SPEaR Projects

Current Projects:

Partnership with Everspring in Online Education in the KU School of Education (2014-2019)

The School Program Evaluation and Research (SPEaR) team was commissioned by the KU School of Education to evaluate the KU Everspring-supported online graduate education initiative. Everspring’s stated goal is to develop a customized approach for online learning for each university partner that takes into account the unique needs of each client. Everspring explains its integrated approach as reflecting four core principles: 

  1. Customized: The development of a unique online solution for KU. Dedicated service teams design a customized approach to help KU in the development of online programs.  
  2. Human-Centered: Everspring puts people (i.e., students, faculty, and partners) at the center of the process. The unique needs of the people involved are important to Everspring.
  3. Data-driven: Data are collected and used in the decision-making process. Service improvements and enhancement of learning are based on collecting the best data, giving KU insight into the effectiveness of the online initiative.
  4. Integrated:  The goal for implementation of the KU online initiative is to make the work of Everspring invisible and the online students. This makes the student experience one that is seamless with KU, and frees faculty at KU to focus on teaching rather than working on the development and maintenance of technology.

There were two primary evaluation approaches we envisioned for this project. An objectives-based approach is appropriate for this project given the focused activities of the KU-Everspring Initiative and clearly defined process and outcome measure requirements (Stufflebeam, 2001). While an objectives-based approach addresses the immediate needs of the initiative, a cost-benefit analysis was also identified as an important component of the evaluation. This will eventually be used to ascertain the relative value of the KU-Everspring Initiative as it pertains to the costs of implementing such a program.

When the evaluation proposal was developed, the SPEaR evaluation team recommended the inclusion of both process and outcome measures in the evaluation as a way to measure both consequential and effective evaluation of the objectives, as well as meaningful communication to all partners and stakeholders. As a summative process, our role in this project was to assist in the interpretation of data and framing the findings in ways that clearly communicate in the language familiar to the different stakeholders. 
This evaluation utilized the research-objectives model of evaluation (Adelman & Taylor, 2000; Stufflebeam, 2001) and will utilize a cost-benefit analysis (Stufflebeam, 2001) in future evaluations. The research-objectives model assumes accountability for evaluating the planned objectives for the Everspring initiative. Formative and summative data can be used to alter specific aspects of the initiative and to evaluate the efficacy of the goals of the project. A research-based approach to evaluation has several advantages, including: 

  • Improved planning and implementation
  • Increased expertise on key elements of the evaluation
  • Improved operational definitions of outcome variables
  • Better psychometric properties of the evaluation tools
  • Improved dissemination, scale-up and sustainability of the project due to clearer operational definitions and procedures

KU Center for East Asian Studies Title VI Initiative (2017)

This proposal is designed to evaluate the implementation of the KU CEAS Title VI initiative beginning in the Spring of 2017. This initiative involves the Center for East Asian Studies (CEAS) collaborating with partners to disseminate knowledge about EA language and culture throughout the region. CEAS is distinctive for its Central Plains location, innovative and high quality language pedagogy and training, breadth and depth of EA coverage, outstanding library collection, accessibility for research, teacher training programs, and dynamic outreach program serving K-12 and post-secondary educators, government, industry, business, and media throughout the Great Plains. In addition, through its Language Training Center and Project GO grants, CEAS offers language training to ROTC students from other colleges and active duty military.

Past Projects:

SHIFTS:  Students Helping to Instigate Forward Thinking in Schools

SHIFTS is a project that builds a bridge between the students of USD 501, Topeka Public Schools and the community mental health service agencies.   SHIFTS will improve the connections between the school and the mental health community by providing information regarding pertinent mental health issues to students in an anonymous, non-threatening manner.  Under the SHIFTS program, the Institute for Educational Research and Public Service (the Institute) will build an age-appropriate website for Middle and High School students, addressing such issues as depression, suicide, and anxiety.  Through both classroom sessions and one-on-one conversations, school counselors will direct students to the SHIFTS website, where they can read about mental health issues that commonly manifest in adolescents, take interactive self-assessment “Quizzes,” look through a “Frequently Asked Questions” section, and learn more about the mental health services available in their community.  

The SHIFTS mental health partner is Headquarters Counseling Center of Lawrence, which will provide expert consultation on the information provided in the website, as well as professional development for USD 501 teachers on mental health issues relevant to this age group (depression, suicide, children of alcoholics, etc.).  USD 501 believes that using an interactive website, a form of  technology with which this age group is very comfortable, will move students beyond their natural hesitancy to seek information regarding their mental health and potentially increase appropriate mental health referrals, thereby creating sustainable systems change in the connections to and delivery of mental health services in Topeka.

Balanced Literacy Kansas City, MO. School District

Balanced Literacy is designed to "accelerate literacy practices" which will "ultimately lead to higher student achievement." The Balanced Literacy initiative in elementary schools in the Kansas City, Missouri School District included technical assistance to teachers in the form of professional development opportunities, implementation of literacy standards, strengthening school libraries, and enhancement of home support for literacy.

