Program Goals/Target Population
The Early Start to Emancipation Preparation (ESTEP)–Tutoring Program was an intervention that aimed to improve reading and math skills among foster youths and improve their educational attainment and transition to adulthood. The program also aimed to build an ongoing mentoring relationship between the youth and his or her tutor to improve the youth’s attitude toward learning, improve the ability to relate to adults and to self-advocate, and feel empowered to use other educational services and resources that may have been available. The program targeted 14- to 15-year-olds who were in foster care, had been identified as needing independent living assistance, and had been determined to be 1 to 3 years behind grade level in reading and/or math.
The ESTEP–Tutoring program was implemented as part of a larger program (ESTEP) that was conducted through a partnership with local nonprofit organizations and community colleges in Los Angeles, California. The larger program was designed to teach foster youths the skills necessary for successful adjustment to emancipation through workshops and practicum opportunities [see Courtney et al. (2008) for more details].
To determine eligibility for the tutoring program, youths referred to ESTEP completed an educational assessment, which included reading comprehension and math. Youths who were determined to be 1 to 3 years behind grade level in reading and/or math were referred to the tutoring program. Once a youth was enrolled in the program, he or she was matched with a tutor based on a number of factors, including gender, geographic proximity, and the youth’s needs. The tutor scheduled the first home visit with the youth and his or her caregiver, during which time they signed an agreement that laid out the goals, duties, and responsibilities of each for tutoring to be successful. During the second home visit, the tutor conducted a more in-depth assessment of the youth’s reading and math skills to determine the curriculum level to use.
The ESTEP–Tutoring Program was based on an individual learning model; curriculum materials were provided based on the student’s skill level so that each student learned at his or her own pace. The tutor and the youth met in the youth’s home twice a week for 2 hours. The program was designed to allow each youth to receive up to 65 hours of intervention time. Fifty of those hours were for one-on-one tutoring; and 15 hours were designated for tutor preparation, mentoring, and other activities, including transporting youths to ESTEP workshops.
At each session, tutors used tracking sheets to document what was reviewed, the curriculum materials used, what level the youth was on, progress made, and personal issues discussed. To monitor progress, youths also completed a weekly reading assessment and were tested both at the midpoint and the end of tutoring. The individual attention that the youths received was aimed at helping them develop a rapport with their tutors and improve their attitudes toward learning, their ability to relate to adults, and their ability to advocate for themselves. At the end of the tutoring sessions, the tutor provided the youth with an individual tutoring plan; the plan outlined strategies for the youth to use in continuing gains made during tutoring and may have included materials for the youth to work on. The tutor and youth also were expected to maintain contact in person or via phone to continue their relationship.
Tutors worked individually with one to five youths at any one time and were typically local college students who had earned at least 15 semester credits and were in good academic standing.
Since this tutoring program was designed to be embedded within a larger emancipation preparation or independent living assistance program, other program staff played key roles in its implementation, including the emancipation preparation advisors and ESTEP workshop instructors (see Implementation Information).
The ESTEP–Tutoring Program’s goal of improving the basic educational skills and attitudes of foster youths to help with their educational attainment and transition to adulthood, and thus their potential productivity and participation in the world economy, is consistent with the theory of human capital (Fitzsimons 2015). Furthermore, the expectation that the mentoring relationship will improve the youth’s attitudes toward learning, ability to relate to adults, and ability to self-advocate is consistent with the theories of social capital and social support (Heaney and Israel 2002; Portes 2000).
Overall, the findings from Courtney and colleagues (2008) showed that youths in the Early Start to Emancipation Preparation (ESTEP)–Tutoring group did not differ significantly from youths in the control group on the outcomes assessed at the 2-year follow up (2 years after the baseline assessment).
Youths in the ESTEP-Tutoring group did not differ significantly from those in the control group on their percentile rankings on the letter-word identification test at the 2-year follow up.
Youths in the ESTEP-Tutoring group did not differ significantly from those in the control group on their percentile rankings on the calculation test at the 2-year follow up.
Youths in the ESTEP-Tutoring group did not differ significantly from those in the control group on their percentile rankings on the passage comprehension test at the 2-year follow up.
Youths in the ESTEP-Tutoring group did not differ significantly from those in the control group on their overall grade scores at the 2-year follow up.
Highest Completed Grade Level
Youths in the ESTEP–Tutoring group did not differ significantly from those in the control group on their reports of highest completed grade level at the 2-year follow up.
High School Diploma or GED
Youths in the ESTEP–Tutoring group did not differ significantly from those in the control group on whether they graduated from high school or received their GED at the 2-year follow up.
