University of Minnesota’s CAREI Issues First-ever Statewide Education Needs Assessment

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Report Reveals Substantial Unmet Needs to Improve Educational Outcomes for All Learners


Effective use of quality data in educational decisions can improve educational outcomes for all learners

The University of Minnesota’s Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI) has issued the 2015 Minnesota Needs Assessment: Research, Evaluation, Assessment, and Data Use in Schools. This is the first time such a study has been conducted in Minnesota. Based on an extensive year-long process involving 800 individuals and educational leaders along with 13 professional organizations, the conclusions drawn from the Needs Assessment show substantial unmet needs at all levels of the Minnesota educational systems with respect to improving educational outcomes through research, evaluation, assessment and data use, particularly in rural and high need communities.

Education is the largest financial investment in the Minnesota state budget and those investments place Minnesota students among the top performers in the nation. However, approximately 40% of Minnesota students did not meet state standards for proficiency in 2015 in reading and math. Substantial gaps in opportunity and performance, commonly referred to as the achievement gap, persist for students of color and across ethic groups, despite a range of efforts. Effective use of quality data in educational decisions can improve educational outcomes for all learners and help the state reduce the gap between the top performing students and those that struggle to meet proficiency levels.

The Needs Assessment report, available here, identifies six categories of unmet needs (infrastructure, capacity, efficiency, time, training and ease of use) with several key findings and results. The majority of respondents believe quality data can improve educational decisions; a common theme was that all stakeholders would benefit from additional assistance in the use of data. Despite substantial motivations and efforts to use data, most districts lack the capacity to meet their own needs for data-based decision making, in part due to a lack of qualified personnel. Only 33% of districts reported having staff with advanced training in evaluation and assessment. More than 70% percent of survey respondents indicated their school’s or district’s capacity to effectively use data to guide educational decisions was fair or poor. Further, the lack of centralized services to support sound data practices throughout the state limits the potential of Minnesota’s educational system.

“We are grateful to the many individuals and organizations that generously shared their time and insights to develop this critical Educational Needs Assessment,” commented CAREI Director Theodore Christ, PhD. “It is clear we need to improve data literacy in Minnesota’s educational systems if we are serious about improving outcomes for all learners. But we do not want to simply provide recommendations. We want to provide the tools for educators and educational leaders to select the programs that have evidence associated with them so that as a state we can make meaningful advances in closing the performance gaps.”

The results of the Needs Assessment show that coordination of public resources are needed to identify common challenges among districts and coordinate efforts to implement solutions. Minnesota has the opportunity to leverage current resources and establish a national model of collaboration based on the use of data and evidence to improve educational outcomes for all learners. Developing such an infrastructure may also substantially improve the effectiveness of the established state standards and data collection programs.

The Center for Applied Research And Educational Improvement (CAREI) was established in 1988 as an independent college-wide center at the University of Minnesota to conduct rigorous, unbiased evaluation of innovative practices and policies in education. During the past 25 years, CAREI has completed more than 250 evaluation and research studies funded by federal and state agencies, local educational agencies and foundations. These studies range from truancy reduction to later start times for high schools. CAREI staff includes PhDs from diverse backgrounds in educational psychology, statistics and measurement, curriculum and instruction, education policy and administration, educational leadership and evaluation studies. CAREI project leads coordinate research teams and collaborate with content experts and community members.

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Kimberly Gibbons

Jeron Udean
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