Collecting and Utilizing Evaluation Research for Public Good and on Behalf of African American Children

Article excerpt

This article argues that researchers entrusted with evaluating the educational outcomes of African American children must engage their practice for the public good and on behalf of African American students. This can be done by collecting and reporting data that will assist in the creation of more equitable school reform for elevating the achievement of African American students. In this article, historical perspectives and current trends in evaluation research are illuminated. Using the Howard University Evaluation Training Institute as a guide, the steps for conducting quality evaluations are described, and the importance of conducting culturally and contextually responsive evaluations are highlighted.

Educators are currently in an era of intense accountability and efforts to elevate the achievement of all students, but particularly those placed at risk for underachievement and academic failure. In response to demands from the general public, employers, and policymakers that the nation achieve a higher level of learning in the K-12 schools, there have been serious attempts to reform public education. These demands have been fueled by the low achievement and high dropout rates of many high school students, particularly those who are low income and from disadvantaged groups. For the class of 2003-2004, for example, only 73.9% of all public school students graduated on time with a regular high school diploma four years after starting 9th grade (Laird, Lew, DeBell, & Chapman, 2006). Furthermore, there is a disparity in the graduation rates of White and ethnic minority students, with the exception of Asians. Using data from the U.S. Department of Education, Greene and Winters (2005) found that for the class of 2002, about 78% of White students graduated from high school with a regular diploma, compared to only 56% of African American students and 52% of Hispanic students. Additionally, these data revealed that only 40% of White students, 23% of African American students, and 20% of Hispanic students, who started public high school, graduated college-ready-that is, with the minimum set of skills and credentials required to attend a four year college.

Recent passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB, 2002) has significantly escalated the need for evaluation research to assess and understand the quality and value of educational interventions for all students and for evaluators to diligently work in the public interest. By requiring scientifically based research to justify funding for educational programs and activities, NCLB, in part, sought to motivate researchers, education companies, and others to take responsibility for investing in evaluations and clinical trials of educational interventions (Olson & Viadero, 2002).

This article will (a) discuss the purpose of evaluation and provide historical perspectives and current trends in evaluation research, (b) highlight the importance of evaluating educational efforts in the public interest, in general, and on behalf of African American children, in particular, (c) describe the steps for conducting quality evaluations utilizing, as a guide, the conceptual framework of the Howard University Evaluation Training Institute (HU/ETI), a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded project, and (d) draw special attention to how researchers engaged in evaluation of educational efforts targeting children of color must ensure that their work is not only technically sound, but culturally and contextually responsive to the needs of the population being served.

EVALUATION RESEARCH: PURPOSES, HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE, AND CURRENT TRENDS

Program evaluation involves the use of social science research methods to examine a program's goals, objectives, outcomes, and impact. Evaluation research is also used to investigate a program's structure, characteristics, activities, organization, and political and social environment. The practice of evaluation has been eloquently described as one that can enable society to meaningfully learn about its persistent social problems and how to effectively solve them (Cronbach, Ambron, Dornbusch, Hess, Hornik, Phillips, Walker, & Weiner, 1980). …