs included in this review varied in their effectiveness in improving school engagement and attendance.
  • While some ELO programs were able to improve academic achievement outcomes, it was not common for experimentally evaluated programs to produce consistently positive and lasting improvements in academic achievement.
  • Programs varied in their effectiveness in improving educational attainment outcomes, with some studies finding impacts only on students who were at higher levels of initial academic risk.
  • In studies that examined subgroup effects, findings suggested that effects were larger and stronger for lower-income students, lower-performing students, and students in other more disadvantaged subgroups.

Implementation Study Findings:

  • Several of the programs that were ineffective in improving most of the outcomes that they examined suffered from low participation rates. This situation was especially true for some of the after-school programs that provide primarily academic and recreational activities.
  • Programs that were of low quality or that were poorly implemented tended to be less effective.

Implementation studies of ELO models document a number of program quality features that seem to be common across more effective programs. For example, such programs:

  • Hire qualified, committed staff. High staff turnover rates can lead to inconsistency in programming or can be harmful if students bond with staff members who then disappear from their lives.
  • Are intentional and focused, such as programs that follow a manual or that use a curriculum.
  • Provide individualized attention to students through tutoring or mentoring.
  • Use senior directors and staff to conduct observations regularly to ensure that programs are operating with quality.
  • Are highly targeted and provide age-appropriate programming.
  • Provide a certain amount of structure and are clear about expectations of participants.
  • Use culturally appropriate materials.
  • Monitor performance.

An important caveat: Our assessments of the potential effectiveness of ESD, ESY, and ELO models were based on the best available evidence for each type of program. It may be tempting to try to compare the findings for the ESY, ESD, and ELO program model types.

However, it is important to recognize that the findings for the ELO program models—which appear to be less promising than those reported for the ESD and ESY models—are based on a higher evidence standard than that used for the ESD and ESY models, given the availability of experimental evaluations of ELO program models.

Common Study Limitations

Despite the growing popularity of ELT programs, there is a shortage of evidence showing clear links between ESD, ESY, and ELO programs and positive academic outcomes for students in grades K-12. There are several reasons for this dearth of information.

  • Few studies have examined whether a longer school day or year positively impacts academic performance using rigorous experimental or quasi-experimental methods. Establishing whether extending the school day or year is the cause of improved academic outcomes is challenging without an experimental evaluation design. Unfortunately, based on the studies that we have been able to identify, most of the evidence base for ESD and ESY programs is derived from nonexperimental research. The majority of studies on this subject have relied on pre-test, post-test analyses or evidence that can only identify a correlation between ESD and ESY programs and academic outcomes.
  • The specific effects of extending the school day or year are also difficult to ascertain because of what some researchers have called the "packaging" of ESD and ESY initiatives with other types of school reform. Schools that serve a substantial percentage of academically and economically disadvantaged students are more likely to adopt ESD and ESY programs as one component of a broader school improvement plan.
  • The vast majority of studies that we examined, especially the evaluations focusing on ESD and ESY programs, focused solely on academic outcomes, particularly standardized test scores. While performance on standardized tests is obviously a key outcome of interest to stakeholders and is easy to compare across schools, other key outcomes that are related to academic performance should also be examined. Among these outcomes are school attendance, on-time promotion, scholastic behaviors, school discipline problems, and attitudes towards school.
  • Many evaluations of ESD and ESY programs do not specify how the additional time is used. An extended school day may not always translate into more instructional time or more time for students to spend engaged actively in learning than is the case with a traditional school day. As a result, it can be difficult to determine the effects of such programs or to compare the results of an ESD or ESY program across schools.
  • Many of the studies, particularly the ELO studies, are based on small samples and when comparison groups are used, they are not often matched. Furthermore, many of the studies provide no baseline information and report on end-of-program results only.
  • Some studies rely solely on retrospective reports of outcomes and do not use multiple measures, multiple reporters, or administrative data to test different outcomes.
  • Many of the studies are short in duration and therefore do not provide information about long-term outcomes.
  • Most of the ELO studies are for geographic-specific programs that target narrow populations, so the general application of findings may be limited.
  • A final limitation that is commonly found in the literature focusing on ELO programs is that these programs often suffer from low participation levels, which results in studies that experience high attrition or study dropout rates.

Future research efforts should be designed to address these study limitations.

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