Feeling confident about your ability to evaluate your work as a sexuality educator is important. Knowing your impact on students is vital, regardless of the context of your work as an educator. Long-term, comprehensive sexuality education programs that include many sessions and cover a variety of topics clearly merit program evaluation. And program evaluation is also vital when our work is limited to a single session with a group of students. In the latter case, it is especially important to know that we have used our limited opportunity as effectively as possible. When you don’t have the “next session” to follow-up or check-in with students, it is essential to “get it right” during your brief interaction.
Approach program evaluation with curiosity. There is much to discover, and a range of program evaluation activities are available to you. Focus on your learning intentions for your students, and match your evaluation activities with the program design and your students’ needs. You and your students will benefit from the richness that comes from having true insight about how they are experiencing your program. You can build meaningful connections with students by soliciting their feedback. And involving students in evaluation activities can help them make important connections between what they are learning and how they can use it in their lives.
- Why is program evaluation important?
- What are the basics of evaluating programs?
- What other resources are available to help me in evaluating my program?
Why is program evaluation important?
Accurate and thorough evaluation of sexuality education programs is the best practice for determining program effectiveness. Evaluating sexuality education programs is valuable because it requires clearly defining desired outcomes for learning.
Sexuality education programs typically comprise a series of educational sessions that seek to have an impact on students in one or more areas of learning: knowledge, attitude, and behavior. Being clear about what impact you hope your program will have on your students is critical. The best program planning includes using measures to accurately capture student progress in meeting the identified learning outcomes. We have a responsibility to our students, ourselves, our organizations, and to our community and the field of sexuality education, to conduct ongoing assessments.
We do program evaluation because
- It informs us about our students’ learning, which is what it’s all about really! The most effective programs and sessions provide feedback loops between the facilitator/educator and students in an ongoing and dynamic way. This assures that each session, and programs overall, addresses the unique needs and interests of a particular group of students at any given time.
- It allows us to “adjust” our program or session to address the learners’ needs — immediately! Review and use feedback throughout education programs to see if students are “getting it.” We can always adjust our approach to improve effectiveness.
- It demonstrates that we did what we intended and agreed to do. (This is called process evaluation.)
- It informs us about progress we are making toward long-term impacts. Programs to prevent pregnancy, sexual assault, and HIV/STD infection, for example, require long-term comprehensive programs. It is essential to find ways to measure progress along the way.
- It enables us to develop and grow as educators. Our students deserve nothing less than excellence. As such, we must uphold standards of excellence and the highest level of integrity as we conduct this important work.
What are the basics of evaluating programs?
Program evaluation is not a discrete component of your work that is separate from the “program” that you deliver. It is integral. Evaluation activities occur
- before your sessions/programs
- during your sessions/programs
- at the end of sessions/programs
- after a follow-up period
Types of Program Evaluation
Needs assessments measure what we need to do. Assessing needs involves gathering information about the group’s background and issues. Assessment can reveal students’ current and changing knowledge levels. Needs of students can be assessed before, during, and after your sessions and program.
- “What do you know about …?”
- “What do you hope to learn?”
- “How do you feel about ...?”
Process evaluations measure whether the program happened as intended. Evaluating your education process measures what happens during the session and program.
- Did you conduct the number of sessions that covered the intended topics in the planned length of time?
- What was the attendance per session — overall and for each student?
Outcome evaluations measure the immediate changes among the students after the session or program. This typically describes changes in one or more areas of learning: knowledge, attitude, and behavior. Well-written program and session objectives provide important tools for evaluating sexuality education events.
Program Objective: Increase condom use.
- Identify the steps to use condoms correctly. (knowledge)
- Explore attitudes about using condoms. (attitudes)
- Demonstrate communicating with a partner about condom use. (behavior)
Impact evaluations typically measure long-term changes among students months or years after the program. This kind of evaluation is best suited for long-term, more comprehensive and intensive programs. Initial indicators of success are short-term, measurable outcomes that indicate progress in the right direction toward long-term program impacts.
Program Impact: Decrease in STIs, including HIV.
Initial Success Indicators
- Students know how STIs and HIV can be transmitted.
- Students have positive attitudes toward riskreduction.
- Students report consistent condom use.
Science-based evaluations measure program effectiveness most reliably. Scientific methods can help determine whether measured outcomes are attributable to the program or to other external factors.
The most rigorous method of evaluation involves randomly assigning students to a group that participates in the program and a control group that does not, and then comparing changes between the two groups. By randomly assigning students, you can form two groups that are very likely to be similar demographically, socially, and intellectually. This greatly reduces the chance that one group would be inherently more or less likely to respond to the program.
It is often difficult to arrange for randomized evaluations. If it is not practical in your situation to randomize, you may use pre-existing groups as comparisons. Try to make the groups as similar as possible. For example, it would be better to compare two classes within the same school than two classes in very different neighborhoods.
More advanced statistical analyses can also be used to measure the effectiveness of programs. They can identify and control for variables outside of your program that might contribute to changes among students.
Universities can be strategic partners in using science-based evaluation activities for your programs.
Evaluation activities should match program intensity. All sessions and programs require some evaluation activity. Collecting and reviewing data informs us about the effectiveness of our sessions and programs. Data we collect and review (track) can be increasingly informative and reliable, as we push our evaluation activities further up the continuum.
Cost-effectiveness evaluations measure the cost associated with doing the program. This can be compared with the cost of doing nothing, or to the cost of other programs with similar goals.
Cost: Total program expenses are reviewed in terms of what activities are in place, and the outcomes and impacts that are realized. Total program expense divided by the number of students provides program cost per student.
Lay the ground work for your evaluation activities by clarifying
- why you are doing the evaluation activities
- what you really want and need to know
- why you want to know it
- how you will get it
- what you will do with it
Check the Fit
It is critically important to be sure your evaluation “fits” your program design. The more comprehensive the program and sessions, the more you have to evaluate. Comprehensive programming also increases the likelihood of achieving and measuring positive outcomes, realistically.
Evaluation activities are essential regardless of the length of face-to-face time you have with learners. There are meaningful ways to solicit and document feedback about the students’ experience. In only a few minutes time, we can invite helpful information about students’ ability to understand and apply ideas from a lesson. When planning, use experiential learning techniques to process learning from group activities that occur in and outside the classroom. Experiential learning encourages students to identify how to apply the skills and knowledge drawn from the learning experience to their lives. When students demonstrate what they will use and how they will use it, you have rich insight about what students are taking away from the session and program.
Be cautious about expecting or promising program results that are unrealistic. Be sure program activities match your program goals. Use evidence-based program models with fidelity to help assure success. Thorough science-based program evaluation is a complex, multi-faceted process that is beyond the budget of most community sexuality education programs. It is nonetheless imperative that we document accurate data that shows the progress of the learners in our programs. The results of evaluation methods that are not science-based do not stand up to the scientific rigor essential to the field and public health overall. However, we can obtain vitally helpful information from any of our efforts.
What other resources are available to help me in evaluating my program?
Universities in your state and area can provide a rich partnership opportunity for cost-effective program evaluation assistance. Universities that have strong sexuality, education, social science, or public health programs are good choices. Researchers who are looking for opportunities to implement a community-based, participatory approach to research will be especially willing partners for educators working in the community.
Contact Planned Parenthood educators near you to talk with and learn more about this important topic. Many Planned Parenthood affiliates provide consultation and training to assist with program evaluation and planning.
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