ERIC Identifier: ED296816
Publication Date: 1988-01-00
Author: Sanders, James R.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Rural Education and Small Schools Las Cruces NM.
Approaching Evaluation in Small Schools. ERIC Digest.
Forms and functions of evaluation in small schools can vary. This
digest reviews the status of evaluation and describes three evaluation
strategies that school leaders with few resources and limited time can use to
monitor quality and to establish directions for school improvement.
WHAT IS THE STATUS OF EVALUATION IN SMALL SCHOOLS?
Elementary and secondary educators generally agree on the importance of
assessing the quality of the services they provide their students and
communities. Evaluation, the process of determining quality of schools and how
to improve it, should be an integral part of all school operations.
We know that the largest school systems of the United States invest heavily
in evaluation functions (Lyon and Others, 1978; Stufflebeam, 1980). However, in
smaller school districts there is often less effort invested in school
evaluation (Lyon and Others, 1978; Kennedy and Others, 1980). Formal evaluations
in small school districts are typically done by university-based consultants,
but colleges and universities are not accessible to all districts (Adams, 1971;
Scriven (1973) has identified several functions of evaluation in schools.
These include support for administrative decision-making, curriculum
improvement, staff development, public relations, instruction, counseling and
diagnosis of student and staff problems, and planning.
Cool (1977, in Sanders, 1978) has also described elements in a school
district that could become focal points for evaluation. These include the
--general needs assessments; --individual needs assessments; --resource
allotment; --processes or strategies for providing services to learners, such
as: curriculum design, classroom processes, materials of instruction, monitoring
of pupil progress, learner motivation, teacher effectiveness, learning
environment, staff development, decision making, community involvement, and
board policy formation; --outcomes of instruction; and --accountability.
Recent studies of school district evaluation practices (Kennedy and Others,
1980; King and Others, 1982; Sanders, 1983) indicate that small school districts
with limited funds do participate in this process, but not in a coordinated,
systematic, and well-communicated way.
There is little consistency in the forms of evaluation used by small schools.
It has, for example, been found that teachers often use evaluation processes for
solving individual problems of instruction and classroom management, but they do
so without consulting other instructors. Testing (both standardized and other
types) is common practice, but those practices are often not well-developed or
coordinated. Curriculum changes are frequently made through informal
evaluations, or sometimes through benign neglect. Priorities for inservice and
other professional development activities are set through these informal
evaluation processes, with little utilization of data or discussion. New
materials and methods are tried out and evaluated without much sharing of
The one element almost universally missing is systematicity in evaluation
activities (i.e., planned, purposive, cyclical, comprehensive, and
well-communicated evaluation). Systematic evaluation could improve communication
and utilization of the outcomes of evaluation work, and improve the efficiency
of evaluation in small schools. Evaluation has not been more systematic in the
past in small schools for several reasons:
1. Evaluation expertise (i.e., staff with formal training in educational
evaluation) is not often available in small schools. Related to this limitation
is the existence of many misconceptions about evaluation.
2. Time available to staff for taking on formal evaluation tasks is very
3. Resources, including evaluation instruments and funds for evaluation, are
In recent years there have been many attempts to overcome these constraints
and to realize evaluation processes' potential for enhancing the functioning of
small schools. Three successful attempts are described below.
WHAT KINDS OF EVALUATION STRATEGIES ARE USEFUL FOR SMALL SCHOOLS?
1. The Program Review Committee Approach for Curriculum Evaluation. A Program
Review Committee (PRC) is established. It could be a district-wide committee
composed of the superintendent or assistant superintendent for instruction, an
elementary principal, a junior high principal, department chairpersons
(secondary), grade level chairpersons (elementary), and an instructional
specialist. Or, it could be a building committee composed of the superintendent
or assistant superintendent for instruction, the principal, grade level
chairperson (elementary) or department chairpersons (secondary), and an
instructional specialist. An advantage of a district-wide PRC is K-12
articulation; a major disadvantage is the logistics involved in getting people
Each year the PRC conducts a thorough review of one or two programs (e.g.,
language arts, mathematics, sciences, social studies, arts, physical education,
counseling, special education, vocational and technical education). A schedule
is established so that each program undergoes a thorough review once every 5
Grade and/or department level committees are established to study their areas
of responsibility on a continuing basis, make minor changes as needed, and
compile data and proposals for more changes, which are presented formally to the
PRC when the 5-year review is conducted. These committees conduct and keep
records of ongoing needs assesment for their areas, look at alternative models,
materials, and objectives for better approaches to instruction and meeting
student needs, and try out pilot programs during the 4 years that they are not
up for review. Their fifth year presentation to the PRC is based on the previous
4 years of effort.
The PRC reviews program proposals and budget presentations, gathers
additional data as needed during the year-long review of a program area, and
then presents recommendations, with the approval of the superintendent, to the
school board in a regularly scheduled spring meeting. Major decisions--covering
items such as budget allocations, curriculum development, course offerings,
testing, staffing, inservice, new materials, equipment, or facilities--are then
made by the school board for a 5-year period.
