Over the past several years, Sun Associates has engaged with a large percentage of the Massachusetts recipients of Title IID grants, as well as similarly funded projects in other Northeastern states. Sun Associates is, or has been, the external evaluation partner in 18 of Massachusetts’ Technology Enhancement Competitive Grants (so-called fund code 170 grants). These projects are generally multi-district efforts that span two school years. Grants are funded at approximately $100,000 per year by the Massachusetts Department of Education. The purpose of the state’s Title IID grant program is to encourage school districts to plan, implement, and evaluate effective projects that: 1) improve student academic achievement through the use of technology; 2) assist every student - regardless of race, ethnicity, income, geographical location, or disability - in becoming technologically literate; and 3) provide high quality professional development that uses research-based instructional strategies to integrate technology effectively into instruction.
In its role as external evaluator to these projects, Sun Associates is responsible for monitoring and assessing the project's progress toward meeting its programmatic goals. We accomplish this work through a process that centers around a rigorous formative program evaluation methodology (see below). In most cases, our work starts with facilitating the creation of a project logic map as well as a set of unique benchmarks and performance indicators. The logic map helps clarify project goals and activities. The benchmarks help measure progress toward meeting those goals. We have found that in most cases districts do not automatically create such maps or benchmarks. In those cases where benchmarks are created, they often focus only on purely quantitative or logistical measures (e.g., supposed increases in standardized test scores or increases in student/computer ratios). Our effort is to assist districts in examining their work to discover those places and processes where true differences in student learning and teacher behavior are manifest. Then, we help the projects consider how they can take these gains and changes and make them systemic to their broader curriculum, professional development, and technology efforts. In addition, we help our client districts collect data (through observations, focus groups, surveys, etc.) and write reports.
In the background of all of our district evaluation work is the understanding that our clients must master the independent use of the tools and concepts inherent in effective program evaluation. Our task is as much building this capacity as it is in fulfilling specific state mandates for evaluation. Over time, we envision districts adopting an internal understanding of reflection and accountability. This has considerable long term benefit that transcends the successful completion of a single funded project.
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