School & District Management

Education Research Agency Looks to Leverage Big Data, Reduce Costs

By Sarah D. Sparks — March 27, 2019 2 min read
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The Institute of Education Sciences wants more concrete details from researchers about how their work will affect student outcomes, provide cost-effective interventions, and leverage the massive amounts of data schools collect.

IES’ resesearch priorities, to be published in Thursday’s Federal Register, have been a long time coming. (IES got a letter from Congress last week asking what was taking so long.) The public will have 60 days to comment on them before they are officially adopted.

In broad strokes, the new priorities don’t differ much from those the agency has had on the books since 2010. The agency has prioritized school readiness and development for children before school age; math, reading, writing, and sciences as well as social-emotional skills in kindergarten through postsecondary grades; and attainment in college, vocational studies and the workforce.

None of those have been dropped, but the proposed new priorities separate K-12 and postsecondary goals and concentrate on much more concrete measures of improvement in each grade span. For example, it says K-12 studies should include key measures such as:

  • Academic achievement in reading, writing, math, science, engineering, and technology;
  • Non-test-based academic indicators, such as student attendance, academic growth, high school graduation rates, and college attendance and persistence;
  • Non-academic measures, such as student mental health, school climate, civic engagement, and behavior or social skills; and
  • Measures of successful transitions to postsecondary education, work, and independent living, particularly for students with disabilities.

IES also plans to expand the scope of its postsecondary research, with a focus on measures of college enrollment and degree completion, as well as adult skills and rates of graduates earning “family-sustaining wages.”

More Transparency

IES, like other federal research agencies, also continues to press researchers to make their studies more transparent and easier for policymakers to understand.

Requests for grant proposals will require researchers to preregister their studies and make their data and methods open to prevent cherry-picking findings. The agency will prioritize intervention studies that document their implementation and identify the essential pieces of their programs, as well as analyze their costs versus benefits and have clear plans for disseminating results and scaling up successful programs.

Those last two are likely to be sticky for researchers, as many disagree on the best way to judge the costs and benefits of interventions—particularly those where the most important benefits might take years to realize. In the proposal, IES Director Mark Schneider also said the agency would work to expand studies that use longitudinal data and develop new research methods to analyze large administrative data sets.

Those interested can comment on the priorities by mail or in person, or by using the federal rulemaking site under identification number ED-2019-IES-0017.

Photo Source: Getty

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.