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Abstract

Understanding how to assess and improve what happens within out-of-school-time (OST) programs is a critical challenge facing the field. This article explores key developments related to the issue of quality in the OST field during the past several years and then looks ahead at opportunities for future progress. From a practice perspective, one of the most notable recent developments is the proliferation of intentional, systemic efforts to improve program quality. From a policy perspective, discussions related to quality within the OST field reflect broader trends within human services and education toward increased accountability. In addition to holding systems accountable for producing client outcomes, there is an emerging trend toward holding systems and programs accountable for what it is they do with clients. Funders are increasingly focused on quality, and many now express specific expectations related to quality assessment for grantees. On the research side, there is increased interest among social science researchers to better understand OST settings, including a push to develop and refine point-of-service measures that can help researchers capture data on the specific practices that drive youth outcomes. These promising developments position the field to evolve in some important ways in the coming years. In particular, there is an opportunity to refine and expand approaches to quality improvement using lessons from practice and research. From a policy perspective, quality can become further embedded in the accountability movement in ways that support program improvement by focusing attention on and directing resources toward the point of service.