Program Evaluation for the Practitioner
Data-driven decision making. This phrase is familiar to most schools and districts engaged in comprehensive school reform and improvement. It reminds practitioners that their plans have a greater likelihood of succeeding if the goals and strategies within them are based on solid information and not on hunches or habit. But where can schools get the data they need? As they strive for continuous improvement, how do they know which goals and strategies to keep or expand and which to drop? This month’s newsletter explains how schools can use program evaluation strategies to gather and analyze data and make informed decisions that contribute to continuous improvement.
What Is Program Evaluation?
Quite simply, evaluation means taking a closer look at and getting feedback about an undertaking, with an eye to making a decision about its value. In schools, program evaluation means examining initiatives the school has undertaken—whether the initiative is an approach to literacy instruction or a program to support struggling students—to answer the question, “Is what we are doing working?” In school environments, evaluators are often seen as outsiders trying to get a better understanding of how well students are learning and teachers are teaching (Angelo & Cross, 1993). But evaluation is not just for outsiders. Many evaluation techniques are easy to execute; can make use of data that are already being gathered; and can be performed on a scale that is practical for teachers, principals, and other school leaders. These “internal” evaluations can provide useful information about what is happening in the school and a strong, data-driven foundation for designing, implementing, and improving strategies that promote student achievement.
Why Is Program Evaluation Important in Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement?
Most school improvement plans contain multiple goals and dozens of strategies that the staff will implement in support of increased student achievement. Fewer plans, though, identify how the staff will determine if those strategies have been implemented as intended or have produced desired outcomes. This is where program evaluation proves useful by providing the feedback practitioners need to make those determinations. The results obtained from an evaluation can suggest ways to modify the implementation of a practice or uncover a need for more professional development to support its implementation. With programs that take longer to provide significant improvements, informal evaluation strategies can track initial changes in outcomes. Early feedback, especially indications of initial success, can help build support for a program and provide an early warning of potential problems so they can be addressed (Hansel & Cavell, n.d.).
Reprinted with the permission of the Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement. © 2008 Learning Point Associates. All rights reserved.
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