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

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

Chapter 3

A Participatory Approach to District-level Program Evaluation: The Dynamics of Internal Evaluation

Clay Lafleur


Background and Introduction

For the past several years I have been the sole educational researcher for a medium-sized school district in one of the largest counties in Ontario, Canada, containing approximately 4,800 square kilometres of territory. The school district currently has approximately 48,000 students and 3,100 teaching staff in eighty-two elementary and fifteen secondary schools. The 1992 expenditure budget was $290,300,000 Cdn.

During the 1980s a major program focus for all school systems in Ontario was the implementation of provincial curriculum guidelines. The ensuing evaluation, development and implementation cycle (Leithwood, 1987) resulted in a more visible role for program evaluation. Consequently, we developed a model for conducting program evaluation to guide internal evaluation activities in this school district (Lafleur, 1990).

Evaluation comprises an accountability component and a formative component which inform decision making. One purpose of the program evaluation model is to engage primary users in as many phases of the evaluation process as possible. For example, all internal evaluations rely on an evaluation team that involves team members in the 'nuts and bolts' of the problem formulation, instrument design or selection, data collection, analysis, interpretation, and reporting. Members of this team typically include senior administrators, program support staff, school administrators, teachers, and the school district researcher. In addition, a range of staff members or people are often involved in specific working groups related to the evaluation process, such as data collection, analysis and interpretation of the findings.

Participants who are members of the evaluation team or of the various evaluation working committees include staff who actually use the findings of the program evaluation to improve implementation. Such 'primary users' may, for example, make decisions related to the implementation of the program at a system level or may make daily decisions related to the achievement of student outcomes at the classroom level. In other words, primary users are defined as those who are in a position to use the findings of the program evaluation to make decisions about the implementation of the program.

The current focus on educational change (Fullan with Steiglebauer, 1991), school improvement (Stoll and Fink, 1992), and restructuring (Murphy, 1991), as well as the

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