CRESST Longitudinal Study Finds Positive Impacts of After-school Programs

LA’s BEST, an LAUSD enrichment program, produces positive results in student persistence, graduation rates.

Children’s advocates and researchers have long made the case that afterschool programs are good for kids. Quality programs can provide children important access to safe and secure environments, recreational opportunities and learning supports.

But maybe they can do more than that.   Maybe they can help kids stay in school and graduate.

Recently published research by the Center for Research and Evaluation of Student Standards and Testing at UCLA (CRESST) of the LA’s BEST Afterschool Enrichment Program finds that elementary school children with high levels of attendance in the program were less likely drop out and more likely to graduate on time than those students who never participated in the program. Specifically, the study found that higher attenders were five percent less likely to dropout and six percent more likely to complete high school on time than were matched control students in the same elementary schools who never participated in the program.

“These results imply positive long term impacts on secondary school persistence and graduation or completion for students who had higher levels of attendance in LA’s BEST during third through fifth grade,” says Deborah La Torre, a research associate at CRESST, who led the study.

“Based on the results of the study, we recommend increased funding for afterschool programs to improve attendance among less frequent participants and to increase the number of students served.”

CRESST research associate Deborah La Torre examined the success of after school enrichment programs in LAUSD. Photo by Todd Cheney, UCLA

LA’s BEST is a safe, supervised afterschool enrichment program serving about 25,000 children who attend elementary schools or primary centers in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Every day at LA’s BEST sites, kids get a healthy meal and find a safe place to play, along with help with homework, tutoring, and enrichment activities in mathematics, science and technology, as well as in the arts and sports. Previous research of LA’s BEST by UCLA CRESST has shown positive short and long-term outcomes for participants in the program.

In light of the programs expansion in recent years, La Torre, and research colleagues at CRESST including Seth Leon, Jia Wang and CRESST Director Li Cai, wanted to conduct a new study of participants in LA’s BEST secondary school persistence; The new study examined and compared the demographic background and levels of participation of program participants and non-participants. The study then looked at how participants in the program compared to non-participants in terms of persistence in staying in school and graduation or completion from high school.  In doing so, the researchers looked closely at the levels of participation in the program, comparing those with low, medium and high levels of program participation.

The study found significant positive differences in school persistence among those students with the highest levels of attendance (those who attended 168 days per year or more) compared to a control group of students who had not participated. Students participating in LA’s BEST were also more likely to graduate or complete high school on time. Student groups with combined levels of participation (low, medium and high) and those with the highest levels showed significant positive differences in graduation and completion. These results were found within the context of the more rigorous California State University A-G requirements adopted by the Los Angeles Unified School District for graduation.

These findings have important implications for afterschool providers, educators and policymakers,” concludes La Torre. Higher levels of participation in quality afterschool programs appear to offer the opportunity to improve school persistence and graduation rates. In large, economically diverse regions such as Los Angeles, increases in graduation rates such as these may positively impact opportunities for thousands of students and their families.”

A summary of the CRESST longitudinal study of LA’s BEST student persistence and graduation rates is available at cresst.org