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APPENDIX A: Research Methodology
The research approach for this guide is a combination of case study methodology and benchmarking of "best practices." Used in businesses worldwide as they seek to continuously improve their operations, benchmarking has more recently been applied to education. Benchmarking is a structured, efficient process that targets key operations and identifies promising practices in relationship to traditional practice, previous practice at the selected sites (lessons learned), and local outcome data. The methodology is further explained in a background document,16 which lays out the justification for identifying promising practices based on four sources of rigor in the approach:
- theory and research base;
- expert review;
- site evidence of effectiveness; and
- systematic field research and cross-site -analysis.
The steps of the research process were: defining a study scope, seeking input from experts to refine the scope and inform site selection criteria, screening potential sites, selecting sites to study, conducting site visits, collecting and analyzing data to write case reports, and writing a user-friendly guide.
Site Selection Process
The first step in site selection was to compile a list of candidate organizations into a matrix. The initial list of 43 sites included a mix of Parental Information and Resource Centers (PIRCs), other intermediary organizations, and SEAs and LEAs. This list was compiled through research findings and recommendations from members of an advisory panel, other experts in the field, staff from the U.S. Department of Education, and education agencies implementing parental involvement programs. A variety of organizations, locations, and distribution models were identified.
The parental involvement model that was developed to frame the guide was used to create a screening matrix for site selection. For the organizations identified as potential candidates, their strong parent involvement practices were mapped against the various elements of the model. Supplementary questions based on the specific relevant subcategory were asked of each organization and ratings based on their responses were entered in the screening matrix. (See the next section for more detail on criteria.)
Site selection was based on the total score in the screening matrix and also on geographic considerations. The set of sites was chosen to include different states, target audiences, and distribution models. In addition, a "cluster" approach was used, with priority given to candidates that worked successfully with other intermediary organizations and education agencies so that a more complete partnership story and a broader range of practices could be gathered during a single site visit. These partner organizations and agencies also had to stand up as exemplary organizations that could be featured in the guide as well.
The rubric used to select the sites included two organizational factors: mission and stable structure. In addition, it included four practice dimensions: number of subcategories from the parent involvement model that the organization addressed; populations targeted; partnerships with education agencies; and evidence of growth over time. These four practice dimensions are summarized below.Subcategories of Parent Involvement Model Addressed
The parent involvement model that was developed through consultation with experts and practitioners in the field includes a range of strategies to inform parents and educators on their rights and responsibilities regarding parent involvement, to train parents to become leaders and work in partnership with educators, and to support parents and educators in partnership at the decision-making level. Organizations were scored on the number of strategies that they implemented on the various levels of the model.Populations Targeted
Those organizations that reached as broad a spectrum of parents as possible in their communities were scored higher on the rubric. For example, although it is a mandate that all PIRCs target at least 50 percent of their services to low-income families, many of the PIRCs went above and beyond this mandate to try to -engage hard-to-reach populations, such as low-income Native American families on reservations and migrant families.Partnerships with Education Agencies Criterion
Organizations were asked if and how they partnered with education agencies to improve schools and raise student achievement. Those candidates that had successful, sustained, and varied partnerships established with agencies were scored highly on the rubric.Evidence of Growth Criterion
Researchers looked for evidence that organizations had attempted a range of strategies to support schools and raise student achievement and that, over the years, these strategies had developed or been replaced with more effective ones. Type and frequency of reflection was gauged, as well as the documentation of changes that led to more efficient and effective practice.
Study Framework and Data Collection
A conceptual framework (i.e., the parent involvement model in fig.2 on page 10) was developed to guide the study of the selected sites. While each organization i-ncluded in the guide practices a range of strategies to support parent involvement, each case study needed to focus on those practices supporting the end goal of helping parents and educators work as partners to improve student achievement. The framework used in this study was developed based on the research literature on parent leadership and the benefits of parent involvement. The major categories in the framework include strategies for communicating the rights and responsibilities of parents and educators regarding parent involvement, for training parents and educators to work in partnership, and for supporting these partnerships at the decision-making level. Input from researchers on the project's advisory panel and from practitioners in the field informed the development of this model.
A two-day site visit was conducted at each PIRC to gather the information for this guide. Each visit included informal observations throughout the organization, attendance at events, school visits, and interviews. The primary source of data were interviews with a variety of role groups, including parents, staff members, administrators, and members of partner organizations. An interview protocol was developed based on the study framework and was adapted to each role group. That is, separate but overlapping sets of questions were developed for parents, administrators, staff, and others. Most interviews were tape-recorded, with key interviews later transcribed for more detailed analysis.
Documents from each organization served as an additional source of information. Collected during the site visit, these artifacts included such items as training manuals, NCLB guides, letters to parents, newsletters, training materials, brochures, and surveys.
Analysis and Reporting
A case report was written about each site and reviewed by site directors for accuracy. From these case reports, artifacts, and transcripts of interviews, the project team analyzed similarities and differences in strategy implementation across the sites. This cross-site analysis, along with site detail, contributed to the final guide.
This descriptive research process suggests promising practices-ways to do things that other parent involvement practitioners have found helpful, lessons they have learned-and practical "how-to" guidance. This is not the kind of experimental research that can yield valid causal claims about what works. Readers should judge for themselves the merits of these practices, based on their understanding of why they should work, how they fit the local context, and what happens when they actually try them. Also, readers should understand that these descriptions do not constitute an endorsement of specific practices or products.
Using the Guide
Ultimately, readers of this guide will need to select, adapt, and implement practices that meet their individual needs and contexts. Organizations supporting and promoting parent involvement may continue the study, using the ideas and practices from these sites as a springboard for their own action research. In this way, a collection of promising practices will grow, and organizations and agencies promoting parent involvement can support each other in implementation and learning.