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Assessing Afterschool Science

After-school and informal science education programs have become a fixture in school districts around the country. It's easy to see why. They offer a way to introduce students to the natural world in a fun and pressure-free (free of tests, for example) environment.

But how can educators and parents judge the strengths and shortcomings of those programs? And how can researchers evaluate them in a consistent way?

A new study, prepared for the Noyce Foundation, attempts to provide some answers to those questions. It recommends the development of specific criteria for judging informal science programs, in areas such as student engagement and students' acquisition of science content knowledge and reasoning skills. It recommends the creation of an online database with tools for evaluating programs, which could be used by evaluators and updated continuously. It also suggests the creation of quantitative tools to assess the progress of students taking part in afterschool and informal science.

The authors of the study, which was released by the Program in Education, Afterschool & Resiliency at Harvard University and McLean Hospital, say they are seeking comments on the document. You can send them to [email protected], with "Science Assessment in Out-of-School Time" in the subject heading.

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