Westat’s Darcy Pietryka on the Art and Science of Compliance Monitoring

Darcy Pietryka
Darcy Pietryka discusses the keys to successful compliance monitoring and how technical assistance complements and improves compliance.

Compliance monitoring is a specialized skill that requires in-depth knowledge and experience. It also depends on trust and relationship building. Darcy Pietryka, a Westat Senior Study Director and technical assistance provider, discusses the keys to successful compliance monitoring for grantees in the education sphere and how technical assistance complements and improves compliance. Ms. Pietryka has more than 20 years of experience leading and working with states, districts, educator preparation programs, and the U.S. Department of Education on complex, large-scale monitoring and technical assistance projects.

Q. Why is grantee compliance monitoring so critical?

A. Compliance monitoring helps grantees achieve their goals, while complying with statutes and regulations, and, therefore, pushes good policy and practices forward for all learners. Our Westat Education Studies team can ensure grantees have the understanding, guidance, and support to successfully implement their grant. By helping them understand program requirements, regulations, and policies, they can avoid missteps and course correct, if necessary. Equally important is our work to identify and support grantees with technical assistance. Together, these activities build grantees’ capacity to achieve program goals and objectives, which means success for grantees, success for the U.S. Department of Education, and most importantly, success for all learners.

Q. Why is technical assistance important for grantees?

A. Technical assistance (TA) helps grantees successfully complete their grant programs; good TA also helps them build capacity. Compliance monitoring and TA are inextricably linked. Through monitoring, we can learn what’s working and what needs more attention. We can then custom design and deliver evidence-based TA that supports the cycle of grant implementation and grantees’ continuous improvement.

Q. You’ve mentioned that compliance monitoring requires more than knowledge and expertise. What do you mean by that?

A. Compliance monitoring is also about relationships—at all levels—our relationship with grantees and with the U.S. Department of Education, as well as grantees’ relationships within their organization and with the communities they serve. Of course, because monitoring is a compliance exercise, it can make grantees anxious. We work hard to let them know that we’re a team—Westat, the Department of Education, and the grantees—and that we’re there to help them succeed. We do both on-site and virtual monitoring—the latter even more relevant during this pandemic. We see monitoring as a support and not a “gotcha,” so a lot of our effort goes to building relationships and helping grantees improve. We might suggest how they can do something differently or recommend a tool to help them. In many ways, it’s about building a good rapport.

Q. What is Westat’s approach to compliance monitoring?

A. Our monitoring and technical assistance is grounded in our theory of action—design a comprehensive grants management system that includes a monitoring system to assess grantee progress and continuously deliver evidence-based TA to support them. We have enormous experience doing this. We’ve worked with the Department of Education for decades, and our people and our methods are tested and trusted.

Q. What are some examples of Westat’s experience in compliance monitoring?

A. There are many relevant examples, but here are a few important ones. Westat provided compliance monitoring and technical and policy assistance to support all cohorts of the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) established under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). We helped grantees navigate the nuances and complexities of the program while also improving their own programs. Most importantly, we developed relationships with the grantees that undergirded a strong system of support.

We also worked with the U.S. Department of Education to ensure states were spending their Title II, Part A funds properly—and to help them think about finding evidence-based ways to allocate money to best support their educators and students. As part of that, we also conduct annual surveys of local and state education agencies to support national- and state-level estimates of how school districts use Title II, Part A funds. Our focus is on funds used to support effective instruction, equitable hiring and retention of effective teachers, and development of support systems for teachers, principals, and other school leaders.

We’ve also monitored the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF) and Race to the Top (RTT) programs. Among the goals of SFSF was to retain teachers and mitigate increases in college tuition. RTT was designed to push states to make sweeping systemic reforms that would lead to improved student achievement and increased graduation and college enrollment. We made monitoring visits with Department of Education staff and drafted reports highlighting findings. These reviews involved Westat’s collection and analysis of a broad range of SFSF program data from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico for SFSF and data from 19 grantees for RTT.

We see monitoring as a support and not a “gotcha,” so a lot of our effort goes to building relationships and helping grantees improve.

- Darcy Pietryka, a Westat Senior Study Director

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