June 2000 // Volume 38 // Number 3 // Research in Brief // 3RIB3

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A Tool to Assess the Worth of a Youth Organization

An instrument to assess how "worthy" or successful a youth organization is in enabling young people to develop as individuals and contribute to society was developed and tested. The instrument comprised 22 items constructed around the notions of youth's contribution to society, parental support of youth, and youth developmental needs. 4-H high school youth in one parish (county) in Louisiana agreed that the instrument items reflected the concept of a "worthy youth organization." They felt that their 4-H program was highly successful and, in fact, was significantly better than the benchmark on several items. The instrument could be used as an assessment tool for youth organizations and refinements made as more information is gathered.

Daniel Sarver
Associate County Agent
LSU Agricultural Center
Lafayette, Louisiana
Internet address: dsarver@agctr.lsu.edu

Earl Johnson
LSU Agricultural Center
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Internet address: ejohnson@agctr.lsu.edu

Satish Verma
Specialist (Program and Staff Development)
Professor of Extension Education
LSU Agricultural Center
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Internet address: sverma@agctr.lsu.edu

Youth-serving organizations such as 4-H, scouting, and FFA have a useful role in society. In theory, they should enable young people to develop as individuals and contribute to society. Whether this happens in practice in a specific youth group depends on contextual, organizational, and individual factors. Knowledge of success at the specific group level is important for those who organize and support a group endeavor and for those who participate. At a system level, as well, this information is useful for accountability and program improvement purposes.

It can be argued that a youth organization that is successful in reaching its goals has worth (or value) and would be attractive to young people. Worth can be a proxy of success and a "worthy youth organization" equated with a successful youth organization. Using this logic, success could be determined by using an assessment tool to measure an organization's worth. We used this rationale to study youth development literature, and designed and tested an assessment tool containing criteria for measuring the worth of a youth organization. We suggest that the tool can be used to determine if a specific youth organization meets the established criteria.

Literature Review

Youth development literature reveals three interweaving themes related to worth. The themes considered in designing the assessment tool were (a) preparing youth to be contributing members of society, (b) providing family support, and (c) satisfying developmental needs of youth.

Making a contribution to society is a moral imperative of all youth-serving organizations. For example, the 4-H pledge emphasizes civic duty, and the scout motto stresses helping others. These organizations value ideals of goodness and purity, a purposeful life, learning through work experiences, realistic goal-setting, and career choices. Exposure to these experiences is good preparation for the world of work and fulfilling societal roles.

Research shows that family support, particularly parental, is essential for youth to actively participate in and get the most out of the youth groups to which they belong. A sampling of 4-H youth studies revealed that parental support, including positive parent role models, was associated with completion of 4-H projects (Scott, Clark, & Reagan, 1990); youth involvement and satisfaction with 4-H (Norland & Bennett, 1993); and the learning of life skills by adolescents (Collins, 1996). Ritchie and Resler (1993) found that one of the important reasons for members dropping out of the 4-H program was that their parents seldom helped them with club activities.

Meeting the different developmental needs of youth as they advance through age-related growth stages is a challenge for the youth development professional. Educational psychologists have identified adolescent developmental needs and the tasks associated with these needs. These tasks involve learning and fulfilling physical, social, and intellectual roles.

Havighurst (1952) posited that, at this stage, the demands of society are gaining ascendancy over the internal needs of the adolescent and that the developmental tasks required to be undertaken during this period help prepare the adolescent for adulthood. Erikson (1985) described the adolescent stage as one of seeking identity in the midst of role confusion. He maintained that youth are concerned with the question of connecting roles and skills already acquired with adult occupational prototypes which they will enter, and how they appear in the eyes of others. In a similar vein, Cobb (1998) speaks of identity formation, in which adolescents move beyond a simple identification with their personal childhood image of parents to synthesizing elements of this earlier identity into a new whole, one that bears their personal interests and values. Research in this area shows that individual maturity and life satisfaction come as one's developmental needs are satisfied.

