Early results from our Minnesota 4-H Quality Improvement Study suggest that youth and volunteers can indeed assess quality and can work with local 4-H clubs to improve their programs. We have also learned that, for the most part, whether youth are paired with adult volunteers or staff made little difference.
Traditionally, program quality is assessed using reliable, trained assessors. Taking that model to scale in a youth organization with more than 130,000 youth would be impossible, so our study sought to discover how to measure quality in a youth and volunteer-led organization.
The study design called for 40 coaches (20 youth and 20 adults) receiving a two-day training on how to observe program quality using the Weikart Center's Youth Program Quality Assessment (YPQA). Participants were grouped into 20 pairs: half of them one youth and one adult volunteer; the other half one youth and one 4-H staff member. Each youth-adult team assessed at least two 4-H clubs for a total of 40 4-H clubs observed.
The goal of the study was to investigate the nuances of using an alternative assessment approach. It was not designed to measure the actual extent of quality improvement attained or compare trained assessors with volunteer assessors. We viewed the process of engaging, as a member of the 4-H program, as a step toward building a quality improvement system.
Results revealed that:
• Youth and adults played an equal role in the observation and initial assessment scoring.
• Youth involvement in the data collection was seen as extremely valuable.
• Observed 4-H clubs were receptive to this opportunity and viewed the assessment process as a positive one.
We at the Extension Center for Youth Development are taking this work to scale in 4-H clubs around Minnesota. The project represents a fine expression of the University of Minnesota's land-grant mission: to bring research and practice expertise together to support local community needs. For more on program quality and how to measure it, visit our website's program quality research page.
Is your youth program finding ways to measure program quality? How are you doing it?
Samantha Grant, assistant Extension professor, program evaluation