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Foundational Knowledge: Assessment and Learning

BY Kevin Rafter
Kevin Rafter
As Manager of Impact Assessment and Learning, Kevin oversees evaluation efforts
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| Mar 03, 2014

Editor’s Note: Foundational Knowledge is a new and occasional series on News & Insights, providing three bullet points on a topic of interest to Irvine’s partners and grantees.

Assessment and learning are buzzwords that generate excitement and dread in the social sector. Sometimes lumped under the heading of evaluation, assessment and learning simply means the practice of collecting data about the outcomes of our work to understand progress and impact.

Here are some important points I keep in mind about using measurement to help us understand our impact and progress:

  • Aligning your measurement plan to key decisions is important! The most valuable assessment is one that is timed to provide data, analysis and insights at the right time to inform decisions about future grants or a strategic refinement.
  • This is new territory in many parts of the social sector, so don't let perfect be the enemy of the good - work with what's available, and refine as you go.
  • You learn as much from discovering what’s not working in your programs as you do from learning what works well. In this way, it’s always valuable to do an assessment.
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Engaging Parents Leads to Better School Policies

BY Amy Dominguez-Arms
Amy Dominguez-Arms
As Director of the California Democracy program, Amy leads strategies aimed at i
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| Apr 04, 2013

A new report by Harder+Company Community Research on Irvine’s Families Improving Education (FIE) initiative offers fresh insights into the impact of parent and community involvement in educational policymaking. The report highlights how equipping parents with data, engaging them in discussions with school officials and connecting them with others in their region can transform school policies toward better educational outcomes for students.

The James Irvine Foundation launched the FIE initiative in 2008 to support parental involvement in K–12 educational policymaking. The Foundation partnered with Families In Schools to build the capacity of organizations in the San Joaquin Valley and Inland Empire to engage parents and families in local and state decision making for education policies that affect their children.

Once the initiative was well-established, the Foundation and Families in Schools recognized the opportunity to evaluate the work and assess the most promising practices in FIE. We then contracted with Harder+Company to gauge the initiative’s impact on parents, organizations and school policymaking.

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Learning from Experiments in Arts Innovation

BY Josephine Ramirez
Josephine Ramirez
As Arts Program Director, Josephine is leading the implementation of a new grant
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| Dec 05, 2012 1

Staying relevant amid a shifting landscape is an obstacle that’s very familiar in our field: arts organizations are challenged to meet the changing expectations of communities they serve. My predecessors at Irvine responded to that growing relevance gap in 2006 and launched the Arts Innovation Fund (AIF), a multiyear initiative that provided support for 19 large, established arts institutions in California to experiment with different ways they might adapt. The grants were intended to create the necessary space and freedom to try something new — and to learn from it.

We all know that a robust and vibrant arts community is essential to the general well-being of our many communities in California and beyond. And we also know that the past several decades have seen a significant overall decline in the number of people who attend arts events in California and throughout the U.S.

Findings from this initiative are now available following an independent report by Slover Linett Strategies. In keeping with the theme of innovation, we’re pleased to make an overview of these findings available in an exciting new format: an interactive infographic designed for viewing online or on your tablet. These findings are significant to arts organizations of all sizes, as well as to funders, policymakers and others who care about the vitality of the arts.

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Webinar on the Benefits of Dual Enrollment

BY Vince Stewart
Vince Stewart
Vince Stewart was a Senior Program Officer for the Youth program at The James Ir
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| Sep 28, 2012

Our recent webinar on the benefits of career-focused dual enrollment drew nearly 200 attendees from around the country, including college and high school administrators and faculty, as well as federal, state and local policymakers. For those who were unable to attend, we’re pleased to make available a recording of the Sept. 10 webinar.

Panelists discussed findings and recommendations from our recent report, Broadening the Benefits of Dual Enrollment. Based on the results of an Irvine initiative, the report showed that dual enrollment, while historically geared toward high-achieving students, can also benefit underachieving students and those underrepresented in college, especially when combined with a career focus. Dual enrollment programs allow high school students to take college courses and earn college credit.

I would like to thank our panelist for participating and sharing their insights: Katherine Hughes, principal investigator for the Concurrent Courses initiative; Christopher Cabaldon, executive director of the Linked Learning Alliance; Linda Collins, executive director of the Career Ladders Project; and Melissa Brookman, director of the ACE Academy of Long Beach at Jordan High School, a participant in the initiative.

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Register for Our Webinar on Dual Enrollment

BY Vince Stewart
Vince Stewart
Vince Stewart was a Senior Program Officer for the Youth program at The James Ir
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| Aug 27, 2012

A free webinar on September 10 will share findings and recommendations from a report we recently released about the benefits of dual enrollment courses, which allow high school students to earn college credit. Although historically geared toward high-achieving students, the report found that dual enrollment courses can also benefit underachieving students and those underrepresented in higher education, especially when these offerings have a career focus. The webinar will outline recommendations for education practitioners and will also address policy matters related to dual enrollment programs.

