In addition to curriculum design and teacher mentoring, I am also a program evaluator. It did not occur to me that most people don’t know what program evaluators do, until my mother asked me about it. I floundered over my explanation at the time, since I was caught off guard. However, after pondering for a bit, here’s a more elegant (and detailed) answer:
A program evaluator analyzes data collected from a program to see whether or not the program is effective in doing what it is supposed to do.
The evaluator’s data collection and analysis is in the service of answering one very big overarching question:
We then use more specific, detailed questions to outline the actual evaluation itself. These questions will depend on what the program stakeholders want:
- What are the components of the program (activities, processes, people), and how do they work together?
- What components are working well? What components are not working well? Why?
- What is the impact that the program is having on the stakeholders that are involved?
- Is the program fulfilling its mission statement? Why, or why not?
- What evidence can we collect to say that a program is or is not working?
- How can the program be improved?
Of course, it can be more complicated than this, and there are many different program evaluators that are out there; each with their own different styles.
I, personally, take on the role of a critical friend, rather than judge and jury – so in most of the programs that I have evaluated, my analysis and reports are about helping people improve their programs so that they can better serve everyone involved.
It’s a rather gratifying experience, since my job has allowed me to work very closely with people as we plan out the type of data I will collect, what information I can provide to the program in terms of understanding how their programs work, suggestions for how they can best accomplish their goals, and how they can improve. My data analysis has also been used in publications!
Although program evaluation can be an extremely rewarding experience, you do need quite a bit of training. Evaluators should have working background knowledge of the programs that they evaluate (for example, I have an emphasis on STEM education), and they also have special training in evaluation, social research and data analysis. I would also add that they should be a people person – interviewing skills are important for the job!
For more info about program evaluation, start here.
Do you have questions about program evaluation? Similar to education, I can talk on and on about it! What else would you like to know, hmmm?