Research in K-12 Settings

Research in K-12 Educational Setting

Research in educational settings require special conditions be put in place to ensure the safety and welfare of student participants. Issues particular to students in grades K-12 include gaining access to school sites and obtaining parental consent and child assent for students under the age of majority at the study location (in most instances this will be 18 years of age but this can differ based on local and state regulations and interpretation).

Gaining Access to the Setting

All research conducted in, or in cooperation with schools or school districts requires approval from the district or school prior to the initiation of the study. Typically, district or school approval comes in the form of a site letter (on institutional letterhead) signed by the administrator in charge of making such decisions at the school site, or via an email approval from an institutional email address. A copy of this letter or email should be included in the attachments section of e-protocol.

Parental Permission / Child Assent

For research conducted with participants who are under the age of majority, parental permission is required in addition to the child’s assent. Parental permission should be done in a manner that actively engages parents in the consent agreement. Passive consent is when an individual does not actively consent but also does not object to participation. Passive consent is not acceptable for research with children. 

Both parental permission forms and child assent forms (or waivers if applicable) should be included in the IRB submission. For more information on research with children, parental permission, and child assent please see our Assent Guidance and Assent Template, and our Parental Permission Template.

Things to Consider When Formulating Your IRB Submission

When submitting a protocol for research in an educational setting, the following information should be considered and addressed in the submission:

  • Undue influence is difficult to avoid in a classroom setting, where activities are determined and implemented by adults. Research designs should include strategies to reduce this risk. For instance, clear procedures should be in place for handling students who are not participating in the study in order to minimize interruption to the typical school day. Although students are generally obligated to participate in activity designed for the whole class, activities specifically implemented for the research need to be clearly explained and alternatives be provided for those choosing not to participate. Appropriate alternatives should be provided for those who opt out, and must be described in the protocol as well as the consent form.
  • Clearly describe the difference(s) between what would typically occur in class and what will occur related to the research (i.e., will all students be involved in the same activities or will there be individual students singled out within a classroom?);
  • The risks and inconveniences should be assessed and clearly described in the protocol and consent. For instance, in studies involving examination of classroom management techniques, will individual students be singled out for use of specific techniques? If so, what risks does that present to that child and to the other students (e.g., possibility of increasing in disruptive behaviors)?
  • Describe how privacy and confidentiality of all participants (i.e., student, teacher) will be maintained. For example, will study results be shared back with the school on an individual level or in aggregate? Will information about teacher performance be shared with school administration? What risks to participants are presented given how data will be both managed and shared?
  • When research activities are not part of the required class activities, the instructor should arrange to have the data collected by an independent third party, so that the instructor does not know who participated and does not have access to the identifiable data or identity of participants for any purpose until grades have been assigned and entered.  
  • Researchers should not mandate that an entire class of students participate, unless implementation of the intervention is a part of the course curriculum and researchers are only seeking to collect de-identified data of previously outlined course activities.
  • Describe the plan for handling a student who wants to withdraw from the study after consent/assent has been obtained;
  • Benefits or compensation for participation should extend to the entire class, regardless of how many children agreed to participate. This prevents scrutiny or peer pressure on the students who decline to participate.
  • When research activities involve the use of video and audio recording it is incumbent on the researchers to ensure that only those participants who have consented to participate in the study and agreed to be video/audio recorded are included in the recording.  If a parent/participant has not agreed to be video recorded, then the researchers must make sure that these participants are out of the video shot range and/or that these persons are deleted from any video recordings collected during the research process.  Subsequent use of video recordings must exclude participants who did not agree to be video or audio recorded.  
  • Some school systems may require that researchers obtain criminal background checks prior to conducting research (e.g. CORI, SORI); researchers must follow the requirements of the school system.
  • FERPA restricts researchers’ access to student records without written permission from parents. However, within FERPA [20 U.S.C. 1232g(b)(1)(F)], there are conditions under which student records can be disclosed without parental consent. Investigators must contact each institution and follow that institution’s FERPA policy, in addition to the requirements of UMass IRB. Finally, PPRA outlines 8 categories of protected information for survey responses (for more information see FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), and PPRA (Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment).