Interviewing Minors in Schools

We are Christine Crumbacher, PhD, Evaluation Specialist at Greenville County Schools in South Carolina, and Michael Sikes, PhD, independent Program Evaluator. Each of us evaluates educational programs that serve young people. Interviewing minors presents unique challenges. These include obtaining parental consent, interviewee participation, protecting participants, and collecting detailed data.

Hot Tip: Know district policies concerning research with minors. At Greenville County Schools, we have a Research and Data Sharing Agreement (RDSA) that must be approved to conduct research. We recommend the familiarity of IRB requirements, including the provisions of the Belmont Report (https://www.hhs.gov/ohrp/regulations-and-policy/belmont-report/index.html). We require documentation regarding informed consent, assessment of risks and benefits, and selection of subjects. Research must align with the district’s mission of increasing academic achievement and any researcher meeting with a student alone must have a background check. We also recommend that students not miss instructional time due to data collection.

Hot Tip: Understand student perspective and be aware of environment. If data is available, spend some time before interviews researching the community, school norms, and/or clubs/activities offered (AP/IB, arts/music, sports). It would not make much sense to ask students how much homework they did this past week if students just finished benchmarking, standardized testing, or experienced the passing of a beloved school figure. Asking such a question might not get representative data.

Interviewing during the COVID pandemic presents a new set of challenges. It may add to students’ existing stress, be complicated because of online learning, and potentially violate justice assumptions of the Belmont Report because of inequitable access to online access and computers/smartphones.

Hot Tip: Explain how participation will / will not change circumstances. While building rapport is important, it is also important to let students know that their grades will not be affected, their teachers and/or friends will not know what they say, and their responses will remain confidential from all others. Students, just like adults, may wonder why they were chosen for an interview, why data is being collected, and how it will be reported. Inform them. Further, even on interview day, students still have the right to opt out and should be given that option even after a consent letter is signed by a parent or guardian.

Hot Tip: Maximizing interview data. One major frustration of interviewing is afterwards realizing not enough data was collected to satisfy saturation. Re-work can destroy an evaluation budget. There is no guarantee that a student is going to stay on track even if they agree to speak. Some students will use the time to skip class or hijack the conversation. Redirection is needed. Reminding the student of why there were selected to participate and/or the topic of discussion can help. Always select more students than needed in case a student is absent on the day of the interview, becomes sick, or decides to skip or not answer certain questions.

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.

2 thoughts on “Interviewing Minors in Schools”

  1. Hi Christine and Michael,
    Thank you for these tips when it comes to interviewing minors. I am currently doing my Professional Master’s of Education at Queen’s University and one of the components to my Program Evaluation is conducting interviews. I currently teach high school English, so through my own work standards and codes of conduct, the process of interviewing students is a protected one. Thank you for sharing your hot tips when it comes to interviewing children. Like the previous commenter, I can appreciate the importance of understanding student perspectives and environments. I am involved in a provincial initiative called Following Their Voices, which is aimed at increasing involvement of FNIM students in their own education. Covid has changed this perspective dramatically in the past year as we have moved to a hybrid learning environment. Engaging students in this process has proven more difficult as we have seen our enrollment numbers drop substantially. Of particular note is the Belmont report you refer to because not all students have equitable access to online participation. This presents a problem for my Program Evaluation because any student involvement in reporting must be done at school. I know you “recommend that students not miss instructional time due to data collection”, however, in order for a complete and substantial participation of students, these surveys and interviews need to be conducted at school.

    I also appreciate hot tip 3 and how “participation will / will not change circumstances.” It is imperative for the students to know that surveys and interviews will not reflect in their marks and that there should always be an alternative to opt out, or to provide a different way for students to have their voices heard. Furthermore, students need to know why the interviews and surveys are being done and what the data collection will be used for. This adds to the authentication of the process and I find students are more likely to be honest in the process when they understand the outcomes.

    Thanks again for sharing these tips.
    Rhonda Swenson

  2. Hi Christine and Michael,

    Thank you for sharing your tips for evaluating minors in schools. I am currently an elementary teacher and working on my Professional Masters of Education. I found your post to be very beneficial as it relates to not only what I am currently learning in my program, but also as my role as an educator.

    I think we can sometimes forget that students are children and therefore may not understand why they are being selected for an interview or what the interview is about. This may be the first time they have ever been interviewed and it is not something that we want them to view as negative. You brought up a lot of interesting points that I have not thought of before however I now know that these are all things that must be taken into consideration.

    The hot tips that you presented are great reminders for interviewing minors, I really liked your second hot tip – “Understand student perspective and be aware of environment”. As you noted, COVID has added new challenges to our daily lives and altered how students are learning. When evaluating, it is critical that we remain aware of what else is going on in the student’s life and how that may affect the data. These hot tips also allowed me to do some self-reflection and while I am not currently interviewing minors, I was able to imagine how I would go about this process in an effective manner.

    Thank you again for sharing!

    Alana

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