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PreK-12 and Education Evaluation TIG Week: Learning from Legislation: Navigating Challenges to DEI in Educational Evaluation by Marlana Lastres

I am Marlana Lastres, an instructor in the College of Education at Tennessee Tech University. I teach graduate courses on qualitative research and at-risk populations. Additionally, my work extends to evaluation, where I often collaborate on grant projects, accreditation tasks, and program reviews, to enhance institutional effectiveness. Currently, many public higher education institutions are learning to navigate a new landscape in the wake of recent legislation focused on dismantling past efforts targeting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). These anti-DEI laws have led many in higher education to ponder the implications for faculty, staff, and students.

In educational evaluation, our goals often focus on promoting equitable and empowering experiences and opportunities for all students with DEI considerations; however, anti-DEI laws restrict many discussions of divisive concepts focused on race, sex, or other classes of people with potentially serious ramifications for employees deemed in violation of these laws. Most of these laws involve disassembling DEI offices, statements, and positions on public higher education campuses, but there are numerous other variations in these laws. For example, Florida has banned the use of content related to critical race theory, gender studies, and intersectionality, but Tennessee allows such discussions that are germane to the academic content and within the appropriate course setting. As evaluators, it is vital to consider how these laws may impact our data and influence the goals of our stakeholders. Some states, such as Texas, have already started to consider these implications by including provisions within their legislation to outline the roles of data collection and grant work in the wake of these transitions, but some states have not. This creates a very murky water for conducting evaluations with integrity and reliability. While investigating these pieces of legislation, I have identified tips for evaluators to consider as we step into this new era of evaluations.

Lessons Learned

Determine Your Boundaries

It is imperative for educational evaluators to stay informed of the current legislation and subsequent constraints in their states to comply with legal requirements. It is also helpful to consider the context of the evaluation you are participating in and your role when conducting the evaluation. When in doubt, do not be afraid to ask for clarity from experts in education law or, if applicable, the legal counsel at stakeholder institutions.

Communicate Concerns

Let your stakeholders know your concerns and open a dialogue with them about their expectations throughout the evaluation considering your restrictions. Creating clear opportunities for stakeholder engagement and communication are priorities in all evaluations, but they may be particularly crucial in fostering transparent and reliable evaluations at institutions with DEI restrictions. Make sure you let your stakeholders know what you do and do not feel comfortable doing within your evaluation based on your determined boundaries.

Focus on the Big Picture

It may be advantageous to focus your evaluation on historical trends with support from empirical evidence, standardized measures, and quantitative methods. These approaches may promote objective outcomes with minimal influence from evaluator subjectivities. In some situations, it may also be appropriate to discuss demographic data in aggregate. This approach could minimize unintended associations between identified divisive topics and evaluative outcomes, but some circumstances and evaluations may still require disaggregated data discussions.

Uphold Core Values

Don’t stop advocating for programs and best practices you believe in! Focus on identifying strategies you can continue to incorporate that maintain the core evaluative principles and values you adhere to as best practices. When you understand your boundaries and appropriate strategies, you can confidently advocate for program improvements and methods that foster equity and inclusion.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting PreK-12 Ed Eval TIG Week with our colleagues in the PreK-12 Educational Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our PreK-12 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. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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