Hello! We are Dana Gonzales and Lonnie Wederski, institutional review board (IRB) members at Solutions IRB, specialists in the review of evaluation research.
Why talk about IRB review for evaluations of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education projects? Most simply, federally funded projects may require it. You may also ask, “Why aren’t all of these evaluations exempt?” IRB reviewers apply the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) in their decisions. Many STEM evaluations include children. Under CFR rules, only a narrow range of research is exempt from review when it involves children, like research applying educational tests or observations of public behavior where the investigator does not participate. Interviews and focus groups with minors won’t likely qualify for exempt review, as they are seldom part of the normal educational curriculum. Randomization to a control group would not meet exempt category requirements for the same reason. Both would, however, qualify for expedited review, if there is no more than minimal risk for participants.
So, do you need to use an IRB? Ask these questions:
- Is IRB required by the grant or foundation funding the project?
- Does the school district require IRB review?
- Do you intend to disseminate findings in a publication requiring IRB review?
If the answer to any of those questions is “yes,” you need an IRB—at which point uncertainty strikes! Maybe this is the first time you’ll use an IRB (you are not alone) or you remember unpleasant experiences with an academic IRB. Fear not, evaluators! Many IRB reviewers understand the differences between clinical studies and evaluations. Some specialize in evaluations, employing reviewers with expertise in the methods evaluators use, who recognize that phenomenology, grounded theory, ethnography, and autoethnography are valid study approaches. Who wants to educate an IRB when you are paying them?
- To find an IRB, (1) ask other evaluators for suggestions; (2) try Citizens for Responsible Care and Research (CIRCARE), a non-profit website of IRB listings; or (3) search for an IRB on the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP)
- Have questions regarding the ethics of recruitment or consent? Some independent IRBs will brainstorm with you and answer “what if” questions. Ask for a complementary consultation with a reviewer.
- Ready to submit your evaluation for review? Ask the IRB if free pre-review of study documents is provided, to save time prior to formal review. Ask for a list of the documents required by the IRB.
- Most important, know the review timeframe in advance! If the IRB requires two weeks for review, you need to plan accordingly. Some IRBs routinely review exempt and expedited studies in 24-48 hours, so timeframes can vary widely.
We hope you found the information provided helpful.
The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Research vs Evaluation week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from members whose work requires them to reconcile distinctions between research and evaluation, situated in the context of STEM teaching and learning innovations.. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.