Siobhan Cooney on School and District Approvals for Data Collection with Students

Hello! I’m Siobhan Cooney, Principal Consultant of Cooney Collaborative.

Over the past eight years, I’ve had the good fortune of working with more than 100 school and district entities to gain approval for data collection activities – such as surveys, assessments and focus groups – involving students whose teachers have followed non-traditional paths to certification or have participated in professional development (PD) programs from third party providers. Before they can be implemented, data collection activities with students should be approved by school and district administrators. I’ve found that particularly when districts and schools are not explicit partners in the programming, these approval processes can pose significant barriers to research and evaluation. In this post, I provide tips for navigating these approval processes.

Lessons Learned: Depending on the district or school, approval by an external Institutional Review Board (IRB) may also be required. While IRBs are more consistently focused on understanding the ethics of the research and whether the rights of participants are protected, school and district administrators have a larger set of concerns including whether the data collection is a good use of time for students and staff; what information might be published about the school or district; and whether the timing of data collection interferes with priorities such as statewide testing.

Hot Tip: Build in a long timeline for gaining approval. Some districts have approval processes lasting six months or more.

Hot Tip: For research and evaluation designs that include a baseline measure at the start of the school year, plan to get approvals in the prior school year. Do not expect that school and district staff will work on approval processes in the summer months. For instance, if you are holding a summer PD workshop, you will need to know well prior to the event who will be attending and work with their administrators on approvals as quickly as possible.

Hot Tip: Be generous in budgeting hours for approval processes. Navigating these processes, particularly with multiple schools and districts at the same time, can be time-intensive. With a tight budget, you may need to forgo data collection in schools and districts with more burdensome processes and/or where approval seems less likely.

Hot Tip: Do not assume that because your research is ethical, you will gain approval from all districts and schools. You may consider oversampling if you need a particular sample size for your study, recognizing that some requests will either be rejected or still unresolved when data collection begins.

Hot Tip: When possible, offer the school or district something in return, such as a school-level analysis of outcomes.

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