ROE TIG Week: Anne Vo on Decision Research in Education

Hi there! I’m Anne Vo, Assistant Professor of Clinical Medical Education and Associate Director of Evaluation at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. I’m also Program Chair of the Research on Evaluation TIG. I’ll share a bit about what we have learned about evaluation use within the education sector.

Evaluation & Knowledge Use

The evaluation field’s knowledge base on use can be traced to the 1970’s—a period that Mel Mark referred to as the “golden age of evaluation,” when research on evaluation use was particularly prevalent. The development of our knowledge base on evaluation use is connected to thinking and research that had been done about knowledge use.

Rad Resource:

To learn more about this history, consider the following resource as a starting point:

  • Rich, R. (1977). Uses of social science information by federal bureaucrats: Knowledge for action vs. knowledge for understanding. In C.H. Weiss (Ed.), Using social research in public policy making. Lexington, MA: Lexington.

Research on Decision-Making in the Education Sector

Cynthia Coburn and colleagues conducted a series of studies on decision-making in elementary schools and urban school districts while the State of California was in the process of implementing new reading instruction policies. They learned that:

  • Teachers in the study relied on their professional experiences and mental models to make choices about classroom practice in response to new reading policies. Going about decision-making in this manner seemed particularly prevalent when a robust, school-wide collaborative culture; explicit connections between policy and classroom practice; and the space for exploring differences in worldviews were not available.
  • School and district administrators’ interpretive processes—informed by experience and previously-held beliefs—had greater influence on their decision-making than actual data. This was attributed to lack of relevant information and varied use of the same information within an organization. Further, the administrator’s choice to use or not use available information was contingent upon what’s organizationally and politically feasible at the time the decision needed to be made.

Rad Resource:

To learn more about decision-making in educational settings and to locate leads for further reading, consider the following resource:

Evaluation use will continue to be an issue of interest to the evaluation community. For the latest perspectives on the use of evaluation for decision-making, consider the following edited volume. It includes contributions from some of the field’s leading scholars and practitioners on use and decision-making as related to internal evaluation, evaluation influence, cultural responsiveness, and misuse:

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Research on Evaluation (ROE) Topical Interest Group Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our ROE 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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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