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The Importance and Value of Program Assessment
Evan Wildstein, Manager of Education and Adult Learning Programs, OPERA America
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EducationLink7/20/2009

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Education stakeholders have long been aware of how crucial evaluation is to the success of programming. In the age of testing and assessment, arts educators should know this better than most, especially when the 2008 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in arts and music, The Nation’s Report Card: Arts 2008 Music & Visual Arts, showed marginal student achievement.

As diverse as opera productions are, the same is often true for opera education programming. With such varied programs, it is important to use best practices when evaluating both new and old initiatives alike. At the release of the 2008 arts report card, NAEP governing board member Eileen Weiser stressed that programs which are not assessed may lack value and those that lack value risk losing funding and other support.

In the report Monitoring and Evaluation of ICT in Education Projects, Tim Unwin and Bob Day host a chapter called “DOs and DON’Ts in Monitoring and Evaluation”, which lists key points on the subject. Their first recommendation, which is often overlooked, is essential — “Do include monitoring and evaluation at all stages in educational programs.” Program assessment is frequently left until the end stages, when in reality, practitioners should perform continual evaluation and quality enhancement. Other DOs include — “Do recognize that although monitoring and evaluation have significant cost, time and human resource implications, they are essential for successful programs; Do involve the learners in any evaluation process; Do disseminate your findings so that others can benefit from your experiences;” and more. Unwin and Day also stress basic DON’Ts in their chapter, such as — “Don’t simply monitor and evaluate for the sake of it; Don’t forget to consider the unintended results of programs; and Don’t worry if you don’t get it right the first time.”

Those who facilitate opera education programs often limit themselves to evaluating programs only when it comes to funding. However, as noted above, programs should be evaluated throughout the process, beyond only the prospect of receiving funds. Penn State University has online resources available at extension.psu.edu/evaluation, which include easy-to-use tip sheets for program evaluation that will prove helpful for many stages of assessment. Evaluation is not only a tool for discerning the viability of a program, but a useful way to demonstrate its value to boards, schools and foundations. Visit the Web sites featured in this article for suggestions and OPERA America’s recommended sites for other resources.
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