Participatory Evaluation in Education: Studies in Evaluation Use and Organizational Learning

By J. Bradley Cousins; Lorna M. Earl | Go to book overview

Chapter 2

District-wide Evaluation of School Improvement: A System Partners Approach

Lorna M. Earl


Introduction

The Scarborough Board Research Unit is an internal evaluation unit that loosely operates on a decision-oriented research model presented by Cooley and Bickel (1986)-that is, educational research that is designed to be directly relevant to the current information requirements of those who are shaping educational policy or managing educational systems. In this role, we have the ongoing responsibility for research and evaluation in the organization and are an integral part of the management activity within the district. Although the Research Unit has historically operated in a somewhat isolated capacity, the last decade has seen a decided shift in focus away from a detached research stance towards an emphasis on forming partnerships with educators and providing high-quality information to contribute to institutional decision making and enhance organizational learning. This philosophy has brought us into the mainstream of cutting-edge initiatives and controversial decisions. As Love (1991) pointed out:

effective internal evaluation requires forging a common mission and positive relationship between managers and evaluators…evaluators must forge strong bonds with managers.

This paper describes two related evaluation studies undertaken within the Scarborough Board that involved using 'participatory evaluation' methods (Cousins and Earl, 1992) to increase understanding, commitment and utilization on the part of both the evaluator and the clients. Both of these studies focused on school improvement efforts in a large suburban school district.

The Scarborough Board of Education serves a district with 75,000 students in a city that is one of six making up the Metropolitan Toronto area. It operates with a school improvement model that utilizes a balance between central control and local decision making. This model emphasizes: (a) change is an ongoing process; and (b) advances in curriculum require the collaborative and cooperative effort of a large number of 'system partners'.

The focus for the implementation of change in Scarborough secondary schools has been on each school establishing a school-wide Curriculum Management Plan which is unique to that school and recognizes that many schools have been involved in school improvement initiatives for many years.

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