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Study Links After-School Programs to Improved STEM Knowledge

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Can an after-school program change the way a student perceives science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, fields?

That's one of the key questions for researchers working on a new study set to be released later this month about the impact of after-school programs with a STEM focus.

So far, no official release date for the study entitled, "Afterschool & STEM System Building Evaluation 2016," has been set, but researchers did provide an 11-page overview of their findings today.

Researchers with The PEAR Institute: Partnerships in Education and Resilience at Harvard University and McLean Hospital and the Institute for Measurement, Methodology, Analysis & Policy at Texas Tech University conducted the study, which examined more than 160 after-school programs in 11 states:

  • Florida
  • Iowa
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Massachusetts
  • Maryland
  • Michigan
  • Nebraska
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina

The researchers observed these programs, interviewed nearly 1,600 students in grades 4-12 and asked more than 145 teachers/facilitators to complete questionnaires.

The study found that these programs change the way the majority of students see the STEM field:

  • 80 percent said their STEM career knowledge increased
  • 78 percent reported a more positive attitude about STEM
  • 72 percent said their perseverance and critical thinking skills increased

Across all 11 states, 70 percent of students reported positive gains in these areas.

Not surprisingly, the programs rated the highest quality had the most positive student outcomes.

The study also found that the vast majority of teachers/facilitators felt the programs helped students increase their STEM skills with 90 percent of them reporting their students' science proficiency and confidence had improved.

Findings from the study can be found in STEM Ready America: Inspiring and Preparing Students for Success with After-School and Summer Learning, a collection of articles from 40 experts in the field.

The study was supported by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and STEM Next.

Ron Ottinger heads STEM Next and formerly led the Noyce Foundation, which funded the program. (Noyce also supports some video coverage of science learning and career pathways for Education Week.)

"After-school programs have significant potential to help young people across America prepare for success in school today and jobs tomorrow," said Ottinger in a news release. "There's a powerful message here for employers nationwide concerned about the pipeline of qualified job candidates. After-school STEM programs are inspiring and equipping young people to pursue careers they never imagined before—and helping them gain skills needed for virtually every job in the future."


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