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IES Workshops Aim to Beef Up Research Design

Rigorous research doesn't have to be limited to randomized controlled trials. The Education Department's research agency and national research organizations are looking for ways to help researchers boost their study rigor when they don't have the money or capacity for a fully randomized experiment.

Researchers Thomas D. Cook of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, and William Shadish of the University of California, Merced, will conduct two workshops this August to help researchers learn ways to improve quasi-experimental design and analysis. The workshops, sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences and the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness, will be held on August 8-12 and August 15-19.

Quasi-experimental methods are often used as alternatives to so-called gold-standard research; they also compare a group that receives an intervention to a control group that does not, but participants are not randomly assigned to the groups. For example, regression discontinuity analysis, one increasingly popular quasi-experimental method, uses existing participation cut-off points; students who barely make the cut-off for assignment to an intervention will be statistically similar to students who barely missed the cut-off, allowing researchers to compare similar groups without random assignment. Here's a good in-depth primer on different types of quasi-experimental designs.

This sort of research can be less expensive and easier to organize, but according to SREE, "Several recent analysis of the quality of quasi-experiments in education point to designs and analysis that are generally below the state of the art, so the workshops' principal aim is to improve this state."

The workshops will each accept up to 60 researchers, and are intended to focus mainly on researchers who are planning or working on active quasi-experimental projects. There's more information on the workshops here, and the applications, due June 3, are here.

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