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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.

8 thoughts on “Interviewing Minors in Schools”

  1. Hi Christine and Michael,
    Thank you for the refresher and amazing tips for research with minors in schools. I am fairly new to this area of study and am eager to learn more. I am curious to know if researchers are required to take any type of courses or at the minimum, required to have some type of background familiarity when it comes to working with minors? I would believe this would be beneficial to the researcher and the participant and eliminate frustrations. This of course could be a factor to consider when it comes to any influence on data reliability though. I am going to have to look into this more!

    1. Christine Crumbacher

      Thanks for your comments Ashley. I cannot speak on behalf of all researchers, but my training was in psychology, education, and evaluation. Other than my coursework in education and research, including qualitative methods, I did not receive any formalized training concerning interviewing minors. It would be wonderful if universities had formalized courses for working with minors, maybe researchers could consider taking some educational or psychology courses?

  2. Hello! And thanks for your article!

    I am completing my Masters in Education and really enjoyed reading your article about interviewing minors in schools and the hot tips are great pointers for how to conduct interviews with students.

    I really like the hot tip about understanding the context for students. As students get younger the context becomes so essential to their mood and their established understanding of what is currently going on. This can really affect the outcomes of the interviews and leads to a question I am curious about: Does the compliancy or focus of the younger students ever impact the accuracy of the interview or is it just something you take into context when conducting the evaluation?

    An seeing the other point of gathering from more student than is to prevent the above questions from being relevant but I feel that with younger students the context and big things happening even within a classroom could really skew a interview with a very large portion of students and could really impact the accuracy and the ability to conduct the interviews and move the process of the evaluation along through the interviews.

    1. Christine Crumbacher

      Thank you for your comments and question. Yes, you are right. Younger students answer questions differently and tend to express agreement more readily than older students. It is helpful to be mindful of all ages, as some sensitive topics may inhibit full transparency. This is why developing rapport is so important. If interviewing once, it is helpful to interview multiple grade levels and peer group students to see if patterns develop. If you have the luxury to interview twice on different days, or throughout a school year, it is helpful to use the first interview as a baseline. Further, interviewing is just one method so it may be helpful to use other methods such as surveys or focus groups to triangulate. The key to a good interview is follow-up questions. It may feel like you’re asking the same question, but you might be surprised with how rich the detail becomes if you allow for processing time. Good luck interviewing!

  3. 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

    1. Christine Crumbacher

      Thank you for your comments. It is always difficult to find time when students are not missing instructional time, especially when virtual has changed so much in how we reach students. Good luck in your research!

  4. 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!


    1. Christine Crumbacher

      I am so glad you found our tips helpful, Alana. I agree, students are curious and want to know what they are learning and how it will be applied later, so why would that be any different in data collection? It is so important to develop a safe space for students to participate. Sharing how data will be protected can alleviate some fears associated with participation.

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