Site-Based Decision-Making

Chapter 18 - Islands in the Storm: Assessing and Shifting Course

Nearly every school innovation is likely to encounter significant trouble along the way. Michael Fullan has identified the early troubles associated with the introduction of the innovation as the "implementation dip." Early expectations of wonderful outcomes are usually disappointed by the difficulties associated with launching any new project. Later on there are likely to be other major difficulties not anticipated in the action plan.

The enduring success of a new venture depends to some extent upon the ability of the school council to see problems early and shift course in time to avoid the rocks. Being able to see problems early depends upon the collection of good data and the full utilization of the inclusion strategies described earlier in this book.

If an innovation is worth launching, it deserves a program evaluation design which provides evidence of progress or warnings of trouble. If a group has decided to emphasize the development of student reasoning abilities, for example, student portfolios are a good source of data to indicate whether the new teaching and learning strategies are working. By collecting samples of student thinking over time, the team ends up with evidence that can be carefully analyzed and reviewed. "How has the quality of student thinking changed since September?"

The program evaluation should include evidence of atttitudinal change. How do students feel about these learning experiences? How do they feel about their capacities? How do their parents feel? What changes have they noticed at home?

The evaluation should also tap the attitudes of staff members. How do they feel about implementing the program? How has it changed their work life, their relationships with students, with other teachers?

As a school embraces significant change, changes in school climate should be tracked with an appropriate instrument. Changes in client perception of the school should be monitored closely.

Program evaluation should include many informal measures and activities as well as the more formal, quantitative measures, as the school council makes use of interviews, coffees and many other sources to see how people are reacting to the innoivation.

All of this data gathering and listening mean little unless there is a process to convert the resulting insights into program changes. The action plan should periodically require re-thinking and re-design. The school council should institutionalize self-critique in the recognition that careful review will lead to a stronger program.

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Copyrighted 1991 by Jamie McKenzie, all rights reserved.