Student Parallel Election Program (Student Vote) Evaluation
Section 6 Recommendations
6.1 Student Vote Should Continue to Be Offered for Future Elections
Student Vote has a positive impact on students' knowledge and understanding of Canadian politics and elections as well as on their interest and confidence in discussing politics and their interest in voting. It helps to make the material more relevant and engaging for students. It provides teachers with high-quality materials to assist them in teaching civics to students. As such, Student Vote should continue to be offered as a resource for educators and schools when teaching civics.
6.2 Investigate Barriers to Registration for Student Vote
Given that the Student Vote program is tied to election cycles, its availability is necessarily limited – i.e. it cannot be offered every year. Further efforts may be needed to better understand why certain schools/educators do not participate in Student Vote to help develop appropriate recruitment strategies in the future. As part of understanding barriers to participating in Student Vote, an investigation could be undertaken to determine why educators do not re-register and instead use previous Student Vote materials.
6.3 Offer Professional Development Opportunities for Teachers
The evaluation also found that Democracy Bootcamps had a relatively consistent and positive impact on student voting intentions. Democracy Bootcamp also had a significant impact on political knowledge among elementary students as well as on political discussion among elementary and secondary students. In an effort to increase the scope and impact of Student Vote, more Democracy Bootcamps or similar professional development events should be delivered in the future.
6.4 Track Individual Student and Teacher Survey Responses on Future Evaluations
Tracking individual student and teacher surveys would allow for a true repeated-measures study design – i.e. the pre- and post-responses of specific individuals could be linked. This would also allow for the direct observation of changes in participants over time. Additionally, repeated-measures study designs would provide greater power in statistical modelling, enabling the analysis to more accurately capture differences between groups.
Tracking individual student and teacher responses would also make it possible to link student responses to individual teachers, helping determine whether teacher characteristics impact student outcomes. The current identification of survey participants allows only for school-level identification. Although there are commonalities within schools that could impact Student Vote outcomes (e.g. administration endorsement of the program), teachers differ within schools. Thus, a new teacher providing Student Vote for the first time to a class may mask the benefits of experience from another teacher at the same school.
It is understood that tracking individual survey responses is time-consuming and challenging; however, the increased statistical power associated with this process may mean that a smaller sample would be needed. Future evaluations should assess the costs and benefits of conducting a smaller repeated-measures study design.
6.5 Develop a More Robust and Appropriate Control Group
The control group used to test the impact of Student Vote in the current study was not ideal. Almost a third of the control group teachers had participated in Student Vote in the past. Elementary students made up the bulk of the non-participating students. Non-participating teachers reported that they were using Student Vote materials to teach their students about the election, and 30% of non-participating students reported participating in a mock vote during the 2015 federal election. Each of these factors impacts the ability to determine the effect of Student Vote on participating students and teachers.
Future evaluations need to ensure that the control group better matches the needs of the evaluation. As such, before the collection of data, there needs to be clarity about what aspects of Student Vote are expected to impact outcomes. For example, if registration is required to access key Student Vote materials, then a comparison of registered versus non-registered schools may be an appropriate comparison. However, since Student Vote's materials are readily available for free to all teachers, information about the use of those materials needs to be collected from all teachers. In this case, the evaluation may be less about the difference between registered and non-registered schools and more about the use of Student Vote materials. In either case, clear expectations about how Student Vote impacts outcomes should be developed before carrying out the evaluation. These expectations can be used to tailor the evaluation to better measure the unique impact that Student Vote has.
6.6 Develop a Program Theory of Change
A program theory of change outlines the links between program activities and expected program outcomes. The presence of a well-articulated theory of change helps us understand how a program works and what aspects of it are expected to drive change in program participants. Having this articulation can help us understand what components of Student Vote are unique to the program and how those components contribute to overall outcomes. Being able to isolate unique components to Student Vote will help future evaluations develop more appropriate control groups.