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November 2011

From the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE)

NCEE Commissioner Offers Researchers Suggestions on Designing Strong Evaluations of New Federal Policies

NCEE Commissioner Rebecca Maynard was a plenary speaker at the recent annual workshop of the National Association for Welfare and Research Statistics (NAWRS) in Vail, Colorado. The workshop's theme was "Connecting Across Programs and Systems—Doing More with Less." Commissioner Maynard spoke on "Creating and Using Evidence to Inform Federal Policy Priorities for Families, Youth, and Children," focusing her remarks on how education evaluators can capitalize on naturally occurring policy changes to learn about the implications of those changes in ways that support program and policy improvement. Maynard encouraged researchers to work with the policy and practitioner communities to identify opportunities for rolling out new policies in ways that simultaneously improve the chances for implementation success and promote learning opportunities. Among her suggestions were to consider carefully planned, phased implementation that supports the rigorous study of implementation and impacts (e.g., by randomly determining the order in which service units would be expected to begin implementation). By selecting "early implementers" randomly, it is possible to simultaneously focus greater operational support on the early implementers, tweak the model and implementation strategy in response to early implementation experiences, and obtain reliable estimates of the impacts of the new policy. Maynard cautioned against investing in second best evaluation strategies, such as quasi-experimental design studies, and instead suggested that, in such cases, it likely would be better to invest in strong descriptive studies that can inform program and policy development, guide program planning and operations, or support hypothesis generation.

New Reference Reports Aim to Help Researchers Improve the Quality, Cost-Effectiveness of Their Research

NCEE's three recently released reference reports, part of NCEE's technical methods reports series, provide new evidence about the usefulness of state assessment data in impact evaluations. The reports are specifically designed for researchers, methodologists, and evaluations specialists to use to improve the quality or lessen the cost of their research.

For more information about NCEE's efforts to promote methodological advancement by producing technical methods reports that explore applications of new technical methods, including the cost-effectiveness of alternative evaluation strategies, go to