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Patrick R. Riccards's picture
For more than two decades, Patrick has worked at the intersection of education policy, research, and communications. He previously served as chief of staff to the National Reading Panel and as...
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Finding True Value in Necessary Student Research

When one launches into a conversation on the topic of “student research,” the discussion invariably turns negative. Whether it is diving down the rabbit hole of high-stakes testing or driving off the cliff of data security and use concerns, it can be a challenge to take a substantive look at the value and positive impact of student data.

It doesn’t have to be this way, nor should it. Groups like the Data Quality Campaign do yeoman’s work in helping parents, educators, and the community at large understand the importance of student data, the identifiers of high-quality data, and how such data can be used to improve teaching and learning in classrooms across the country.

Educators understand the importance role strong student performance data can and should play in the classroom. Whether formative, interim, or summative, student assessments can help teachers understand, in real time, what is being learned in their classroom. And it provides a clear roadmap for how instruction can be tailored to ensure all kids are learning what we expect them to learn.

But what of other student research? As we all know, there is more to student research than simply quantitative performance data. ACT has explored student interest in the STEM careers. Project Tomorrow conducts an annual survey of student perceptions are education technology issues. And every other year, the Northwest Evaluation Association takes a deep dive into educator and student perceptions of assessment itself.

For years, we have grappled with the notion of “assessment literacy,” where educators, families, and policymakers can better learn the importance of data collection and the ability to distinguish a valuable data-gathering tool from a lousy one. At the same time, educators have demanded that any student data collected needs to be used to help the student, and not just as the impetus for punitive action.

Teachers are right. We probably don’t focus on what is helpful to the student nearly as often as we should, particularly when it comes to student data. And that’s a cryin’ shame. The student perception information coming from organizations like Project Tomorrow and NWEA is incredibly important. It provides a glimpse at how what is taught in the classroom aligns with student interests and passions. It helps us better understand the path today’s young learners are on as we encourage them toward college and career success.

Perhaps that’s why it is so exciting to see the launch of the Student Research Foundation last month. The organization offers up a noble mission, seeking to serve “as the voice for young people’s career aspirations.”  Yes, the Student Research Foundation looks to conduct its own research with a range of partners – noting current partnership with the National Society for Black Engineers, National Girls Collaborative Project, Partnership for 21st Century Learning, the Connectory, America’s Promise Alliance, and Hope Street Group – it is also setting out to serve as a national clearinghouse for the impressive range of both quantitative and qualitative data on student careers and future ambitions.

Currently, the Student Research Foundation website highlights some interesting third-party research from groups like Georgetown University, America’s Promise Alliance, Glassdoor, and the Educational Research Center of America. Long term, it offers some real promise in offering a “one-stop shop” when it comes to student perceptions on their own futures. And its particularly noteworthy that the Student Research Foundation doesn’t see itself as having all of the answers, but rather is looking to ask the right questions and spotlight good work happening around the nation when it comes to career aspirations and college and life pathways.

More importantly, it offers another key exemplar on the positive, important role student research and student data can play on today’s educational tapestry.

Instead of asking whether we should or should not test students at all, we should focus on how we can use the highest-quality assessments and ensure that outcomes are given to educators so they can improve instruction. Instead of asking whether or not we should conduct student research, we should focus on both what research is collected and how it can be used to benefit and advance our children.

We don’t’ have to guess when it comes to student interests, passions, and college and career goals. The student research available, both now and in the future, serves as a clear declaration of where they want to head. It is our responsibility to feed that destination into our instructional GPS to figure out how best to help them get there. 


(Disclosure: Over the years, the author has worked with ACT, ERCA, Georgetown, NWEA, Project Tomorrow, and others in the student research area.)