MNEA Week: Katherine Drake on Requesting Data from School Districts

Hi, I am Katherine Drake, Evaluation Specialist for the Saint Paul Public Schools, an urban district serving a diverse community of 38,000 students.  In my role as an evaluator, I regularly encounter requests for tests scores and other data on our students.

Hot Tips:

Identify a contact person in the district office rather than approach individual schools.  Many districts have research department staff that are knowledgeable on the available data sources and can give you proper guidance.  Most will require you to submit a research proposal for review (equivalent to a local Institutional Review Board or IRB process) and/or sign a data agreement or memorandum of understanding.

Do not ask for more data than you need.  However, do ask for all that you need in your initial request.  School districts have a great appreciation for efficiency and parsimony.

Detail how you will secure and protect the data.  Districts place a high value on research but an even higher value on protecting students.  Names, identification numbers, birthdates, and other identifying information will be stripped from data files before they are shared.  The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is the federal law that protects these privacy rights.

Consider the time demands that your request will have on school and district staff.  Try to design studies that do not add to the already full workloads of teachers and other staff by using existing data as much as possible.

Tie your request to the district’s mission statement and strategic plan.  If you can demonstrate that your research aligns with the district’s priorities, you are in a good position to gain entry to the organization.

Commit to sharing your research findings with the district upon completion of your report.  Educational institutions are genuinely interested in the results of research studies that may inform and guide their work.  Do not forget to include them in your report distribution list.

Rad Resources:

Details on the FERPA law:

Data Quality Campaign:  Using Data to Improve Student Achievement—Resource Library

Twin Cities Hot Tip:

When you are attending the conference in Minneapolis, do not forget that you are in just one of the “Twin Cities.”  Saint Paul has a vibrant arts community and several world-class museums.  Top your visit off with a meal at Heartland Restaurant, featuring regional cuisine prepared by James Beard Best Chef Midwest nominee, Lenny Russo.  For more ideas on things to do in Saint Paul, go to

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Minnesota Evaluation Association (MN EA) Affiliate Week with our colleagues in the MNEA AEA Affiliate. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our MNEA 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 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

1 thought on “MNEA Week: Katherine Drake on Requesting Data from School Districts”

  1. I handle this work in DC Public Schools, and I just wanted to say that this is a great post! All of these tips would apply for our district as well, and it was a wonderful idea to spread the word among the research community before they even think about approaching schools. 🙂

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