Technology and Program Evaluation

By Jesse Hardy

With public and legislative attention focused on education accountability, the role of program evaluation is more important than ever. After all, an intensive remedial reading program that doesn’t produce results in student achievement -- to name just one example -- will need to be carefully evaluated for possible modifications. And given the growing demands on schools, some programs may need to be retired to make room for new initiatives. It’s the program evaluator’s job to review program outcomes and provide administrators with data-based conclusions and recommendations.

Today, how the program evaluator does that job is changing. In past decades, an evaluator could receive data, perform calculations, draw conclusions, make recommendations, and continue to monitor program outcomes with relative ease. Technology has made many of those tasks easier. At the same time, however, it has made other tasks harder, even creating a few new job duties for the program evaluator.

The number of available bits of data about students has increased significantly over the past several years, but the ability to determine the validity and general value of these variables has decreased. Although many evaluators had the technical expertise to manipulate data and perform calculations, they often lacked the capacity to apply this expertise in an effective and meaningful way. In essence, they lacked the “street knowledge” only principals and other key administrators could provide -- the ability to determine what information is valuable to program decision-makers amid a sea of data.

As greater understanding of what is important developed, increased demand for computer skills emerged. An expertise in database management, computer software programming, and statistical software is now essential to extract, analyze, and present data in an understandable format. What’s more, increased media attention on school accountability issues and student achievement has forced program evaluators to provide timely data analysis to the superintendent and district public relations office.

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