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The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Nutrition Service (FNS) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) promotes healthy food choices, such as fresh fruits and vegetables. Photo by USDA. | Download this photo.

K-State evaluation tool sets national standard

Report praises innovative system for streamlining data management

March 23, 2018


MANHATTAN, Kan. — Educators and instructors working to help low-income families make better dietary and lifestyle choices are leveraging a data-management tool developed at Kansas State University.

On March 12, the nonprofit Bipartisan Policy Center’s SNAP Task Force, which is chaired by a former U.S. Senate majority leader and two former Secretaries of Agriculture, issued an assessment of one of the nation’s largest public-assistance systems, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

In the report, “Leading with Nutrition: Leveraging Federal Programs for Better Health,” K-State’s Program Evaluation And Reporting System, or PEARS, is commended for helping educators and nutrition counselors make efficient use of program data. “SNAP-Ed administrators can spend less time agonizing over data,” the report states, “and more time identifying and implementing successful interventions.”

SNAP is the federal government’s key effort for helping feed poverty-stricken families. A five-year study showed 13 percent of U.S. population accesses this assistance, including 15.8 percent of all households in rural areas, 15.3 percent of households in small towns, and 12.6 percent of households in metropolitan areas. SNAP-Ed is the related, integrated set of efforts aimed at educating SNAP recipients. Through demonstrations, workshops, and even online and social media programs, SNAP recipients gain knowledge on topics ranging from making healthier grocery-store choices to recipes and cooking classes that help household leaders serve tasty, nutritious and inexpensive meals to their families.

In Kansas, SNAP-Ed is administered through K-State Research and Extension.

The PEARS project came from the Kansas SNAP-Ed program working on evaluation support with K-State Research and Extension and the Office of Education Innovation and Evaluation in K-State’s College of Education. “This led to an opportunity for our team to build an innovative tool to help streamline the process,” said Aaron Schroeder, the office’s assistant director.

PEARS eventually emerged from this cooperative effort as a means to evaluate program data for SNAP-Ed providers out in the field and help them target their efforts in a more efficient, effective way.

While developed at K-State, PEARS is branching out in a big way.

Currently 20 states are officially using the system, Schroeder said, and more states are in the process of evaluating PEARS, or working with the Kansas State University Research Foundation (KSURF) on a license agreement. Several more states are expected to begin using the system soon.

“Before PEARS, every state had its own data-management systems and processes,” Schroeder said. “PEARS is both streamlining and bringing consistency to these efforts. From a taxpayer perspective, any time states collaborate and build and support a single system, that’s far more efficient than everyone working independently and using different data sets.”

SNAP recipients themselves will never have direct contact with PEARS, but they could potentially reap rewards from the system. To borrow a phrase from an old television commercial: PEARS doesn’t make SNAP-Ed programming, but it can make SNAP-Ed programming better.

“I think one of the biggest things that they're looking at now is partnerships,” said Cynthia Shuman, the director of the Office of Educational Innovation and Evaluation. “The system is helping local educators track who they're working with, what they're doing with those groups and how they can improve those partnerships to ultimately improve outcomes.”

SNAP-Ed educators frequently create partnerships between school districts, local food banks and even local farmers’ markets. “It's not just the number of groups you're working with, but how you're working with them and what sort of resources those groups are bringing to the table,” added Shuman.

In Marion County, K-State Research and Extension family and consumer science agent Tristen Cope used PEARS to fine tune a partnership between the local community gardens and the Marion County Food Bank. SNAP-Ed educators provided seeds and plants to the community garden to assist with the production rate. As produce ripened, it was donated to the Marion County Food Bank – but success sometimes has its challenges.

“One of the barriers we saw at the food bank was the lack of storage space for the fresh produce,” Cope said. “After connecting with our partners, we revised our planting schedule and placed the produce on a rotation in order to overcome the barrier. This adaptation was made possible through the reflection process labeled ‘Lessons Learned’ in the PEARS System.”

Because better nutrition choices in the population as a whole can result in fewer health problems and lower health insurance rates, eventually PEARS could have a positive effect on everyone.

“When K-State Research and Extension approached the Office of Educational Innovation and Evaluation to help us collect data for our SNAP-Ed program, we had no idea that we would end up with such a powerful system,” said Paula Peters, Director of the Kansas SNAP-Ed Program. “This system has allowed us to progress with our programming and evaluation in ways that we couldn’t have done without it. And OEIE is so responsive to our always-growing needs. When other states saw what it could do, they wanted it, too.”


NOTE: An earlier version of this article stated that 15.8 percent of SNAP participants across the country lived in rural areas, 15.3 percent lived in small towns and 12.6 percent lived in metropolitan areas, according to the Food Research and Action Center. This version has been updated to clarify that those percentages represent U.S. households in the various areas rather than individual recipients.

Helpful Terms

SNAP: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – This is the safety-net program that ensures food-insecure families don’t have to go hungry. The administrative and legislative DNA of SNAP can be traced back to the very first Food Stamp Program which began in 1939, under then Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace. Today, SNAP is the largest U.S. food program and currently assists more than 40 million individuals per month at an annual cost of $70 billion. At the federal level, SNAP is administered by the Food and Nutrition Service, a unit of the United States Department of Agriculture. While SNAP is funded by the federal government, individual states control the administration and disbursement of those funds.

SNAP-Ed: SNAP Education Program – According to the FNS, "The goal of SNAP-Ed is to improve the likelihood that persons eligible for SNAP will make healthy food and lifestyle choices that prevent obesity.” In the state of Kansas, SNAP-Ed is administered by K-State Research and Extension.

PEARS: Program Evaluation And Reporting System – a web-based data management system designed by K-State’s Office of Educational Innovation and Evaluation. The stated mission of OEIE is “to be an innovator in the field of evaluation, providing unparalleled client-focused services to better position our clients to maximize educational and research program impacts.” PEARS was designed by OEIE to help SNAP-Ed nutrition education professionals and extension administrators manage program data and demonstrate impact of various education and outreach efforts.

SNAP Task Force – a group of 10 members and three co-chairs tasked with the mission of exploring ways that SNAP could improve the efficiency and efficacy of their promotion efforts, especially when it comes to promoting healthier choices to those living in poverty.

Bipartisan Policy Center – a nonprofit organization that strives to find common ground between America’s major political parties, “to promote health, security, and opportunity for all Americans.”



Cynthia Shuman


Leading with Nutrition: Leveraging Federal Programs for Better Health

Written by

Randall Kowalik
(785) 532–0994
K-State Research and Extension

At a glance

The Program Evaluation And Reporting System, or PEARS, has been commended in a national report for helping community educators and nutrition counselors make efficient use of program data. This leads to more efficient, better-focused efforts that bring measurable, positive results.

Notable quote

“It's not just the number of groups you're working with, but how you're working with them and what sort of resources those groups are bringing to the table.”

— Cynthia Shuman, Director, Office of Educational Innovation and Evaluation, Kansas State University


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K‑State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the wellbeing of Kansans.
Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county extension offices, experiment fields, area extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K‑State campus in Manhattan.