Shureka Hargrove, Ph.D. student in the Educational Research Methodology department in the School of Education, discusses her on the job experiences through her internship with the Educational Testing Service and why she chose to pursue a career in educational program assessment.
1). You are currently in the Ph.D. program in the Educational Research Methodology department at UNCG. Could you talk a little about what brought you to UNCG, and how you developed an interest in program evaluation in the education field?
When I became the first person in my immediate family to receive a bachelor’s degree from college in May 2005, I contemplated what was ahead for me in the future, knowing that I was still able to fulfill my dreams through challenges that I faced growing up in a small town, and I didn’t let these situations discourage me from receiving a college education. I come from a small city where there were not a lot of opportunities geared towards gaining college level research experiences. I wanted to do more for my home community and develop educational programs, as well as determining how well these programs function and could be improved to better meet its goals. This is where my interest in program evaluation developed. I also volunteered and served as co-chair in the past in Delta Sigma Theta Sorority’s educational programs called Delta Carousel. This program has volunteers who mentor at-risk kids, help promote self-esteem, and provide extracurricular activities to youth. As a part of this program, there would be an evaluation performed on the successes of the program, from the service provided to the students to their performance in school. This also increased my interests in program evaluation because I realized that program evaluation is involved in many different areas in many levels of programs. Through researching various programs, I believed the knowledge, skills, and expertise that I would gain from ERM would be the right choice for me, and so I decided to apply to this department, and now I am in my second year here at UNCG. Also, the continuous support from my parents, through their sacrifices in the past, also played a major role in me deciding to come to UNCG.
2). What do you enjoy the most about the ERM department at UNCG?
I enjoy numerous aspects of the ERM department at UNCG. I enjoy the personal, talented, as well as the cultural diversity within the student body of our department. We have students from all over the world, from NC to China, Kenya, Peru, and many other countries. We get along very well and even though we spend a great deal of time at school working on schoolwork, we still find the time to hang together outside of school, such as getting together for lunch and dinner, running in marathons, attending baseball games, and bowling. I feel that we are very supportive of each other, and we always celebrate someone when they accomplish a goal or reach the next step in the graduate school process. I also enjoy the expertise and personality of the faculty of ERM. We have faculty who are leading experts, locally and nationally, in the field of methodology, psychometrics, and program evaluation. Each faculty member is very passionate about their area of experience, and they are fully capable of spreading this knowledge to us through their coursework, as well as projects in which there is collaboration between the faculty and the students. We are also able to participate in events with our faculty outside of school, which I feel gives us more of a personal connection with our faculty. I also enjoy the challenge in the coursework. We have a very intensive course load, in which we are challenged to think of situations in more of an applied manner, and not just answer questions for right or wrong. This allows me to think more creatively and apply my knowledge to “real-world” situations.
3). This past year you completed your graduate assistantship with the Center for Youth, Family, and Community Partnerships. Could you talk a little about what you learned about program evaluation from your assistantship?
As a graduate assistant at the Center for Youth, Family, and Community Partnerships, I work with the Center Evaluator and The Juvenile Justice Substance Abuse Mental Health Partnerships (JJSAMHP) Assessment Team on data analysis planning, research and through technical report writing, and contribute to multiple projects throughout the center. JJSAMHP are local teams across NC working together to deliver effective, family-centered services and support for juvenile justice-involved youth with substance and mental health challenges. I have been working on data analysis for completed initial and treatment-completion interview forms, in order to make some interpretations about the youth progression through treatment services, based on their responses on these forms. The information gathered from those forms can assist in developing and improving services for these youth to help keep them out of the system. In working at the center, I have learned the different aspects involved in a program evaluation, especially how important team work, staying in contact with your clients, and the computational and writing work that must also be done in order to perform effective evaluations. I also learned, from being at the Center, the importance of including many different groups’ stakeholders in an evaluation in order to get a variety of perspectives and that the use of multiple data collection techniques are important to increasing the validity of a study. I have also built relationships with new people, and also built my academic and technical skills
4). You were also involved in an Educational Testing Service internship last summer – could you talk a little about ETS and your experience with them?
In the summer of 2012, I had the wonderful opportunity to be a participant in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Internship Program at ETS. NAEP is the largest, nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas. While most NAEP assessments are administered in a paper-and-pencil based format, NAEP is moving forward to computer-based assessments. This was the focus area where my research project was based on: developing ideas and sample tasks for these future assessments. During this internship, I worked in the NAEP Assessment Development Department on a team of experts in test development. I conducted research on ideas for future hands-on tasks and interactive computer tasks (ICTs) for the NAEP Science assessments. ICTs are 20 to 40 minute scenarios for students to complete, and are interactive tasks with questions that measure student actions in completing these scenarios. I also attended various seminars on subjects in educational measurement and professional development. I also had the opportunity to present my research findings at the closing symposium, which was attended by several members of the ETS and local community. This was a great opportunity in which I gained valuable work experience, and was able to apply some of the skills that I have learned from my coursework to my summer research project. I do not believe that this opportunity would have been possible without the knowledge and experience that I have gained from ERM at UNCG, as well as without the motivation from Dr. Terry Ackerman and Dr. Holly Downs, who were both influential in my decision to apply for an internship, being in my first year and not doubting myself. This was a great experience.
5). Evaluation and assessment of educational programs is currently a popular discussion topic. What do you feel is the most important thing people not familiar with this area should know about evaluation of educational programs?
I think that some people may think that program evaluation is just a way to, so called, prove to a funder that a specific educational program may have worked or it failed at delivering a product or service, or that evaluation is just taking a survey or interview, and produces useless information. Evaluation is actually a process of gathering informative data and analyzing this data in a way that the information can be used to determine whether a program is effectively carrying out its planned activities, and the extent to which it is achieving its stated objectives. An evaluation can be beneficial by greatly improving the effectiveness of a program, by collecting different types of information from different stakeholders of a program at different levels of the program. I think 2 main features that people should know about program evaluations are that program evaluation can improve program implementation by providing information in helping programs identify areas for improvement and to help reach goals more efficiently, and that program evaluation can demonstrate and show program’s success or progress. There are several program evaluation approaches and several methods for data collection that may be used for an evaluation of educational programs, and the specific approaches and the methods used should be based on the overall purpose of the program.