K-12 Language Program Evaluation Research Brief

By Francesca Venezia, Malik Stevenson, Amy Kim, & Margaret E. Malone

What is language program evaluation and why is it important for K-12 language education? This brief highlights what has been done and recommends future directions.

This research brief can also be viewed and downloaded as a pdf here.

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In a time where world language programs are experiencing reduced enrollments, a thorough review of a language program and its outcomes can provide justification as well as an opportunity to improve or maintain an existing program. Language program evaluation is essential to examining unique situations, developing improvements, and discovering areas of success in K-12 world language education (Hur & Suh, 2010). Currently, world language programs in the K-12 context are often evaluated through student performance with a shortage of data and information derived from teachers and administrators. Importantly, evaluation practices must draw on the strengths and weaknesses of a program in order to enhance its quality (Patton, 2008).

What does it mean?

Norris (2016) notes that evaluation is often a misunderstood term. We define the key terms of evaluation and assessment as:

Evaluation is the process by which information is gathered to understand, judge, and improve program value.

Assessment is a method for collecting information about student learning during evaluation.


  • K-12 language program evaluation has been driven by accountability in the form of large-scale standardized assessments (Norris & Watanabe, 2013).
  • Challenges to K-12 program evaluation include misconceptions and negative perceptions of evaluation (Heining-Boynton, 1990; Norris, 2016).
  • K-12 language program evaluation has focused on student outcomes rather than the program as a whole (Kondo-Brown, 2002; Davin et al., 2014).
  • In K-12 contexts, many program evaluation efforts have centered on English language learners or on bilingual programs (Elder, 2009; Llosa & Slayton, 2009).
  • Language educators are likely not prepared to engage in program evaluation due to lack of training (Norris, 2016).

So What?

K-12 Foreign Language Programs

  • Increase training in and support for language educators on the basics of evaluation by providing workshops and professional development
  • Inform teachers about program evaluation efforts in the school/district/county
  • Report findings of evaluations to teachers and other stakeholders in comprehensive and comprehensible ways to maximize implementation and impact
  • Provide resources and support for implementing changes based on evaluation findings
  • Keep track of progress toward goals and report regularly to all stakeholders

K-12 Foreign Language Program Evaluators

  • Conduct systematic and sustainable K-12 language program evaluations, for example via cyclical, ongoing evaluations that allow programs to show improvements and highlight new and ongoing challenges (Norris & Watanabe, 2013)
  • Use varied evaluation methodology, such as observations, focus groups, and interviews with stakeholders as well as student assessment data (Son, 2017)
  • Gain a better understanding of teachers’ and administrators’ concerns surrounding program evaluation capacities in foreign language programs

Also read…

Davis, J. M., & McKay, T. H. (Eds.). (2018). A guide to useful evaluation of language programs. Georgetown University Press.

Davis, J. M., Norris, J. M., Malone, M. E., McKay, T. H., & Son, Y. (Eds.). (2018). Useful Assessment and Evaluation in Language Education. Georgetown University Press.

Kiely, R., & Rea-Dickins, P. (2005). Program evaluation in language education. Springer.

Patton, M. Q. (2008). Utilization-focused evaluation. Sage Publications.


Davin, K. J., Rempert, T. A., & Hammerand, A. A. (2014). Converting data to knowledge: One district’s experience using large‐scale proficiency assessment. Foreign Language Annals47(2), 241-260.

Elder, C. (2009). Reconciling accountability and development needs in heritage language education: A communication challenge for the evaluation consultant. Language Teaching Research13(1), 15-33.

Heining-Boynton, A. L. (1990). The development and testing of the FLES program evaluation inventory. The Modern Language Journal74(4), 432-439.

Hur, J. W., & Suh, S. (2010). The Development, Implementation, and Evaluation of a Summer School for English Language Learners. Professional Educator, 34(2).

Kondo-Brown, K. (2002). A Longitudinal Evaluative Study on Child JFL Learners’ Oral Performances. Japanese Language and Literature36(2), 171-199.

Llosa, L., & Slayton, J. (2009). Using program evaluation to inform and improve the education of young English language learners in US schools. Language Teaching Research13(1), 35-54.

Norris, J. M., Davis, J. McE., Sinicrope, C., Watanabe, Y. (Eds.) (2009) Toward Useful Program Evaluation in College Foreign Language Education. National Foreign Language Resource Center.

Norris, J. M., & Watanabe, Y. (2013). Program evaluation. In C. Chapelle (Ed.), Encyclopedia of applied linguistics. Wiley–Blackwell.

Son, Y. A. (2017). Toward Useful Assessment and Evaluation of Heritage Language Learning. Foreign Language Annals50(2), 367-386.

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