Testing the Retrospective Pretest with High School Youth in Out-of-School Time Programs





out-of-school time, high school, program evaluation, survey, pretest, response-shift bias


Practitioners and evaluators face several constraints in conducting rigorous evaluations to determine program effect. Researchers have offered the retrospective pretest/posttest design as a remedy to curb response-shift bias and better estimate program effects. This article presents an example of how After School Matters (ASM) tested the use of retrospective pretest/posttest design for evaluating out-of-school time (OST) programs for high school youth participants. Differences between traditional pretest and retrospective pretest scores were statistically significant, but effect sizes were negligible, indicating that both pretests yielded similar results. Interviews with youth led to 3 key findings that have implications for ASM using retrospective pretests with youth: response-shift bias was more prominent in youth interviews than in quantitative findings, youth recommended reordering the questions so that the retrospective pretest appears first to increase comprehension, and acquiescence bias emerged in the interviews. This study demonstrates that the retrospective pretest/posttest design can be an alternative to the traditional pretest/posttest design for OST at ASM. These findings are important for ASM and other youth-serving organizations, which often have limited capacity to survey youth multiple times within 1 program session.

Author Biography

Jill Young, After School Matters Loyola University Chicago

Jill Young has over 10 years of experience in nonprofit research and evaluation. She is currently the Senior Director of Research and Evaluation at After School Matters in Chicago, Illinois, where she leads research and evaluation efforts for 25,000 after-school and summer program opportunities for teens each year. Previous to After School Matters, Ms. Young worked as a statistical analyst at University of Chicago and as a research manager at Northwestern University. She graduated from Drake University with honors, earning her BA in journalism and mass communication. She earned her MA and PhD in research methodology from Loyola University Chicago, where she is also part-time faculty.


Allen, J. M., & Nimon, K. (2007). Retrospective pretest: A Practical technique for professional development evaluation. Journal of Industrial Teacher Education, 44(3), p. 27-42. Retrieved from http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/JITE/

Bamberger, M., Rugh, J., Church, M., & Fort, L. (2004). Shoestring evaluation: Designing impact evaluations under budget, time and data constraints. American Journal of Evaluation, 25(1), p. 5-37. doi:10.1177/109821400402500102

Benzies, K., Clarke, D., Barker, L, & Mychasiuk, R. (2012). UpStart parent survey: A New psychometrically valid tool for the evaluation of prevention-focused parenting programs. Maternity and Child Health Journal, 17, p. 1452-1458. doi:10.1007/s10995-012-1152-2

Bobilya, A.J., & Faircloth, W.B. (2017). Exploring course outcomes utilizing a new Outward Bound outcomes instrument. Research in Outdoor Education, 15, p. 114-136.

Borgers, N., Sikkel, D., & Hox, J. (2004). Response effects in surveys on children and adolescents: The effect of number of response options, negative wording, and neutral mid-point. Quality & Quantity, 38, p. 17-33.

Bray, J. H., Maxwell, S. E., & Howard, G. S. (1984). Methods of analysis with response shift bias. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 44, p. 781-804. doi:10.1177/0013164484444002

Cantrell, P. (2003). Traditional vs. retrospective pretests for measuring science teaching efficacy beliefs in preservice teachers. School Science and Mathematics, 103(4), p. 177-185. Retrieved from http://www.ssma.org/publications

de Leeuw, E. D. (2011). Improving data quality when surveying children and adolescents: Cognitive and social development and its role in questionnaire construction and pretesting. Report to the Annual Meeting of the Academy of Finland: Research Programs Public Health Challenges and Welfare of Children and Young People May 10-12 2011 in Finland.

