Academic journal article Family Relations

Development of a Web-Based Evaluation System: A Tool for Measuring Life Skills in Youth and Family Programs

Academic journal article Family Relations

Development of a Web-Based Evaluation System: A Tool for Measuring Life Skills in Youth and Family Programs

Article excerpt

Development of a Web-Based Evaluation System: A Tool for Measuring Life Skills in Youth and Family Programs*

The need for evaluation of youth and family programming has never been more acute, yet practitioners often do not have the tools to conduct effective evaluations. We present the development and piloting of a web-based evaluation system as a tool for evaluating participant outcomes in Cooperative Extension programming. Results of a peer review of the system and pilot test of the instrument are presented. Implications for implementing evaluations for youth and family programs are discussed.

Key Words: education, evaluation, life skills, programs, youth.

The merging of practitioners and researchers to conduct evaluations of family programs has been described as an "odd couple" relationship by Myers-Walls (2000) because each group has different goals and responsibilities. At the same time, there has been an increased need for the evaluation of such programs, and often those in the field of human development and family are called upon to design and carry out evaluation research, frequently taxing the patience of each group. Myers-Walls suggested the difference is that researchers strive to acquire knowledge through scientific testing, whereas practitioners know their programs are effective through interactions with participants.

One reason researchers may have a difficult time with program evaluation results from the nature of this model of applied research. Evaluation does not fit neatly into the traditional research paradigm of testing theory and establishing truth that can be generalized to larger populations. Instead, evaluation is designed to help programs "inform decisions, clarify options, identify improvements, and provide information about programs and policies within the contextual boundaries of time, place, values, and politics" (Patton, 1997, p. 24).

One setting for this "odd couple" relationship of researchers and practitioners is on the campuses of land grant universities. According to provisions of the Smith-Lever Act (1991.), Cooperative Extension is a partner with land grant universities whose purpose is to extend results of research through the extension system (practitioners) to address the practical needs of urban and rural residents of each state. Implementing this charge creates a challenge because researchers and practitioners have conflicting responsibilities. At our university, the authors, a teaching and research faculty member, and a Cooperative Extension specialist from the Department of Human Development came together to develop a system to evaluate youth development and family living programs. This collaboration emerged in response to the increased need for documentation that these programs are making a difference in the lives of the people served.

Here, the development of a statewide web-based evaluation system as a tool for measuring life skill outcomes in Cooperative Extension youth and family programs are outlined. First, the overall evaluation in Cooperative Extension programming is discussed. Then a background of the evaluation philosophy used in developing the project and the literature on life skills is provided. Next, the process used in developing the web-based Life Skills Evaluation System and the results of a pilot test of the system and instrument are discussed. Implications for use in other settings are discussed also.

Evaluation in Cooperative Extension Programming

The need for evaluation of Cooperative Extension 4-H Youth Development and Family Living programs has never been more acute. Funders, decision-makers, government agencies, and constituent groups now require outcome-based or impact evaluations of major program efforts in light of fewer resources and greater demand on the resources that remain. Simultaneously, numerous Cooperative Extension programs have lost budgetary resources and evaluation specialist support that county faculty and staff depended on to assist them with evaluation processes, instruments, and reporting. …

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