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New IES Guide Weaves Together Research on Learning Out of School

The U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences has been cranking out those practice guides lately. The institute's 10th and latest guide, posted online today, focuses on how to structure out-of-school programs to maximize academic achievement.

The advice is timely. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools that continually fail to meet their academic targets are required to offer supplemental education services to students. And that list of schools grows longer each year.

The problem is that researchers haven't yet hit on proven strategies for delivering programs that consistently yield learning gains. As regular readers of this blog may recall, studies so far on the effectiveness of tutoring programs are a pretty mixed bag, with a few studies showing that students can benefit from the after-school programs and others showing no difference at all.

That's where the new practice guide comes in. The idea behind the guides is to offer practitioners best-bet strategies they can use when the research base comes up short. The institute's What Works Clearinghouse develops the guides with help from an ad hoc panel of experts who analyze the existing literature and make recommendations accordingly. The panel also evaluates the research for every recommendation it makes, characterizing the evidence as either "strong," "moderate," or "low."

In the case of out-of-school programs, the guide lists five recommendations, none of which cross into "strong" evidence territory.

The first one calls for aligning the out-of-school program academically with the school day. (That may sound like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how rarely it occurs.)

The guide also calls for: maximizing student participation and attendance, tailoring instruction to individual and small group needs, providing engaging learning experiences, and assessing program performance with an eye toward making improvements.

You can download Structuring Out-of-School Time to Improve Academic Achievement for free on the IES/What Works Web site.

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