Academic journal article Journal of Human Services

The Importance of Program Evaluation: A Case Study

Academic journal article Journal of Human Services

The Importance of Program Evaluation: A Case Study

Article excerpt

Introduction

Human services agencies have an ethical obligation to "describe the effectiveness of programs, treatments, and/or techniques accurately" (National Organization for Human Services [NOHS], 1996, Statement 15). Accordingly, the Council for Standards in Human Service Education (2010) National Standards: Baccalaureate Degree in Human Services includes Program Evaluation as a required area of curriculum. The importance of program evaluation is clear to human service educators and advanced professionals involved in the development of educational standards. Unfortunately, students may not always recognize the importance of this task. They often see implementing programs as more exciting and rewarding than evaluating them. It can be difficult to motivate students to invest equal effort into becoming skilled program evaluators as they do into becoming skilled service providers. Busy practitioners may find it difficult to make program evaluation a priority given the demands of direct service.

This article highlights the importance of program evaluation by presenting a case study of a program that was strongly expected to be effective, but upon formal evaluation was found to be a poor use of professional time and of no discernible benefit to clients. The program reviewed here is a relatively simple one that students and entry-level practitioners should be able to see themselves involved in, or even directing. The evaluation methods were also straightforward, making the study conceptually accessible to those with little experience in program evaluation.

Overview of Program

The program involved training parents of children to implement a simple reading intervention during the summer months in order to ameliorate summer learning loss. Summer learning loss refers to a tendency for students (especially in low income areas) to lose academic skills over the summer (Cooper, Nye, Charlton, Lindsay, Greathouse, 2003). An evidence-based reading intervention called repeated readings was selected for its research support (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 2000), ease of implementation, low-frustration methods, and time efficiency.

The program involved sending a letter to parents describing summer learning loss and inviting them to any one of several one-hour training sessions to learn a home-based summer reading intervention. A small grant covered the low-cost materials (described below). Previous research has found two similar home-based repeated reading programs to be effective at improving reading skills (Hindin & Paratore, 2007; Rasinski & Stevenson, 2005). However, the current program was unique in two primary ways. First, the author implemented this program during the summer months, whereas the previous programs occurred during the academic year. Second, the author carefully designed the program to be time- and cost-efficient in terms of professional resources, whereas the previous studies required substantial involvement on the part of the researchers (e.g. frequent phone calls to parents, weekly assemblage and distribution of materials, and even audio-recordings of home sessions). The goal was to develop a program that was more manageable for agencies with limited resources.

Expectations for the Program

The author and program designer is a human services faculty member as well as a former service provider to the community. The school principal and reading specialist reviewed the program prior to implementation. There was a high degree of optimism among this group, who had considerable combined experience working with children in the very community for which the intervention was designed. The author also presented the program design at a professional seminar to an audience of approximately ten faculty members in various disciplines under the Applied Studies division, including faculty with considerable experience in human service programs. …

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