Attitudes towards school self-evaluation

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    Studies in Educational Evaluation 35 (2009) 2128









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    Schools are increasingly being asked to shoulder a greaterproportion of the responsibility for developing and guaranteeingeducational quality, which involves, among other things, theirbeing expected to engage in self-evaluation. This means that theyare required to arrive at an appraisal of their current functioning(strengths and weaknesses) as a point of departure for a plan orvision for the future. Self-evaluation is a procedure which isinitiated and carried out by the school in order to describe andevaluate its own functioning (Blok, Sleegers, & Karsten, 2005, p. 3).In the last decade self-evaluation formats have become or arein the process of becoming a commonplace activity in manyschools. An analysis of the literature on self-evaluation reveals thatexpectations with regard to results are to a large extent positive,although there is, as yet, limited evidence to support this positivepicture. Despite the fact that the introduction of self-evaluation iswidely applauded, there are serious question marks about thequality of self-evaluations as they are currently practised. Thisraises the issue as to how far self-evaluations are beingimplemented in a manner which will yield worthwhile resultsand how differences in the quality of self-evaluations can beexplained. The attitude towards self-evaluation is often suggestedas a crucial factor in this. Self-evaluation can only work if teammembers are positively disposed towards it (McBeath, 1999). Thus,one pre-condition which favours a worthwhile self-evaluation is

    achieving an awareness that self-evaluation is a meaningful andfruitful activity. All things considered, self-evaluation is not some-thing to be embarked on lightly (van Aanholt & Buis, 1990, p. 19).

    There are indications that attitudes towards self-evaluation aregenerally not positive and it would appear that there is insufcientawareness in schools of the objectives and usefulness of self-evaluation (Schildkamp, 2007). The fact that schools in Flandersmostly have experience with self-evaluations that are imposed onthem by government would also be likely to contribute to self-evaluation being seen more as an obligation the principalobjective of which is being compliant (i.e. meeting ones statutoryand regulatory obligations) rather than as a tool for improvingthe schools functioning as an educational institution (VanPetegem, Verhoeven, Buvens, & Vanhoof, 2005). There is alsoevidence of a lack of openness within school teams and anunwillingness on the part of schools to look critically at their ownperformance. It would seem, therefore, that staff are often notmentally ready for carrying out a self-evaluation. Moreover, it isfurther apparent that, inmany schools, identifying and confrontingproblems, questions, doubts, etc., and discussing these openly is byno means standard practice (Schildkamp, 2007). Evaluation andself-evaluation are still all too often seen as something threatening.Teachers still jealously guard their autonomy in the classroom andregard evaluation (self- or external) as a form of social control(MVG, 2006; Van Petegem et al., 2005). A positive attitude whichis the necessary foundation for implementing self-evaluation isthus often absent. Among other things, the perceived onerousnessof self-evaluation appears to play an innovation-inhibiting role.The same studies also suggest that school principals and teachersshare the same resistance towards the added paperwork that

    * Corresponding author. Tel.: +32 32204143; fax: +32 32204998.

    E-mail address: (J. Vanhoof).

    0191-491X/$ see front matter 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.doi:10.1016/j.stueduc.2009.01.004Attitudes towards school self-evaluatio

    Jan Vanhoof *, Peter Van Petegem, Sven De Maeye

    Antwerp University, Institute of Education and Information Sciences, Universiteitsplein

    A B S T R A C T

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    tive attitude towards self-evaluation is a pre-condition which favours

    ion. This article describes how self-evaluation is regarded in schools and

    characteristics can explain differences in the attitude of individuals. We

    ducted among 2716 school principals and teachers in 96 schools. Our

    ents expressed themselves more positively with regard to the possible

    with regard to the self-evaluation process itself. We also found that school

    sitive attitude than teachers. Multi-level analyses demonstrate that the

    on is related to the characteristics of the broader functioning of the school

    such as school culture and whether or not the school concernedmeets the

    ing community).

