New directions in portfolio reviews

 
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A funder portfolio review is an evaluation of a set of programs or activities that make up a portfolio, typically defined by a sector or a place. Portfolio reviews take many forms, but the purpose is generally the same: to take stock and reflect on activities or investments in a particular area of programming. They are often requested by funders to answer straightforward questions about what’s working and what isn’t working in order to figure out what to do next. Portfolio reviews typically include a desk review of program documents and often include other data collection such as interviews and focus groups. Because funders use portfolio reviews to make strategic decisions about programmatic directions and resource allocations, innovations in this type of evaluation can bring large benefits. In this post, we briefly introduce two new directions for portfolio reviews.

Addressing bias in our systematic review of STEM research

 
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Research is a conversation. Researchers attempt to answer a study question, and then other groups of researchers support, contest or expand on those findings. Over the years, this process produces a body of evidence representing the scientific community’s conversation on a given topic. But what did those research teams have to say? What did they determine is the answer to the question? How did they arrive at that answer?

That is where a systematic review enters the conversation. We know, for example, that a significant amount of research exists exploring gender differences in mathematics achievement, but it is unclear how girls’ math identity contributes to or ameliorates this disparity. In response, we are conducting a systematic review to understand how improving girls’ math identity supports their participation, engagement and achievement in math. This review will assist us in moving from a more subjective understanding of the issue to a rigorous and unbiased assessment of the current evidence to date.

Developing a systematic review protocol requires thoughtful decision-making about how to reduce various forms of bias at each stage of the process. Below we discuss some of the decisions made to reduce bias in our systematic review exploring girls’ math identity, in the hopes that it will inform others undertaking similar efforts.

Investigating STEM and the importance of girls’ math identity

 
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Despite significant progress in closing the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and math (also known as STEM), inequities in girls’ and women’s participation and persistence in math and across STEM education and careers remain. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women make up nearly half of the U.S. workforce but just 26 percent of STEM workers, as of 2011. Within STEM, the largest number of new jobs are in the computer science and math fields; however, the gender gap in these careers has increased rather than decreased, with female representation decreasing since 2000.

While much of the current STEM research has focused heavily on the barriers and reasons why there aren’t more girls or women in STEM-related fields, here we argue that future research must focus on how to design and develop effective approaches, practices, situations, tools, and materials to foster girls’ interest and engagement.