Durlak, J., Weissberg, R., & Pachan, M. (2010). A meta-analysis of after-school programs that seek to promote personal and social skills in children and adolescents. American Journal of Community Psychology, 294-309. Retrieved from: http://www.flume.com.br/pdf/Durlak_A_meta-analysisof_after_school.pdf

Forum for Youth Investment. (2010). Readiness: The nation focuses on college and career preparations. The School Administrator, 6(67). Retrieved from http://www.forumfyi.org/files/School%20Administrator%20Article%206-10.pdf

Furr, R. M., & Bacharach, V.R. (2014). Psychometrics: An introduction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Hill, L. G., & Betz, D. L. (2005). Revisiting the retrospective pretest. American Journal of Evaluation 26, p. 501-507. doi:10.1177/1098214005281356

Hoogstraten, J. (1982). The retrospective pre-test in an educational training context. Journal of Experimental Education, 50(4), p. 200-204. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20151460

Howard, G. S. (1980). Response shift-bias: A Problem in evaluating programs with pre/post self-reports. Evaluation Review 4, p. 93-106. doi:10.1177/0193841X8000400105

Howard, G. S, Ralph, K. M., Gulanick, N. A., Maxwell, S. E., Nance, D. W., & Gerber, S. K. (1979). Internal validity in pretest-posttest self-report evaluations and a re-evaluation of retrospective pretests. Applied Psychological Measurement 3, p. 1-23. doi:10.1177/014662167900300101

Howard, G. S., Schmeck, R. R, & Bray, J. H. (1979). Internal validity studies employing self-report instruments: A Suggested remedy. Journal of Educational Measurement 16, p. 129-135. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1434456

Howell, D. C. (2010). Statistical methods for psychology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Krosnick, J. A. (1999). Survey research. Annual Review of Psychology, 50(1), p. 537-567. Retrieved from: http://www.annualreviews.org/journal/psych

Lam, T. C. M., & Bengo, P. (2003). A Comparison of three retrospective self-reporting methods of measuring change in instructional practice. American Journal of Evaluation 24, p. 65-80. doi:10.1177/109821400302400106

Lamb, T. (2005). The Retrospective pretest: An Imperfect but useful tool. The Evaluation Exchange 11(2), p. 18. Retrieved from http://www.hfrp.org/var/hfrp/storage/original/application/d6517d4c8da2c9f1fb3dffe3e8b68ce4.pdf

Merriam, S. B. (2009). Qualitative research. (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Moore, D., & Tananis, C. A. (2009). Measuring change in a short-term educational program using a retrospective pretest design. American Evaluation Association 30(2), p. 189-202. doi:10.1177/1098214009334506

Nimon, K., Zigarmi, D., & Allen, J. (2011). Measures of program effectiveness based on retrospective pretest data: Are all created equal? American Journal of Evaluation 32(1), p. 8-28. doi:10.1177/1098214010378354

Pelfrey, W. V., Sr. & Pelfrey, W. V., Jr. (2009). Curriculum evaluation and revision in a nascent field: The utility of the retrospective pretest-posttest model in a homeland security program of study. Evaluation Review 33, p. 54-82. doi:10.1177/0193841X08327578

Reed, E., & Morariu, J. (2010). State of evaluation: Evaluation practice and capacity in the nonprofit sector. Retrieved from http://www.innonet.org/client_docs/innonet-state-of-evaluation-2010.pdf

Ross, M. (1989). Relation of implicit theories to the construction of personal histories. Psychological Review, 96(2), p. 341-357. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/rev/

Schwarz, N. (1999). Self-reports: How the questions shape the answers. American Psychologist, 54(2), p. 93-105. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/amp/

Schwarz, N. & Oyserman, D. (2001). Asking questions about behavior: Cognition, communication, and questionnaire construction. American Journal of Evaluation, 22(2), p. 127-160. doi:10.1177/109821400102200202

Sibthorp, J., Paisley, K., Gookin, J., & Ward, P. (2007). Addressing response-shift bias: Retrospective pretests in recreation research and evaluation. Journal of Leisure Research, 39(2), p. 295-315.

Sprangers, M., & Hoogstraten, J. (1989). Pretesting effects in retrospective pretest-posttest designs. Journal of Applied Psychology, 74(2), 265-272. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/apl/

Taylor, P. J., Russ-Eft, D. F., & Taylor, H. (2009) Gilding the outcome by tarnishing the past: Inflationary biases in retrospective pretest. American Journal of Evaluation, 30(1), p. 31-34. doi:10.1177/1098214008328517






Research & Evaluation Studies