The Youth Program Quality Improvement (YPQI) Approach: Implications for Policy and Practice

A substantive body of research demonstrates that programs for young people have a range of positive benefits including academic achievement, career exploration and development, and social, emotional and civic skills. However, many programs do not realize this potential – often due to the lack of coordination and support about how to assess and improve staff practices that create the conditions for young people to have high-quality experiences across settings.

Improving quality is therefore a priority for the afterschool field. Evidence suggests that the predominant form of professional development—staff training without follow-up—rarely produces sustained change in practice. The Youth Program Quality Improvement (YPQI) approach offers a continuous improvement approach that shifts the norms of traditional professional development – starting with assessment of staff practices aligned to a standard of quality, and then engaging in a multi-month cycle of planning and improvement.

The Youth Program Quality Intervention Study, which took place from 2006-2008, was the first experimental investigation of a data-driven, continuous improvement approach in the afterschool field. In the study, we set out to understand if the YPQI approach represented an ‘intervention’ that could improve the quality of youth experiences in afterschool programs. This brief focuses on the implications of the findings of that study – and the lessons learned from continued implementation of that approach over the last 15 years in communities across the country – for policy and practice.