Program Profile: Chicago Arts Partnership in Education Uses Research and Evaluation to Improve Programming

It’s not surprising to hear that education research shapes afterschool programming. Organizations like the Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE) take the process a step farther by also contributing to the research base in the afterschool field.

CAPE operates 21st CCLC programs in six Chicago schools through its Supporting Communities in Arts Learning Environments (SCALE) program, which connects in-school curriculum with afterschool arts activities through arts integration with core academic subject areas. Like all CAPE programs, SCALE engages professional, highly qualified researchers to analyze program documents, interview teachers and artists, and gather student data. The research methodology is built around four key components: inquiry, documentation, professional development, and collaborative research. Teachers and artists are trained to form inquiry questions about teaching and learning: What do they want to know about their teaching, their students’ learning, and art? They then plan and implement curriculum based on these questions, document and gather data during instruction, and lastly reflect and assess to determine the impact of their curriculum and instruction in the afterschool program and in school.

What are the benefits of having all staff participate in these ongoing research activities? CAPE uses the findings to develop knowledge about the impact of arts-integrated instruction. “While our test scores and behavioral indicators from the schools are positive, we want a deeper understanding [of] how arts-integrated instruction and teacher-teaching artist partnerships in an afterschool setting impact students directly,” says Scott Sikkema, CAPE’s education director. “These research and evaluation tools also capture a dynamic picture of individual and group student change.”

Photo of kids talking at a table

According to CAPE staff, communication and transparency are essential to getting buy-in from research participants. “Frequent check-in points with instructional staff underlines the importance of the research task and reinforces that research and evaluation are systemic . . . to the act of learning itself,” says Susy Watts, SCALE’s external researcher. “Construct [research] questions that engage the afterschool staff, [relate] to their experience, and involve them in the process.” Teachers, artists, and CAPE staff regularly attend professional development meetings where they share discoveries, challenges, new approaches to teaching, and changes in student behavior and achievement.

CAPE staff use research and evaluation to continuously improve afterschool programming. They discuss results internally to understand progress of the 21st CCLC programs and develop targeted professional development workshops. The team also shares results with external stakeholders, including students. For example, after the 2010-11 academic school year and corresponding evaluation, it became apparent that participants in El Cuarto Año (ECA) High School, the sole high school of the six schools in the SCALE program, felt isolated among the elementary schools. “Sharing the results with the school was very eye-opening on two main levels,” says CAPE program associate Hilesh Patel. “It had the effect of mirroring [the staff’s] words through the evaluative process and also creating a dialogue with the school about social-emotional learning and student retention. It strengthened the way both CAPE and ECA viewed and structured programming in the 2011-12 year and on.”

CAPE staff encourage afterschool practitioners to approach evaluation and research as an opportunity for program improvement rather than a requirement for grant compliance. For 21st CCLCs that are beginning the evaluation or research process, Watts suggests, “be clear to all what you want students to know, do, and be.”