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The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

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The first four articles in this issues Evaluations to Watch section spotlight the national Parental Information and Resource Centers (PIRC) program and the ways in which a new evaluation approach is helping it build the family involvement field. We begin with an overview of the evaluation strategy and continue with articles describing three PIRCs' evaluation plans and lessons learned.

Marianne Kirner and Matt Storeygard explain how the Connecticut State PIRC is implementing and evaluating an effort to promote family involvement at the school district level.

How can a PIRC best target its resources to strengthen family involvement in the schools and communities with the greatest needs? The Connecticut (CT) State Parental Information and Resource Center (PIRC) is working directly with school districts to institute school–family–community partnerships (SFCPs) in a large number of high-need urban and rural schools across the state. This Targeted District Project has the potential to "scale up" SFCPs by reaching all schools in a district and sustain family involvement efforts by building the capacity of district-level staff to directly train and support schools.

This comprehensive approach builds on Joyce Epstein's SFCP model, which involves establishing school Action Teams for Partnerships (ATPs) that focus on critical school goals—such as supporting and promoting student achievement. Starting in 1995, the Connecticut State Department of Education and the State Education Resource Center (SERC) began promoting SFCPs by training action teams in individual schools. However, within the 8 years that followed, at least one third of the over 100 schools trained did not sustain their action teams. Evaluations demonstrated that many ATPs disappeared with changes in school leadership.

These findings led to a major change in approach in 2003–2004. In order to sustain action teams in the face of future turnover, it became clear that it was important to institutionalize SFCPs beyond specific principals and staff members. As a result, the Connecticut State Department of Education, SERC, and the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC) partnered to pilot a district-level approach to promoting SFCPs within three Connecticut school districts. An evaluation of this district pilot project found strong evidence that a district-level approach is effective in promoting SFCPs. Specifically, the three districts developed their capacity to support schools and provide leadership on partnerships. Support provided by the CT State PIRC, for which SERC is currently the lead agency, helped the action teams in the participating districts meet turnover and other challenges.

The Targeted District Project builds upon this work by adding five additional high-need districts—selected by geographic distribution, urban/rural balance, economic/resource levels, and NCLB/AYP accountability status—to the project. Each district will receive targeted technical support for three years in a "trainer of facilitators" model. The PIRC will offer workshops and one-on-one coaching to build district-level leadership to support activities at the district level and provide technical assistance at the school level to establish SFCPs. Schools in the targeted districts will be required to form action teams and develop concrete action plans that are a) goal-oriented, b) create an infrastructure to increase partnership activities, and c) utilize specific National Network of Partnership Schools evaluation tools and surveys.

Holt, Wexler & Farnam (HWF) is evaluating the activities of the CT State PIRC, including the Targeted District Project. To evaluate the outcomes of the Targeted District Project, HWF will use multiple methods, including a quasi-experimental study and qualitative data. The quasi-experimental study will assess the impact on students’ attendance, behavior, and achievement. Our hypothesis is that students in target schools will improve in all of these areas at higher rates than students in comparison schools. HWF will also track trends in parent involvement at participating schools through annual parent surveys about their participation in the school, home and community (e.g., attending school activities, reading to or with their child) and by interviewing a cohort of 30 parents twice each year about the project's impact on their participation. In addition, HWF will evaluate improvements in school/professional capacity by utilizing the annual NNPS Action Team reports, as well as qualitative data from annual interviews and focus groups with school professionals and parents.

The CT State PIRC then will use evaluation data to make midcourse adjustments to better serve our constituents and communities. For example, one finding from the SFCP district pilot project evaluation is that each district implemented strikingly different approaches (e.g., creating a welcoming atmosphere versus implementing a targeted family literacy project). Evidence shows that these different approaches were appropriate for their differing local contexts. As we develop and adapt our strategy, HWF will continue to conduct formative evaluations with an emphasis on how to effectively promote SFCPs in larger, higher need urban and rural districts.

We are excited about the prospect of instituting comprehensive SFCPs in all schools in our five new districts—which include the cities of Hartford and Bridgeport—and we look forward to sharing the findings and lessons learned from this project.

Marianne Kirner, Ph.D.
25 Industrial Park Road
Middletown, CT 06457-1520
Tel: 860-632-1485. Email:

Matt Storeygard
Holt, Wexler & Farnam, LLP
900 Chapel Street, Suite 620
New Haven, CT 06510
Tel: 203-772-2050

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