Program Assessment: Enjoy the Journey and Results!

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).

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