The program evaluator’s role includes exploring population problems and needs and collecting data before, during, and after the program’s activities. These actions are vital in making sure that the initiatives effectively address real and pressing issues, and that their impact is positive and long-lasting. For this purpose, a program evaluator has to approach any problem related to social work from several angles, looking at the project’s development steps. For example, my social work experience has led me to work with children who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and go to public school. Similar to many learning disabilities, children with ADHD may struggle with the usual strategies of learning. One of the policies I aimed to evaluate was the 504 plan, part of the Action 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. I will be using the material from Sessions 3,4, and 5 to evaluate the three elements of the Section 504 plans’ design and implementation.
Prior to developing and implementing a program, a social worker has to understand what the problem is and who the intervention needs to target. This is a crucial step that must precede any other activity. The core of social work is its goal of addressing the needs of a community (Crumpton, 2020). Thus, without knowing about the exact requirements, one cannot create a useful policy.
In the case of children with ADHD, the disorder lies at the center of the discussion, and its impact on one’s learning ability in school is the start of the investigation. According to Pritchard et al. (2016), the main challenges that ADHD leads to include inattention, inability to concentrate, memory deficits, time management, and emotional control. This information contributes to the basis of what has to be included in the 504 plan that is specific to students with ADHD. These needs have to guide the policy in deciding what level of intervention is necessary for schools and how it has to be introduced to these environments.
It is clear that the needs assessment that preceded the development of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act had to acknowledge a variety of challenges that people with disabilities faced in everyday life. Several needs areas are discussed in the Section, including the definition of “disability” that includes physical and mental impairments and their limiting effect on one’s lifestyle (Zirkel, 2017). Next, the types of major life activities are listed, such as self-care, walking, speaking, working, and learning (Zirkel, 2017). The last action, learning, pertains to the use of 504 plans in public schools for children with various disorders, including ADHD. The Section explicitly prohibits the denial of participation in school activities and requests schools to provide necessary aids for equal opportunity. Additionally, the Section protects those children and adolescents who cannot use the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) – this is another need addressed by the policy, as not all children fit the definitions outlined in the IDEA.
After the needs assessment is completed, policymakers are able to see the scope of the problem, the target population, and its requirements. The next step is to formulate the policy theory that would conceptualize actions necessary to reach the intended positive outcomes (Crumpton, 2020). The analysis of this foundational theory is the evaluability assessment. The program evaluator compares the intentions of the plan and the evidence supporting the effectiveness of its contents. As many policies do not have a transparent theory outlined at the start of the implementation, it is vital to look at the program’s objective and stakeholders’ interests (Crumpton, 2020). The main danger of the intervention being ineffective lies in the incorrect assumptions about the objectives or needs or failed implementation of set goals.
The expected beneficial effect of Section 504 is to ensure that people with disabilities have access to major life activities and are protected from discrimination. An implication is that all government-funded institutions have to comply with the act’s requirements (Office for Civil Rights, 2020). In educational programs, the aspect of accessibility is highlighted – schools are expected to create an environment in which students with disabilities learn the same information through different strategies. While these objectives seem to guarantee support for all people with learning challenges, including children with ADHD, the foundation for this policy is very general. First, it considers proximal outcomes, a person with disabilities having additional support for learning. Second, the act implies that the distal outcome of the policy is equal access to public education. These goals seem to align with the needs expressed by children with such disorders as AHDH.
Nonetheless, the responsibility of creating plans for people with disability is put on parents and schools, who have to rely on their individual knowledge of the condition and the child’s requirements. Such flexibility has benefits, as it allows each case to be viewed separately, paying attention to specific needs. On the other hand, the policy lacks an organizational plan which should include specific activities and services that policy users can request from a public school (Crumpton, 2020). Therefore, each person wishing to use the Section to create a 504 plan has to rely on their own knowledge of evidence-based practice connected to the specific issue.
Another valuable part of the assessment occurs during the policy’s implementation and use. While policies may have clear objectives and strategies that accurately target individuals and their wants, the effectiveness of a program should be continuously monitored to determine whether the needs are met (Crumpton, 2020). First, the policy has to reach its target audience – in my experience, the parents of children with ADHD were among the main stakeholders as they acted to help their children to get access to additional support. According to (Zirkel, 2017), a 504 plan is simpler to use than the IDEA as the former does not require a medical diagnosis of ADHD.
Although parents and teachers do not always have the necessary knowledge to create such plans, resources are available online to help them (Wattam et al., 2019). Nonetheless, most sources of information are not a part of the policy, but resources made on the basis of personal experience (Wattam et al., 2019). This finding implies that the policy is not organized well and can be improved by creating channels for sharing evidence-based information for people in need of a 504 plan guidance (Crumpton, 2020). Moreover, Pritchard et al. (2016) find that most children with ADHD do not benefit from a 504 plan. It implements minor environment adjustments with no sufficient ways for appraising the policy’s effectiveness.
Program evaluation is a process that considers policies and interventions from their conception to completion. It is vital for a social worker to establish the needs of the population, evaluate the objectives, and ensure that the intervention is effective as intended. In the case of Section 504 and children with ADHD, the policy succeeds in defining vulnerable groups but lacks transparency, clarity, and evidence-based information dissemination channels
Office for Civil Rights. (2020). Protecting students with disabilities. U.S. Department of Education. Web.
Pritchard, A. E., Koriakin, T., Carey, L., Bellows, A., Jacobson, L., & Mahone, E. M. (2016). Academic testing accommodations for ADHD: Do they help? Learning disabilities (Pittsburgh, PA), 21(2), 67-68.
Wattam, D. K., Benson, K., & Reyes, K. (2019). K-12 teacher candidates’ understanding of ADHD student protections under Section 504. National Social Science, 53(1), 64-72.
Zirkel, P. A. (2017). An updated comprehensive comparison of the IDEA and Section 504/ADA. West’s Education Law Reporter, 342, 886-915.
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