Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Students as Evaluators: A Model for Program Evaluation

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Students as Evaluators: A Model for Program Evaluation

Article excerpt

The student evaluator model is a powerful tool that allows young people to assess their own effectiveness and the impact of their programs through a carefully guided process, the authors point out.

TAKING students seriously is the key to the student evaluator model, a process in which students, with the help of an experienced evaluation facilitator, design and carry out evaluations of specific programs in which they are involved. Student evaluators may be fifth-graders or returning dropouts, students in gifted and talented programs or students with special needs, or just about anyone in the middle. What they have in common is that they are participating in a particular program and want to know what works and what doesn't. They present their data-based conclusions and recommendations to the program directors, who have made a commitment either to implement the students' recommendations or to explain why they won't or can't do so.

Origin

Patricia Campbell first began working with student evaluators in New York in the mid-1980s, when she was involved with the Cities in Schools (CIS) program. CIS, a non-profit education organization, enables students to stay in school by coordinating existing city services and outside resources and integrating them within the school. Upper-elementary and junior high CIS students from three New York City school districts interviewed teachers, principals, program staff members, and students about CIS and its strengths and weaknesses. Based on the students' findings, CIS made some changes in the program, including the development of a transition program for students who were no longer eligible for CIS.

Since then, student evaluator projects have been conducted in museums, community centers, and schools. One of the organizations that has made the most consistent use of the concept has been the National Center for Service Learning in Early Adolescence.

The student evaluator model has two primary purposes. The first is to provide students with the experience of being in charge while helping them to develop skills in written and oral communication and logic. The students must be treated-- and must see themselves -- as working evaluators. The second and equally important purpose is to provide staff members with usable information about their programs. The students must be assured that, unless legal or safety issues are involved, they will be making most of the decisions and that the work they are doing is real and will be used.

For their work to be real, the information the students collect must be accurate. Thus issues of validity of the data must be addressed as the evaluation is being designed. This does not mean that the evaluation facilitator gives a lecture on "sources of invalidity in evaluation data." Instead, students discuss potential validity problems and brainstorm for possible solutions. Students are encouraged to acknowledge and watch out for their own biases as they collect and analyze their findings. Typical questions that surface during these discussions include:

* If you collect information only from your friends, do you really learn what the participants in the program or class think?

* How do you get people to tell you the truth or to tell you what they don't like as well as what they like?

* What do you do about people who won't complete a questionnaire or who won't be interviewed?

Student solutions to these questions have been varied. For example, some students suggested they be given an official letter that identifies them as student evaluators and describes what they are doing. This letter has proved very helpful in persuading recalcitrant adults to participate. Students have also debated whether questionnaires or interviews elicit more honest results. In some cases they have chosen interviews; in others, questionnaires.

As conclusions are drawn and recommendations are generated, students struggle to answer the question, What data support your conclusion? …

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