    2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

    onal Evaluation

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  • J. Vanhoof et al. / Studies in Educational Evaluation 35 (2009) 212822a self-evaluation brings with it (Van Petegem et al., 2005).Nevertheless, the authors claim that head teachers are generallymore positively disposed towards self-evaluation and that they aremore convinced of the usefulness of self-evaluation activities thanare their teachers. The attitude of principals towards self-evaluation is generally positive. Thus, head teachers in theNetherlands, for example, regard self-evaluation as a useful andinstructive undertaking. They take the view that self-evaluationyields a reliable picture (Blok et al., 2005) and see it as a viableactivity, although admitting that it takes up a lot of time. McBeath,Meuret, Schratz, and Jakobsen (1999) arrive at similar conclusionsin their evaluation of a project in which 100 European schoolscarried out a self-evaluation. There are also indications that theattitude of head teachers is markedly more positive than that ofteachers. Van Petegem et al. (2005, p. 288) state, for example, thatthe attitude of teachers vis-a`-vis self-evaluation is often quitedismissive. School heads are by and large more positively disposed and

    are more convinced of the usefulness of self-evaluation activities.These ndings coincide with an ongoing trend whereby carryingout self-evaluation is becoming an increasingly importantcomponent of the quality assurance system used in education.In this context, knowledge and understanding of attitudes towardsself-evaluation is crucial, not least because of the existingempirical evidence pointing to the link between conceptionsand behaviour (Kellgren and Wood, 1986).

    Another question which needs to be asked concerns the schoolcharacteristics which are related to attitudes towards self-evaluation. The impact on school policy of organizationaleffectiveness (Quinn and Rohrbaugh, 1983) and of schoolcharacteristics whichmight suggest the existence of a professionallearning community has repeatedly been demonstrated (Grifth,2003; Levine & Lezotte, 1990; Mortimore, Sammons, Stoll, Lewis &Ecob, 1988; Sammons, Hillman & Mortimore, 1995). The expecta-tion is thus that school characteristics such as encouragement bythe head teacher can inuence attitudes towards self-evaluationin both a positive and a negative sense (Saunders, 2000). Althoughattitudes towards self-evaluation have already been the subject ofresearch (Blok et al., 2005; Devos et al., 1999;McBeath et al., 1999),the link with school functioning has not yet been explicitlyinvestigated. This link is, however, of considerable importance in apolicy context in which schools are expected to design and executetheir own self-evaluation initiatives on an autonomous basis. Thisexpectation could place very great demands on schools withcertain characteristics. Lack of evidence regarding the impact ofschool characteristics on attitudes towards self-evaluation makesit difcult to assess exactly what can be expected of schools in thisarea. Kyriakydes and Campbell (2004, p. 32) have expressed theview that: the eld of school self-evaluation is in an early stage ofdevelopment.

    All of this suggests that a considerable investment still needs tobe made in expanding the knowledge base regarding attitudestowards self-evaluation and how the attitudes of team membersand head teachers are related to the characteristics of the schoolsin which they work. This article sets out to make a contribution inthis direction by formulating an answer to the following researchquestions: (1) What is the attitude of school principals and teacherstowards self-evaluation and what are the differences in this regard?

    and (2) What school characteristics can explain the differencesobserved in this attitude?

    We expect that the average attitude of all respondents towardsself-evaluation will be positive to a limited degree. However, thisgeneral picture conceals a large variation. We expect, for example,that head teachers will express themselves more positively withregard to self-evaluation than teachers. Equally, we expect that thenull hypothesis which states that there are no differences betweenrespondents and schools with respect to this attitude will have tobe rejected. We also expect that the attitude of the respondentstowards self-evaluation will be more positive in accordance withthe extent to which schools (a) are more organizationally effective,in the view of those respondents and (b) more closely correspondto the idea of a professional learning community. In the course ofthis articlewewill clarify these concepts from a theoretical point ofview and discuss their relevance.