Youths in the ESTEP–Tutoring group did not differ significantly from those in the control group on their reports of school-related problems at the 2-year follow up.
Courtney and colleagues (2008) assessed the effect of the Early Start to Emancipation Preparation (ESTEP)–Tutoring Program on the reading and math skills of foster youths in a multisite evaluation study. Four independent living programs in Los Angeles County, representing a range of program and service types, were selected for inclusion in the evaluation from 23 sites that met selection criteria. These criteria included the following: 1) the number of program participants was large enough to provide an adequate study sample size; 2) the program had an excess of demand for services, which enabled random assignment of youths into intervention and control groups; 3) the program was reasonably stable; 4) the program was relatively intensive; and 5) the program had a well-developed theory of change, linking intended outcomes with intervention activities. At the time of the evaluation, the ESTEP program was offered throughout Los Angeles County through a partnership among The Community College Foundation (TCCF), 12 community colleges, and the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS); the ESTEP-Tutoring Program served between 400–500 youths annually. The evaluation was conducted in seven of the community colleges and used an experimental design.
Youths were initially assessed on their reading and math skills by an emancipation preparation advisor (EPA), using educational assessment materials that had been devised by TCCF and generated grade-level equivalent scores. Youths who were assessed as being 1 to 3 years behind their school grade level in either reading or math and were interested in tutoring were eligible for the ESTEP–Tutoring Program. These youths were randomly assigned to either the tutoring intervention group or the control group. Random assignment was implemented by each college; if a youth previously randomized by a college moved to another area served by one of the other colleges, he or she was randomly assigned to the intervention or control group again. Youths in the intervention group were matched with a tutor and scheduled to receive tutoring for 2 hours, twice a week for up to 50 hours of tutoring and up to 15 additional hours of mentoring. On average, youths received 18 hours of math tutoring, 17 hours of reading tutoring, and 5 hours of mentoring over an average of 22 weeks. Those in the control group did not receive any services from the ESTEP program, but may have had access to other similar services through other agencies in the project area.
Outcome measures were collected through interviews with youths in the intervention and control groups and were conducted by trained interviewers. Outcomes were assessed at baseline and at 1 and 2 years later. Baseline assessments were conducted after assignment into intervention and control groups, but before tutoring began. The Woodcock Johnson Tests of Achievement III were used to assess letter-word identification, calculation, and passage comprehension. Scores on these tests were used to create age-percentile rankings for youths based on a normative sample. Youths reported on the letter grades they received during their last full semester of school attendance in English/language arts, mathematics, history or social sciences, and science. Their reported grades across all four subjects were averaged to obtain an overall grade score. Educational attainment was assessed using youths’ reports of highest grade completed and whether he or she had received a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma (GED). School behavior was assessed by asking youths to report how often they had trouble completing five tasks (getting along with their teachers, paying attention in school, getting homework done, getting along with other students, and arriving on time to class) during their last full semester of school attendance; response options ranged from “never” to “every day” and were used to generate a mean score.
In addition to outcome measures, the surveys collected information on demographic and background characteristics and factors expected to potentially moderate the effect of the intervention on outcomes. These factors included age, gender, race, Hispanic ethnicity, mental health (assessed using Achenbach’s youth self-report externalizing and internalizing subscales, and diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder), delinquency (assessed using a15-item summative scale), education (assessed using two questions about learning disability and special education participation), social support (assessed using a 7-item summative scale), and care history (assessed using two questions about prior group home or other residential care placement and prior runaway). Most of the questions were asked by an interviewer and responses were recorded on a laptop computer; sensitive questions (e.g., those related to substance use and mental health) were administered by audio computer-assisted self-interviewing (ACASI), and the interviewers were not able to see responses.
Referrals were received for 529 youths, and baseline assessments were completed by 445 youths. Of this group, 236 were assigned to the intervention group and 209 to the control group. The 1-year follow-up assessment was completed by 417 youths (220 in the intervention group and 197 in the control group), and the 2- year follow-up assessment was completed by 402 youths (212 in the intervention group and 190 in the control group).
