Quality Standards: Design│ Building Quality in Afterschool

After completing a thorough planning process, your network should have a diverse group of afterschool stakeholders who believe in the importance of a shared definition of quality and are ready to work together to design quality standards. This section outlines an effective design process for state afterschool networks that are facilitating or supporting quality standards development in their state.

Resources: Designing Quality Standards

“Look, Listen, and Learn”

More than half of the 50 states have developed or are in the process of developing statewide afterschool quality standards. Each state has unique processes and resources to share. Yet there is an opportunity to learn from other states’ approaches to designing and finalizing standards for afterschool programs. We recommend that stakeholder groups start their design process with an intentional “Look, Listen, and Learn” approach.


Review the quality standards used by other states. In addition, review the suggested components of high-quality programs from afterschool research. In the resources section, we recommend starting by finding out what is happening in your state. You also can refer to the Mott Foundation Afterschool Technical Assistance Collaborative (ATAC) network website and the National AfterSchool Association’s recommended quality standards for school-age programs.


Interview network leads who have started or completed the quality standards development process. As a starting point, you may want to refer to the state profiles that AIR developed. These resources describe the quality standards development processes for a handful of states and can help you determine which aspects of the design process you need to learn more about.

Minnesota was having challenges building buy-in across all afterschool partners. The network set up statewide listening sessions to make sure that their development process was responsive and intentional about creating a quality standards guide that all partners could embrace.

You also can focus the conversation on areas that you know are of interest or concern to your state’s stakeholder group. For example, you may want to discuss the development of specific standards (e.g., those with strong agreement in their group or standards that were more challenging to develop). If you are interested in a practitioner perspective, consider following Minnesota’s example and conduct listening sessions with program staff throughout the state to solicit their input about which quality standards to include.


Compile what you have learned from your standards review and interviews and bring this information back to your state’s stakeholder group. When reviewing the material with the group, document which standards or processes resonate with your stakeholders and which standards seem more controversial. Make note of standards or resources your state will include that are missing from other state’s plans; you will add those when you craft your own standards.

Craft Quality Standards

As a stakeholder group, generate an initial list of quality standards, with broad definitions for each standard. Make sure that your quality standards are comprehensive but remember to keep usability in mind as well. Aim to have a list that you think will be manageable for the intended users.

Minnesota’s design team came together for a full-day retreat to review other standards guides and establish a design process. They hosted regional feedback sessions to revise the first draft and then worked with a communications consultant to rewrite the guide so that it was user-friendly. Finally, the team worked with a graphic designer on the look and presentation.

We recommend that you use the following guiding questions to structure your standards development discussions:

  • What elements of afterschool programs are prioritized in your state’s standards? Other states have designed their quality standards to define elements such as (a) the physical and emotional safety of the program environment, (b) organizational structures that support program implementation, (c) frontline staff instructional practice, (d) youth experience, and (e) family and community engagement.
  • Who is the intended user for quality standards in your state? How does the audience impact how quality standards should be defined or designed (e.g., how will the standards be implemented by rural programs, urban programs, school-based programs, community-based programs, single-focus programs such as art enrichment programs, or comprehensive programs)? For example, the network lead for the Arkansas Out of School Network remarked that a fundamental factor in developing quality standards was recognizing the diversity of programs in Arkansas and understanding the state’s unique needs.
  • Does the state have a long-term vision for quality standards implementation, measurement, and improvement? Is it shared by all stakeholders and reflected in these standards?
  • Should other tools or practices be incorporated into the quality standards development process (e.g., a quality improvement measure or a core staff competencies document)?

Once your state has a draft standards list, seek feedback from a small external group of afterschool stakeholders who are willing to serve as a review committee. Think about inviting a group that is representative of the intended audience(s) for the standards. Before sharing the standards draft, decide what kind of feedback will be most valuable for the quality standards development group. You may consider developing guiding questions for reviewers to standardize the response format and target priority areas. Based on the initial reviewer feedback, revise the standards into a document or web resource.

Indiana promoted its standards in a monthly e-newsletter and its annual Summit on Out-of-School Learning. The writing committee then created a survey to gather and track feedback and responses from the field. They collected data two times during the year. The committee analyzed the feedback and made additions and revisions to produce the final version of the standards.

Now that you have a relatively final set of standards, it may be tempting to say that the standards are complete. However, we recommend that your committee engage in a more extended feedback process with the broader afterschool field in your state: set up a survey, schedule a listening tour, or publicize a series of live webinars or town halls. Be transparent with the timeline for soliciting feedback and how you plan to use feedback from the field to revise the afterschool quality standards. Once the public commenting period has passed, conduct a final revision process to finalize the quality standards. This may include professional editing and graphic design to make the document as clear and user-friendly as possible.


Before moving on to the Disseminate phase, you will want to finalize and adopt the standards. This will look different depending on some of the decisions you made in the Plan phase. For example, in some states (e.g., California), the state department of education has adopted or endorsed the quality afterschool standards, with the charge to develop the standards being led by the afterschool network. However, in other states (e.g., Michigan), the afterschool network is part of a committee or workgroup formed by the state department of education to design the quality standards. The Arkansas Out of School Network was able to tie a state funding stream (the 2011 Positive Youth Development Grant Program Act), to the standards. Programs funded under this law are required to align to the statewide standards.

Finalizing the afterschool standards in your state will be a unique experience based on various factors in your state and the groups you are working with. However, we hope that you will review the process other networks have participated in for finalizing standards before you move on to dissemination.

Resources: Designing Quality Standards

Building Quality in Out-of-School Time (Book Chapter): In this chapter from The Growing Out-of-School Time Field: Past, Present, and Future, AIR experts Jessica Newman, Jaime Singer, and Deborah Moroney discuss the key elements of afterschool program quality that networks can use to guide the development of quality standards.

A Crosswalk Between the Quality Standards for Expanded Learning and Program Quality Assessment Tools (PDF): The After School Division at the California Department of Education and the California AfterSchool Network developed a crosswalk of quality standards with quality measurement tools. This crosswalk serves as an example to other networks interested in developing or selecting an assessment tool that supports statewide quality standards.