Program Assessment: Enjoy the Journey and Results!

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School Library Connection is pleased to collaborate with ALA President Julie Todaro and her school library group Task Force to provide access to a selection of key professional development articles aligned with essential professional competencies for school librarians. These articles were hand selected from our archives by an expert panel of librarians chaired by Susan Ballard, Dorcas Hand, and Sara Kelly Johns.

Competency 10: School Improvement

“Program Assessment: Enjoy the Journey and Results!” by Ann M. Martin. School Library Connection, March 2016.

As I decluttered the other day, I was astounded by the number of maps I had accumulated and stored in a cabinet. With navigation systems available on numerous devices, I certainly don’t need all those paper maps anymore! Seeing all those maps, though, made me begin thinking about the importance of mapping your way to a destination, particularly when managing a library program. In our culture of high-stakes testing, assessment of the library program verifies the library-classroom connection (Martin 2012, 63), but just as importantly, assessment is a navigation tool designed to move goals and objectives—and consequently the library program—forward.

Hitting the Road

No matter what navigation choice is made when charting your course, in order to begin, you have to know the point from which you are starting. One place to begin is to identify obstacles impacting library program success using assessment instruments. Ever since the 1950s, when Dr. W. Edwards Deming emerged with the concept of continuous improvement, assessment has stressed the importance of eliminating root causes of problems. Deming changed the focus from “Who is causing my problems?” to “What processes are hampering change?” (Turner and Inman). Examples of processes impacting library programs are new policies mandated by legislatures, strategic plans targeting specific instructional strategies, and emerging technologies. Today, our navigation devices assess road obstacles and provide alternative routes as needed. Similarly, librarians can “correct course” and make measureable improvements to their program by analyzing it to identify the root causes of its strengths and weaknesses. By understanding these core causes, librarians can brainstorm solutions and create action plans to address each area of need (Martin 2012, 47).

Yes, making improvements to a library program through assessment techniques is much tougher than following a navigation system’s directions. Assessment requires seeking and tabulating basic data about the library program and measuring the information against an accepted standard. I recommend using the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) instructional standards and program guidelines as a baseline. Next, determine through discussion with stakeholders the elements of the program that are valuable. Systematically collect baseline evidence related to instruction and library program administration, then analyze the data gathered and make inferences about the facts collected. Remember that assessment is a tool to measure where the library program is in relation to where it needs to be.

Choosing Your Path

Just as navigation systems are different, assessing a library program may be accomplished in a variety of ways. It may be self-constructed or created by someone else. National professional organizations often provide standards for the profession as well as ways to assess whether goals are being met. The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) sets the standards and guidelines for school library instruction and program essentials. AASL’s interactive online Planning Guide for Empowering Learners is well constructed and “saves and converts user entries into worksheets, charts and graphs, saving librarians time while delivering data to schools and districts” (AASL 2011). (The planning guide does have a minimal charge to use the tool. To subscribe or login, visit aasl.eb.com). Another available assessment tool is the actual application for AASL’s National School Library Program of the Year Award (NSLPY). Whether they choose to submit the application or not, librarians can go through the process of assessing their library program by answering the questions on the award application. In addition, measuring the library program against the award rubric provides supplementary data and information about the library program. The application and award rubric are found at http://www.ala.org/aasl/awards/nslpy (AASL 2015). Both of the AASL’s tools bring proven results with stakeholder input in developing and implementing goals, objectives, and action plans. Using these validated evaluation systems is like operating a well-tested navigation system.

Self-constructed evaluations are more focused and target one or two specific goals for the library program. Often they are useful in gaining resources to support the program’s future needs. For example, when my district’s high schools lacked high-interest, low-reading-level materials for Limited English Proficient (LEP) students, gathering circulation and collection development data supported the assumption. Creating a report based on reliable data and submitting it to decision makers resulted in a $50,000 grant to purchase materials for high school LEP students. Another example of a self-constructed evaluation was when, as a district supervisor, I gathered information about flexible scheduling by using an online survey form. The need to collect this scheduling data arose when a decision maker attempted to create a fixed schedule in the elementary schools. He stated that students would see the librarian more on a fixed schedule. Convincing data collected through my survey proved that students had three times as much library time in schools with flexible access and flexible scheduling than they had in schools with a fixed schedule. In both the literacy initiative for LEP students and the flexible access situation, I relied on assessment tools to provide positive improvements to the library program.

