- Learn about the importance of working together with families, colleagues, and supervisors to evaluate your practices and program.
- Examine the importance of using program evaluation data to improve program outcomes for school-age children and families.
- Reflect on what it means to work towards continuous program quality improvement.
Throughout this course, you have learned about what program management means for a school-age staff member. You have learned about the roles and responsibilities you assume on a day-to-day basis, the importance of collaborating with others, the importance of establishing and nurturing partnerships with families, and the significance of program management for program quality. Working with school-age children and their families means that you will have impressionable minds watching, listening, and learning from you. It means that you will interact with family members who should be your partners along the way. And it means that you will work with colleagues to strive for high-quality care.
Throughout this process, how will you be able to know whether you are indeed providing high-quality services for children and families in your care? How are you currently determining whether you are doing a good job with school-age children in your care? Answers to these questions are what program evaluation is all about.
Program evaluation is necessary in order to know whether or not a program is doing what it says it is doing. Program evaluation is typically completed on an annual basis in order to learn if the program is effectively meeting its goals. The findings of the program evaluation are typically shared with all the program's stakeholders: families, staff, and in some cases, the community.
What does this mean for you?
Evaluation of practice also can be done more frequently, and this involves all the things you do as a school-age staff member with children and families on a daily basis. In your daily work with school-age children, you plan experiences, activities, routines, and transitions. You carefully select materials and purposefully organize your environment so that it promotes optimum growth and development. As you implement your plans, it is important to look back and review what actually happened during a certain day, a certain week, or a period of time. Doing that allows you to take into consideration important observations that tell you if things went well, or not so well and therefore need modified. For example, you may notice which activities school-age children were engaged in, whether children seemed to enjoy working with the materials, or if routines and transitions were smooth or chaotic. This kind of information can help you make decisions about maintaining or changing transitions, materials, or activities and experiences.
Collaborating with Others for Program Evaluation
Leaders in your program including T&CSs and Program Managers, work with you and families to collect relevant data about program outcomes, analyze it, and use the findings to make changes that will improve overall program quality. Program relevant data might include the results of a survey given to family members asking them how well the program is meeting their child’s and family’s needs, that month’s curriculum and activity plans, or evidence from children’s portfolios or assessments that they are meeting developmental goals. T&CSs and Program Managers use this information to create a formal report or description of the program for those outside the program who are interested partners (families, advisory board members, etc.).
Formative evaluation is used during the daily operation of the program to examine ongoing processes and to help improve the program. A formative evaluation examines day-to-day successes and challenges. It is often used when programs are just starting or a new policy has just been put into effect. Formative evaluation provides a fast feedback loop to influence program decisions and make necessary changes.
For example, your program T&CS observes two activity areas each afternoon during your transition to playground time and leaves a brief note summarizing her observation in each staff member’s mailbox. Both of these activity areas were starting a new routine at playground time, and you and your colleague wanted your T&CS to observe the transition several times to provide feedback about how it was working. At the end of two weeks, your T&CS meets with you and your colleague to discuss her observations over that period and to help you decide if the new routine was working well for the children and staff.
A summative evaluation is typically conducted at the end of a program or after a program has been in existence for some time. The summative evaluation is often shared with those outside the program (advisory board, interagency council, funders) to provide data about the effectiveness of the program.
For example, each July your program manager writes an evaluation report. In it, she summarizes child data, family event data, child and family satisfaction data, and the overall program budget report. This report also highlights progress on the program’s goals (e.g., increase the number of family volunteers on school-age field trips). In many ways a summative evaluation report may be of interest to anyone affiliated with the program, but is also of importance to individuals outside the program.
Although a summative evaluation report might only be written and shared once per year, the information that is used to create the report is collected across the year at many different points and includes many different stakeholders (e.g., staff, families, advisory board members).
Evaluations may be conducted by a staff member who is internal to the program (e.g., T&CSs, Program Managers) or the evaluation may be conducted by someone who is external to the program (e.g., paid consultant, higher-education personnel or state licensing representative with expertise in conducting program evaluations).
What are Indicators of Effective Program Evaluation?
You should familiarize yourself with the following indicators of effective program evaluation as stated by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS/SDE) (2009), and the National Afterschool Association (NAA, 2011):
- Evaluation is used for continuous improvement of your practice.
- Your goals for children become the guide for the evaluation.
- Evaluations are done by well-trained individuals; for example, your program leaders (T&CSs and Program Managers) or individual experts who are external to your program.
- Multiple sources of data are used for the purposes of the evaluation.
- In the process of evaluation, children's gains over time are emphasized.
- The results of the evaluation are shared with others in the program.
- Evaluations promote collaboration between school-age staff members, T&CSs and Program Managers, family members, and members of the community.
- Evaluations are based on current theories, research, and policies.
