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.

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