Conseil supérieur de l'éducation
 
INSTITUTIONAL EVALUATION IN EDUCATION: A FACTOR CONDUCIVE TO DEVELOPMENT


1998-1999 Annual Report on the State and Needs of Education

Summary

The Conseil supérieur de l'éducation has chosen to address the subject of institutional evaluation in its 1998-99 annual report on the state and needs of education. The Conseil sees a direct relationship between the importance a society accords to this issue and the importance it accords to education, to the accomplishment of the mission entrusted to the education system and to the quality of the means implemented and the resources provided to achieve this mission.

To guide its examination, the Conseil has set itself two main objectives: convincing the education community of the potential that institutional evaluation has for supporting development and highlighting those aspects of institutional evaluation that play an essential and positive role in building and maintaining a quality education system that ranks with those of the most advanced societies. The Conseil’s intervention takes place in the general context of the decentralization of the powers of the state and in the more specific context of major changes in Québec’s education system. The institution is thus the focus of action in attaining the objective of educational success. Initiated in 1994 with the renewal of college education, the education reform continued with the publication of the ministerial plan of action, A New Direction for Success, and the amendment of the Education Act in 1998. The upcoming adoption of a policy on lifelong learning and a policy on universities will complete the new orientations of the education system at all levels.

To better equip the education community and to complete in a concrete way its analysis of institutional evaluation, the Conseil has provided supplementary information in the appendices to this report, including descriptions of experiments carried out in the education community, an extensive typology of indicators used in or suggested by research in educational evaluation, and Web sites dealing with the subject.

Institutional Evaluation: An Operational Definition

The Conseil defines institutional evaluation as: an ongoing, concerted effort by the players concerned, who formally agree to analyze and assess in whole or in part the accomplishment of the educational mission of their institution or sector of activity so as to adapt continuously to a constantly changing environment, to provide a basis for decision making and to ensure accountability to society.

This process should be integrated into the administrative and educational functions of the institution. It draws on qualitative and quantitative information considered relevant to an assessment of the attainment of objectives that have been agreed to collectively, in connection with the institutional project and plan of action. Essentially, it is a process of self-evaluation intended to give the players concerned the power to take the necessary measures to accomplish the institution’s educational mission, in terms of the province-wide educational objectives and the local context and specific needs of the community. The rationale for institutional evaluation is in essence to ensure that the education community has the necessary means at its disposal to foresee, decide, and act, but also to react (re-act) in order to correct a problem as soon as possible and to direct or redirect action to achieve the desired results.

An Overview of the Situation and Issues in the Education System

Evaluation is already carried out in the education system, especially at the college and university levels. The Conseil observes, however, that to be in line with the institutional evaluation process it recommends, these activities should be part of an integrated, concerted approach that would allow an assessment of the extent to which the actions taken in an institution—in the areas of administration, teaching and pedagogical practices—contribute to the fulfilment of its educational mission and the improvement of the results obtained.

The Conseil’s observations with respect to each level or sector of education and training are as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools – increased autonomy to be shared with the governing board and the various players in the institution; school boards called upon to provide schools with support and to ensure the fair distribution of resources; the importance of defining an educational (or institutional) project that would link the province-wide education objectives to local needs and circumstances and that would lend itself to a process of evaluation and accountability;

Colleges – a transition from program evaluation, guided from outside, to institutional evaluation, conducted internally and based on self-evaluation and the collective involvement of the players and partners concerned; the need for each institution to adopt an institutional project to which the institutional evaluation process could be linked; the need to maintain consistency in the college network and a balance in the various aspects of the colleges’ mission;

Universities – based on the various evaluations already under way, the development of a comprehensive approach that makes it possible to determine the extent to which each institution, with its various units, is fulfilling the requirements of its mission and meeting society’s needs in general education, professional qualifications, and research in connection with the university’s educational and research mission, and in the exercise of its function of social criticism;

Adult education and vocational and technical education – the importance, at each educational level concerned, of carrying out an evaluation that takes into account the needs that the particular level must meet with respect to students’ entry into the job market, while at the same time accomplishing a more comprehensive educational mission to promote the social integration of individuals and help them develop their ability to remain employed;

All levels of education – the need for institutional leadership that encourages the development of a culture of evaluation based on continuous improvement and support for the players involved and that elicits the commitment and cooperation of the various players, especially teachers.

