Ed Eval TIG Week: Considering Teaching’s Future in Educational Evaluation by Leigh M. Tolley

Leigh M. Tolley
Leigh M. Tolley

Hi again! I’m Leigh M. Tolley, Chair of the PreK-12 Educational Evaluation Topical Interest Group (TIG) and Assistant Professor, Secondary Education at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (UL Lafayette). As a former high school English teacher, I consider myself very fortunate to work with preservice and inservice teachers in their learning and professional development. In my own experiences in secondary teaching, then as a teaching assistant while an Instructional Design, Development and Evaluation doctoral student at Syracuse University, and now in my current role at UL Lafayette, I have realized that PreK-12 teachers use a great deal of evaluative thinking in their practice.

Lessons Learned:

According to Michael Quinn Patton, principles of evaluative thinking include:

  • the need to be clear, intentional, accountable, specific, and systematic;
  • focusing and prioritizing, and making assumptions and criteria and standards for judgment explicit;
  • using data based statements of fact and limiting generalizations and causal explanations to what data support in order to draw appropriate conclusions; and
  • the need for cultural sensitivity and cultural competence.

These all apply to what expert teachers do on a daily basis! Myriad decisions are made by educators as they strive to understand their students, their needs, and how to best address them, all while evaluating their pedagogy to determine what is most effective. How do we draw upon this knowledge to learn more about teacher preparation, and ready ourselves for the future of educational evaluation?

Hot Tip: When working with experienced educators, evaluators should do their best to help bring these teachers’ inherent knowledge to light, and make their extensive implicit knowledge more explicit. Mixed methods approaches can be helpful in identifying teachers’ evaluative thinking about their instruction, such as surveys to obtain quantitative data about their assessment processes, followed by interviews to explore the reasoning behind these approaches.

Hot Tip: The more we continue conversations with educators about evaluation in PreK-12 (and even higher education) contexts, the better our connections will be with new and experienced teachers alike. These relationships will help establish a shared vocabulary that can move educational evaluation—and education as a whole—forward.

Lesson Learned: Novice teachers still have a lot to offer educational evaluation! Preservice teachers likely have the capacity to engage in evaluative thinking as they are learning their profession, especially when they are able to design, implement, and reflect on their lessons. Focus groups or semi-structured interviews after lesson implementation, both with and without the use of videos of their teaching, have been helpful in learning about preservice teachers’ internal processes and emerging evaluative thinking.

Lesson Learned: Although we would all much rather be in the classroom, I have noticed that my undergraduate preservice teachers have had a lot more time to reflect on their pedagogy since being home due to school closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Encouraging reflective practice, and allowing teacher candidates time to process what they are learning, will aid in the development of their evaluative thinking skills.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Ed Eval TIG Week with our colleagues in the PreK-12 Educational Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our Ed Eval 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.

8 thoughts on “Ed Eval TIG Week: Considering Teaching’s Future in Educational Evaluation by Leigh M. Tolley”

  1. Hello Leigh,

    This post was a great read! It’s interesting to consider the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on pedagogy and how teachers evaluate their methods. This pandemic has really put a spotlight on the ability of teachers to adapt on the fly and evaluate those changes to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t. These may be unprecedented circumstances, but necessity is the mother of invention and we’ve sure seen a lot of invention from the educational field during this past year.

    1. Leigh M. Tolley

      Thank you so much, Alex! Yes, I have noticed so many adaptations and shifts among the teacher preparation program in our College, the inservice teachers with whom I work, and the ways in which we think about K-12 education and teacher preparation and education as a whole over the past year. Teachers need our support more than ever, and I hope that the value that was placed on them and what they do at the beginning of the pandemic returns and that they are honored for what they do as we continue to see change all around us.

