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Annual Meeting of the University Council for Educational Administration


Kentucky's systemic reform initiative has been heralded as one of the more comprehensive and well-sustained reforms in recent history. To evaluate the course of this reform, the challenges associated with researching and evaluating a statewide systemic reform effort are detailed here. By using a description of the politics of evaluating systemic policy at the state level, the paper attempts to fill the gap between the investigation of how policy works and the investigation of how policy is evaluated. An embedded, single-case design was used to study the program over a 3-month period. Examination of the system suggests that the political agenda and organizational structure of the Kentucky Department of Education influence evaluation processes. Such tension has been documented elsewhere, but the complexity of the reforms in the state prevents comprehensive answers to the question lawmakers want answered: Is this initiative effective? The findings indicate that the political boundaries of statewide policy-evaluation research are more complex and problematic than the generally intricate questions of reform effects. Moreover, it is argued that such political borders may prevent adequate assessment of reform efforts, thus forestalling improvements in teaching and learning.

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