In 1990, the National League for Nursing adopted an outcomes-oriented process for accreditation review (1). Since that time, some educators have mistakenly assumed that this type of approach replaces the need for a comprehensive theorydriven evaluation plan. In actuality, the criteria identified for accreditation review are but one component of an overall program evaluation. Several theory-driven evaluation models exist that may be integrated with National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC) outcome criteria into a comprehensive program evaluation plan (2). [paragraph] Comprehensive educational program evaluations are theory driven and guided by the philosophies, values, and world views of the program developers. Formats and methods for designing program evaluations are available from a number of sources, but the most successful are those that evolve directly from the program developers' vision and mission. [paragraph] A first step in the development of a comprehensive program evaluation plan consists of reviewing, and in some cases developing, the program's statement of philosophy and purpose -- a definition of what the program does, what the faculty believe are essential characteristics and components of an educational process, and what the graduates of the program are expected to do. This step is critical to the theory-building process that guides decisions about evaluation format and data sources needed for determining program outcomes.
Program Evaluation Theories These theories generally focus on purpose, structure, and methodologic approach. While any one theory may be useful for guiding a school's program evaluation, components and data collection elements should reflect the faculty's overall mission and philosophy. Moreover, the evaluation framework selected will, in itself, reflect the faculty's philosophy of nursing, education, and educational assessment.
* The Stakeholder-Focused Approach Faculty who value the inclusion of a consumer's perspective in decision making may opt for a stakeholder-focused or responsive-focused approach to program evaluation, whereby evaluation plans are negotiated to incorporate the needs and perspectives of stakeholders. The incorporation of stakeholders' views results in what has been defined as emergent evaluations (3), where evaluation boundaries and parameters are fluid and constantly evolving. Stakeholder-focused approaches are likely to elicit information that is relevant and useful to those who benefit from or are affected by the program -- an important step in preventing Type IV evaluation errors, in which evaluation results are useless to program implementers and policymakers (4). Stakeholder-focused evaluations tend to be costly, however, and take considerable time to complete.
* The Values-Focused Approach Schools of nursing that use a values-focused approach in their educational programs may prefer a values-focused evaluation theory, such as the one proposed by Scriven (5). In Scriven's theory, the sole focus of the evaluation is the assessment of the program's ability to do good for society. (He uses the term evaluand for all things evaluated.) An essential component of this theory is the use of a "goal-free" method of data collection, in which the evaluator avoids any direct contact with project personnel, whose opinions and reports of the program may bias the evaluator's assessment of program effects. This theory would not be acceptable to faculty who desire a stakeholder-focused approach to program development and assessment.
* The Continuous Quality Improvement Approach A third approach involves a continuous quality improvement framework, in which the purpose of evaluation is the constant assessment and refinement of educational programs through a combination of process-focused and outcomes-focused approaches. This global theory, described originally by Cronbach in the early 1960s (5), resulted in considerable debate among experts who viewed the purpose of evaluation as solely responsible for reporting treatment effects. …