Balanced Literacy is a philosophical orientation that assumes that reading and writing achievement are developed through instruction and support in multiple environments using various approaches that differ by level of teacher support and child control (Fountas & Pinnell, 1996). Balanced Literacy programs include community, home and library involvement as well as structured classroom plans that typically include literacy activities such as read alouds, guided reading, shared reading, and independent reading and writing.

The evaluation project of SPEaR team members was designed to provide information on the implementation of Balanced Literacy in the Kansas City, Missouri School District. Two types of data were collected: 1) a summary of individual buildings' level of implementation of balanced literacy activities and 2) an overview of the types of balanced literacy activities being implemented. Five sources of data helped ensure the representativeness of types and quality throughout the district:
a) classroom observations;
b) classroom checklists of literacy components;
c) building checklists of literacy components;
d) teacher surveys;
e) student focus groups;

This random sampling took place at 32 elementary schools in Kansas City, Missouri and resulted in 468 classroom observations, 32 building and 167 classroom literacy component checklists, 141 teacher surveys, and 33 student focus groups conducted in 25 schools. Data from the five sources were compiled to provide each building with three summary indexes, one reflecting both the frequency and quality of balanced literacy activities implemented, a second reflecting the degree to which targeted literacy activities were being implemented, and the third reflecting the quality with which these activities were being implemented.

Kansas Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems Plan (KECCS)

The KECCS Plan has been a strategic planning and collaborative process to promote school readiness for children across the state of Kansas. The Plan is organized into five goals to provide children birth through five with the resources they need to succeed in school and life:

Goal 1:  Ensure that all Kansas children have health insurance and access to medical providers.
Goal 2: Fully integrate mental health and social-emotional development into the early childhood system in Kansas.
Goal 3: Develop a comprehensive and coordinated early childhood care and education system in Kansas Birth-5.
Goal 4: Educate and mentor parents about childhood health, development, and education.
Goal 5:Promote a system that helps families develop and utilize both intellectual and material resources to prepare their children for school and life

The SPEaR Team provides quarterly updates on the type and number of strategies, activities, and tasks underway in the State which are related to the project's five school readiness and health goals, describes the patterns of usage for the KECCS website, and presents results of a goal-setting collaboration survey. In addition, the SPEaR Team is working on statistical analysis of relationships between identified indicators and outcomes for school readiness.

Multicultural Scholars Program (Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education)

The Multicultural Scholars Program at the University of Kansas (MSP) is a mentoring program for minority students at KU who meet the program requirements and show commitment towards participating in the program. The purpose of the MSP is to ensure that minority students' academic, social, personal, and career aspects of their college experience are all addressed and that these students received the maximum benefits of their undergraduate education.  Students are provided with assistance in finding academic advisement, tutoring services, and career development and placement guidance when needed.

The SPEaR Team collects process and outcome data in quantitative and qualitative forms to provide formative and summative feedback to the program. Types of data collected include faculty director interviews, survey data from students and mentors, and information from student transcripts (GPA. credit hours taken, program of study, SAT and ACT scores, etc.).

Project for Partnerships in Early Learning (PROPEL)

The purpose of the Programs for Partnerships in Early Learning (PROPEL) program is to improve early learning experiences in literacy acuities through a professional development approach utilizing literacy coaches in Douglas county, Kansas.  The professional development training, which focused on early language and literacy development, comprised five specific topics (1) literacy rich environment, (2) oral language, (3) print awareness, (4) alphabet knowledge, and (5) phonological awareness.

Three overall goals and six objectives guide the PROPEL program. Each is organized around the unifying goal of building a common understanding of early literacy development. Conceptually, the objectives form the basis for implementation of activities designed to improve students' access to quality early learning experiences.

GOAL 1:  Development and implement an early literacy program for preschool children (3-5 years old) based on scientifically based reading research that prepares children in Douglas County for school.

GOAL 2: Provide a professional development model on scientifically based reading research that early childhood teachers in participating centers provide high quality language and literacy activities.

GOAL 3: Improve access to early learning opportunities for children with special needs including developmental delays by providing technical assistance to early learning programs and enduring access to intervention services in these early learning programs.

Safe Schools Healthy Students (SSHS)

Safe Schools Healthy Students

The evaluation team for the Safe Schools, Healthy Students Grant was led by University of Kansas faculty with extensive experience in educational program evaluation. The purpose of the KU evaluation team was to measure progress in the six goal areas of the Lawrence School District which correspond to the six elements of the SS/HS grant.

  1. Maintain a safe school environment.
  2. Increase protective factors and reduce risk factors for alcohol, tobacco, other drug use and violence among pre-school to grade 12 students.
  3. Prevent onset of serious mental health, behavioral and emotional problems and identify, refer and follow-up with all identified students.
  4. Provide a continuum of family-focused preventive interventions to enable children to enter school ready to learn.
  5. Increase positive behaviors of students (K-12) by promoting connectivity with school and a positive school climate.
  6. Create student and parent awareness of and support for zero tolerance policies.
  7. Increase collaboration between grant partners.

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