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CREA: Addressing the Needs of Disenfranchised Groups

by Tom Hanlon / Oct 16, 2019

CREA in New Zealand

Rangikura School Ascot Park, Porirua, New Zealand

The Center for Culturally Responsive Evaluation and Assessment works to change educational and social policies—and the lives of the disenfranchised, including indigenous groups, who are affected by these policies.

Back in the late 1990s, Dr. Stafford Hood, then a professor at Arizona State University, began working on several National Science Foundation-funded projects, including one with the Navajo Nation. Subsequently, he worked as an advisory board member on another NSF-funded project of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, led by Dr. Joan LaFrance of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa and Richard Nichols of Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico (a federally-recognized tribe of Native American Pueblo people) to develop an indigenous evaluation framework.

“Central to doing evaluation work in indigenous communities are the traditions and values of those communities and their practices,” says Hood, now the Sheila M. Miller Professor of Education and professor in Curriculum & Instruction and Educational Psychology in the College of Education. “The importance of culture and cultural context is at the core of the evaluation and assessment work that we do.”

When Hood returned to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2008 (he earned his PhD here in 1984), he brought the mission behind that initial project with him. In 2011, he formally established the Center for Culturally Responsive Evaluation and Assessment (CREA) as its founding director, but his work in that area has remained constant through the years.

“CREA at the University of Illinois is the most recent manifestation of the body of work that began when I was on faculty at Arizona State a few decades ago,” he says. “This mission, this vision, came with me. It’s my lifelong work.”

CREA's Continuing Growth

That work is an interdisciplinary effort with an ever-growing cast of characters.

“We have groups in education and across social programs of our society who have been traditionally disenfranchised—the poor, people of color. These groups are not benefiting from our institutions, our systems of education, our political systems, our economic systems,” Hood says. “What we are wrestling with are interdisciplinary-related questions and issues that can’t be solved by one particular group or another.”

CREA brings together researchers, practitioners, and policymakers from around the world to address the needs of disenfranchised groups.

“We need to have those conversations to better understand culture and cultural contexts,” Hood says. “We need to use what we do, what we learn, what we study, to try to improve the quality and effectiveness of the work that we do.”

Many of those conversations take place at CREA conferences, the first of which was held in 2013 (the fifth was held this past spring). Beginning with his involvement back at Arizona State, the work attracted people in the areas of education measurement and evaluation, education research, counseling psychology, and educational policy.

“What I’ve been noticing over the last few years is there’s been an expansion of people in the areas of health and social work, and we’re seeing more engineers coming to CREA conferences, particularly in the area of computer science,” Hood says. “So that’s giving us a little bit different footprint than we started with in the late ‘90s and early 2000s.”

Ever-Widening Footprint

That initial footprint took Hood from Tempe, Arizona, to the Navajo Nation and to other indigenous communities across the larger Southwest. It eventually took Hood to Aotearoa (the Māori word for New Zealand), where he worked with the Māori, who are indigenous Polynesians.

“We collaborated with the Māori evaluators in education and some of the service agencies in providing professional development workshops around evaluation and culture and cultural contexts in evaluation,” Hood says. “We have a pretty significant core group of indigenous members of the CREA community not only in North America and Hawaii but in New Zealand.”

Hood facilitated professional development workshops that were delivered by indigenous scholars and practitioners at CREA conferences as well as American Evaluation Association conferences. He also remains involved in the continuing refinement and scholarly work focused on indigenous evaluation.

“Our community of scholars and researchers is publishing in journals and we’ve had two books come out of our work so far,” he says. “I’ve been most pleased by the fact that in each of our volumes, a significant body of work was done by our indigenous colleagues, focusing on the evaluation of indigenous programs or programs intended to serve indigenous groups.”

"A Lifelong Journey"

Hood is also pleased with both the growth of CREA’s global community, which numbers scholars and practitioners from 17 countries, and with the younger generation of colleagues that is stepping up in the area of evaluation and assessment and making significant contributions.

Which is good, because the work, the need for CREA, will extend far into the future. The educational and social needs of the disenfranchised are not going away—and neither is CREA.

“We continue to see ourselves as a work in progress,” Hood says. “This is a journey for the work that we do in trying to make a difference, to make a contribution to improve their circumstances. We see ourselves as being socially responsible in doing this work, based on the skills that we have. So we continue to do that. It’s a work in progress, a lifelong journey.”

CREA—the Center for Culturally Responsive Evaluation and Assessment—is an international community of scholars and practitioners that promotes a culturally responsive stance in all forms of systematic inquiry including evaluation, assessment, policy analysis, applied research, and action research. In this work, CREA recognizes issues of power, privilege, and intersectionality. Using its base at the University of Illinois, the center provides a resource for organizations and individuals seeking to better understand and apply cultural responsiveness. CREA seeks to produce a body of informed practitioners, published scholarship, professional development opportunities, technical assistance resources, and advocacy, advancing cultural responsiveness across inquiry platforms and settings.