The Rhetoric of Evaluation

This week is a first in my professional career: my school (a secondary-level boarding school) is being evaluated. A team of 8 teachers and administrators from around the Midwest are spending three days on our campus to determine for how long of a term we will continue our accreditation.

My role in this evaluation has been minimal compared to some of my colleagues and of course my administrators. I prepared several documents reporting how the English department and the library fulfill a certain list of standards. Both in the preparation of these reports and during several interviews, I felt a tension between wanting to “pass” the evaluation and wanting the evaluation to be a catalyst for changes at our school that I feel are important. Of course I don’t want the evaluators to criticize all the holes in our program, but neither do I want them to stamp an A-Okay on our report and pretend there aren’t any holes to fix.

Two of the big concerns I have for our school are web presence and technological access, but I didn’t get a chance to discuss either of these with the evaluators. Our website gets very low priority in the stack of tasks assigned to the faculty. This priority doesn’t at all reflect the reality of the dominance of web communication over other forms of communicating and recruiting. Also, in spite of the (almost) adequate size of our library lab and computer lab, student internet access in the dormitories is next to nothing: three networked computers serve populations of 50-60 students. Since some students have laptops, the main issue here is whether or not students should have unlimited access to internet in their dorm rooms. At a boarding school, where teachers and deans stand in as the primary mentors and disciplinarians to students, much discussion occurs over the responsibility and trust inherent in internet access at school. I’m not savvy about firewalls, filters, or white lists, but I want to be part of the solution to this problem. But what is the answer?

I was able to discuss other issues with the evaluators, and they were open and encouraging about progress as well as needs. Several questions I was asked had to do with technology:

“Do you have all the resources you need in your classroom?”

“What types of technology are you using?”

“Do you think you’ll still be buying library books in a few more years [when the internet offers so much of the same information]?”

I felt pretty good about all of the replies I was able to give–and I was able to speak knowledgeably about the fate of printed books thanks to our discussions in class earlier this year!

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