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7 2¥¥ Best Practices for Language Program Evaluation Success JOHN McE. DAVIS BEFORE DISCUSSING THE SPECIFIC steps in planning and conducting an evaluation project using a use-focused approach, this chapter explains some general evaluation best practices and key concepts that will enable educators to conduct productively useful evaluation in their language programs. For example, useful evaluation depends on how well the evaluation is conducted. Thus, in chapters 3–8, we lay out specific evaluation planning and implementation strategies that help ensure evaluation quality, advocating, again, for a specifically use-focused evaluation approach. In this chapter, however, we discuss key aspects of program context, personnel factors , and other general implementation concerns that will help evaluation be a successful endeavor. Recall Norris’ (2006, 579) definition of evaluation from chapter 1:“Evaluation is the gathering of information about any of the variety of elements that constitute educational programs, for a variety of purposes that include primarily understanding, demonstrating , improving, and judging program value.” As suggested in Norris’ definition, evaluation can be a powerful tool for developing, improving, understanding, or demonstrating the value of language teaching and learning. When conducted well and in a set of conducive programmatic conditions, evaluation is powerful force for positive change. For example, evaluation can aid staff and other stakeholders in learning about how well their program is functioning. Evaluation can help programs know whether students are reaching important learning targets and whether important institutional goals are being met. Evaluation enables administrators and leadership to conduct strategic planning, make important decisions on the basis of evidence, meet external accountability requirements, or justify requests for resources and funding. Evaluation can also engage program stakeholders and promote commitment to institutional objectives. Evaluation can also help programs demonstrate their worth and importance to the local community, or even the value of language education, generally, for an educated society and literate citizenry. 8 John McE. Davis Using evaluation productively toward these estimable aims, however, depends on a number of factors. As noted in chapter 1, evaluation does not naturally lead to these ends. On the one hand, evaluation activities must be conducted at a high level of quality. This means the evaluation project must be planned and implemented systematically with involvement and buy-in from relevant stakeholders. Also, the evaluation must produce information that is clear, nonthreatening, timely, sufficiently trustworthy, and perceived as issuing from sound data-collection methods. And perhaps most importantly, the productive use of an evaluation will strongly depend on sustained stakeholder involvement and participation. Other factors that will impact the efficacy of the evaluation will have more to do with the evaluation context. For example, the information needs of decision-makers, the political climate, competing information from other sources, the general commitment or receptiveness to evaluation within the program, and stakeholder engagement during the evaluation process; all of these more local concerns will affect how impactful an evaluation will be (Johnson et al. 2009). The aim of this chapter is to describe some of the more general contextual, personnel-related, and methodological factors that help evaluation to be a useful activity—ideas that should be kept in mind when getting started with evaluation for the first time. A Case Study of Useful Evaluation Before proceeding further, readers might reflect for a moment on how productive evaluation activities are in their programs currently. Is there consistent and productive use of evaluation information? If not, why might this be the case? What is preventing evaluation from supplying people with the information they need to improve instruction or make other important educational decisions? Is evaluation something that people value in the same way as curriculum design, materials development, teacher training, or language assessment? If not, why not? To help explore some of these issues as well as illustrate some of the factors that help evaluation succeed, we present the following real-life evaluation example from a language program with a long history of useful evaluation and evidence-based practice, and we highlight what educators did in this brief case study that made evaluation successful. Case Study Program Context AuniversityFrenchdepartmenthasbeenconductingevaluationandimprovement-oriented assessment for many years. The current chair of the program is committed to using evaluation for improving teaching and learning in the program. A former chair and respected senior faculty member is a well-known researcher on language pedagogy and assessment and has spearheaded evaluation efforts in the program for many years. Evaluation and assessment are integral parts of the department’s administrative processes. Programmatic decisions are often made on the...


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