Ethics in Research and Evaluation - Case Study 1

You are a program director of an after-school program for at-risk youth in middle school. You also work at the local university as a researcher in youth development. The program is located in a local school, but participating youth come from different schools in the district. The program aims to provide a safe space for youth to engage in healthy activities, have access to a computer lab, and get tutoring to complete their homework or other projects. One of the funding agencies has asked you about the results of your program. To answer this question you would like to conduct a program evaluation using a pre-survey when youth start the program and a post-survey as they complete it. The survey will ask basic questions such as how much the student enjoys the program, how often he or she attends, and whether or not the program helps them in school. When the youth signed up for the program, they were required to bring back a signed parental consent form allowing them to participate. However, the form did not specifically notify parents that their child would be participating in an evaluation of the program.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think this survey would be considered program evaluation or research?

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    Based on the description above, this survey sounds like program evaluation. The data collected will not be generalizable and will be used only to provide feedback on the program. Always check with the university IRB or with the district. Many districts may have a body that reviews evaluation and research. Even though this evaluation does not take place while the students are in the school setting, nor does it collect academic data, we recommend checking into the district’s policies.


  2. Who should you check with about the policies governing this type of work?

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    As stated in the previous question, the program director should check with both the university and district to see what institutions are available to review this type of work and verify the guidelines for evaluation and research. In addition to the university and the district, it is also wise to check with the funding agency that made the request to see if they have any particular guidelines. The director may want to read both FERPA and the PPA. If no oversight is required, the program director should refer to the AEA Guiding Principles as a framework for creating an ethical evaluation.  



    Do parents need to be notified and/or does parental consent need to be attained before conducting the survey?

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    Again, check in with the district or university. Even if the evaluation is exempt from IRB review or does not require parental consent, you may consider attaining parental consent or student assent before students complete the survey. This ensures students are informed of the survey’s intent and about their rights.


  4. Are there potential risks for the students in taking the survey?

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    The idea of risk is a central area in the determination of human subjects protection for research. Most socio-behavioral research that requires IRB oversight has minimal risk. Since this case is likely considered program evaluation, weighing risk helps the program director respect the rights of the students in an ethical manner. The director should consider how the relationship with the students can be characterized by RESPECT, TRUST, and HONESTY.

    •    Are the questions sensitive? Could they make students feel uncomfortable?
    •    Will participation in the survey be voluntary?
    •    Will students feel like they have to do the survey or not be able to participate in the after school program?
    •    Will students be concerned that if they provide negative feedback they will experience consequences?
    •    Is any data being collected that would be personally identifiable?