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State Department of Education seeks researchers' assistance

By Kelsey Hammon
On January 24, 2012

Researchers at UNC aim to make the future brighter and better for Colorado students at risk of dropping out of school.

The Colorado Department of Education selected the help of University of Northern Colorado faculty researchers in assessing the evaluation process of five federal and state-funded programs implemented to increase student success and enrollment in Colorado schools.

The researchers, Elysia Clemens, Sonja Rizzolo, Lisa Rue, John Froiland and Robyn Hess, were granted a three-year contract and  $179,178 to review and provide a framework for measuring the outcomes of programs in CDE's Dropout Prevention and Student Engagement unit. The program is composed of five separate units that help at-risk youth succeed in school.

Hess, a professor in the Department of School Psychology and the chair of the School Psychology programs, described the project as, essentially, an evaluation of an evaluation.

"The over-arching purpose is to help CDE in an effort to increase the graduation rates of kids," Hess said.

The research aims to positively affect the way schools evaluate these five programs.

"We are very excited to be working on this project," she said. "A school system may like the efforts of a program; however, in the end, it may be ineffective in achieving its goal."

The researchers became involved when CDE put out a proposal in search of entities to evaluate the grants and the effectiveness of the Dropout Prevention and Student Engagement unit, and the UNC representatives were selected.

"We all have great experience in publications and analyzing large data sets," said Froiland, an assistant professor in the Department of School Psychology. "Also, in these tough economic times, it's nice to have some external funding."

The researchers will implement the program by first talking with the grant managers and examining each individual grant and its qualitative outcomes then comparing these outcomes at a national level. The project will last three years.

Rizzolo, the admissions and research analyst for the Graduate School and International Admissions, said she is looking forward to the project.

"It's a new topic for me, so it will be a lot of learning," Rizzolo said. "From a data perspective, it will be interesting to examine what (the CDE) will be hoping to measure in the future."

Researchers have been working on the project since early January and are currently working on the development of logic models and reading through all the programs, Rizzolo said.

"It's exciting to have people from multiple departments coming together to work – also because this project has the potential to impact kids for the better," Froiland said.

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