Minnesota Public Schools Evaluation of the Urban Debate Program
The evaluation found that UDL has potential to be a positive addition to Minnesota schools’ out-of-school time offerings. Read the full report from September 2015.
Urban Debate League (UDL) is an out-of-school time activity that is integrated into the middle and high schools of Minneapolis Public Schools. A total of 438 students participated across six high schools and 13 middle schools within the district during the 2014-15 school year. Spanish and Somali debates were new to the program this year. A mixed methods approach, using growth modeling and conducting focus groups, was used to evaluate the impact of UDL on participating students’ academic success. The evaluation found that UDL has potential to be a positive addition to MPS schools out-of-school time offerings. The students who participated clearly benefited from doing so, both academically and in non-cognitive areas. Quantitative analysis suggests that participating students in UDL gained approximately 14% growth over the year, or 4.4 points above and beyond what they were expected to reach on the MCA Reading test. Students also showed increases in MCA Mathematics scores but this measure was connected to program participation dosage; for example, a student who participated in six rounds of UDL had a math score that was 1 point higher, on average, than a similar student who did not participate in UDL. Additionally, students had small increases in percent attendance but it was also connected to program participation dosage; for example, a student who participated in six rounds of UDL attended 6% more days of school, on average, than a similar student who did not participate in UDL. Qualitative analysis implied that students enjoyed participating in debate and the opportunities it provides to expand their worldview and how they approach information while meeting new people and enhancing their academic skills. The challenge of competing in the tournaments also appealed to many students. There is clear evidence that students are increasing their opportunities for positive development because the potential number of meaningful relationships and contexts for growth to occur increases considerably from participation in a structured out-of-school time activity such as debate.