How program evaluation leads to improved educational outcomes

Incorporating program evaluation into a strategic plan results in improved program management, which leads to better outcomes.

As superintendent, you are responsible for every plan, program, and initiative in your district. While recently hired superintendents inherit everything that came before they arrived, long-serving superintendents oversee initiatives launched during their tenure as well as programs that have existed for years.

Whether you are a new or veteran superintendent, it is important to have a clear understanding of the expected results and ongoing progress of your district’s programs and initiatives as they pertain to the current strategic plan. Once approved by the local school board, the strategic plan serves as a guide, usually for the next three to five years, to communicate the district’s goals and priorities.

Despite the good intentions and great expectations of educational programs, they often fail to reach their desired outcomes for a number of reasons. In some cases, the program is not (or never was) in alignment with the goals and objectives of the district’s strategic plan. Additionally, it is not uncommon for a district to change superintendents during the life cycle of a strategic plan. Many programs also experience administrative and staff turnover from year to year. These are just a few reasons why bad things happen to good programs.

Program evaluation equals better outcomes

How can leaders better manage programs and keep or put them back on the road to success? Incorporating program evaluation methods and activities into the action steps of a strategic plan will result in improved program management, which in turn will lead to better outcomes.

Evaluation should be an inherent part of planning a new initiative, and thorough evaluations of existing programs can ensure their operational efficiency and progress toward predetermined objectives. In essence, program evaluation is an important component of effective district governance.

George Parker III
George Parker III

The late Robert Slavin noted that, historically, school districts adopt new programs, methods and materials based largely on “ideology, faddism, politics, and marketing.” Educators tend to ignore research findings when they decide what to implement in their schools, even though empirical evidence is readily available on the websites of organizations such as Social Programs That Work and the RAND Corporation. Much of this evidence came from comprehensive program evaluations conducted by professionals.

When an educational initiative is in the early stages of planning, adopting a formative program evaluation can provide information to clarify the goals of the initiative and how those goals will be measured.

Doug Wren
Doug Wren

Once a program has been launched, formative evaluation continues to apprise leadership and staff whether it is on target to attain the expected outcomes and what steps should be taken if it is not.

Unlike formative evaluation, a summative evaluation yields data that informs administrators about the impact of a program after it has been fully implemented and the kinks have been worked out. The purpose of summative evaluation is to supply evidence concerning the merits of a program, typically in terms of time, effort and money. A summative evaluation allows the superintendent and school board to judiciously determine whether the program should be sustained, expanded, reduced or discontinued.

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Program evaluation is frequently seen as a drain on limited resources that could otherwise be used to educate students. Although long-term evaluations can be costly, savvy superintendents understand the value of knowing if funds are being spent wisely on various programs before they begin working on the next year’s budget.

When done right, program evaluations save school districts money over time. Furthermore, as a superintendent who supports the evaluation of every initiative in your district, you will ensure that each one remains on track to achieve its intended outcomes within the framework of your district’s strategic plan.

George Parker III is the former superintendent of Newport News Public Schools and Caroline County Public Schools, both in Virginia. He has also been an assistant superintendent and principal in Virginia Beach City Public Schools. 

After teaching elementary school for 14 years, Doug Wren worked as a research specialist and as director of the Department of Research & Evaluation for the DeKalb County School District in Georgia. He retired from public education in 2019 following 11 years of service as the educational measurement and assessment specialist for Virginia Beach City Public Schools. He continues to teach with the Department of Educational Foundations & Leadership at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. 


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