If the demonstrated benefits of career-focused dual enrollment are to reach more disadvantaged students and have lasting impact on California education, state policymakers and community leaders will need to reduce current barriers to program development and student participation. Based on the experience and outcomes attained in high schools and colleges across California, here are three high-value policy recommendations:

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Refining Our Support For Grantee Leadership

BY Kevin Rafter
Kevin Rafter
As Manager of Impact Assessment and Learning, Kevin oversees evaluation efforts
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| Jul 19, 2012 1

Building leadership is one of Irvine’s core values, and one of the ways we try to realize that value is through the Fund for Leadership Advancement. Started in 2005, the fund supports the development of individual leaders as a way to increase the impact of existing Irvine grantee organizations. Although the fund has been on hiatus while we conducted a program review, we are restarting this leadership development initiative and sharing what we’ve learned from our work in this area.

As we reached a critical mass of more than 50 FLA grants, we decided to take stock of FLA and consider updates that would insure that the program takes into account the economic and social circumstances our grantees currently face. In order to review the impact of FLA, we commissioned Harder+Company Community Research to conduct an external assessment of these grants and help us understand where and how FLA has had the greatest impact.

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Broadening the Benefits of Dual Enrollment

BY Anne Stanton
Anne Stanton
As Director of the Youth program, Anne Stanton leads Irvine’s strategies to esta
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| Jul 17, 2012

At a time when the need for higher levels of education is rising, we are pleased to report some good news: Participation in career-focused, dual enrollment programs correlates to positive, measurable improvements in outcomes for a population of young people who face serious barriers to gaining a postsecondary degree.

In 2008, we launched the Concurrent Courses initiative to make dual enrollment programs — which allow high school students to earn college credit — available to underachieving students or those who are from populations underrepresented in higher education. When we began, we were already aware of the benefits that dual enrollment holds for the high-achieving students who usually participate in these programs.

A new research report by the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Teachers College, Columbia University, shows how eight programs across California effectively integrated dual enrollment with a complementary career-focused strategy to engage struggling students.

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Study Reveals Increase in College Attendance Among Linked Learning Students

BY Daniel Silverman
Daniel Silverman
A native Californian, Daniel Silverman leads the Foundation’s communications wor
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| Feb 01, 2011

When rigorous academics are combined with demanding technical learning and real-world experience, students are better prepared to succeed after high school. Embracing that Linked Learning model, the Center for Advanced Research and Technology (CART), a high school in Clovis, Calif., released data on Jan. 11 that clearly shows Linked Learning can lead to a higher percentage of college enrollments.

The seven-year study found that participation in CART's Linked Learning approach increased the community college entrance rate by 11 percentage points — 71 percent for CART students compared with 60 percent for a demographically similar group of non-CART students. Entrance rates to four-year colleges were also higher for CART students. Read the CART report or the news release announcing the results.

"The message is clear: When students see a connection between what they're learning today and what they're earning tomorrow, they're more successful in the classroom, in college and, ultimately, in the workplace," said California's Superintendent of Instruction Tom Torlakson, as part of the study's release.

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From the President: Refining Our Grantmaking Strategies

BY Jim Canales
Jim Canales
Jim Canales served as President and Chief Executive Officer of The James Irvine
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| Apr 01, 2009
Jim Canales, President & CEO

Dear Friends,

Every March, the Irvine Foundation Board of Directors meets for two days to reflect upon the Foundation’s progress and consider longer-term strategic issues outside of our regular board meeting cycle. This year’s meeting was particularly noteworthy because we comprehensively reviewed all three of Irvine’s core grantmaking programs of Arts, California Perspectives and Youth. We launched these three programs in 2003-04, following a comprehensive planning process, and now with five years of grantmaking behind us, we saw our meeting as an opportunity to discuss what we have learned, what has changed and how we may want to refine the programs. Our annual report later this year will report on some of the specifics for 2008, but I wanted to focus in this letter on some of the broader themes discussed and next steps identified.

Our aspirations in each program area are ambitious and our board reaffirmed its commitment to them over the long term. But we also discussed the value of ongoing refinements in our strategy. We acknowledge that maximizing progress toward our program goals requires that we learn as we go, increase our support for the approaches that work best, and take advantage of opportunities that may arise as we execute our plans.

