Reflections from a Doctoral Fellow

Reflections from a Doctoral FellowNorthwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) is a proud partner of the Multnomah County Partnership for Education Research (MCPER), established in 2013 with the University of Portland (UP). The partnership supports research that informs educators and policy makers on issues related to student learning and teacher practice. More specifically, the collaborative efforts provide real-time research and program evaluation services to six public Multnomah County school districts. Additionally, MCPER provides long-term research support and builds capacity for sustained research by the preparation of UP’s doctoral candidates.

Today, we hear from Rebecca Smith, a doctoral fellow conducting research in the field.

When friends and family ask me what I do as a Doctoral Fellow, I usually say, “I am basically a research assistant.” I read a lot of articles on current Education trends, I analyze data, I find ways to measure program efficacy, and I write a lot of reports. The follow-up question is inevitably, “Do you enjoy it?” The honest answer is, “Yes.” I really do.  I am the gracious recipient of a Fellowship through the University of Portland’s Doctor of Education program, which utilizes a generous grant from Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) to perform research and program evaluation for six local school districts. The Multnomah County Partnership for Education Research (MCPER) is a collaborative effort to provide needs-based, relevant research that district administrators and teachers can immediately utilize in their schools.

A few of the most interesting projects I have conducted include investigating the benefits of social-emotional learning for preschool students and researching best practices for Professional Learning Community (PLC) implementation and efficacy. Additionally, I was able to present on Peer Teacher Evaluation at the 2015 Oregon Association of Teacher Educators (ORATE) conference and attend the recent American Educational Research Association (AERA) conference in Chicago, at which I soaked in the knowledge and wisdom of my colleagues and fellow doctoral students. The University of Portland contingent of the MCPER partnership also presented at ORATE on district-university partnerships, including the various types of partnerships, the benefits for all stakeholders, and how MCPER is a unique transformational partnership with a focus on district-driven research and data-analysis.

Most of the MCPER research involves delving into research journals and writing thorough Literature Reviews on topics requested by the partner districts. The process of investigating one research question often leads to other questions that will be suggested to the district for further research. If the research proposal from a district focuses on program evaluation, we will use research as a guide in creating an evaluative tool to measure efficacy or to gather survey feedback from parents or teachers. Furthermore, if a district wants to analyze student achievement based on standardized test scores, we will analyze the data to provide disaggregated results based on demographics, gender, ELL, SES, and other factors. We create charts and graphs to illustrate analysis results and write reports that provide districts with data to help drive future decisions within their schools.

Like my education colleagues everywhere, I wear many hats. I am a teacher, a mother, a wife, a daughter, and a student…again. I have taught high school English and Religion, middle school Special Education, adult education, and English as a foreign language. I have lived in the Northwest, Northeast, South, Southwest, and in South America. I have had incredible teaching opportunities, and I have students from all over the world who have touched my life and shaped me as an educator and as a person.

My current work with MCPER is giving me a deep appreciation for the value of meaningful research that listens to the voices of leaders in our school districts. My work is helping this teacher understand balanced assessment, culturally relevant pedagogy, and the benefits of co-teaching English Language Learners. My work is teaching this mother the best early learning program models and social-emotional curriculums, so I can make informed educational decisions for my young daughter. My work informs this student about key education topics that drive policy and debate. My work advises this future administrator about professional leadership, parent and community involvement, and proven strategies that help all students achieve.

This graduate student is daily reminded of the value of education. I am grateful for my own opportunities to learn. I remain optimistic about the future of public and private education in the United States, and I am learning how I can most effectively influence the field of education, grounded in my newfound appreciation of research.