Effective Institutional Evaluation Practices

In promoting institutional evaluation, the Conseil is pursuing first and foremost a pedagogical objective that focuses on the quality of education in Québec and reaffirms the collective accountability of the players concerned. It is crucial that the entire education community adhere to a set of basic principles that will guide choices and decision making:

  • Concern for students and their future is at the heart of all action on the part of educational and training institutions.
  • The autonomy of the institutions makes them the principal players in institutional evaluation.
  • From the perspective of social cohesion and equity, each institution adheres to the educational aims of the province as a whole.
  • Each institution is responsible for ongoing improvement, which is dependent on the common will and vision of the various institutional players and partners.
  • Institutional evaluation is only meaningful insofar as it results in action.
  • Institutional evaluation also highlights the successes of the institution.
  • Institutional evaluation cannot disregard the complexity and diversity of educational aims. It must therefore reconcile individual and collective objectives in the accomplishment of the local educational mission. It must also strike a balance between harmonizing Québec’s education system with other systems around the world, following province-wide educational orientations, and responding to local needs and expectations.

Thus, before any institutional evaluation process can be initiated, it is important to identify expectations clearly and to agree collectively on the purpose of evaluation. The objectives must be defined in order to focus the process properly. The Conseil encourages the education community to adopt a reasoned and reasonable attitude so as to distinguish the possible from the desirable, and the essential from the secondary. It is important to ask the right questions, questions that take into account the institution’s capacity for improvement and that therefore lend themselves to action by the parties concerned at the local level.

A wide range of coordinated tools and mechanisms make for an effective evaluation process.

While emphasizing the advantages and strong points of a self-evaluation process, the Conseil nevertheless is concerned about the risk of complacency, and brings up certain positive aspects of external evaluation. It takes a critical look at the role of criteria and indicators in evaluation, and stresses that it is through contextualization and detailed analysis that quantitative data become significant. Looking at experiences in other countries, the Conseil notes that it is important that indicators take into account the "value added" to the social, cultural or economic environment of the student population and the institution. While affirming that results play a fundamental role in the institutional evaluation process, the Conseil is concerned about the use that is made of them, especially by the media. It notes the superficial nature of lists that rank institutions and the discouraging impact they frequently have in some milieux where tremendous efforts have been invested in educational success and the quality of teaching practices.

Finally, whatever the elements that go into an effective institutional evaluation process, the commitment of the educational players is of key importance, for it is through them and with them that institutional evaluation takes shape in the education system. These frontline players include the heads of institutions—and their governing boards in institutions that come under the Education Act, or the corresponding authorities in higher education—because they are in a position to provide leadership in their institution with respect to evaluation; the faculty and other personnel, who, through their collective commitment, participation and effort, make the evaluation process meaningful and productive; and the student populations, who are called upon to play an active and informed role in the process. But there are also the external partners: unions, school boards and evaluation bodies that provide the frontline players with human, material or financial resources or additional expertise. The Conseil questions the appropriateness of appointing someone from the institution, who would be released from all or some of his or her duties, to coordinate and follow-up on the numerous activities related to an institutional self-evaluation process. The matter warrants further consideration.

Essential Conditions for Success and Avenues for Action

The Conseil has chosen to emphasize the following conditions, which it feels are essential for the success of an institutional evaluation process.

  • The importance of taking a clear look at institutional evaluation, neither overestimating what can be done, nor underestimating the scope and difficulties of the task or the resistance it may meet, is emphasized by the Conseil. It cautions that institutional evaluation cannot be improvised; time and resources must be invested. Nor can institutional evaluation provide all the answers. It is impossible and unnecessary to evaluate everything at once. There is no point waiting for the ideal time to initiate an evaluation process.
  • An environment conducive to institutional evaluation must be created through the development of a culture of evaluation that will lead to institutional development, and through the collaboration of the players involved. The Conseil places priority on the development of an organizational culture in which evaluation is an integral part of a self-reflective, proactive approach on the part of institutional players and in which a true collegial spirit guides the accomplishment of the educational mission;
  • The development and distribution by the institution of documents that set out orientations and serve as a basis for action make it possible to define the framework and the target areas for an evaluation process that should provide meaningful answers. These documents are the institutional project (referred to in the Act as the "educational project" at the elementary and secondary levels), which defines the institutional mission, and the plan of action, which identifies the actions to be taken in order to accomplish that mission.
  • Appropriate support is required in five areas: the initial training and professional development of the institutional players; research (including action research) to help better define what is intended by institutional evaluation in education and to make the process useful, functional and less cumbersome; the resources that must be allotted to the evaluation process, including time, money and any expertise that the education community may need; a discussion forum for the education system as a whole to encourage the transfer of knowledge and sharing of experience; and the political commitment of decision makers in the education system and the professional commitment of heads of institutions.

