Ed Eval TIG Week: Tara Donahue on Avoiding Surprises: Collaborating with the District’s Research Departments

My name is Tara Donahue, and I am a managing evaluator at McREL International.  In my role as an evaluator, I spend a lot of time working with K-12 districts and collaborating with their research departments to gain access to district, school, and student data. Even as an “external” partner, I have found that many strategies can be put in place to develop a positive working relationship with the district in order to receive datasets to complete evaluation reports within budget and on time.

Lesson Learned: Share not only your evaluation timeline but explain the purpose for which you need the data at the very beginning of the project with the research director and any staff member who may be assigned to work with you.  By sharing your timeline, the district staff understands what deadlines you are working under.  They can also tell you what is possible.  For example, if you need end of year grades and have a report due August 30, the district can tell you the earliest possible time those grades will be available.  If you think you may need to make an adjustment to the timeline, those negotiations can be made at the beginning of the project and contingency plans can be developed “just in case” the data are not available when you need them.

No one knows the data better than the district’s research staff and by explaining the purpose for which you need a particular dataset, they may be able to help you think through how the dataset should be created.  On some multi-year projects, our team has worked directly with the district to develop templates during the first year of the project that can then be used annually with few revisions.  By not having to reinvent the wheel each year, you can develop project efficiencies which saves staff time and reduces cost.  Another benefit to discussing with the research staff why you are requesting certain data is simply to increase buy-in from the staff.  By being transparent and openly discussing why you are requesting something, the research staff has a better sense of your purpose and a vision of how your evaluation will benefit students in the district.

Hot Tip: Work with the research department to ensure that you are complying with the district’s IRB and research policies.  Even if your organization has an IRB board, districts may require that you also go through theirs.  Having that conversation at the beginning of the project can save a lot of time, energy, and stress later on.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Ed Eval TIG Week with our colleagues in the PK12 Educational Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our Ed Eval TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.


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