Planning Evaluation for Improvement
Planning involves thinking ahead about what you want to do and how you will do it. When planning for the purpose of evaluating your practices, you need to be thoughtful about the purpose of your evaluation. Being clear about the purpose of your evaluation will help drive the types of information you gather, the questions you ask, the way you time your gathering of information, and the individuals that will be involved in the process. Ultimately, the information you collect will enable you to make decisions about things that you are doing well and things that need to be changed or improved.
For example, you may want to get feedback about how materials are used in your program, how experiences and activities involve and engage each school-age child and youth, how routines and events are carried out, or whether families in your program feel welcomed. You will work with your T&CS or Program Manager, as their support will be invaluable throughout this process. They can help you identify and clarify aspects of your practice that you may want to improve, make a plan to collect the information you need, and then use that information to improve your practices with children and families. Your T&CS or Program Manager can help you select the best ways to gather accurate information relevant to your question, and help you analyze that information to make informed next steps. For example, if you are interested in understanding whether families feel welcomed in your classroom, your T&CS might suggest a small anonymous family survey, with well-crafted questions, and/or they may conduct a detailed observation of how families interact with you while dropping off or picking up their child. You can then review this information together and see what within this area of your practice is working well and identify strategies for improvement.
Striving for Continuous Quality Improvement
You should work with your T&CSs and Program Managers to improve your daily work with school-age children and families in your care. You should also collaborate with these program leaders to assist with any activities that are related to your program’s quality improvement. Staff members who are committed to consciously improving services to children, youth, and families should demonstrate an openness to learning new knowledge and skills.
Continuous quality improvement entails:
- A commitment to lifelong learning
- Program changes that result in better quality care
- Self-reflection about daily practices with school-age children and families
- Shared leadership
- Collaboration with fellow staff members and program administration
With the leadership of your T&CSs and Program Managers, you should strive for high-quality services and continuous improvement. Excellence within yourself contributes to your program’s success and growth.
In your daily work with school-age children and youth, you can do the following when it comes to using information to evaluate your own practices and ultimately your program:
- Identify the good things and the not-so-good things that happen in your program each day. For example, you may notice that there may not be a wide variety of writing materials (journals, pens, pencils, postcards, unlined paper, index cards, etc.) available for school-age children in your program to be engaged in the writing area.
- Be purposeful and intentional when designing experiences and choosing materials for school-age children in your care. Be flexible and willing to make changes in your environment, materials, or routines, based on what you learn or observe about each school-age child.
- It’s important to know whether families of school-age children in your program feel welcome and supported. You can use your program’s or curriculum’s goals as a way to know whether you are doing well when it comes to working with families and then make changes if needed.
- Use your program’s goals as a component of program evaluation. Your program goals should drive your planning of experiences and activities. You should also keep these goals in mind when determining whether school-age children are developing and progressing.
Take some time to review the resources in the Program Evaluation activity, then think of ways that you can assist with your program’s approach to quality improvement. Share and discuss your responses with your coach, trainer, or administrator.
An important and challenging part of your trainer’s or administrator job is keeping you and your colleagues motivated in your work with children and families. Use the tip sheet, Get Your Staff Motivated from the National After School Association, to get ideas about how you can motivate your co-workers with your words and actions to improve your practice.
Carran, D. T. (2009). Early Childhood Program Evaluation. In J. M. Taylor, J. R. McGowan, & T. Linder (Eds.), The Program Administrator's Guide to Early Childhood Special Education (pp. 307-335). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Feeney, S. (2010). Ethics Today in Early Care and Education: Review, reflection, and the future. Young Children, 65(2), 72-77.
Feeney, S., Freeman, N. K., & Pizzolongo, P. (2012). Ethics and the Early Childhood Educator: Using the NAEYC code (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Illinois State Board of Education Early Childhood Division. Continuous Quality Improvement Plan (CQIP) for Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale-R (ECERS-R). https://www.isbe.net/Documents/cqip-ecers-sample-plan.pdf
Johnson, J. (2010). Keeping Your Smile: Caring for children with joy, love, and intention. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.
National Afterschool Association (2011). Core Knowledge and Competencies for Afterschool and Youth Development Professionals. http://www.naaweb.org/images/pdf/NAA_Final_Print.pdf
National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2011). NAEYC Position Statement: Code of ethical conduct and statement of commitment. http://www.naeyc.org/positionstatements/ethical_conduct
National Association for the Education of Young Children and National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education. (2003). Early Childhood Curriculum, Assessment, and Program Evaluation: Building an effective, accountable system in programs for children birth through age 8. Position Statement with Expanded Resources. https://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/file/positions/CAPEexpand.pdf
National Association for the Education of Young Children and National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education. (2009). Where We Stand on Curriculum, Assessment, and Program Evaluation. https://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/file/positions/StandCurrAss.pdf
Simon, F. (2015). Look Up and Out to Lead: 20/20 vision for effective leadership. Young Children, 70(2), 18-24.
Schweikert, G. (2014). Winning Ways for Early Childhood Professionals: Partnering with families. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.