    Theoretical framework and operationalizations

    The attitude of teammembers towards self-evaluation has to besituated and understood in the context in which this attitudearises. That context is in reality very broad and thus needs to bedened and demarcated. In order to examine relevant school-related characteristics, we used two lines of approach: schoolculture and the extent to which the school concerned can becharacterized as a professional learning community. Theseschool-related characteristics constitute the independent variablesin our model. The dependent variable is the attitude towards self-evaluation. The different variables are explained below. We willdiscuss the psychometric characteristics of the tools used insection 4 Tools and clusters.

    Dependent variable: attitudes towards self-evaluation

    This study focuses on attitudes towards self-evaluation. We setout to describe the attitude of head teachers and team membersand to explain the differences which exist. Specically, we areinterested in their personal attitudes vis-a`-vis self-evaluation. Anattitude indicates how positively or negatively an individualstands with regard to a particular issue (Petty andWegener, 1998).Given that self-evaluations are complex phenomena, we looked atattitudes towards several different aspects. In order to permitcomparisonwith the ndings of other research,we operationalizedattitudes towards self-evaluation using contrasting statementsdrawn from earlier studies (Blok et al., 2005; Meuret & Morlaix,2003). These are, for example: self-evaluation tells us nothingnew versus teaches us a great deal; self-evaluation takes up a lotof time versus takes up very little extra time and self-evaluationonly involves a few people versus involves everybody. Thestatements elicit respondents views concerning the purpose andvalue of self-evaluation; its viability and complexity; the expectedeffects; the systematic nature of self-evaluations and the extent towhich they are perceived as revealing useful insights.

    Independent variables

    In setting out the objectives of the study above we referred toschool culture and school characteristics which constitute thehallmarks of a professional learning community. These are theindependent variables which we have adopted in order to look atdifferences in school functioning. Our decision to opt for these twolines of approach was based on evidence which suggests that theyare related to the various school process and product character-istics and because of the opportunities they offer in terms ofexamining differences between schools. Given that research intoself-evaluations in schools is still a largely uncharted territory,connecting our research to these established lines of approachseemed to us to be a logical choice.

    School culture: organizational effectiveness of the school

    In order to examine school culture we used the effectivenessperspectives identied by Quinn and Rohrbaugh (1983). Quinn andRohrbaugh (1983, p. 369) developed amethodology for ascertainingthe effectiveness of a knowledge system using four effectivenessperspectives which in turn are determined by two independent

  • J. Vanhoof et al. / Studies in Educational Evaluation 35 (2009) 2128 23dimensions. Therstdimensionconcerns theorganizational focusofthe entity (in this case, the school) and ranges froman internal focuson the people in the organization to an external focus on theorganization itself. The second dimension represents the contrastbetween stability and control on the one hand, and exibility andchange on the other. These twodimensions result in four quadrants.The 4 perspectives are: the Human relationsmodel (creating close-knit teams/meeting groups in order to achieve openness, collabora-tion, loyalty, involvement andmotivation); the Open systemmodel(modifying objectives on time to achieve optimal suitability withrespect to the context); the Internal process model (creating clearrules in order to achieve control and stability); and the Rational goalmodel (ensuring that activities are appropriately geared towardsthe achievement of productivity and efciency).

    The above model is also referred to as the competing valuesmodel as the dimensions in themodel seem at rst sight to conveycontradictory messages. For example, we want schools to becontrollable and stable organizations, but we also expect adapt-ability and exibility. The different quadrants can thus better beapproached as a cohesive whole. The four quadrants and thevalues which underlie them are very illuminating as a means ofunderstanding the attitude and behaviour of people in schools.Furthermore, although the different characteristics of the modelmay well seem to contradict each other, they are not mutuallyexclusive (Quinn & Rohrbaugh, 1983, p. 374). What makes thesequadrants so instructive is the principle that all four must apply toat least a minimum extent in order to be able to regard a school asan effective organization (Quinn, Faerman, Thompson, & McGrath,2003). It is up to schools to nd a suitable balance between thedimensions. The desired balance cannot be established on auniform basis (Maslowski, 2001). In the analysis wewill work withclusters of schools (school proles) in order to adequately reectpossible variations in the balance. The operatio...


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