What You Need to Know for Evaluating Reform
As experts evaluate academic performance in more and more honest and thorough ways, it becomes clearer and clearer that educational reform is a growing need in the U.S. However, pressing a problem as academic reform is, it’s not something that can be tackled with slap-dash solutions.
By taking time to establish the goals of the reform initiative, the stakeholder team implementing the reform is also creating the evaluation criteria by which success of the reform initiative can be evaluated. The overall, long-term goals can be subdivided into milestones to allow regular assessment of whether or not the reform progress is on target and on time. These goals form a key part of the reform road map.
A key question is who will perform the evaluation of the reform initiative. Independent district-level administrators could be engaged to perform this task, but it could also be performed by members of the community or, if the budget allows, by professional consultants. The team should avoid choosing members from within the reform team, who may be biased. The party undertaking the evaluation will be required to conduct the assessment fairly, honestly, and in a timely manner. Using the goals as a guideline, they will be required to provide feedback on whether or not the reform is proceeding according to plan and highlight any major issues.
Feedback from evaluations needs to be incorporated into the planning and implementation of the reform initiative. The timing of an evaluation is thus very important. Teachers are unlikely to have adequate time to give or respond to evaluator feedback during the very beginning or very end of the school term, because these are stressful times for both teachers and students.
Usually, if the reform initiative has been successfully managed before the evaluation, termination of the initiative won’t be necessary. But there are cases when it’s readily apparent that the reform initiative is failing and must, for various reasons, be dropped. Termination needs to be managed and communicated appropriately. The reasons for terminating the reform initiative need to be adequately documented and discussed with the whole team to ensure that all parties are aware of what went wrong but also to ensure that adequate time is given to review what went right. The lessons learned during the process, whatever the outcome, should be clearly documented and archived. These lessons may be shared with other schools seeking to implement similar reforms or may be used by the current team, or a future team, when implementing reform initiatives at the same school.
In the end, any reform that’s put into play needs to be well-thought-out and well-kept-up-with. Plans need to allow for constant analysis and change based on feedback. Reform, as it turns out, is a process, not a product.