Youths in the intervention and control groups did not differ significantly at baseline on any of the background characteristics assessed. More specifically, 48.4 percent of youths in the intervention group were male, compared with 51.5 percent in the control group. The mean age of youths in the intervention group was 14.5, compared with 14.4 in the control group. In regard to race, 59.5 percent of youths in the intervention group were black, compared with 65.4 percent in the control group; 34.0 percent were white, compared with 30.1 percent in the control group; and 32.7 percent in the tutoring group were Hispanic, compared with 36.0 percent in the control group. Additionally, 47.7 percent of youths in the intervention group had been placed in non-kin foster care and 50.3 percent were in home of kin, compared with 55.2 percent and 41.9 percent, respectively, in the control group. The intervention and control groups also did not differ on any of the outcome measures at baseline, except grade score; those in the control group had higher mean grade scores than those in the ESTEP-Tutoring group. The average youth in the ESTEP-Tutoring group was performing 2.3 years behind his or her peers of the same age in the letter-word identification and calculation tests, but 4.7 years behind in the passage-comprehension test.
There were, however, some crossovers between youths in the intervention and control groups and some violations of eligibility criteria. Specifically, 12 percent of youths in the control group received some tutoring through ESTEP, and 28 percent of youths in the study were either less than 1 year or more than 3 years behind their grade level in reading or math. Additionally, although the tutoring program targeted 14- and 15- year-olds, the ages of participants in the ESTEP-Tutoring program at baseline ranged from 12 to 17. Furthermore, the intervention and control groups did not differ significantly at the second follow up on their likelihood of receiving tutoring from any and all sources (school, home, and elsewhere); one factor contributing to this finding was that a number of initiatives in Los Angeles County, including the DCFS Education Initiative Program, provided tutoring services to foster youths at the time of the study.
Regression analysis was used to estimate the average effect of assignment to the ESTEP-Tutoring group while adjusting for baseline outcomes and background characteristics (i.e., demographics, mental health, delinquency, education, social support, and care history). Adjustments were made to these analyses to account for the fact that some youths in the control group had received ESTEP-Tutoring.
There is no cost information available for this program.
The implementation of this intervention required the coordination of work among several stakeholders, including universities or community colleges, foster care agencies, schools, and other service providers in the project area.
The ideal characteristics of tutors for this program included time management, organizational skills, good listening skills, ability to work and connect with youths, and reliability. Tutors received 1-day training on conducting the initial needs assessment, using the curriculum materials, methods for engaging youths, the holistic nature of tutoring and mentoring, and the plurality of learning styles; training encouraged tutors to experiment with abstract and specific concepts, visual aids, and other learning devices. Tutor handbooks provided information on the implementation of the curriculum, including the necessary paperwork to be completed. Additional trainings during the year (2–3) covered case management and how to resolve issues and overcome obstacles. As mandated reporters, tutors (and other staff) received training on child abuse and underwent criminal background and child abuse registry checks before they began working with youths. Tutors were supervised by master tutors, who had at least 1 year of experience. Master tutors also assigned youths to tutors and coordinated tutor participation.
Since this tutoring program was designed to be embedded within a larger emancipation preparation or independent living assistance program, other program staff played key roles in its implementation. These included emancipation preparation advisors (EPAs), who were responsible for assessing youths referred to the ESTEP program to determine their eligibility for the Tutoring Program, introducing and facilitating the emancipation-planning process among youths and their caregivers, and linking them to appropriate services. EPAs were required to have a bachelor’s degree and at least 2 years of experience working with high-risk youths at the community level. Additionally, ESTEP workshop instructors taught the ESTEP workshop curriculum to youths, and peer counselors served as role models to youths participating in the ESTEP workshops. Workshop instructors were required to have a social-service or related college degree as well as experience in using non-didactic teaching methods and in working with high-risk youths. Ideal peer counselors were foster youths who were at least 16 years old and had either completed or were in the process of completing ESTEP or Life Skills Training.
Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)
These sources were used in the development of the program profile:Study 1
Courtney, Mark E., Andrew Zinn, Erica H. Zielewski, Roseana J. Bess, Karin E. Malm, Matthew Stagner, and Michael Pergamit. 2008. Evaluation of the Early Start to Emancipation Preparation–Tutoring Program Los Angeles County, California: Final Report
. Washington, D.C.: Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/opre/eval_estep.pdf
These sources were used in the development of the program profile:
Fitzsimons, P. 2015. “Human Capital Theory and Education.” In M. E. Peters (ed.). Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory.
Heaney, C. A., and B.A. Israel. 2008. “Social Networks and Social Support.” In K. Glanz, B. K. Rimer, and K. Viswanath (eds.). Health Behavior and Health Education: Theory, Research, and Practice
(4th ed.). San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass,189–210.
Portes, A. 2000. “Social Capital: Its Origins and Applications in Modern Sociology.” In E. L. Lesser (ed.). Knowledge and Social Capital: Foundations and Applications. Boston, Mass.: Butterworth-Heinemann, 43–68.