How school districts can use rigorous program evaluation to test new education reforms: An interview with Matthew Lenard, Director, Data Strategy and Analytics, Wake County Public Schools – Episode #123

When schools or school districts implement district wide reform initiatives, how can they accurately determine if those reform efforts are having the positive effects that school leaders had hoped? How, in other words, can they move beyond anecdotes or simple trend data and rigorously evaluate their district wide reform initiatives?

The Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) — North Carolina’s largest school district — faced exactly those questions when it implemented a district-wide reform initiative. The initiative is called Multi-Tiered System of Supports, or MTSS, and is designed to increase academic achievement and reduce behavioral problems, although the specifics of MTSS are not the focus of our interview.

WCPSS was able to implement a rigorous evaluation of the initiative using a phased-in design, with 88 schools being randomly assigned to one of two groups: One group of 44 schools implemented MTSS first, while the other group of 44 schools will implement it two years later. That allowed district leaders to compare the outcomes for children in each set of schools to determine the impact of the MTSS initiative.

To learn more, we’re joined by Matthew Lenard. He has served as Director of Data Strategy and Analytics for WCPSS since 2012 and is the co-lead researcher on the MTSS evaluation.