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EdEval Week: Tiffany Berry on Using Developmental Psychology to Promote the Whole Child in Educational Evaluations

Hi! I’m Tiffany Berry, a Research Associate Professor in developmental psychology and practicing program evaluator at Claremont Graduate University’s Institute of Organizational and Program Evaluation Research (IOPER). I evaluate a variety of educational institutions, including schools, after school programs, districts, county offices of education, and textbook publishers, among others. Throughout my evaluations, I have consistently used principles in developmental psychology to inform my evaluation practice. I’d like to share a few of these principles with other evaluators, particularly those working in PreK-12 arenas.

Hot Tip: At the heart of these principles lies the notion of the “whole child”, a perspective that (1) emphasizes youth are embedded in multiple contexts (home, school, classrooms, etc.), (2) promotes measurement equality across developmental domains (social-emotional, cognitive, physical), and (3) recognizes that developmental tasks and milestones change across age.

Principle 1: Context. Urie Bronfenbrenner was the most influential theorist who promoted  understanding of how youth develop in context. His bioecological systems theory includes five  systems that range from individual face-to-face interactions (teacher–student) to contexts where the child is indirectly affected (e.g., parent’s workplace) to the cultural and belief systems that are embedded in our society (e.g., rituals, religion).  Understanding the developmental context in which educational outcomes emerge will improve the specificity of our measurement and understanding of program effectiveness.

Principle 2: Domains. Development occurs across multiple domains – cognitive, social-emotional, and physical. These domains combine in an integrated fashion to yield the living, growing child. They are inter-related; each domain influences and is influenced by others. Children may demonstrate large growth in one domain, but not another. It is imperative to think broadly about domains, particularly in educational contexts when the emphasis is on cognitive domains. Without recognizing growth in social development (e.g., self-regulation skills) influences cognitive outcomes, we fail to capture a complete picture of children’s development. 

Principle 3: Age-related changes. The constellation of contexts and domains changes across time. At each age, children must reach milestones for development to unfold successfully. Attachment in early childhood or a healthy sense of autonomy in adolescence are two examples of important developmental milestones. Educational outcomes are influenced by the extent to which programs and educational institutions align with what children need at particular ages.

Rad Resources: A good introductory text on Child Development is Lightfoot, C., Cole, M., Cole, S.R. (2009). The Development of Children, 6th Edition. New York: Worth Publishers, Inc. For information related to cognitive development, see Siegler, R.S. & Alibali, M.W. (2005). Children’s Thinking, 4th Edition. New Jersey: Pearson. For social development, see Shaeffer, R. S. & Alibali, M.W. (2009). Social and Personality Development, 6th Edition. Belmont: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

The American Evaluation Association is Educational Evaluation Week with our colleagues in the PreK-12 Educational Evaluation AEA Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our EdEval TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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1 comment

  • Aleith Cole · August 12, 2016 at 6:14 pm

    Dear Tiffany Berry,

    As I was reading through archived articles on AEA365, I came across your article entitled Using Developmental Psychology to Promote the Whole Child in Educational Evaluations. The title itself caught my eye because of the term “whole child”. Including a holistic approach to evaluating student success in education has become something I am truly passionate about. Over the last several years, I have been teaching elementary Special Education, and have seen first-hand how crucial it is to consider how principles of developmental psychology affect my students’ learning, be it their anxiety, their self-confidence, etc.

    I appreciated the way you broke down your article into three main principles – context, domains, and age-related changes. You made a couple of points that resonated with me, and inspired me moving forward in my career, as I am founding a private alternative school that will open this September, 2016.

    “Understanding the developmental context in which educational outcomes emerge will improve the specificity of our measurement and understanding of program effectiveness.”

    This is something that I’ve come to understand better through my years of spec. ed. teaching, and which inspires me as I move into the administration of my own school. I want to ensure that evaluation of my students will be holistic, and that evaluation of my business/education models will be specific and effective in order to inform sound decisions.

    “Without recognizing growth in social development (e.g., self-regulation skills) influences cognitive outcomes, we fail to capture a complete picture of children’s development.”
    “Educational outcomes are influenced by the extent to which programs and educational institutions align with what children need at particular ages.”

    These two points from your article are true motivating factors behind my decision to venture into developing and running a school. In previous teaching positions, I have found myself frustrated by prescribed testing, reporting and evaluations that sometimes seemed to be of more importance than what was best for each of my students; “teaching to the test” as some call it just feels so wrong when I am faced with a sad, anxiety-ridden kid who just doesn’t demonstrate his learning well in that forum.

    All in all, thank you for a thought-provoking and affirming article. I have copied the list of RAD Resources you listed, and intend to refer to them as I look ahead to evaluating the new school, and especially as I look ahead to how we will report on our students’ progress!

    Sincerely,
    Aleith Cole
    Director, AIM Learning Community

    Reply

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