Assessment may also result from mandates. Part of the state of Virginia’s instructional evaluation plan requires school librarians to demonstrate that library instruction results in individual student growth. As a district supervisor, I was charged with creating an instructional evaluation plan for the county’s school librarians that would meet this goal. At that point in time, I would have said to you that assessment was my foe. It took a full school year to develop the assessment. Fortunately, six savvy librarians in the district worked with me to create a usable plan based on AASL’s instructional standards. Using this assessment plan with a random sample of students, librarians can now receive concrete data that proves they are positively impacting academic progress of individual students. Decision makers in the schools are impressed with the clear connection between library instruction and individual student achievement. A difficult assessment assignment that began as my foe gradually became my friend, powerfully positioning the future of librarians.

Dealing with Roadblocks

When roads change, addresses are not available, or the satellite feed is blocked, navigation devices may actually make a trip more daunting! Likewise, assessment gone wrong is stressful and unproductive. It is no wonder there are negative feelings in the educational arena when it comes to assessment. The focus for evaluation in schools is not necessarily for growth in academic skills; rather, it is more motivated by proving students achieve a set of skills at a specific point in time. Time consuming processes, data collection overload, and abandonment of creativity make the measurement of standards unproductive. Using assessment is a burden when overdone. Collecting data that may be interesting but is not related to library strategic goals is discouraging and time consuming.

My suggestion is to make assessment positive by focusing on growth of the library program and academic growth of students. Turn demands that seem illogical to you into something productive—like when I had to design a librarian evaluation system that showed student academic growth. Similarly, when my district cut our print budget, I shifted my funding focus to eBooks. Print was still needed, but supplementing the print with digital books helped. Assessment of our technology infrastructure, current need, vendor support, and product design provided a rationale for technology funds that launched our first wave of eBooks. Use assessment to provide library users with a future rich in resources and activities.

Reaching Your Destination

A final question to consider: what do we do when a project is completed? Remember to use the results of your assessment to reach out to decision makers and highlight the value of each new resource, new instructional design, or new program initiative. Create a one page summary of the project that serves as an overview of your “travel route.” List the goal of the project along with data that supports each objective. When my district approved and funded an author project, it was critical to provide impact data to district leaders. We analyzed circulation statistics prior to launching the project. Comparing reading trends before the author visit to trends documented after the visit showed a strong correlation between students’ interest in books after experiencing face-to-face interaction with a guest author. The most powerful statistics came from student comments, which attracted the attention of decision makers and resulted in continued funding of the program.

Although entering information into navigation devices is sometimes awkward and assessment is sometimes cumbersome, the positives outweigh the negatives. When seeking out a route to travel, follow each step methodically and once you arrive at your destination, document what went well and what needs to be done differently. Assessment provides a picture with measurable numbers to enhance the map guiding your library program into the future. Every assessment is an opportunity to create growth in the library program. Enjoy the journey. More importantly enjoy the results.

Works Cited

American Association of School Librarians. “National School Library Program of the Year.” 2015. http://www.ala.org/aasl/awards/nslpy. (accessed October 12, 2015).

American Association of School Librarians. “A Planning Guide for Empowering Learners.” 2011. http://www.ala.org/aasl/standards-guidelines/planning-guide. (accessed October 12, 2015).

Martin, Ann M. Seven Steps to an Award-Winning School Library Program. Libraries Unlimited, 2012.

Turner, Monica, and R. Anthony Inman. “Continuous Improvement.” Reference for Business. http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/management/Comp-De/Continuous-Improvement.html. (accessed October 12, 2015).


Ann M. Martin, MA, most recently worked as educational specialist for the Library Services Department (retired 2013) for Henrico County Public Schools in Virginia. She currently supervises school librarian interns for Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA. She earned a master of arts in education and human development from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Ann is author of Empowering Leadership: Developing Behaviors for Success (American Association of School Librarians, 2013) and Seven Steps to an Award-Winning School Library Program (Libraries Unlimited, 2012). Ann is a past president of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) and has received many awards including the 2015 AASL Distinguished Service Award, 2011 AASL National School Library Program of the Year for a district program, and the 2002 AASL National School Library Program of the Year for a single school.

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