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Blog: Evidence and Evaluation in STEM Education: The Federal Perspective

Posted on August 12, 2015 by  in Blog

Evaluation Manager, NASA Office of Education

If you have been awarded federal grants over many years, you probably have seen the increasing emphasis on evaluation and evidence. As a federal evaluator working at NASA, I have seen firsthand the government-wide initiative to increase use of evidence to improve social programs. Federal agencies have been strongly encouraged by the administration to better integrate evidence and rigorous evaluation into their budget, management, operational, and policy decisions by:

(1) making better use of already-collected data within government agencies; (2) promoting the use of high-quality, low-cost evaluations and rapid, iterative experimentation; (3) adopting more evidence-based structures for grant programs; and (4) building agency evaluation capacity and developing tools to better communicate what works. (https://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/evidence)

Federal STEM education programs have also been affected by this increasing focus on evidence and evaluation. Read, for example, the Federal Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education 5-Year Strategic Plan (2013),1 which was prepared by the Committee on STEM Education of the National Science and Technology Council.2 This strategic plan provides an overview of the importance of STEM education to American society and describes the current state of federal STEM education efforts. Five priority STEM education investment areas are discussed where a coordinated federal strategy is currently under development. The plan also presents methods to build and share evidence. Finally, the plan lays out several strategic objectives for improving the exploration and sharing of evidence-based practices, including supporting syntheses of existing research that can inform federal investments in the STEM education priority areas, improving and aligning evaluation and research expertise and strategies across federal agencies, and streamlining processes for interagency collaboration (e.g., Memoranda of Understanding, Interagency Agreements).

Another key federal document that is influencing evaluation in STEM agencies is the Common Guidelines for Education Research and Development (2013),3 jointly prepared by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences and the National Science Foundation. This document describes the two agencies’ shared understandings of the roles of various types of research in generating evidence about strategies and interventions for increasing student learning. These research types range from studies that generate fundamental understandings related to education and learning to research (“Foundational Research”) to studies that assesses the impact of an intervention on an education-related outcome, including efficacy research, effectiveness research, and scale-up research. The Common Guidelines provide the two agencies and the broader education research community with a common vocabulary to describe the critical features of these study types.

Both documents have shaped, and will continue to shape, federal STEM programs and their evaluations. Reading them will help federal grantees gain a richer understanding of the larger federal context that is influencing reporting and evaluation requirements for grant awards.

1 A copy of the Federal Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education 5-Year Strategic Plan can be obtained here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/stem_stratplan_2013.pdf

2 For more information on the Committee on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education, visit https://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostp/nstc/committees/costem.

3 A copy of the Common Guidelines for Education Research and Development can be obtained here: http://ies.ed.gov/pdf/CommonGuidelines.pdf