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From the evaluator's perspective: Justified conclusions and decisions

Raymond Cheng

Earlier today, a student emailed me and asked what is best for him to do in his project. He was somehow struggling between doing a comprehensive review on the historical development of a particular issue and a comparison between old and new methodologies in the study of the same topic. I hesitated and didn't answer him right away because I see no reason why one should be absolutely better than the other. In fact, it all boils down to what the student wants to achieve and how the study would benefit him or, if possible, be useful for his future professional work and endeavors. To this end, I therefore checked out his LinkedIn profile to see if I can find some answers or maybe some hints to this. And after reviewing his profile, I realized that what was best for him – a clear understanding of the upcoming methodologies and tools used in researching the topic – because he is an inquirer and a person fascinated by the search of truth; it was just that he was a bit lost when he asked the question.

The reason why I bring this up was because nothing is universal when it comes to evaluation – which is especially true for the accuracy standard: A1 Justified Conclusions and Decisions [1]. Meanings, ideas, concepts all changes according to the stakeholders involved and what they are doing or what they will do. For evaluations to be accurate and results trustworthy we must focus on the context of which the stakeholders' question are concerned (Yarbrough, 2011) – and in the case of my student it wasn't just about the project but what he can possibly gain in the days to come, or, how he could eventually be benefitted from his project in the long run (especially in terms of the future research that he would likely conduct based on the findings of the project).

Likewise, timing is also one of the very crucial factors. Let us take nylon as an example. Nylon, a synthetic product invented by scientists jointly from New York and London (and that's why the name 'NY-Lon'), was rationed during World War II because it is such a strong material for making army supplies like the parachute – and good parachutes do save soldiers' lives. As a result, only wealthy ladies would be able to afford the expensive stockings in those days (as most of them were made of nylon). The consequence – was that most of the ladies would have to paint their legs with a wash that consists of cocoa, tea or gravy to make them look as if they had put their stockings on (as shown in Figure 1 below). They would, afterwards, draw seam lines on their legs too using an eyebrow pencil to complete the illusion (as shown in Figure 2).


Figure 1. Illustration Richter #197, "Two students in Alpha Delta Pi painting their legs", photo archived at the Hargrett Library, University of Georgia Libraries. Retrieved September 30, 2013 from http://www.libs.uga.edu/hargrett/archives/exhibit/richter/197.html


Figure 2. Lady drawing seam line. Photo taken from "Greatest generation: Our grandparents were heroes once", by The National WWII Museum. Retrieved October 6, 2013 from http://greatestgeneration.tumblr.com/post/49512739572/retrowunderland-vintage-stockings-painted-on

So, let us assess. If we were to evaluate a business proposal in the 1940s about starting a beauty shop that helps ladies draw seam lines on the back of their legs (e.g. like Figure 3 below), people would say, "Great! This is going to be such a good idea!" But if we were to do it today, what do you think your friends would say? "What?! Put gravy on the leg? Are you serious?" Factors, opinions, and conditions that are gathered during one time may not still be valid when decisions are later made. In short, presumptions could be fatal.


Figure 3. See blogspot, "Clothes, Cameras and Coffee: Do-gooders" by Rosalind Jana. Retrieved October 6, 2013 from http://clothescamerasandcoffee.blogspot.hk/2011/09/do-gooders.html

While regional variations have to be accommodated and the same evaluation standards cannot possibly be copied from one context and then directly applied to another (Chatterji, 2005; Hopson, 2001), the way we conclude and make decisions will also have to be carefully readjusted and re-calibrated according to the context as well as the era or times during which the evaluation takes place. To put it simply, there is just no right or wrong, it all depends on the situation – and maybe one day our great grand daughters will find painting their legs with gravy and drawing fake seam lines cool and trendy again. Yet, touch wood, no one wants a Third World War – let there be peace!

October 8, 2013

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Note 1: A1 "Justified Conclusions and Decisions" is one of the accuracy standards published by the U.S. Joint Committee on Standards for Educational Evaluation (JCSEE), for details please see http://www.jcsee.org/

References

  • Chatterji, M. (2005). Applying the Joint Committee's 1994 standards in international contexts: A case study of education evaluations in Bangladesh. Teachers College Record, 107 (10), 2372-2400.
  • Hopson, R. (2001). Global and local conversations on culture, diversity, and social justice in evaluation: Issues to consider in a 9/11 era. American Journal of Evaluation, 22, 381-386.
  • Yarbrough, D. B., Shulha, L. M., Hopson, R. K., & Caruthers, F. A. (2011). The program evaluation standards (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.