Developing the Assessment Tool and Collecting Data

The assessment tool was developed in two steps. First, based on the themes found in the literature, a "worthy youth organization" was defined as an entity that:

1. Prepares youth to become intelligent, contributing members of society through the encouragement of civic duty and pride in work;

2. Encourages parents to support their children in accomplishing personal and youth organization goals; and

3. Focuses on the developmental needs of young children and youth.

In the second step, 20 characteristics matching these three theme categories--(A) Prepares youth for adulthood, (B) Encourages family support, and (C) Meets youth developmental needs--were derived from the literature. There were nine characteristics in Category A, four in Category B, and seven in Category C.

Positive statements describing these characteristics were developed. One statement in Category B and three statements in Category C were reversed to check for response bias. No bias was found in a field test of the positive and negative statements. Therefore, the final assessment tool included the 20 positively stated characteristics. A 5-point Likert type response scale: strongly agree (1), agree (2), neutral (3), disagree (4) strongly disagree (5), was associated with each characteristic.

The assessment tool was field tested with a group of high school 4-H club members in a Louisiana parish (county). Of a total of 155 enrolled members in the parish program, 132 responded in two ways, 37 at the regular club meetings in one month and the remaining 95 through a mailed survey conducted subsequently. Dillman's Total Design Method for mailed surveys was used. A response rate of 85% was obtained.

The data collection instrument featured the characteristics of a "worthy youth organization" and solicited 4-H club members' reactions to the statements on the Likert scale. Respondents were also asked to indicate how they felt about the Parish 4-H Club Program with regard to the same sample/characteristics. We decided that a mean score of 3.0 or less for any statement meant that that particular characteristic reflected a worthy youth organization and should be included as an assessment criterion. A similar interpretation was made regarding the worth of the Parish 4-H Program.


The assessment tool had a high reliability coefficient of .887 as measured by Cronbach alpha. All characteristics met the standard (mean score of 3.0 or less) of a worthy youth organization.

Means and standard deviations of respondents' perceptions of the several statements reflecting a worthy youth organization are shown in Table 1. Also included in the table are similar measures of perceptions of the Parish 4-H Program. t-tests were run to see if there were any significant differences between the perceptions of the respondents of a worthy youth organization and the Parish 4-H Program. These are also included in the table.

The data in Table 1 for a worthy youth organization show a greater range in respondents' perceptions of the several characteristics in Category A (mean range=1.76-2.85) and Category C (mean range=1.76-2.62) compared with the characteristics in Category B (mean range=1.99-2.34). A similar trend is observed in perceptions of the Parish 4-H Program.

This variation in perceptions suggests that respondents view certain criteria as more valuable in estimating worth of an organization than other criteria. For example, in Category A, in a given organization, teaching young people how to become leaders is perceived to have more worth than teaching young people about political viewpoints. Likewise, in Category C, teaching young people to be honest is perceived to be more worthwhile than teaching young people the value of money.

The data also show that the Parish 4-H Program was perceived to have greater value than a worthy youth organization in 14 of the 20 characteristics studied. In the case of these characteristics, the mean perception scores of respondents with regard to the Parish 4-H Program were lower than the scores for a worthy youth organization. For 7 of these 14 characteristics, the differences favoring the Parish 4-H Program over the worthy youth organization were statistically significant.

Table 1.

Comparison of a Worthy Youth Organization with a Parish 4-H Youth Program on Characteristics Perceived by Members as Signifying Worth

