Three years ago, the Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Kentucky, launched an effort to enlist the aid of local after-school programs in improving students’ academic performance. In order to make the program more effective, we created a system enabling program administrators to access student grades and other key school records electronically in order to identify individuals that needed help and then steer those children to the appropriate academic support activities within their facilities. Early results indicate a positive impact on student achievement.
Last year, for example, one of the local Salvation Army Boys & Girls Clubs used the system to identify over 200 club members of middle school age who were reading below grade level. The center then recruited students from that group for a tutoring program being run under the county’s “Everyone Reads” initiative. Many participants showed marked improvement in reading skills, including one girl who raised her grades from D’s and F’s to earn a regular spot on her ninth-grade honor roll.
Separately, testing of third, fourth and fifth graders at two facilities with access to school data showed average grade-equivalent gains of 0.75 to 1.13 in both reading and math after the children were assigned to academic assistance programs at the youth centers.
The cooperation between the school district and the community providers also appears to be having positive effects in other school-related areas. Statistics from all six Salvation Army Boys & Girls Clubs linked to the system indicate that regular participants in the clubs’ after-school activities have an average 96.6% school attendance record — a 4- to 7-point increase over the feeder schools from which the students come.
As deputy superintendent of the Jefferson County Public Schools, I believe that other school districts can use the same strategy to encourage the best use of youth centers’ services in the interest of improving students’ classroom achievement, strengthening their commitment to school, and leading them to make good life choices.
Forging the Partnership
The decision to share student information with area youth centers grew out of an effort to measure the effectiveness of after-school programs. To do that, we needed an easy and inexpensive way to collect data on youth attendance in community-based programs. Then we would be able to compare participation information against real school data to analyze the effects of after-school activities on classroom performance.
One of the community providers involved in our discussions directed us to KidTrax, a commercial ID card scanning and reporting system developed by Phoenix-based nFocus Software to track membership and attendance in youth programs. That product provided the tools we needed for the data collection portion of the initiative.
At the front end, KidTrax equips after-school program participants with special bar-coded ID cards that are scanned every time an individual enters and leaves a youth center. All scanned data is instantly transferred from the KidTrax scanner to an attached PC, providing a complete log of time and attendance without the need for paper sign-in sheets or manual data compilation.
At the back end, the scanned information is uploaded from the PC to the KidTrax online database with a few clicks at the end of each day. The youth facilities then can retrieve that information in the form of reports designed to aid in program development and provide easy documentation for funding requests.
We decided to take these capabilities one step further by importing the KidTrax attendance information into our data warehouse for correlation with students’ academic records. That would give us the information we needed to begin measuring the academic impact of after-school participation.
Then we realized that it could be a two-way street. In addition to using youth centers’ attendance information for our own analysis purposes, the centers themselves could use our student records to match attendees to activities suited to their academic needs. Thus was the partnership born.
Accessing Student Records
To date, more than 50 after-school programs serving over 13,000 of the 97,500 students in the Jefferson County school district have purchased KidTrax at a cost of roughly $3,500 per facility, plus a $449 annual fee for data hosting, technical support and software updates. The costs have been partially offset by funding from the local United Way, the City of Louisville, and a Juvenile Justice granting oversight committee.
Participating programs range from the Metro Louisville Boys & Girls Clubs to the Louisville Urban League, Portland Community House, Greater Louisville Metro Parks Department and the YMCA.
Program administrators can access school records on students enrolled in their facilities through a special software application that we developed and linked to KidTrax. (nFocus now offers an optional data bridge that serves the same purpose and eliminates the need for custom development.) Youth centers can see student records in four primary areas:
- Achievement test scores
- School absences
All information is password-protected, and parents are given a confidentiality and disclosure agreement to sign before their child’s information is loaded into the system. In the past three years, only a handful of parents have declined to sign the agreement.
If the data shows that a student's grades or test scores are low, the after-school facility can assign the student to a tutoring program. If a student has school attendance or suspension problems, he or she can be matched to an intervention program. And so on.
One Center’s Experience
After-school program administrators have found that the system can be used in a variety of ways. Delisa Williams, Unit Director for the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club in the Newburg neighborhood of Louisville, is a good example. She not only uses information extracted from the school records to identify individual club members in need of her center’s existing academic support services, but she also works with her organization’s local headquarters to leverage that same data to secure funding for new programs.
Recently, for example, the program development director at the Salvation Army Boys & Girls Clubs of Louisville used the system to identify members of the city’s six Boys & Girls Clubs who have low stanines and attend one of 39 local Title I schools. The search turned up more than 650 children, including over 100 who attend Williams’ facility. Armed with that data, the organization applied for and received a Supplemental Educational Services grant under the federal No Child Left Behind Act that would pay for one-on-one tutoring. Williams and her counterparts then contacted the youths’ parents to inform them of the tutoring opportunity. Over 110 signed up in three days.
Williams is also using the student records available through KidTrax to help enforce a new juvenile court program called Street Law under which youths who have run afoul of the law perform community service through their local Boys & Girls Club. With the click of a mouse, Williams can determine if program participants have been attending school and fulfilling other obligations required to earn service hours.
Better Grades and More
These kinds of developments have promising implications for the ability to build a strong partnership with after-school programs by giving them easy electronic access to select school records.
As reported in “Cooperation in Louisville Brings Accountability to After-School Programs,” a white-paper describing the origins and early results of this project, one researcher who analyzed data from the 2004-2005 school year concluded that there is a high correlation between regular attendance at after-school programs and improved school attendance, a higher grade point average, and a reduction in the number of school suspensions. More frequent visits consistently yielded better academic and behavioral results.
The community-based organizations themselves gain important advantages as well. Through the information gleaned from both KidTrax and school records, these programs now have hard data that can be used not only to tailor their services to their constituents’ needs but also to assist in securing new or renewed funding. The ready availability of this data can also save hours of time in grant preparation.
Considering that today’s youth spend only 13% of their waking hours in school and the other 87% outside the classroom, after-school programs can be an important ally in strengthening students’ achievement levels, school attendance and overall attitudes toward education. Our experience in Louisville shows that building a data bridge between the schools and the community providers can make a real difference in reaching the students who need help.
Email:Martin L. Bell