Going Beyond Test Scores
In my previous entries, including my interview with Hedy Chang of Attendance Works, I discussed how students who are not proficient in reading by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. Further, 25 percent of high school students, which equates to more than one million children a year, do not make it to graduation.
We know there are significant issues impacting education and youth development today, but we don’t fully understand what we can do to change things. A teacher or tutor can test and modify their lessons or teaching style in order to ensure the material is fully understood by their students, but they cannot help it if a student is distracted because of hunger or behavioral problems stemming from circumstances at home. Likewise, afterschool and out-of-school-time providers offer programs that help youth become healthy, successful adults. But without the right tools, they may only be able to address the symptoms of poor academic performance and at-risk behavior. Integrated services, in which an organization partners with another, complementary organization to offer a package of programming that meets additional participant needs (i.e., tutoring programs and poverty assistance), can make strides toward resolving the situation. Nevertheless, integrated services may still only touch on surface level issues affecting kids today – and they require extensive coordination and resources to do so.
While all of these scenarios provide ways of addressing the symptoms of poor youth development, such as chronic absence and low academic performance, none of them directly attack the core problems that are getting in the way of success for hundreds of thousands of children living in cities across America.
Focusing on Developmental Assets
We can measure and evaluate infinite amounts of data all day long when it comes to today’s youth – including academic grades and test scores, attendance at school or demographic information. But doing so won’t solve any major problems. The key to overcoming underlying issues surrounding youth development is to understand how young people perceive their own circumstance when it comes to things like having positive role models to look up to, feeling a sense of responsibility for their actions and whether or not they feel safe at school and at home – just to name a few examples of what we can measure to get a better read on their lives.
To help communities and organizations bring their youth data to life with this type of information, nFocus Solutions recently announced our partnership with Search Institute, an organization that is at the forefront of understanding the underlying issues affecting today’s youth. This partnership will bring Search’s Developmental Assets Profile (DAP) to Boston Centers for Youth & Families, where the DAP will be distributed to children in their facilities across the City via nFocus’ SurveyTrax – an online survey software that allows organizations to cost-effectively administer, score and analyze DAP results. The survey results can be layered on top of demographic data for an accurate understanding about their youth’s social, emotional and personal development.
What is the DAP?
The DAP describes eight categories of developmental assets, or a total of 40 positive experiences and qualities that influence choices youth make and help them become responsible, successful adults. External and internal asset categories include a child’s levels of support, empowerment, boundaries, constructive use of time, commitment to learning, positive values, social competencies and positive identity. Ultimately, the developmental assets look closely at a child’s social and emotional strengths, supports and challenges, which effects how he or she adapts to negative situations and provides the foundation to thrive in school and beyond.
With the DAP in SurveyTrax, nonprofits, schools and organizations can quickly and easily administer, analyze and interpret survey data on a child’s level of internal and external assets across the eight categories. The results can even be broken down on a community map. That way, the organization can see average scores dispersed across the city, and then start to identify trends and potential services/program gaps.
After three months, the DAP in SurveyTrax can be re-administered to participants to evaluate changes in scores over time.
The Risks of Low Asset Scores
According to research on more than two million youth nationwide, those with a low number of internal and external assets within the eight asset categories are more likely to engage in high-risk behavior, such as drug and alcohol use.1 They also are more likely to suffer from low confidence and self-esteem levels in the classroom and beyond.2
If used in an academic or out-of-school-time environment, the DAP in SurveyTrax may shed light on issues that could jeopardize the future for young people as they progress in school, such as chronic absence, behavioral problems and even early dropout. What are some tangible examples in which the DAP in SurveyTrax would be incredibly useful? See below – and keep in mind that there are hundreds of statistics like this:
- Mississippi, which has the highest rate of child poverty in the country, is one of 11 states that do not fund pre-kindergarten programs.3 With less than half of the state’s 4-year-olds enrolled in a pre-k program, such as the federally funded Head Start, many teachers are seeing children who are struggling out of the gate with how to adapt in a classroom. Kindergarteners who are entering school for the first time often have difficulties forming assets, such as a commitment to learning, because they are struggling with basics like how to listen to directions and participate in lessons. The lack of preparation from not having access to pre-k programs can lead to difficulties catching up with their peers in later grades.
- Many schools don’t realize that a student is falling behind their peers until third grade, when the curriculum focuses more on subjects like science and math and less on improving reading skills.4 If a child hasn’t become comfortable with basic reading at that point, he or she will avoid reading more challenging material in class. Oftentimes, children in this situation may not feel empowered to seek out help or may avoid external supports, making it harder for teachers to understand what’s going on and step in. Some children may even be held back a grade because they’re not on the same level as their classmates, increasing a child’s frustration with school. If we can identify that a child is missing those feelings of support or self-esteem, by surveying their assets, we can potentially turn the child’s future around.
Targeting Positive Outcomes
Let’s do a better job of avoiding situations like the ones described above. In summary, getting to the core of youth development setbacks means we must forgo our standard practice of simply placing high-risk kids in tutoring or enrolling them in summer school to catch up – and then crossing our fingers they work. With the support of the DAP in SurveyTrax, this is now possible. And over the long term, this approach can arm organizations like yours with the tangible proof you need to validate your organization’s success and increase funder support.
- “Developmental Assets,” Search Institute, accessed February 6, 2013, http://www.search-institute.org/developmental-assets.
- “Developmental Assets.”
- Willen, Liz. “Mississippi Learning: Why the State’s Students Start Behind — and Stay Behind” Time, July 27, 2012. http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2120539,00.html (accessed February 6, 2013).
- Paul, Annie Murphy. “Why Third Grade Is So Important: The ‘Matthew Effect’” Time, September 26, 2012. http://ideas.time.com/2012/09/26/why-third-grade-is-so-important-the-matthew-effect/ (accessed February 6, 2013).