AaEA Week: Utilizing Culturally Responsive Evaluation for Education by Olivia Halls, Shanice Bennerson, and Shanesha Brooks-Tatum

Hello! We are Olivia Halls, Shanice Bennerson, and Shanesha Brooks-Tatum representing Creative Research Solutions, an evaluation firm in metro Atlanta, and the Atlanta-Area Evaluation Association. Reflecting upon our projects related to secondary and post-secondary education, a common thread is apparent: approaching evaluations holistically plays a critical role in supporting academic success for marginalized groups. 

Various factors impact learners inside and outside of the classroom. Learners stand to benefit when their social, cultural, and economic contexts are emphasized in evaluations of educational programs. While this evaluation approach is not novel, it is valuable to highlight this approach to continue promoting evaluation that bolsters academic success. 

Image of children at school.
Photo Credit: Pragyan Bezbaruah

Lessons Learned: Consider the Learner’s Context. In our work with clients with programs or initiatives that specifically focus on improving academic success and career opportunities among people of color, we found the following factors to be considerably influential:

  • Sense of belonging as it relates to race and gender in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education.
  • The availability of quality instruction around social-emotional learning.
  • Robust collaboration between employers and colleges to construct clearer pathways to employment.
  • Combining the strengths of communities, learners, traditional and non-traditional actors to support academic success. 

Evaluations that promote implementation fidelity and sustainability of programs that utilize holistic approaches would be instrumental in propelling the success of people of color during their educational careers and beyond. 

Image of woman leaning against wall writing notes.
Photo credit: Christina Morillo

Leverage All Your Connections. Seek out spaces where traditional education providers frequent, specifically local colleges and universities or school districts. Consider attending events held by special interest groups to meet potential clients, like The Partnership for Southern Equity. Another budget-friendly option may be virtual communities of practice such as LinkedIn. Relationships developed with members of virtual groups can lead to future work. Many groups share RFPs or other opportunities that you may have missed in a traditional search.

Photo credit: Christina Morillo

Take an Inventory of Your Skills. Consider the breadth of factors that contribute to the educational success of learners, like public health. It is critical to take an inventory of your skillset and make connections with education if the subject matter you are an expert in is outside education. The connections you make can allow for a more holistic approach to supporting the academic success of historically marginalized groups. 

Support the Work Making Positive Change.  Our clients often face seemingly insurmountable challenges that leave them feeling pessimistic, such as limited resources for their students or evaluations that center academic deficits. It is critical to help clients determine which solutions are actionable with their available resources, especially for smaller organizations. Honest, actionable feedback will support clients’ goals without minimizing the reality of their experiences. 

How to Center Learners 

We have learned that it is critical to: 

  • Keep learners’ sociocultural experience at the center of evaluations
  • Establish healthy working relationships with clients and partners
  • Make connections between your skillset and educational outcomes
  • Prioritize actionable recommendations that support the work of your clients 

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Atlanta-area Evaluation Association (AaEA) Affiliate Week with our colleagues in the AaEA Affiliate. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from AaEA Affiliate 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.

1 thought on “AaEA Week: Utilizing Culturally Responsive Evaluation for Education by Olivia Halls, Shanice Bennerson, and Shanesha Brooks-Tatum”

  1. Christine Sanchez

    Thank you for sharing your learnings and advocating for marginalized groups. It is easy to become entrenched in our own sociocultural perspectives and overlook that of others. I agree with your imploration that we “keep learners’ sociocultural experience at the center of evaluations.” Being culturally responsive is vital in both education and evaluation.

    I am drafting my first Program Evaluation Design for a post-secondary course. I am looking at the Children’s Oral Health Initiative (COHI). COHI is a oral health program for Aboriginal children aged 0-7, their parents and caregivers.

    COHI helps build connections to oral health professionals and make services more accessible by bringing them to the communities. Each dental practitioner works closely with a COHI Aide from the community. The role of the aide is to ensure cultural and local factors are taken into consideration and maintaining a daily COHI presence in the community.

    I was reminded of this practice when I read you found “combining the strengths of communities, learners, traditional and non-traditional actors to support academic success” to be influential. I was curious if you’d be willing to share some of your resources or evidence from your projects that led you to this conclusion? I would love to explore this topic further for my assignment.

    Kind regards,
    Christine Sanchez

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