In the Conseil’s opinion, these conditions for success constitute avenues for action that the education community and the various decision makers are encouraged to explore and adapt to their own situation, so that institutional evaluation becomes a key instrument in the development of a common direction and concerted action in education and a guarantee of responsible autonomy on the part of the players.

The Role of the State and of the Ministère de l’Éducation: Enlightened and Exemplary Management

The Québec government has felt it necessary to review its management approaches and methods so as to set an example in this regard; the Ministère de l’Éducation, like other ministries, comes under this new management framework. The Conseil considers that if the Ministère is to set an example, it must take an enlightened approach, given the paradox inherent in the current decentralization process: the Ministère must fulfill its own responsibilities (orientation and planning, allocation of resources, evaluation, information and accountability, providing expertise and advice within the government), while at the same time allowing the education community the necessary leeway to act as effectively as possible and obtain the results desired by the state and society.

The Conseil feels the Ministère can set an example by examining its own practices, viewing institutional evaluation as a means of improvement and development, keeping abreast of and using the results of evaluations and follow-up in the education system, and providing institutions with the resources to carry out satisfying and meaningful evaluations.

A clear understanding of the workings of institutional autonomy on the part of all players in education will better enable the Ministère to assume its particular responsibilities and thereby ensure consistency throughout the education system. These responsibilities include clearly outlining the major education issues, for the system as a whole and for each level or sector; clearly stating its expectations and ensuring that the education community takes the necessary steps to meet these expectations; providing the necessary tools and resources to help institutions better understand their situation; encouraging the collaboration of all players in education; and guiding the accountability process.

Above all, however, the Ministère has a responsibility to trust the players in the field in their pursuit of their educational ideals and allow them the necessary latitude for experimentation, accepting the variety of approaches and mechanisms for obtaining the results and fulfilling the expectations it has clearly defined at the outset. The Conseil hopes that the Ministère will urge each institution in the education system to adopt an institutional evaluation policy as soon as possible and offer all the necessary support in this endeavour.

Challenges to Meet and an Idea Worth Exploring

The Conseil is aware of the challenges that institutional evaluation raises for the education community. However, it emphasizes that the process must be integrated into effective management practices in spite of the obvious complexity of the task. Institutional evaluation appears capable of providing the necessary framework for each educational and training institution to make the transition from its present state to a desired state, drawing on its knowledge of its capacity for improvement and its particular internal and external environment. Among the challenges identified by the Conseil with respect to conceptual, technical and organizational issues are the following: never to lose sight of the fact that evaluation is not an end in itself, but a means of ongoing improvement and verification as to whether or not the objectives and aims of the institutional mission have been attained, in whole or in part; to accept that no one institutional evaluation model is likely to suit all purposes and that institutional evaluation is an evolving process; to ensure that each person’s actions are consistent with a common vision of the institutional mission; to affirm an institutional will to act and react in accordance with the conclusions of the institutional evaluation; to define an institutional project capable of serving as a basis for evaluation; to work in collaboration with other players; and to make institutional evaluation an ideological and political choice and to allocate the necessary resources to it.

It is important to remember, however, that local institutional evaluation must take into account the educational orientations of the Québec education system and international trends as well as the fundamental role played by the state in the area of education in Québec. It is for this reason that the Conseil has again taken up an idea presented in the annual report for 1995-96 on the division of powers and responsibilities in education: the idea of the state "piloting" the education system. It is the Conseil’s view that the state must oversee the management of the education system because of its responsibility to ensure overall consistency and continuity. Considering the degree of autonomy that the institutions have been granted, thought should be given in the near future to the new role of the state and the Ministère de l’Éducation in an increasingly decentralized education system. Education is and must remain a public service. It is therefore up to the state to ensure a high quality of education for everyone throughout Québec. The joint piloting of the education system is a potential future path warranting further exploration, and one that could draw on the experience of institutional evaluation in the education community to bring together three aspects of education management in Québec: regulation, concerted action and improvement.

By way of conclusion, the Conseil maintains that institutional evaluation is an indispensable factor in progressive change and a strategic development tool. It is a process that makes the players concerned more accountable, so that they make greater and more effective use of the power they have to bring about change in education, for the good of students and of society as a whole.


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