2. The Problem-Solving Approach for School Improvement. At the building
level, an annual "stockading" is held on a day in August proir to the opening of
school. The principal conducts a session with all school professionals, defining
the strengths and weaknesses of the school from criteria for excellent schools
developed by the principal and staff. Then, priorities are set regarding
deficiencies to address during the school year. The group then establishes
committees for studying the problems and for presenting recommendations for
change, and discusses or shares ideas about how each committee will proceed.
Finally, the day ends by identifying any needs for and making plans for
obtaining outside reviewers or assistance.
Each committee then proceeds with its own plan and schedule until mid-winter,
when recommendations and justification for changes within the school are made to
the full faculty. Each committee proposal includes a clear statement and
documentation of the problem or need, as well as objectives and a recommended
strategy for change. Proposals that are deemed satisfactory are then
implemented. They are evaluated at a post-school year stockading meeting after
the close of school. Problems or needs that appear unsolvable are looked into by
the principal and faculty at the mid-winter meeting. As needed, consultants are
brought in, special development projects are planned, and/or thorough searches
for workable solutions that have been developed elsewhere are undertaken with a
report presented at the annual post-school year stockading session.
The annual stockading days are used to inventory the strengths and weaknesses
of the school, to discuss what remains to be done on work undertaken during the
past year, to evaluate changes that were implemented in the past year, and to
discuss evaluation and improvement plans for the next year.
3. The Discrepancy Approach for Assessing School Needs and Planning. Again at
the building level, the staff members in a small school district can define what
they believe are ideal characteristics for their school. This can be done
through a discussion of the characteristics teachers would look for if they were
evaluating another school. Aternately, the principal could interview every
teacher at the beginning of the year about the characteristics each believes
makes up a good school. These values can be supplemented by characteristics
found in accreditation standards and in research literature on effective
The principal organizes the resulting list of charactersitics by: (1) school
organization (grade structure, personnel assignments, school calendar, time
schedules, the image of the educated student, pacing, availability of services);
(2) curriculum (effectiveness, comprehensiveness, materials, resources, ability
to meet student needs); (3) school climate (standards, expectations,
student/staff respect and trust, enthusiasm for learning, availability of
support, attendance, vandalism, physical plant, recognition of achievements);
and (4) instruction (interruptions, testing and grading, practice, grouping,
leadership, professional development, support).
Once written up, this description of the school's ideals becomes a common
vision for all to strive for. Realizing that no school is perfect, however, and
that there is always room for improvement, teachers could be asked in a staff
meeting to underline wherever they believe their school deviates from its
vision. On a blank piece of paper, teachers and the principal can list what they
underlined and describe what, in particular, needs work. A staff member can
collect the papers, tabulate how many times different discrepancies were listed
and later report where the clusters of concerns seem to be. Then, staff task
forces composed of those who feel strongly enough to want to work on a problem
area can be formed, and project plans formulated. If done every 3 years or so,
this evaluation approach will help keep a school dynamic and ensure that it
continues developing in the direction of the collective vision of its staff.
These descriptions suggest strategies small schools can use to overcome
evaluation difficulties. Through systematic evaluation, small school staffs can
work together--with leadership evolving according to need--to improve the
quality of their schools.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Adams, James. A STUDY OF THE STATUS, SCOPE, AND NATURE OF EDUCATIONAL
EVALUATION IN MICHIGAN'S PUBLIC K-12 SCHOOL DISTRICTS. Doctoral dissertation,
Ohio State University, 1971.
Baker, Jerry. INITIATING COOPERATIVE EFFORTS AMONG MEDIUM AND SMALL SIZED
SCHOOL DISTRICTS FOR PURPOSES OF ESTABLISHING EVALUATION CAPABILITIES. Doctoral
dissertation, Ohio State University, 1977.
Kennedy, Mary, Richard Apling, and W. Newmann. THE ROLE OF EVALUATION AND
TEST INFORMATION IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS. Cambridge, MA: The Huron Institute, 1980.
King, Jean, Bruce Thompson, and Ellen Pechman. IMPROVING EVALUATIONS IN LOCAL
SCHOOLS. Final Report for NIE Grant No. NIE-6-80-0282. New Orleans: New Orleans
Public Schools, 1982.
Lyon, Catherine, Lynn Doscher, Pamela McGranahan, and Richard Williams.
EVALUATION AND SCHOOL DISTRICTS. Los Angeles: UCLA Center for the Study of
Sanders, James. A STRATEGY FOR EVALUATION IN THE SMALL RURAL ELEMENTARY
SCHOOL, 1983. ED 251 275.
Sanders, James. "School Professionals and the Evaluation Function." JOURNAL
OF SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGY 16 (1978): 301-311.
Scriven, M. "THe Methodology of Evaluation." In B.R. Worthen and J. Sanders,
(Eds.), EDUCATIONAL EVALUATION: THEORY AND PRACTICE. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth,
Stufflebeam, Daniel. "Evaluation in Large Urban School Systems." In F. S.
Chase (Ed.), EDUCATIONAL QUANDARIES AND OPPORTUNITIES. Dallas: Urban Education