Grant evaluation

Our school recently received grant funds to upgrade the technology in our science labs next year, and the funding organization requires an annual report. This is a new endeavor for us. Do you have some suggestions on what to include in the report?
—Patricia, Philadelphia, PA

Congratulation on your grant! It’s a lot of effort (and stress) to apply for funds, but in many respects your work has only begun. When you receive funds from government agencies or private foundations, the funders want to know how their money was used to accomplish the purpose of the project. However, the evaluation and reporting component is often an afterthought when schools receive grants. If you wait until the project ends, you might overlook some critical data documenting the success of your efforts. You’re very wise to think about evaluation before implementation.
Revisit your proposal to determine how your school described the project evaluation beyond documentation of expenditures. Find out if the funding agency has a template or rubric for the required report or if the website has example reports you could use as a model. Depending on the scope of the project, you could enlist assistance from your district office or contract with an external evaluator to design an evaluation plan and determine the scope of data to be collected.
Whether you’re evaluating a grant-funded project, a new curriculum effort, or a professional development program, most evaluation plans address several basic questions:

What progress are you making in implementing your project? This is the “what happened” part of your evaluation. Create a project calendar or timeline to document when key events happened and who the participants were. Be sure the events are related to the goals and objectives of the project.

  • What equipment was purchased and when was it installed? What software, peripherals, or other instructional materials were included?
  • What professional development workshops were provided (include dates, times, description, and attendance)? What follow-up activities were conducted?
  • How did the teachers respond to the workshops? This should go beyond asking participants if they “enjoyed” a workshop. Ask them to describe what they learned and what they will do differently in their classroom as a result of having and using this new technology.
  • How was the project publicized (newsletters, school website, letters to parents)?

To what level are you achieving the expected results or outcomes? This is the “so what” part and is often overlooked. Describe observable effects on teaching and learning and to what extent the goals and objectives of the project are being met.

  • How was the technology used? (Classroom observations, videos, photographs)
  • Which students had access to the technology? (Classroom observations, schedules, lesson plans)
  • How did the teachers change their instructional strategies to take advantage of the technology? (Classroom observations, lesson plans, interviews, surveys)
  • What is the impact on student learning? Is the project having a different impact on subgroups of students? (Formative assessments, test scores, student engagement/participation)
  • Did attitudes toward science teaching and learning change on the part of students, teachers, or administrators? (Surveys, focus groups, interviews)

Collecting, organizing, and analyzing data from many sources provides the basis for documenting the implementation and impact of your project. You need to decide what kind of data should be collected, when it should be collected, how it should be organized, and who will be responsible for the data. Unless your project is a formal research study, you probably will not need more than a basic knowledge of statistics.
Having an evaluation plan ahead of time and collecting data as you move forward will help keep the project focused on the intended outcomes. But if something is not working as planned, be sure to document the unanticipated events (e.g., a key teacher leaving partway through the project or a delay in installing equipment).
In addition to meeting the requirements of the funding agency, well-organized data could be the basis of a needs assessment for future funding. There are many opportunities to share what you learned from the project through NSTA journals, NSTA Reports, and presenting at the national and area conferences. We’ll look forward to hearing more about your project!
Resource:
User-Friendly Handbook for Project Evaluation (National Science Foundation)
Photo: http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2796/4333770330_61e3640dc1.jpg

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