CREA scholars span continents, bringing focus to role of culture in evaluation and assessment

by the College of Education at Illinois  /   Jan 13, 2017

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More than 15 years ago a small, interdisciplinary group of scholars, researchers, and practitioners in the areas of program evaluation and assessment—both on and off the Illinois campus—envisioned a university-based strategic initiative that investigated the role, impact, and usefulness of culture and cultural context in educational evaluation, assessment, research, and policy.

Through hard work and collaboration the initiative took off, evolving in 2011 into the Center for Culturally Responsive Evaluation and Assessment (CREA) in the College of Education. CREA’s mission is to generate evidence for policymaking that is methodologically performed and culturally and contextually defensible.

“In today’s pluralistic societies, to achieve relevant and valid conclusions, researchers must have a substantive understanding of the nature and influence of diverse cultural norms and practices,” said Stafford Hood, the director of CREA. “CREA’s focus on cultural responsiveness is unique in that no other university-based research center focuses on the centrality of culture and cultural context in evaluation and assessment theory and practice.”

Hood said CREA’s priority is to improve the quality of the education and life circumstances of individuals who have traditionally been disenfranchised in the U.S. and beyond. Through its affiliate members, CREA provides a focus on culturally responsive evaluation and assessment within a range of educational, social-service, and health-service programs that serve low-income individuals in diverse communities.

For several years, Hood has collaborated with the principals of Booker T. Washington STEM Academy in Champaign as an “evaluation laboratory” for his graduate evaluation courses and provided advice on culturally responsive evaluation and assessment. His advanced doctoral students, meanwhile, have worked on field assignments in the classroom, developing culturally responsive evaluation plans with teachers at Booker T. Washington, contributing to the development of their own evaluation skills.  

Hood and his colleagues Bill Trent and Tom Schwandt also have provided consultative technical assistance for the Champaign Unit 4 school district leadership team, offering their evaluation expertise on a districtwide program.

One of CREA’s goals is to expand its international consortium of researchers and evaluators with diverse cultural viewpoints and social backgrounds, and Hood said the organization’s national, international, and indigenous presence in research, evaluation, and assessment continues to rise. Along with hosting its fourth international conference in Chicago last September, the unit developed affiliates at Dublin City University and in Hawaii in 2016.

The Urbana-Champaign-Dublin connection focuses on the educational experiences of immigrant students in Ireland’s education system, a group that has increased by 143 percent from 2002 to 2011. Fifty percent of these students hail from non-English-speaking countries, and a significant percentage are racial minorities, according to Hood, who was appointed as an adjunct professor in the School of Education Studies at Dublin City University in 2014.

“These dramatic demographic shifts in Ireland and its schools strongly influenced the collaboration between Dublin City University and Illinois, which resulted in the establishment of CREA-DCU,” he said.

According to CREA-Hawaii directors Drs. Herb Lee Jr. (executive director of the Pacific American Foundation) and Katherine A. Tibbetts (director of research and evaluation at the Lili’uokalani Trust), the mission of CREA-Hawaii is to use the lens of native Hawaiians to develop empowering, values-based evaluation approaches that support insights and conclusions to promote equity, justice, and diversity in a very diverse state. This can be done, Tibbetts and Lee believe, by weaving together and sharing cultural knowledge, tools, and practices that are grounded in and affirm a native Hawaiian world view.

Currently, there are 26 non-Illinois scholars, researchers, and practitioners who are actively involved with CREA, Hood said.

This year’s CREA conference will address issues of community unrest sparked by the deaths of unarmed citizens and inequities in education, health care, and incarceration, among other topics. Hood said the past three conferences have been well attended, with 250-300 registered attendees (including  registrants from Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, and the  Republic of Georgia) seeking to “forge alliances for action and establish a strong foundation in which scholars, practitioners, and administrators can look to inform their evaluation, assessment, and research endeavors.”

In the past, small teams of Illinois school district administrators have participated in the pre-conference professional development workshops offered by CREA, as well as in the main conference itself. Hood noted that school officials from Atlanta also have attended the conference to utilize the vast education connections and wealth of information.  

CREA is currently accepting proposals for symposia, paper presentations, and roundtable presentations through February 20 for the 2017 conference. These proposals will demonstrate the kinds of evidence that illuminate the understanding of interventions in education, health care, criminal justice, and social services that are being undertaken to address inequities.

CREA has successfully acquired small grants and contracts over the years, but Hood and his team are working to obtain major external funding from public and private sponsors. Additionally, to further its outreach efforts, CREA began a “CREA in the 21st Century” blog toward the end of 2016, which so far has featured guest bloggers covering issues such as advancing diversity, building relations with indigenous communities, and appreciating the values within education.

In a world in which ethnic and racial strife is common, with cultural prejudice and religious bigotry also prevalent, CREA has established an educational research and evaluation agenda that has welcomed shared leadership to enhance the relevance of culture.

“Our mission is being carried out,” Hood said, “from what started as humble beginnings.”

Those looking to get involved with CREA can send an email to crea@education.illinois.edu or call 217-333-2981.

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