4 Steps to Understanding (and Improving) Program Evaluation

Posted by Courtney StevensO

April 11, 2020

With COVID-19 school closures and the uncertainty around the future economic outlook, effective program evaluation will be more crucial than ever before. Here are four steps educators can take to seize these opportunities to stretch their funding dollars further.

Thanks to rapid technological development and a more nuanced approach to testing, schools are better-equipped than ever to evaluate programs based on data-driven conclusions. In the past, determining whether educational investments were paying off often required relying on anecdotal and subjective information, whereas now, it’s possible to know with a high level of granularity whether new initiatives are actually generating meaningful improvements to student outcomes.

That means schools have an opportunity to stretch every taxpayer dollar further than previously possible.

In order to fully capitalize on this opportunity, school districts need to manage their budgets methodically, strategically, and with visibility into program performance, an approach that is greatly facilitated by the introduction of new technology. Here’s what such an approach could look like in today’s educational landscape, and how districts can go about putting it into practice in their schools.

1. Understanding the Full Picture

Before districts can begin to grapple with how spend is impacting student performance, they must gain full visibility into their finances and educational services. However, when financial data is siloed and other student-, program-, and school-level data is scattered among different systems, it can be almost impossible to access a comprehensive picture of a district’s activity, a lack of visibility that hinders strategic decision-making.

Fortunately, by implementing a cutting-edge data platform, stakeholders can seamlessly take panoramic snapshots of their district’s data, facilitating truly informed decision-making. Employing a system that delivers such a holistic view of district performance isn’t just smart; in this day and age, it’s absolutely vital. If all stakeholders have access to the full program evaluation and analysis, understanding budgetary impacts becomes possible, and administrators are able to make the best decisions for their students.

2. Organize and Track Expenditures on a Per-Student Basis

Once you’ve developed a high-level understanding of your district’s spending, you can start to dig into the granular details of that spending. For example, you can track exactly how much certain initiatives cost — from traditional physical education to a new VR program — on a per student basis. This detailed knowledge provides a framework for state and district reporting, as well as a consistent and straightforward means of tracking expenses internally.

This can also help your district contextualize its expenses. The cost of equitably educating a student who speaks English as a second language or who has a learning difference will likely be higher than average, and your understanding of your district’s spending must reflect these variations. Your students are individuals, and your data should treat them as such.

3. Get Key Stakeholders to Set the Measures of Success

Reviewing students both holistically and as individuals isn’t enough — districts must involve key stakeholders. It’s important for stakeholders across the district — and the broader community — to help establish and define the district’s metrics. After all, these key stakeholders are the ones with frontline knowledge of what your district can expect from a program (especially a new pilot program), which makes their input and perspective invaluable in pinpointing measures of success.

You may want to begin by establishing a taskforce that includes representatives of each key group in the district, from educators to principals to parents. This group can hold meetings on a monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly basis, during which its members will recalibrate goals, check in on current progress, and review the results of ongoing and/or concluding initiatives.

4. Bringing It All Together

Determining — and then maximizing — a district’s program investments isn’t a one-time event. Rather, it should be an ongoing, dynamic process of thinking about your district’s use of resources. From reporting individual data points to viewing your data as a whole to understanding all the factors that go into funding a single student’s education, improving your district’s resource allocation will require redefining your district’s data culture. Doing so begins with selecting the right tool — a tool like Hoonuit.

Hoonuit offers a comprehensive data analytics solution that brings together operational, financial, and educational data into one system replete with easy-to-understand explanations and visualizations, giving your district the visibility and flexibility it needs to make genuinely data-driven decisions.

Learn more about our operations analysis solution set, and how Hoonuit can help your district optimize spending.

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