Evaluation has become an essential skill in the era of education reform. Major public and private funders generally require competitive grant applications to spell out plans for providing an independent, high-quality evaluation of a program’s effectiveness, ideally coupled with recommendations for improving future outcomes. Rigorous evaluation also helps program administrators build a process of continuous improvement. The ongoing collection and analysis of data can tell whether a program is meeting goals and highlight areas in need of change or improvement. Correcting a problem early can save the expense of continuing an intervention that isn’t working. And findings of an outcomes evaluation can contribute to the growing store of empirical knowledge about which programs work, why they work, and under what circumstances.
It’s not uncommon for evaluations to seem daunting to educators who are at ease with any number of school programs but know little about conducting research. Practitioners also often wonder whether evaluations are the best use for the substantial time and money they require, resources that may seem better spent on the program itself. This paper discusses the many benefits of conducting a thorough, well-designed evaluation and seeks to demystify the process. It also stresses the importance of using rigorous evaluation methods.