  2. Hello Leigh,

    I really appreciated the insights you provided concerning the inherent evaluative nature of the teaching profession! In your discussion of the principles of evaluative thinking, it becomes very clear that these practices are what educators do every day; however, as you point out in your Hot Tip, it is so important to make teachers aware of this fact. I have been teaching for 20+ years (an English teacher like you!), but I have never really thought of myself as an “evaluator.” I am in the midst of completing a course on Program Inquiry and Evaluation, and one aspect that I have really enjoyed is the developing recognition that I am actually more knowledgeable about evaluative thinking and program evaluation practices than I originally thought. The course has definitely helped to make my “extensive implicit knowledge more explicit” and I am so appreciative of this new awareness.

    From my recent personal experience, I completely agree with your belief that increased conversations and connections with educators, and the resulting establishment of a “shared vocabulary” will result in improved educational practices and evaluation. Collaboration is facilitated by a shared language and knowledge base. Educators have a great deal of inherent knowledge but may lack the terminology and theoretical background to explain and discuss the evaluative reasoning behind their practices and the conscious/unconscious evaluative thinking that guides their methods and strategies.

    I would love to see a prescribed course in Program Evaluation included in the professional development programs for teachers. Educators *are* program evaluators! We evaluate our own programs every day, and throughout the course of our careers we will also informally evaluate a great number of educational and school programs. Having a shared theoretical knowledge base and vocabulary about evaluation would increase our effectiveness in working together within the schools, as well as our ability to collaborate with external evaluators.

    Thank you for sharing your insights with us! You gave me many ideas to reflect on and ponder.

    Tonja Skead

    1. Leigh M. Tolley

      Tonja, yes, yes, and yes!!! Thank you so much for your comments. When I took my first program evaluation course (with Dr. Nick Smith, former AEA President, who eventually became my dissertation chair), he said, “This just makes sense to you, doesn’t it?” There are so many things that teachers do in their practice that *are* evaluation, but they just don’t name it with those terms. Recognizing and building capacity with teachers on the knowledge that they already have is a major interest of mine, since they really are the experts!

  3. Heather Lafreniere

    Hello Leigh,
    I am currently taking a course on evaluation for my Professional Master’s of Education degree, so I read your post with great interest. I appreciate your comments about the evaluative thinking that teachers engage in during all phases of our careers. In this current climate, when I have had to shift my teaching to an online environment, I have definitely engaged in much reflection about my pedagogy, and applied Patton’s thinking perspectives to my practice. In particular, I have found it important to focus on intention and prioritization in the planning and implementation of my curriculum.

    I also appreciate your first Hot Tip – helping experienced educators to make their implicit knowledge more explicit. We often fall into patterns of instruction and assessment without really thinking in an evaluative way about their effectiveness. Involving educators in processes that evaluate education, along with a more thorough knowledge of educators’ reasoning behind their practices, will go a long way in moving education forward.

    Your second Hot Tip is essential to forwarding the conversation about evaluation in education. Both new and experienced teachers have ideas to bring to the table. I have had the opportunity to work with several pre-service teachers in my classroom, and have appreciated the evaluative thinking they engaged in themselves, and the way they encouraged me to think about my own practice.

    I think evaluation in education is essential to moving our conversations forward. By harnessing the evaluative thinking that educators at all career stages engage with, the conversation will be much richer.

    Thank you for the insightful thoughts about evaluation in education.


    1. Leigh M. Tolley

      Thank you very much, Heather! I definitely agree that teachers across all experience levels have a lot to bring to our understanding of education. I have tried to encourage a lot more reflection and discussion with my preservice teachers, and notice they tend to be a lot more aware of their practice. The same has happened over the past couple of years for me when working with experienced teachers! As a former teacher, I believe it’s critical that we respect teachers as professionals, especially given the amazing work they have managed to do over the past year.

  4. Dr. Sondra LoRe

    Beautiful post-Leigh! As a former elementary educator and school principal turned evaluator- I love your hot tip about bringing teachers “inherit knowledge to light”. That is so important to getting teacher and admin buy-in to evaluation and assessment.
    Thank you again for the insightful Blog Post.

    1. Leigh M. Tolley

      Thanks so much, Sondra! Yes, valuing teachers’ current knowledge is so critical in PD and in evaluation!

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