Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Lost in a Giant Database: The Potentials and Pitfalls of Secondary Analysis for Deaf Education

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Lost in a Giant Database: The Potentials and Pitfalls of Secondary Analysis for Deaf Education

Article excerpt

Secondary research or archival research is the analysis of data collected by another person or agency. It offers several advantages, including reduced cost, a less time-consuming research process, and access to larger populations and thus greater generalizability. At the same time, it offers several limitations, including the fact that the original design of the study may not be adaptable to the purposes of the archival researcher. This paper describes an attempt to replicate the Kluwin and Stinson (1993) longitudinal study of the effects of mainstreaming deaf high school students by using the National Educational Longitudinal Study data set. The authors report several limitations to the secondary analysis of this kind of public data, including the need for better definitions of handicapping conditions in these large-scale studies, the inclusion of larger numbers of low-incidence handicaps, and the need for variables of use to researchers in specific handicaps.

Secondary research, or as it is sometimes called, archival research, is the analysis of data collected by another person or agency (Pavalko & Clipp, 1993; Stewart & Kamins, 1993). Library research-to use an old term-used to mean going through the stacks of a library and finding information from others. This was considered a form of secondary research because the raw data was not accessible to the reader. Before the advent of computerized databases, it was only possible to do analyses of extant information by digging through physical collections in newspaper archives or museums if one wanted to look at original material without actually collecting it. This was generally referred to as archival research because someone else had to establish and maintain the archive. With the advent of computerized databases in a wide range of forms, it became possible to look at original material-sometimes raw data-in a new or interesting way.

Why Collect Data if It Is Already There?

There are at least three good reasons to make use of existing information (Pavalko & Clipp, 1993; Stewart & Kamins, 1993):

* Cost-effectiveness

* Economy of time

* Access to larger populations and thus greater generalizability

There are several categories of cost in the data collection process. Generally the greatest part of a research project is devoted to planning and executing the data collection. The advantage of using already available data sets is that the data collection and recording costs have already been done. The effort required in secondary analysis of existing data sets is to restructure the data for analysis and to do the analysis. Because the data already exists, much time is saved in collecting it.

What Is Available for Secondary Analysis?

Federal Sources

Beginning with the establishment of the Library of Congress and Thomas Jefferson's sending Lewis and Clark out to map the recently acquired Louisiana Purchase, the federal government has been collecting useful information. The two most clearly useful websites are the Department of Education (www.ed.gov) and the Census Bureau (www.censcus.gov). The Department of Education website is both a source of specific information as well as a portal to other sites. The Census Bureau website is useful because it provides, down to the county level, a number of statistics that either represent contextual information for understanding how a school district operates or contain variables that can be used to adjust for between-county differences in assessing school district performance.

Other useful sources of information about children and educational outcomes can be found for the Administration for Children and Families (www.acf.dhhs.gov), the Department of Health and Human Services (www.os.dhhs.gov), and the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics (www.childstats.gov).

University Resources

Less accessible because they are neither required by law, nor specifically funded, nor advertised well, are university data sources such as those supplied at the moment by Michigan State University in conjunction with the Department of Education. …

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