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John Zuman and Beth Miller present an overview of the Massachusetts Afterschool Research Study, a statewide investigation into how after school programs affect children’s outcomes and constitute quality contexts for youth.

While the importance of large-scale evaluations of out-of-school time (OST) programs is now widely acknowledged, key questions remain before the field can build consensus about best practices and policies. The statewide Massachusetts Afterschool Research Study (MARS) aims to address some of these issues. The initiative is being conducted by the Intercultural Center for Research in Education and the National Institute on Out-of-School Time, and is sponsored by the United Way of Massachusetts Bay, in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Education, the Massachusetts Office of Child Care Services, and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.

Beyond gathering high quality research data from diverse OST settings across the state, MARS makes several unique contributions to OST research. Unlike other studies that have asked the question of whether OST programs affect children’s outcomes, MARS also assesses how such effects occur, in an effort to identify best practices and to promote effective, high quality programs. Another of the project’s goals is to drive a community-wide consensus and agenda about which outcome indicators should be assessed and how the research results should be used. To meet this goal, the MARS team is engaging OST professionals, funding organizations, and community stakeholders at all levels throughout the research process.

MARS researchers are addressing the following questions:

  1. What program features and characteristics (e.g., program size, goals, activity offerings, and staff training) are associated with youth outcomes, both academic and nonacademic?
  2. Are some children more likely than others to have positive outcomes associated with participation, depending on their family background?
  3. What variations exist in programs and program features?

To answer these questions, the research team is collecting data from 78 OST programs in diverse locations, from Boston to Holyoke, from urban to rural, from elementary and middle schools to community centers, and from multiple levels of the socioeconomic spectrum. Data collection is occurring in two waves: The first wave took place in the fall of 2003 and focused on baseline measures; the second wave will take place in the spring of 2004. Data include reports from after school staff, school personnel, and youth participants. In addition, trained researchers are conducting observations of the participating after school programs. Analysis on these data will begin in the summer of 2004 with a final report expected in spring 2005.

For information about MARS, contact Don Buchholtz or Lisa Pickard of the United Way of Massachusetts Bay at 617-624-8000, or via email at or

John Zuman, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Intercultural Center for Research in Education
366 Massachusetts Avenue
Arlington, MA 02474
Tel: 781-643-2142

Beth M. Miller, Ph.D.
Senior Research Advisor
Wellesley Centers for Women
Wellesley College
106 Central Street
Wellesley, MA 02481
Tel: 781-283-2507

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