For example, in the Youth program, we are focusing our grantmaking in a more targeted way on multiple pathways, which we consider a particularly promising approach to high-school reform. You can read more about this refinement in this issue’s Q&A with our Youth Program Director Anne Stanton. Our other two programs — California Perspectives and Arts — are also refining their strategies while staying committed to the goals we set several years ago. We will describe these refinements in upcoming issues of the Irvine Quarterly and through future updates on our Web site.

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In California's Inland Regions, Culture Thrives Outside Mainstream

BY Ray Delgado
Ray Delgado
Ray Delgado was with The James Irvine Foundation from 2006 to 2013, last serving
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| Jan 22, 2009
Luis Jovel, a fourth generation cowboy boot and shoemaker, used to drive regularly from his home in Fresno to Mendota to teach traditional Salvadoran folk dancing to fellow immigrants, particularly children.

It was something Jovel did with his sister, for free, in order to pass on important cultural traditions and give youth of Salvadoran descent a sense of collective identity. But as the price of gas rose, it became too expensive to make the roughly 80 mile round trip, and Jovel had to stop.

"If arts groups want to have greater engagement with their communities, and more public support, this study points out avenues for them. They need to start looking for more points of relevance."

– Alan Brown, principal at WolfBrown and co-author of
"Cultural Engagement in California's Inland Regions"

"I couldn't afford it. I didn't have the money. I was doing it from my pocket," said Jovel, adding that he would continue teaching but for the cost. "I have a list of 24 kids who want to learn."

Jovel is just the sort of local cultural role model who should receive more support from established arts organizations and grantmaking institutions, according to a thought-provoking new study recently published by The James Irvine Foundation. Titled "Cultural Engagement in California's Inland Regions," the report is an effort to better understand culture and community in California's San Joaquin Valley and Inland Empire.

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Museum Youth Initiative: A Midterm Assessment

BY Daniel Silverman
Daniel Silverman
A native Californian, Daniel Silverman leads the Foundation’s communications wor
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| Jan 22, 2004

Over the last several years, youth advocates, and policy makers have increasingly recognized the positive impact of after-school programs on children and youth. The James Irvine Foundation has played a leading role in this movement by developing the Communities Organizing Resources to Advance Learning (CORAL) Initiative to support a few California communities in providing high-quality education enrichment programs during out-of-school hours. Across California, 10 museums are also using Irvine support to provide educational programs to young people during after-school hours. They're participants in the Foundation's Museum Youth Initiative (MYI), a broad grantmaking strategy to mobilize out-of-school resources to help young Californians succeed in the classroom.

Museum Management Consultants, Inc. (MMC), a San Francisco-based firm, is conducting a four-year evaluation of the implementation and outcomes of the Initiative. In 1999, MMC began work with Irvine to evaluate the Museum Youth Initiative at the 10 museums involved. The museums broadly range in discipline, scope and size and are located throughout the state. Designed as a multi-year program, the Initiative intends to catalyze institution-wide change. MMC has conducted extensive interviews with staff and participants in order to carry out an evaluation with participating museums.

Participants in an MYI after-school program.

"By integrating evaluation into the Inititative, it has strengthened the programs," says Diane Frankel, Irvine's program director for Children, Youth and Families who served as director of the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services before coming to Irvine. "The role of evaluation in this Initiative is what really makes the project unique. MMC is working closely with the museums to evaluate goals of the project to help strengthen their efforts and inform the ability of all California museums to educate young people by working collaboratively with schools to provide students with after-school experiences."

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A Participatory Model for Evaluating Social Programs

BY Daniel Silverman
Daniel Silverman
A native Californian, Daniel Silverman leads the Foundation’s communications wor
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| Jan 22, 2004
There is little dispute in the nonprofit world that social programs should be evaluated. There is less agreement about how to evaluate them. Evaluation of any program involves many challenges-many of which are not that dissimilar. A new report commissioned by The James Irvine Foundation, A Participatory Model for Evaluating Social Programs (PDF), addresses some of the challenges involved in evaluating these programs and provides a practical set of guidelines, with illustrative examples, of implementing a "participatory" evaluation.

Social programs often include multiple stakeholder groups, which can range from policy makers to direct service recipients. They also operate in a socially, economically, and politically dynamic environment. The report looks at how evaluation can remain relevant and useful to these different groups and how it can be sensitive and responsive to these changes.

There are also inevitably differences between the program as it was originally designed, and the program as it actually operates. These differences arise because of resource constraints, unanticipated complexities related to the participants' attributes, uncertainties about the service technology, and unexpected organizational and staffing difficulties. How can the evaluation be attuned to the actual workings of the program? These questions are about more than the technical aspects of the evaluation, such as data collection and analysis. The issue at hand is much broader-it is about how the evaluation is carried out, how it affects the program, and what roles the evaluators assume.

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Aaron Pick
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Alex Barnum
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Amy Dominguez-Arms
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Anne Stanton
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