What ISA’s MER team is and what does it do? 

Monitoring, Evaluation, and Research (or “MER” for short) is a team co-led by Dr. Fenot Aklog, ISA’s Director for Monitoring, Evaluation, and Research, and Dr. Sam Rikoon, a research scientist in the Center for Research on Validity, Fairness, and Equity in Learning and Assessment at ETS. We are charged with monitoring, evaluating, and conducting research on how well ISA does what it does — the implementation of its work, how well it achieves what it’s intending to achieve in terms of outcomes, and what possible changes result from ISA’s work and its impact on schools. We do this through several different approaches — developing all the processes, tools, and instruments used by the portfolio of services ISA offers; collecting, analyzing, and reporting on data; and disseminating ISA learnings and accomplishments to ISA’s community and the field. We will soon launch stand-alone MER services, such as school climate assessments and school-based program evaluations. 

What needs or gaps identified by schools’ or districts’ led ISA to offer MER services? 

Schools need to understand many aspects of the learning environments they foster for students, especially schools that are under-resourced and serve students from historically marginalized backgrounds. They need information to figure out the most effective actions to take or ways of designing and developing a new strategic vision to achieve their mission(s). For example, one ISA district client was interested in collecting data on school climate but may not have had specific stakeholders in mind. ISA’s MER team developed a series of surveys (for students, school staff, and parents), administered them, and generated multiple reports to provide holistic data helping inform the superintendent and their leadership team about what school climate looked like in that district. The superintendent is now using that data to help inform strategic planning, to talk with each individual school about their results, and to act on issues highlighted by specific responses to the surveys.

Let’s say I’m a teacher in a school district that has implemented ISA’s MER service. Why would this be important to me? 

While the MER team doesn’t work directly with teachers, ISA has coaches that provide job-embedded professional development for teachers (either one-on-one or for teams of teachers). Part of what MER does is help ISA figure out how to capture the impact of its coaching work with teachers and report on it. So, if I’m a teacher receiving ISA instructional coaching, the MER team helps illuminate the ways in which I engage with my coach to produce the outcomes the ISA coach and I have co-created. MER helps document the impact of that important collaborative work happening in ISA schools every day. 

Of course, any ISA service adopted by schools or districts is intended to benefit students. How does the MER team impact the student experience? 

One way the MER team impacts student outcomes is supporting ISA’s work to use data in continuous improvement cycles. This work facilitates schools reflecting on their practices and making data-driven instructional or organizational changes they want to see, with direct connections hopefully observed between those changes and student outcomes. There is also a slightly more direct way the MER team’s work can impact students. We participate in some of the coach meetings that ISA holds, where we interact with those professionals working with teachers and school leaders directly. For example, the MER team has led seminars and other activities for coaches on how to characterize the impact of their work or how to process and interpret survey results when we’ve surveyed teachers to understand their impressions of how things are going in their classrooms or with their ISA coach. Coaches can use that data in their work to help inform the ways they collaborate with teachers and help them improve their instruction, which is expected to result in improved conditions for learning and student outcomes. 

(Want to talk about ISA’s MER services for your school or district? Send an email to aoakes [at] ets.org.)