• Request for Conducting Research


    A. Conducting Research in WCPSS 

    The Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) is committed to conducting and facilitating original research to improve outcomes for students, teachers, and staff. To that end, the department of Data, Research, and Accountability (DRA) cultivates partnerships with individuals affiliated with universities and organizations looking to conduct original research in WCPSS. These partnerships occur through four pathways: 

    1. External Research: Universities (e.g., research faculty, faculty advisors and their graduate students) or other research organizations conduct original research in WCPSS to benefit the district.
    2. Research-Practice Partnerships: Universities or organizations collaborate with WCPSS staff to jointly pursue research projects to benefit the district.
    3. Action Research: WCPSS employees (e.g., teachers, school-based administrators, etc.) pursuing graduate coursework who need to conduct original research with their assigned students. These employees are aiming to improve the practices and processes they have in place for their students.
    4. Internships: Graduate students spend a semester or summer supporting new or existing WCPSS research or evaluation projects for course credit and professional experience.

    1. External Research

    External researchers hold research-related duties at higher education institutions or research organizations. As such, they have the qualifications necessary for working in the school system as educational researchers. External Research includes university faculty projects, marketing research, graduate theses/dissertations, grant-funded projects, external surveys, program evaluations by outside agencies, and outside agency or group projects. It does not include action research, such as surveys conducted by school staff as part of their normal business processes (e.g., accreditation, school improvement planning work, etc.). Applications falling under External Research include any school- or district-based investigations requiring assistance from staff at WCPSS central office or schools. Assistance includes, but is not limited to, original data collection, preparation of data files, coordination among external researchers and study participants, and providing external researchers with other relevant information.

    The proposed external research project is more likely to be approved if it has value to WCPSS leadership, students, teachers, and staff, and if the researcher outlines a plan to share the results of their research with the school system. Examples of sharing results include: presentations to district leadership and brief reports containing figures and tables. We are open to other ideas you may have for sharing your results.

    • We are more likely to approve a proposed external research project if it meets one or more of the following criteria:
      • The proposed project is aligned with the district’s current strategic plan or addresses a timely issue facing the school district (e.g., enhancing remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic).
      • The benefits to WCPSS are high, and the costs in student and/or staff time to conduct the research are low.
      • The proposal includes a strong research design.
      • Data collection occurs outside of the end-of-year state testing window (April-June).
    • We are unlikely to approve projects that involve any of the following:
      • Using stipends or other incentives for staff participation in the research unless the work is clearly completed outside of normal duty time. Gifts to the school or to the school district are permissible and must be reported to WCPSS’ Board.
      • A significant loss of instructional time (e.g., requiring interviews or focus groups during the school day).
      • Data collection that requires students or families to disclose potentially sensitive information (e.g., religious beliefs, family problems, sexual behavior or orientation, illegal behavior, etc.).
      • Failing to acquire active consent for study participation by students or their families.
      • Invasive physiological measurements.
      • Audio or video recordings in classrooms during the school day.

    2. Research Practice Partnerships

    The Research-Practice Partnership is a way for external researchers to pursue projects in WCPSS while working closely with one or more staff members at the district. The Partnership is a joint effort in which external researchers and members of WCPSS staff partner to pursue questions of mutual interest, share responsibilities that include data collection and preparation, survey development, analysis, and the presentation of results to stakeholders. 

    Recent WCPSS research-practice partnerships have studied the effects of:

    The most successful research-practice partnerships occur when external researchers and district staff discuss roles, goals, and expectations prior to the submission of the application. Please inquire by emailing us at wcpss-data-accountability@wcpss.net.

    3. Action Research

    Sometimes, WCPSS employees pursuing graduate coursework must complete original research in their own classrooms to fulfill requirements of their academic programs. This is action research. If you are a WCPSS employee looking to conduct action research, please indicate so on the application and attach documentation of approval from your school principal.

    4. Internships

    The school system is committed to providing opportunities for a limited number of graduate students to gain research experience through working on a project of strategic importance to WCPSS. We have hosted interns from several local universities, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, and North Carolina State University.

    If you are a graduate student interested in a possible research internship in the DRA department, please email us at wcpss-data-accountability@wcpss.net.

    B. Getting Started 

    Before you consider submitting an Application to Conduct Research in WCPSS (“application”), please review Board Policy 5230 for the definition of “research” and the conditions under which requests may be approved. Is your project research? Does it meet one or more criteria for approval?

    We also encourage you to identify publicly available datasets that you might use to formulate or answer your research questions. In particular, we encourage prospective external researchers to explore the aggregate data available on the WCPSS District Facts page and, for statewide information, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction

    Finally, we provide links below to non-WCPSS data sources that are specific to education research or are more general and used by researchers across the social sciences. These data are readily available for download and can be loaded into free software programs (e.g., R, Python, etc.). By using these datasets or others like them, you are likely to avoid the inevitable challenges associated with conducting original data collection (e.g., recruitment, obtaining participant consent, tracking down unresponsive participants, etc.).


    If, after reviewing these options, you still decide to submit an application to WCPSS, you will have the opportunity to identify the research pathway appropriate for your project and make your case for using WCPSS data. In particular, you should describe why data from the WCPSS District Facts, NCDPI accountability datasets and reports, and the publicly available datasets listed above are inadequate for the purposes of your research project. Finally, you should attach supplementary materials to the application form, such as parent or student consent forms if conducting original data collection. If your application is approved, you may also be required to abide by a Data Security and Confidentiality Agreement. 

    Note that we do not review incomplete applications. An example of an incomplete application is one that proposes data collection but does not include the data collection instruments (e.g., surveys, focus group protocols, etc.). Please email us at wcpss-data-accountability@wcpss.net if you have questions about the application process. The DRA Research Review Committee meets during the last week of each month except in December due to the holidays. Applications received in December and January are reviewed in the January meeting.