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New insights into the back on track model's effects on opportunity youth outcomes: Opportunity works final evaluation report (Anderson et al., 2019)

Review Guidelines

Absence of conflict of interest.

Citation

Anderson, T., Braga, B., Derrick-Mills, T., Dodkowitz, A., Elizabeth Peters, H., Runes, C., Winker, M., Okoli, A., & Spievack, N. (2019). New insights into the back on track model's effects on opportunity youth outcomes: Opportunity works final evaluation report. Urban Institute. [South King County/Seattle site]

Highlights

  • The study’s objective was to examine the impact of the Back on Track framework on obtaining a high school credential and being disconnected from both work and school. The authors investigated similar research questions for three other contrasts, the profiles of which can be found here:

  • Philadelphia site

  • Hartford site

  • Comparison across three sites

  • Using propensity score matching, the study compared outcomes for students who participated in the Opportunity Works South King County/Seattle program to those of youth from other “business-as-usual” programs in the same city or region. The study tested for differences in outcome means between the treatment group and matched comparison group. The primary data sources were a baseline survey and a follow-up survey conducted 12 to 17 months later. 

  • The study suggested that, in South King County, the Opportunity Works program was not associated with participants’ chance of earning a high school credential, but also suggested that Opportunity Works participants were significantly less likely than those in the comparison group to be disconnected from both work and school.  

  • The causal evidence rating for this study is low. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the Back on Track framework; other factors are likely to have contributed. 

Intervention Examined

Back on Track

Features of the Intervention

The Back on Track framework aims to improve outcomes for “opportunity youth,” young people ages 16 to 24 who are not in school or meaningfully employed. Back on Track provides a framework that Opportunity Works sites could adapt to focus their activities and service delivery on helping young people find education and employment success. 

The Back on Track framework has three program phases. The South King County Opportunity Works site focused on the second phase, postsecondary/career bridging, which helps youth who have obtained a high school credential or are very close to doing so, prepare for college courses and career-oriented professional training. The South King County site primarily focused on providing one-on-one assistance to youth, including connecting youth to people in their desired career field, providing career assessments, and supporting financial planning and budgeting. 

Features of the Study

Using propensity score matching, the study compared outcomes for students who participated in the Opportunity Works program to those of youth from other “business-as-usual” programs that aimed to help underemployed, out-of-school youth of the same ages. The intervention group for this analysis is 66 South King County participants who responded to the follow-up survey. The matched comparison group includes individuals from any of the three sites involved in the broader study (South King County/Seattle, Philadelphia, and Hartford). The sample size for the matched comparison group is unclear.  

About 41% of the South King County sample was male, with 34% being young men of color. 32% identified as Hispanic/Latinx, 27% as non-Hispanic Black, 17% as non-Hispanic White, and 23% as multiracial or another race. 60% had less than a high school credential

Findings

Education and skills gains

  • For the South King County site, the study suggested there was no significant difference in the share of treatment and comparison group members who earned a high school credential. 

Employment

  • For the South King County site, the study suggested that treatment group members were 40 percentage points less likely to be disconnected from both work and school than comparison group members, a significant difference. 

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

The authors did not demonstrate that the South King County intervention group was equivalent to its matched comparison group before the intervention. Pre-existing differences between the groups, and not the Back on Track framework, could be one factor explaining the observed difference in outcomes between the groups.  

Causal Evidence Rating

The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the authors did not demonstrate that the groups being compared were similar before the intervention. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to the Back on Track framework; other factors are likely to have contributed.  

Reviewed by CLEAR

January 2023