Doing Research with MSDE

​The MSDE Office of Research and Strategic Data Use is tasked with creating and implementing a research agenda to benefit Maryland’s students; assessing MSDE’s progress toward its mission; and supporting data-use and data-driven decision-making throughout the state. The Office will consider proposals from independent, non-partisan researchers interested in conducting work in Maryland. Proposals are particularly welcome (but not limited to) the areas identified in our research agenda. All proposals will be reviewed by the Office of Research and Strategic Data Use, as well as MSDE’s intra-agency External Research Review Committee (ERRC).

Enrollment, attendance, graduation rate, assessment results, and other supporting data at the school, county, and state level is located on the Maryland Report Card website, and can be downloaded directly from that page

The following information applies to both:

  1. Studies that require access to state data (researcher is requesting student, staff, or other non-public data)

  2. Studies that do not require access to state data (researcher is requesting MSDE assistance to collect data and/or support the research)

1. Studies that require access to state data (researcher is requesting student, staff, or other non-public data)

The following guidelines describe the procedure for submitting a research proposal that requires student, staff, or other non-public data for review, and the proposal review process. All external researchers who seek access to State resources (including data and personnel) must submit a proposal. This includes but is not limited to students, academics, research organizations, or other non-profit groups wishing to collect or use data for a purpose that is not part of regular State business.

Note that any studies that require data from only a single district must be approved by that district. If such a study does not require data beyond what is collected by that district, please refer to that district’s data request process. If the study requires additional state data, the request must first be approved by the appropriate district.

A. Timeline and Submission

To ensure that MSDE staff are not unduly burdened, and to ensure a distribution of project types, proposals may be submitted at any time but they will be reviewed by MSDE four times per year. The review process will begin on the following dates:

November 6, 2017
February 5, 2018
May 7, 2018
August 6, 2018
November 5, 2018

All proposals must be received prior to 12:00am on the date listed to be considered. Researchers should expect a decision on their proposal approximately three weeks after the date listed.

Proposals should be emailed to the Office of Research and Strategic Data Use.

If the proposal is for a multi-year study, an annual update consisting of a summary of findings or other progress-to-date is required.

B. Review Process

Proposals will be reviewed on relevance, quality, and resource burden. A relevant proposal has outcomes that are directly related to the mission of MSDE and has a benefit to Maryland’s students, as opposed to using Maryland as a laboratory for work that can be conducted elsewhere. A relevant proposal also includes a plan for communicating the findings to MSDE and other stakeholders. A high-quality proposal demonstrates scientific rigor in research design. A proposal with minimal resource burden does not put a strain on MSDE or school system resources that would negatively impact the work of any agency.

Because MSDE is committed to supporting high-quality research that furthers its goals, if a proposal details promising research but some elements are missing or unclear, the researcher may be invited to resubmit with changes.

All proposals will be reviewed by the Office of Research and Strategic Data Use, and MSDE’s intra-agency External Research Review Committee (ERRC).

C. Proposal Components

To be considered, proposals must include:

  • Goals of the research, including how the proposed research aligns with MSDE’s mission and/or benefits Maryland’s students;
  • Clear, well-formed research questions of educational importance;
  • Rigorous methods that are appropriate to the research questions;
  • Additional research design elements, including the theoretical framework, hypotheses, sample selection, instruments, and analysis plan;
  • A description of the requested data elements;
  • How results will be published, disseminated, or otherwise communicated (especially to MSDE and its stakeholders);
  • A list of researcher(s), with the lead researcher(s) indicated, including names, titles, and affiliations;
  • A timeline of the proposed work;
  • Statement of how the researcher will eliminate or minimize any risks or burdens to students and employees, including how the researcher will maintain data security; and
  • Appropriate IRB documents, or a statement of why the proposed research is exempt.


Note that MSDE charges for direct cost of data extraction in excess of two hours. MSDE will provide the researcher with an estimate of these costs if the proposal is approved.

D. Principles for High-Quality Proposals

MSDE recognizes the value of high-quality research for improving education and serving the needs of Maryland’s public-school students. Because of limited resources, MSDE must prioritize student learning and achievement., and all research must be aligned with the State’s mission and vision. External researchers must demonstrate that research conducted in Maryland, or with its resources, contributes to achieving the State’s goals.

MSDE particularly encourages proposals in areas that align to its research agenda, but proposals on all topics are welcome as long as they contain the required components.

The State also has legal and moral obligations that require oversight of research activities conducted with public resources. These obligations include:

  • Protecting students and employees from risk of harm, violations of rights, and losses of privacy;

  • Protecting the educational process from unwarranted distractions and interruptions; and

  • Protecting public resources, including data, from misappropriation for private or unjustified use.


Although MSDE does not function as an institutional review board (IRB), we must require that all research within the State adhere to federal regulations regarding family and pupil rights, privacy, and protection. In addition, we must require that all research within the district adhere to federal guidelines regarding the protection of human subjects.

Researchers should also be familiar with the Code of Ethics of the American Educational Research Association especially those principals that apply to protecting the rights of research participants.

E. Memorandum of Understanding

All approved proposals require a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the researchers and MSDE. The MOU establishes guidelines for appropriate use of the data and outlines the Scope of Work of the project, which will be drawn from the original proposal. The MOU must also contains assurances that all research activities are in compliance with existing legal and ethical codes, that the research will not differ significantly from the proposal without explicit permission from MSDE, and that MSDE will be provided with findings prior to publication.

2. Studies that do not require access to state data (researcher is requesting MSDE assistance to collect data and/or support the research)

Some studies do not require access to state data, but the researcher is requesting MSDE assistance to collect data and/or otherwise support the research.

Although MSDE understands that there are cases in which neither our support nor permission is required, the agency requests that MSDE be notified of the work.

A. Timeline and Submission

Requesters may submit at any time, and should expect to receive a decision within approximately four weeks. Requests should be emailed to dara.shaw@maryland.gov.

B. Review Process

Requests for support will be reviewed on largely the same criteria as described for data requests.

All proposals will be reviewed by the Office of Research and Strategic Data Use, and representatives of the relevant office within MSDE.

C. Request Components

Requests should consist of an overview of the project or “concept paper” that contains, as applicable, the elements of the following list.

  • Description and goals of the work, including how it aligns with MSDE’s mission;
  • Clear, well-formed research questions of educational importance;
  • Research methods that are appropriate to the research questions;*
  • Additional research design elements, including the theoretical framework, hypotheses, sample selection, instruments, and analysis plan;*
  • How results will be published, disseminated, or otherwise communicated (especially to MSDE);
  • A list of researcher(s), including names, titles, and affiliations;
  • A timeline of the proposed work; and
  • Statement of how the researcher will eliminate or minimize any risks or burdens to students and employees, including how the researcher will maintain data security.


*MSDE understands that requests for MSDE’s assistance/support are often for projects that are descriptive or qualitative in nature, and thus some of these elements do not apply.


Contact Information:
Dara Zeehandelaar Shaw, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Office of Research and Strategic Data Use
Maryland State Department of Education
200 W. Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201-2595
410-767-0473
dara.shaw@maryland.gov