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Research Questions

  1. What metrics can be developed to help capture more information about the differences between individual sites?
  2. How can data gathered from these metrics help contribute to future annual reports to Congress and allow for exploration across sites in more detail?

The National Guard Youth ChalleNGe program is a residential, quasi-military program for young people ages 16–18 who are experiencing difficulty in traditional high school. The program is operated by participating states through their state National Guard organizations with supporting federal funds and oversight. The first ChalleNGe sites began in the mid-1990s; today there are 40 ChalleNGe sites in 29 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. To date, more than 145,000 young people have completed the ChalleNGe program. Congress requires the ChalleNGe program to deliver a report on its progress each year.

The program includes a 5.5-month Residential Phase followed by a 12-month Post-Residential Phase, which includes support from a mentor. The stated goal of ChalleNGe is "to intervene in and reclaim the lives of 16–18-year-old high school dropouts, producing program graduates with the values, life skills, education, and self-discipline necessary to succeed as productive citizens."

In this report, we provide information on recent ChalleNGe participants, is in support of the required annual report to Congress. We also lay out a framework for evaluating ChalleNGe sites. Subsequent reports will provide additional information on future cohorts of students, will build on this framework to develop more detailed and more effective metrics, and will provide strategies for data collection in support of these metrics. Methods used in this study include site visits, data collection and analysis, literature review, and development of two tools to assist in improving the metrics — a theory of change (TOC) and a program logic model.

Key Findings

The ChalleNGe Model Appears Well Grounded in the Existing Literature and the Data Collected for This Report Indicate That Cadets Across ChalleNGe Sites Made Substantial Progress in Multiple Areas During 2015

  • However, most of the metrics collected so far do not include information necessary to measure the longer-term outcomes and impacts of the program.

Developing Longer-term Metrics will Require Overcoming Data Collection Barriers

  • Barriers include mobility of participants, the large number of sites in multiple states, and the lack of formal linkages between ChalleNGe sites and relevant state departments.
  • Leveraging administrative data sets represents a costly strategy in terms of establishing official data use agreements.
  • The ChalleNGe sites have counselors in place to collect some data, which could be fine-tuned to represent better metrics. Surveys of past cadets also appear to represent a viable method of collecting additional information.

The Test of Adult Basic Education (TABE) is an Appropriate Metric to Measure Academic Progress at ChalleNGe, but Metrics Based on TABE Benchmarks Offer Advantages Over Those Based on Changes in TABE Scores


  • Future reports will focus on both developing new metrics and discerning relevant time trends as we continue to collect data across the ChalleNGe sites.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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