Raising Academic Achievement: A Study of 20 Successful Programs

School accountability, tougher standards and higher test scores have been buzzwords in recent political campaigns and school superintendents’ speeches. Opinion polls show that the quality of education is a major concern among the public, and measures have been proposed at all levels of government to improve the academic achievement of our youth. The federal government has established national education goals; states are developing report cards to provide public accountability of their schools; and localities are trying to revamp their educational systems to improve academic outcomes. The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF) has been at the forefront of efforts to identify effective youth initiatives in the areas of academic achievement, preparation for careers, youth development, and service-learning. With this new publication, AYPF offers 20 models of excellence in raising academic achievement to guide policymakers, educators and youth development practitioners in their work toward a better future for American youth. These 20 examples of excellence were drawn from the 95 youth initiatives included in AYPF’s two previous publications on successful youth programs: Some Things DO Make a Difference for Youth (1997) and MORE Things That DO Make a Difference for Youth (1999). Almost all the programs included in this list serve youth who are considered at high risk for academic failure, including youth from low-income and minority backgrounds, immigrants with low English proficiency, and youth living in public housing projects and in inner-city areas. Despite these challenges, evaluations conducted on these programs show evidence of their success on multiple measures of academic achievement, such as test scores, high school graduation rates, and college enrollment and retention. This report is divided into two parts. Part One is an Introduction, providing the historical context of the recent concerns about academic achievement, the criteria used to select these programs, and an analysis of the features and strategies that the programs employ to help students achieve. Part Two includes the summaries of program evaluations. The summaries follow an eight-section outline composed of: overview, description of the population served by the program, evidence of effectiveness, key program components, contributing factors (factors highlighted by the evaluators as contributing to program success), study methodology, geographic area (program location) and contact information. Our expectation is that this publication will contribute to the knowledge base of what works to improve academic achievement for young people. We also hope that it persuades researchers to continue to search for features that distinguish successful academic programs. Finally, the evidence provided in the evaluation summaries printed here should inspire and encourage more schools and youth programs to evaluate the results of their work. Not only does such evidence appeal to funders of youth initiatives, it ensures that programs are, in fact, making a difference for youth.