Thursday, January 29, 2009

Program Evaluation, part 2

I walk a fine line when talking about program evaluation, for while I am not a proponent of using traditional standardized tests (ITBS) for seeing if your program works, I am equally adverse to those who say "Heck with data altogether". Data are crucial.

David Warlick, who I have a lot of respect for, showed his apprehension for data when he touched upon this topic in his recent blog post:
Now I get data. I understand its value under some circumstances. Yet when I hear people exulting data collection as a principle way of educating children, I feel that we are being drawn away from the things that I truly value in teaching — in being a teacher. It’s because I am, admittedly, a romantic when it comes to education. It’s about relationships, environment, and activity. I know that disaggregated data can help, but there’s something about the scale that bothers me.

What draws me to his thoughts is that, in many ways, I am the same. As a teacher, I was romantic when it came to instructional time. I knew when we just had a great learning moment, or when students suddenly saw the bigger picture. And as a principal, I knew that no matter what we did in professional development, certain teachers were going to be masterful in the classroom while others would not. There is an art to teaching that, unfortunately, I don't think you can learn. Some people just are great teachers.

But as I have learned, there is a science to teaching as well, parts that can be analyzed and systematically improved. If someone were to ask me when I was a teaching, "How do you know this constructivist-style classroom is working?" I would have said "You have to see what I have seen", the romantic that I am.

That answer is not acceptable. The answer has to be "I did it this way, and these were the results. Then I did it this way, and these were the results. And, being the second was better, I continued that practice." And, data are needed.

As a teacher, this was tough for me to swallow. Like most teachers, I took a prideful ownership of what I taught. To say it could be improved is almost a personal attack. This is the hurdle that has to be overcome.

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