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Policy Recommendation: That Congress designate IES, in statute, as the lead agency for all Congressionally-authorized evaluations of Education Department programs, responsible for all operations, contracts, and reports associated with such evaluations.

Resolution Adopted by the National Board for Education Sciences, September 2006

Rationale:

  1. Rationale for IES as the lead agency for evaluations of program effectiveness (sometimes called "impact" evaluations): Although the Department and Congress generally recognize IES as the lead agency for such evaluations, this practice has not been codified in law.

As a result, although IES—uniquely among Departmental agencies—has the institutional expertise to ensure the scientific rigor and independence of such evaluations, its role as the lead agency for these evaluations is susceptible to administrative change.

The Senate Appropriations Committee report accompanying its FY 2007 Labor-HHS Education Appropriations bill (S. 3708, as approved by the Committee on July 20, 2006) summarizes reasons why IES should have the lead role in such evaluations, as follows:

The Committee strongly supports the Department's efforts to carry out congressionally authorized evaluations of Federal education programs using rigorous methodologies, particularly random assignment, that are capable of producing scientifically valid knowledge regarding which program activities are effective. To ensure that authorized evaluations are conducted in a rigorous manner that is independent of the program office and includes scientific peer review, the Committee believes that the Institute of Education Sciences should be the lead agency for the design and implementation of these evaluations. The Committee believes further that it is essential for program offices to work collaboratively with the Institute to include a priority or requirement in program solicitations for grantee participation in such evaluations, including random assignment, to the extent the Institute deems appropriate and where not specifically prohibited by law. (Sen. Rept. 109-287, July 20, 2006, p. 287)

Such Committee report language provides direction to the Department, and is generally followed, but does not have the same authority or permanence as statute. Thus it, too, is potentially susceptible to change in a way that statutory language is not.

  1. Rationale for IES as the lead agency for other types of evaluations, many of which are current administered by other Department offices (e.g., evaluations of program implementation, cost, and feasibility):
    1. It is important that all evaluations—not just those assessing effectiveness—be conducted with the rigor, independence, and scientific peer review that IES uniquely offers. All IES evaluations are governed by statutory requirements for peer review and managed by a standards and review office that operates independently of the programs being evaluated. The same is not true for evaluations currently managed by other Departmental offices.
    2. It would allow for greater coordination among the various types of evaluations, and avoid costly duplication of effort. For instance, it often makes sense for a single research team to conduct an evaluation of a program's effectiveness and of its implementation as part of the same project, rather than for two research teams to conduct these evaluations separately. As an actual example, IES's evaluation of the effectiveness of Reading First, and the Policy and Program Studies Service's (PPSS) evaluation of the implementation of Reading First, are both collecting data on classroom practices of program grantees and non-grantees. The two evaluations are using different measures, samples, and timelines, causing confusion and wasting resources.

Precedent for this recommendation: IES is explicitly designated in statute as the lead agency for the national evaluation of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Specifically, Section 173 of the Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002 (Public Law 107-279) states that "The Evaluation and Regional Assistance Commissioner [within IES] . . . shall administer all operations and contracts associated with evaluations authorized by part E of title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 . . . and administered by the Department . . . ."

The Title I evaluation is one of the largest and most important Departmental evaluations. Our recommendation is that Congress enact a legislative provision extending this same requirement to all Congressionally-authorized evaluations of Department programs.

This recommendation would apply to: All Departmental program evaluations conducted with explicit Congressional authorization.

This would include evaluations mandated by Congress as well as those authorized but not mandated (e.g., through national activities, evaluation set-aside, or similar statutory provisions). This recommendation would not apply to evaluations conducted without explicit Congressional authorization (e.g., evaluations that the Department might conduct with its discretionary funds for Program Administration).