By Manda Newlin
What’s the best way to evaluate the effectiveness of your Ag Ed program?
How can you identify areas of your program that are flourishing—and pinpoint ones that need work?
How can you start a constructive dialog about your program’s strengths and weaknesses with other educators, administrators and advisors?
To answer these questions—and ensure a high quality of agricultural education programs across the nation—the National Council for Agricultural Education created a set of seven standards that define the characteristics of successful high school programs. The guidelines, collectively called the National Quality Program Standards, can help programs assess their present status and devise an action plan for improvement.
Setting the standard
The National Quality Program Standards were developed to help U.S. schools provide high-quality agricultural education to students. These standards—each spelled out in one or more “standard statements”—can help schools ensure a uniform process and guide educators in the development, management, assessment and improvement of their programs.
To realistically evaluate their Ag Ed program, teachers, administrators, community partners, advisory committees and FFA alumni can work together using a convenient online improvement tool. They then can use the results to set short- and long-term goals that capitalize on strengths and improve upon weaknesses.
Rolling out quality
Last spring, the National Quality Program Standards were introduced to a pilot group of staff members, teachers, administrators and advisors from several states. In July, the participants attended a weeklong conference conducted by LPS specialists. By the end of that week, each program had completed an initial assessment process and created a detailed action plan to target areas for improvement. In the coming year, these same participants will present a conference to their own state’s teachers to bring other Ag Ed programs up to speed with the standards.
The next phase of the rollout comes in early 2009, when the standards program will be launched in 10 additional states.
Measuring up in Montana
Chad Massar, an Ag Ed teacher at Joliet High School in Joliet, Mont., participated in the pilot group.
“I’m our state association president this year, and I wanted to be in the know,” Massar explained. “I wanted to learn about (the standards) so I could help other teachers. And obviously I wanted to make my program better and try to make my career and personal life a little more efficient, too.”
Massar, along with an administrator and advisory council member, gathered to assess their school’s Ag Ed program last spring using the online tool.
“It gave us our scores in each of those seven areas. I selected two of my areas that were the weakest, and I’m going to be taking steps to improve those areas of our program. Specifically, mine are in marketing and program planning and evaluation,” Massar said. “I’m hoping to see more community involvement or awareness. I want our community to be talking about our agriculture program rather than our basketball program.”
Massar feels the assessment tool can help programs identify areas for improvement, but he notes that it shouldn’t be used to “score” individual educators.
“It is not a tool for administrators to evaluate their agriculture teachers or programs,” he said. “I think if it’s used properly, and people use it to its potential, it will definitely help improve the quality of programs out there.”
Reaching higher in Nevada
Aaron Albisu, a welding and agriculture mechanics teacher at Spring Creek High School in Spring Creek, Nev., was also part of the pilot group. He says the standards and assessment helped clarify areas of his program that needed attention—and identify personal goals.
“As far as personal professional growth, I’ve set a goal to get CWI-certified, which is Certified Welding Instructor,” he explained. “It is a pretty good-sized test. It probably means that I will have to go to a three- to five-day training program and then study my tail off to pass those portions of the test.”
Tools for success
Massar and Albisu both offered advice to help other educators use the assessment to their advantage.
“Be honest when filling it out,” Massar urged. “It is not for administrators to critique or evaluate their instructors. It is for the agriculture program to become better.”
Added Albisu, “I’d definitely suggest that they become familiar with the standards. They have to understand that they can be used as a powerful tool in that partnership with administrators. You already are teaching to the standard or the criteria, so it’s just a matter of how much more growth you want or can have.”
Massar feels it’s important to involve administrators and community in the evaluation process.
“I’m one of those people that if I want it done right, I need to do it,” he said. “But including others in this process is going to help everybody.”
Albisu urges educators to keep expectations realistic: “You’re not going to score 100 percent on all of (the standards). It’s very important that you are doing something, that you’re at least at that ‘I’m trying’ stage. But you can’t work on all of them at the same time.”
“It is going to be a tool that you can make work for you,” Massar said. “You are going to get out of it what you put into it.”