Inquiry and Evaluation:
Learning What Our
Students Are Learning
The only real evaluation is whether students learn more. And the only real
issue in evaluation is whether we study student learning as a consequence of
what we learn in curriculum, instruction, and the social climate of the
Evaluation is an inquiry, a process of asking questions and seeking answers so that the program can be gradually improved. Many educators conceive of evaluation as an end point, a judgment—“This program is successful; that teacher is effective.” We view evaluation as a way the system or a community of action researchers can provide information for itself about its efforts on an ongoing basis. We emphasize the “formative” aspect of evaluation because we believe in the importance of ensuring that educators use the data emerging from their efforts to improve their programs.
In the context of a staff development system, formative evaluation is a critical element that maintains focus, linking a vision of what schooling can be for students and progress toward that vision. And because we imagine a system in which governance is shared, each person has a role in designing and executing the evaluation process, interpreting the results, and acting to improve things.
Determining the extent to which new content and processes are implemented needs to occur before questions about student outcomes can be addressed. Assuming the change that was planned is implemented, however, the questions of greatest interest to most teachers, administrators, and parents can be asked: How are the changes we have put in place affecting our students?
We acknowledge the difficulties inherent in evaluating staff development programs. We recognize that the implementation of each event and program is heavily influenced by its context. The energy and interest of the schools and teachers amplify or diminish the effects of training events. Also, staff development influences its