The development and testing of an evaluation model for special education
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The purpose of this study was to develop and test a model which addresses special education program evaluation needs. As such, the focus was on development. Often development and research are seen as one (e.g., Department of R & D; Director of R & D). They are, however distinctively different in process and product. The model developed provides general and special education leaders responsible for providing special education services with high quality data and procedures for decision making related to special education. Providing special education services is a complex responsibility. Not only are critical lifelong decisions related to students and their parents made, but there are stringent federal laws, complex state agency policies, detailed financial and programmatic reporting requirements, and often linkages to a variety of outside professionals and service provider agencies and organizations. There is a need for an effective program evaluation model useful to the uniqueness of special education. A variety of program evaluation models have been used in education and other organizational environments (e.g., Mabry, 2002; Patton, 2002; Posavac & Carey, 2003; Renger & Titcomb, 2002; Warburton, 2003). But, their application to special education has been limited and often ineffective or inefficient to address the evaluation needs of special education. This evaluation model development utilized the best of knowledge and procedures of existent evaluation models and adapted them to the uniqueness of special education. The special education evaluation model developed named Program Effectiveness in Special Education (PEiSE) identified espoused and in-use actions in a school district. This information with analysis, discussions, and data provided powerful special education information. To form the structure of the model, PEiSE utilized aspects of the CIPP Evaluation Model developed by Stufflebeam (2002), Logic Framework Model (Suchman, 1967), and the Utilization-Focused Evaluation Model (Patton, 1978). The process brought a number of within the district (Brunner & Guzman, 1989) and outside the district stakeholders into the development process which provided an expertise enhancing model effectiveness (Eisner, 1983). Information gathered from all stakeholders came in various forms and contained data acquired with little or no bias in the instruments or process used (Scriven, 1974; Provus, 1971; Cronbach, 1981; Stake, 1973). These processes not only had potential to improve the special education programs but also to improve the evaluation process itself (Eraut, 1984). The model also considered the limitations of resources of special education services (Stufflebeam, 1971; Tripodi, Pellin, & Epstein, 1971; Gold, 1988). Finally the process proved instrumental in bringing the primary discipline of general education and the complementary discipline of special education physically, philosophically and practically together for the benefit and improvement of services to all students. In conceptualizing the process, a flowchart of events was developed utilizing the form and philosophy of existing best practices in evaluation models and the foundational theory of organizational and program improvement and effectiveness (Argyris & Schon, 1974) PEiSE required the development of plans to reduce or eliminate discrepancies between what practices are espoused and what are actually in-use by practitioners. The PEiSE process included twelve phases: Point of Contact; Scope of Evaluation; Identify Formal Decision Makers; Structured Interviews with Formal Decision Makers; Compose List of Best Practices with Definitions; Formal Decision Makers Meeting/Approval of Best Practices List; Compose Espoused/In-Use Questionnaire; Collect/Analyze Questionnaire/Supportive Data; Recommendations for Action; Generate Action Plans Designed to Reduce or Eliminate Discrepancies; Execute Action Plans; and Measure Progress. An emphasis throughout PEiSE was that change is a necessary and welcomed part of organizational effectiveness as well as an integral part of organizational learning (Argyris & Schon, 1974). PEiSE guided administrators through the process of clearly articulating the change needed with development and implementation of action plans for change. PEiSE facilitated bringing together general and special education in a mutually beneficial manner to improve the quality and success of services to students with special needs. Specific differences in community and school district approaches to responding to compliance and intent of local, state, and federal regulations and initiatives are managed in the model developed. PEiSE was tested in a large, suburban school district. The testing indicated the model’s potential to: 1) advance evaluation of special education; 2) suggest new collaborative models for general and special education; 3) identify needed areas of research on evaluation, organization, issues of responsibilities, and professional expertise; 4) identify needed areas of pre-service and continuing professional preparation and development; 5) promote researched based programs related to student success. It was recommended that PEiSE include an additional phase of practitioner input on concerns and complaints of existing espoused best practices with suggestions or recommendations for different practices the district should consider.