Characteristics of School Districts That Participate in Rigorous National Educational Evaluations

Elizabeth A. Stuart, Stephen H. Bell, Cyrus F Ebnesajjad, Robert B. Olsen, Larry Orr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Given increasing interest in evidence-based policy, there is growing attention to how well the results from rigorous program evaluations may inform policy decisions. However, little attention has been paid to documenting the characteristics of schools or districts that participate in rigorous educational evaluations, and how they compare to potential target populations for the interventions that were evaluated. Utilizing a list of the actual districts that participated in 11 large-scale rigorous educational evaluations, we compare those districts to several different target populations of districts that could potentially be affected by policy decisions regarding the interventions under study. We find that school districts that participated in the 11 rigorous educational evaluations differ from the interventions' target populations in several ways, including size, student performance on state assessments, and location (urban/rural). These findings raise questions about whether, as currently implemented, the results from rigorous impact studies in education are likely to generalize to the larger set of school districts—and thus schools and students—of potential interest to policymakers, and how we can improve our study designs to retain strong internal validity while also enhancing external validity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)168-206
Number of pages39
JournalJournal of Research on Educational Effectiveness
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2017


  • external validity
  • generalizability
  • randomized experiment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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