Pro­gram eval­u­a­tion

Re­search could com­pare out­comes be­tween classes with large, small ra­tios

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - BY TOM CON­NOR Tom Con­nor Ed.D of Char­lot­te­town, is a for­mer ed­u­ca­tor and sits on the board of Is­land Trails

As one of my du­ties un­der the Com­pre­hen­sive De­vel­op­ment Plan, I was re­spon­si­ble for pro­gram eval­u­a­tion.

This ef­fort was con­tro­ver­sial, but I be­lieve the re­sults, as feed­back, gave plan­ners and gov­ern­ment a ba­sis for af­firm­ing or sen­si­bly mod­i­fy­ing the size and di­rec­tion of pro­grams as the plan un­folded.

Briefly, pro­gram eval­u­a­tion ap­plies the meth­ods of the so­cial sciences to a dy­namic sit­u­a­tion, as a "nat­u­ral experiment," or cre­at­ing the con­di­tions for a nat­u­ral experiment.

Cur­rently in ed­u­ca­tion, we have a sit­u­a­tion where many claims are made about class size and the rel­a­tive value of stu­dent­teacher con­tact.

Usu­ally it is claimed that a smaller class size re­sults in bet­ter stu­dent achieve­ment, and the lat­ter fac­tor (stu­dent con­tact) is some­times claimed to be the sin­gle most im­por­tant fac­tor in stu­dent achieve­ment.

The gov­ern­ment is claim­ing that even with some pro­posed cuts the stu­dent-teacher ra­tio here is as good as any.

The teach­ers mean­while seem to want it both ways, re­ject­ing de­clin­ing en­rol­ments as a proper jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for re­duc­ing the num­ber of teach­ers. (Guardian, June 25)

I sug­gest that a pro­gram eval­u­a­tion could help to in­form this de­bate. Us­ing the cur­rent Stan­dard­ized Test­ing re­sults, a re­searcher could make com­par­isons on out­comes be­tween classes with large and small ra­tios.

Four "nat­u­ral ex­per­i­ments" sug­gest them­selves, to dis­cover to what ex­tent class size is a de­ter­min­ing fac­tor in stu­dent achieve­ment, and even what is the op­ti­mum class size.

Within a given school, iden­tify a class sig­nif­i­cantly above, and one sig­nif­i­cantly be­low the av­er­age, and com­pare the stu­dent achieve­ment lev­els.

Be­tween any two sim­i­lar schools, or among sev­eral schools, com­pare Stan­dard Test scores be­tween large and small classes.

Be­tween a ru­ral school with small class­room en­rol­ments, and an ur­ban school with a large teacher ra­tio, mea­sure the same achieve­ment vari­able.

Be­tween the French sys­tem with a stu­dent-teacher ra­tio of 8.7:1, and the English sys­tem with 13.(some­thing):1, make the same com­par­i­son.

The re­searcher would need to con­trol or cre­ate com­par­isons for many vari­ables to en­sure the classes were sim­i­lar, e.g. Im­mi­grant cul­tural dif­fer­ences, elim­i­nate out­rider scores, and en­sure teach­ers had sim­i­lar qual­i­fi­ca­tions.

With skill and co-op­er­a­tion, these could be done and a valid study be con­structed.

The re­sult could be an in­formed and agree­able sys­tem for reg­u­lat­ing stu­dent-teacher ra­tios and bud­get es­tab­lish­ment dur­ing an ex­pected long pe­riod of tran­si­tion.

I hope some ed­u­ca­tion stu­dent, union pol­icy an­a­lyst, or gov­ern­ment bud­get an­a­lyst will pick up on this sug­ges­tion.

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