National Writing Project

Inverness to Focus on New Areas of Research for NWP

By: NWP Staff
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 7, No. 5
Date: November-December 2002

Summary: Inverness Research Associates, NWP's independent evaluator since 1994, will be conducting "critical issues" studies in a number of areas during the upcoming year.

 

Inverness Research Associates, a research and evaluation group, has in the past year expanded its involvement with NWP, a relationship that NWP expects will continue to evolve and grow. Founded over a decade ago in Inverness, California—a small town 40 miles north of San Francisco—Inverness Research Associates has been evaluating writing project programming since 1994. The firm is best known for its studies in the area of science education, having evaluated a number of National Science Foundation systemic change initiatives, as well as professional development programs sponsored by science museums such as the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Exploratorium in San Francisco. The Packard Foundation, PEW Charitable Trusts, and other foundations have consulted the group when looking to make meaningful investments in education. This is the first of a series of occasional updates on Inverness's ongoing evaluation work with NWP.

Inverness Research Associates will focus on several new areas of research in their work with the National Writing Project in the coming year. In addition to collecting and analyzing site profile and participant survey data, the California-based research group will conduct "critical issues" studies in a number of areas, including NWP state networks, NWP infrastructure, and new teachers.

"Our aim in doing these studies is two-fold," says Laura Stokes, senior researcher for Inverness. "We want to help NWP identify and study critical issues in the education landscape that the network is facing. Then we want to look at what's going on inside the writing project vis-à-vis these issues. The purpose is to provide prompt, accurate information and feedback to NWP leadership, to help guide them in their decision-making surrounding these issues."

Some of this research has already begun. Inverness is focusing on the issues that arise when local education systems face large numbers of new and sometimes unprepared teachers. As a part of this critical issue study, Inverness researchers interviewed 116 site directors last summer to help project directors plan NWP's new teacher initiative.

Another issue Inverness will be looking at is the "NWP infrastructure." Researchers want to find out how NWP uses its funding to create a variety of mid-level structures for site directors and teachers, such as the Urban Sites and Rural Sites Networks, the NWP Annual Meeting, and the NWP Directors Retreat. They will study the ways in which this infrastructure helps create a connected and coherent network of sites.

The Continuing Profile Work

As they have in years past, Inverness will continue to gather site profile data and participant survey data for NWP. "The site profile is an online, web-based database that tells us what's going on at individual sites around the country," says Stokes. "It's a major component of the annual site review. Profile data are used in reports to NWP funders, such as the U.S. Department of Education, and they are also a resource for legislative sponsors."

The participant survey measures teachers' satisfaction with writing project summer institutes. The U.S. Department of Education requires a 75 percent client satisfaction rate for programs it funds; NWP typically scores between 95 and 98 percent on such surveys. A follow-up participant survey is also used to assess the ways and the extent to which teachers employ different classroom practices as a result of their participation in the writing project.

Researchers from Inverness will be at the NWP Annual Meeting in Atlanta to conduct workshops designed to help site directors learn how to build a case for their sites using profile data. They will also meet with representatives from NWP state networks to review state data and help those networks identify issues critical to their sites.

Inverness's Approach to Evaluation

Inverness sees several purposes for its evaluation studies of the writing project. The firm wants to accurately document the nature and scope of sites' work so that researchers can provide formative feedback to project directors to help them improve their sites. Researchers also want to portray sites' work for the purpose of giving insight to project funders. Further, Inverness expects to share the lessons learned from its research so that others in the field can learn from the NWP model and experience. Finally, the group does summative evaluation that seeks to account for the educational benefits of a particular project or program, both the benefits reflected in stated goals and those less immediately apparent.

For these reasons, Inverness likes to take an inquiry approach to assessing the contributions that educational programs make to education improvement. The writing project, for example, spends federal dollars to support a network for teachers' professional development and leadership. Rather than asking how that network affects a standardized test score, Inverness seeks to document the ways in which the writing project model and its programs help create opportunities for teachers to continually develop and improve their practice—including those practices that correlate statistically with higher achievement in writing.

In addition to his role as lead investigator in summative studies, Inverness founder and president Mark St. John will continue to use evaluation as a way to help NWP reflect on and improve its work. St. John, one of the country's foremost experts on evaluation of educational investments, will advise NWP leaders for strategic planning purposes. "We try to use our evaluation data and interpretations to provide the project with a feedback loop on its own work," says St. John.

For more information on Inverness Research Associates, please visit www.inverness-research.org. On the website, you will find copies of Inverness reports and presentations about NWP.

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