Conferences, Pedagogy, School Libraries

#AASL11 reflections: assessment/evaluation

Having worked in several NYSAIS evaluation committees (and written on the evaluation for accreditation process, I was interested in what my public school peers were doing vis-a-vis the NYS School Library Media Program Evaluation (SLMPE) Rubric. NYSAIS has recently updated its process and libraries aren’t mentioned (why? this is a huge mistake, imvho) and looking at this assessment piece reminded me that there’s little difference between independent and public school programs in terms of what we do – it’s funding, testing mandates and curriculum that changes. So in lieu of specific NAIS-sponsored assessments (although we do have the Guidelines of Professional Practice for Librarians), it would be a good idea to borrow from this as we self-assess/self-evaluate.

It’s imperative that our administration (Heads of Schools, Division Heads, whomever we report to) to be part of process: have them fill out assessment rubric to help them gain an understanding of who/what we are/do/teach. After all, we’re the usually the school’s showcase facility and having them share in our assessment can only help them better advocate for funding and faculty collaboration. This is a reflective self-assessment, and getting that 360 perspective is always helpful to more fully understanding our role and place in the academic life of the school.

One thing the presenters noted was that people doing the self-assessments tended to be harsher on themselves than outsiders would be (I know that I’ve always been so). Again, this lends importance to getting other input and perspectives – one way is, obviously, to have this on-line so that it doesn’t become more paper sitting on a desk to get lost/circular filed. Using a tool like Survey Monkey would also make it easier to assess the information received; however, it must be stressed that there’s a fine line between the librarian and the program – the rubric can be used as a guide to create a personnel evaluation, but the emphasis is slightly different. Schools and librarians are encouraged to use these evaluations to help create and guide professional development (“how can we get the librarian and the library program to the highest standards?”). The presenters recommended Charlotte Danielson‘s work as a good guideline for establishing personnel evaluation rubrics.

It was stressed that we should always use four options, not five, as people tend to go for the “3” option most often (not wanting to overly praise or scold). Obviously, in a case like this, you want more constructive feedback! The rubric has there’s qualitative/quantitative differences between the boxes; examples are just that, not mandates. All too often I think we see an example and say “I didn’t do that, I must not be doing [collaboration/training/instruction/outreach] well” when we are, just differently. Collecting this evidence is a great way to improve your portfolio, and it becomes easier to share with administration and faculty to help them understand what you do and how you do it, thus getting helpful feedback for improvement, as well as collaborative buy-in. The best part of using the rubric: it’s not to show or say “I’m distinguished” but rather “here’s where I need to grow… how can I improve”?

When your local or state association is trying to create a rubric, it’s important to collaborate with others and share a philosophy of what are the fundamental values of the library and learning piece. It’s also important to rethink and reassess the evaluative rubric on a regular basis to reflect current best practices. Five years ago we wouldn’t be talking about e-books (and e-readers), and who knows what we’ll be encountering in another five years. You must also tie rubrics in to other programs (both library programs in other states AND other disciplines). For example, how does your rubric tie in to Common Core, NETS or ACRL standards of what they expect from exemplary programs or student learning? The more you can tie things in to other, often more commonly known, standards the easier it is to sell to the rest of your school.

Of course, it’s also important to remember that not every thing is within the librarian’s control (eg, staffing & budget often isn’t) and to go easier on yourself in those cases. On the other hand, having an official rubric that gives strongly suggested numbers for budgets and staffing can help when you advocate for changes in your situation. Most independent schools have rivalspeer schools to whom they compare themselves, and knowing what best practices are can often lead to change as they see where they lie versus those rivalspeer schools.

More specific to public schools, the presenters stressed that the evaluation documents must become part of state/district documents, not just stand-alone. Why? Because that leads to greater buy-in on an administrative/supervisory level. It can also provides guidance for 1st year TLs and non-MLS-but-assigned-to-the-library staff (and let’s not forget the architects!!), another reason that buy-in from the Higher Ups is critical.

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