Last year, IES launched two new grant programs to help state and district education agencies obtain rigorous and timely evidence they can use to inform decisions about education interventions of high importance to the agency: Low-Cost, Short-Duration Evaluation of Education Interventions (CFDA 84.305L) and Low-Cost, Short-Duration Evaluation of Special Education Interventions (CFDA 84.324L). These programs are intended to support relatively quick (completed within 2 years) and inexpensive ($250,000 or less) evaluations to test the effects of education interventions that schools and other education institutions may want to scale up or redesign to improve student education outcomes.
IES developed the Low-Cost, Short Duration Evaluation grant programs to help states and school districts plan and launch rigorous evaluations when they roll out new interventions. Such interest is likely to intensify under the Every Student Succeeds Act, which requires states to set accountability goals and encourages use of evidence-based programs to close achievement gaps and improve low-performing schools.
Advances in technology and administrative data systems have also led some policymakers and researchers to suggest that rigorous evaluations ought to be less expensive to perform today than in the past, when evaluators had to do much of their own data collection.
To meet the goals of relevance, rigor, and affordability, the Low-Cost, Short-Duration Evaluation grant programs set out specific requirements and expectations for applicants:
- To ensure the relevance, the evaluations must be focused on an intervention that the education agency identifies as a priority and will be implemented in Year 1 of the grant, and must be carried out as a partnership between a research institution and a state and local education agency.
- To ensure rigor, evaluation designs must either be randomized controlled trials or regression discontinuity designs that have the potential to meet the What Works Clearinghouse evidence standards without reservation. Beginning in FY 2017, single-case designs may also be used in evaluations of special education interventions.
- To ensure lower-cost, the evaluations are expected to rely mainly on agency administrative datasets or other secondary sources rather than on new data collection.
The short-term nature of the grants leads to a focus on interventions that are expected to improve student education outcomes within a summer session, quarter, semester or academic year. The low cost also means that researchers are not expected to conduct in-depth research into program implementation, comparison group practices, and costs and benefits of interventions unless the data exist in the administrative datasets. Other IES funding opportunities – including Education Research Grants, Special Education Research Grants, and Evaluation of State and Local Education Policies and Programs – are available to support longer-term and/or more in-depth evaluations.
In sum, the Low-Cost, Short-Duration Evaluation grant programs fill a special niche within the IES portfolio by providing results on specific types of interventions that education agencies can use in making important decisions on programs, policies, and spending. They can also lay the groundwork for future grant-funded research to investigate implementation, underlying mechanisms, and longer-term impacts.
The results from last year’s competitions will be released soon and both programs are being re-competed this year with an application deadline of August 4, 2016. On June 9, 2016, 2:00-3:30 p.m. (EDT), IES will host a webinar on the two grant competitions. Please register in advance. An archive of the webinar will also be available on the IES funding webinar page.
Written by Allen Ruby, Associate Commissioner, National Center for Education Research