Characteristic of Organization/Program Worthy Youth Organization 4-H Youth Program Perception Score (a) (n=131)
Mean SD Mean SD
Category A: Prepares Youth for Adulthood
1. Teaches young people how to become leaders. 1.76 .95 1.47 .84 -3.47**
2. Teaches young people about the importance of community service. 1.87 .96 1.48 .75 -4.73**
3. Teaches young people about the dignity of work. 1.92 .98 1.79 .93 -1.59
4. Teaches young people how to lead healthy lives. 1.98 .88 1.76 .81 -3.10**
5. Teaches young people to be enthusiastic. 2.04 .99 1.90 .95 -1.65
6. Teaches young people duties of an American citizen. 2.20 1.08 2.11 1.11 -1.00
7. Teaches young people how to become economically secure. 2.41 .97 2.21 1.01 -2.29*
8. Teaches young people about democracy. 2.82 1.11 2.70 1.14  
9. Teaches young people about political viewpoints. 2.85 1.15 2.90 1.17 .63
Category B: Encourages Family Support
10. Teaches young people about the values of family life. 1.99 1.03 1.97 1.05 -.27
11. Encourages parents to take an active role in their son's or daughter's daily lives. 2.08 1.05 1.84 1.00 -.15
12. Encourages parents to become involved in their son's or daughter's youth organization. 2.09 1.06 1.80 .90 -3.47**
13. Encourages young people to learn important life skills from parents. 2.34 .97 2.29 1.00 -.74
Category C: Meets Youth Developmental Needs
14. Teaches young people to be honest. 1.76 .98 1.78 1.06 .17
15.Has many fun activities. 1.83 1.00 1.66 .90 -1.91*
16. Teaches young people about why things are done in our society and not just how. 1.86 .87 1.93 .92 .91
17. Teaches young people about mature relationships between themselves and others their own age. 1.89 .93 1.99 1.02 1.24
18. Helps young people establish independence from parents. 2.07 1.10 2.12 1.12 .49
19. Teaches young people moral values. 2.08 1.01 2.22 1.05 1.72
20. Teaches young people the value of money. 2.62 1.10 2.44 1.10 -2.30*

a: Response scale: 1=strongly agree; 2=agree; 3=neutral; 4=disagree; 5=strongly disagree

*p < .05; **p < .01


A worthy youth organization as perceived by high school students satisfies adolescent development needs and encourages leadership, community service, enthusiasm, morality, dignity of work, mature relationships, economic security, family life, health, and independence from parents.

The assessment tool developed in this study can be useful in determining the worth of a youth-serving organization. Depending on the evaluator's goal, the tool can be used to assess how an organization is doing in one, two, or all three categories. The flexibility to do shorter evaluations can be valuable where time and resources are limited or in meeting specific assessment goals.

Results of such assessments can be used to celebrate successes and market the value of youth groups/programs in meeting the needs of youth. Also, results can be useful in pinpointing specific areas that do not measure up to standards and in taking necessary steps to rectify shortcomings.

The assessment tool should be tested in different youth groups and varying contexts to increase its robustness as a valid and reliable measure of group performance and also reviewed by youth development specialists to suggest refinements in the criteria.

The Parish 4-H Program that was assessed in this study was perceived by high school 4-H club members to possess all characteristics of a worthy youth organization and, in fact, to exceed their estimate of worth on a majority of the characteristics. This finding should be publicized among local governing bodies to enhance their ongoing support of the 4-H program.


Cobb, N. J. (1998). Adolescence: Continuity, change, and diversity (3rd ed.). Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Co.

Collins, O. P. (1986). Who's the real teacher? Journal of Extension. 24, 11-13.

Erikson, E. H. (1985) Childhood and society (3rd ed.). New York: W.W. Norton and Co., Inc.

Havighurst, R. J. (1952). Developmental tasks and education. Toronto, Canada: Longmans, Green and Co., Inc.

Norland, E., & Bennett, M. B. (1993). Youth participation. Journal of Extension [Online]. 31(1). Available: <http://www.joe.org/joe/1993spring/a5.html>

Richie, R. M., & Resler, K. M. (1993). Why youth dropped out of 4-H. Journal of Extension [Online]. 31(1). Available: <http://www.joe.org/joe/1993spring/rb3.html>.

Scott, D. H., Clark, V. L., & Reagan, S. (1990). Helping participants complete what they start. Journal of Extension [Online]. 28(3). Available: <http://www.joe.org/joe/1990fall/a6.html>.