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Arts 101

[2012]
A formative evaluation of an arts program
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

The Corcoran Gallery of Art (the Corcoran) contracted with RK&A to conduct a formative evaluation of its new program initiative, Arts 101Arts 101 is a partnership among the Corcoran, the Corcoran College of Art, District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and District of Columbia Public Charter Schools (DCPCS) that ignites the power of art to build middle students’ capacity to think and act creatively in their lives, their learning, and their community.

How did we approach this study?

The formative evaluation was the cornerstone of a planning and evaluation project, where the goals were to work collaboratively with Corcoran staff to: create measurable audience outcomes, define program strategies that staff could prioritize to achieve outcomes, and reflect on the formative evaluation findings to develop recommendations for Arts 101.  To gain a holistic sense of program implementation and the potential of the program to achieve intended outcomes, RK&A conducted program observations, student interviews, and teacher interviews at three different schools with varying degrees of commitment to the program.  Before collecting data, RK&A secured permission from an Institutional Review Board as well as the DCPS Office of Data and Accountability by preparing a detailed application package that included data collection instruments, consent forms, school permission letters, and proof of Human Subject Protection training for RK&A staff and contractors.  Data were then analyzed through the lens of program outcomes to help staff determine what is realistic to achieve given program resources and the external environment in which the program operates.

What did we learn?

Formative evaluation findings suggested that the program was relatively successful in helping students see that art expresses ideas, and somewhat successful at helping students develop confidence in a museum setting.  Yet, findings show that teaching teams implemented strategies intended to develop students’ communication, artistic thinking, and creative problem-solving skills to varying degrees.  Even though all stakeholders agreed that collaboration is essential to ensure intentional and integrated lessons, in reality, collaboration between classroom teachers and Corcoran educators varied considerably. 

What are the implications of the findings?

The variations in collaboration among teaching teams lead to inconsistency in program implementation, which then has a negative impact on student outcomes.  This finding underscores the importance of exploring the successes and challenges of program implementation before measuring outcomes.  During an RK&A-facilitated reflection workshop, Corcoran staff modified their original outcomes to more closely align with what they felt was realistic to achieve given evaluation findings.  Further, RK&A and Corcoran staff collaboratively developed recommendations and next steps for program improvement geared towards achieving outcomes.  

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