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Convening Researchers and Practitioners From Across the Country to Explore Issues in Postsecondary Readiness and Success

By David Stevens and Michelle Hodara | September 12, 2018

David Stevens
David Stevens a manager of research, evaluation, and assessment at Education Northwest, has over 10 years of experience helping practitioners and policymakers use data in their improvement efforts.

What postsecondary education policies, practices, or interventions are emerging in different regions and cities?

This was one of several questions participants sought to address at a recent REL Northwest (funded by IES) and National Network of Education Research-Practice Partnerships (NNERPP)—convening the organizations' first joint event.

The meeting preceded the annual NNERPP members' conference, which was held in Portland, Oregon, near REL Northwest's offices; given the geographic proximity, both organizations thought holding a joint convening before the larger event would be a good opportunity for all involved parties. The convening also served as an in-person meeting for the Postsecondary Readiness and Success cross-REL working group, which REL Northwest leads.

The joint convening drew more than 30 participants, representing six states, nine RELs, and six research-practice partnerships:

Michelle Hodara
Michelle Hodara is a content expert on postsecondary readiness, and leads research and evaluation projects on programs, policies and practices that improve students' college access and success.
  • Baltimore Education Research Consortium
  • Houston Education Research Consortium
  • Los Angeles Education Research Institute
  • Research Alliance for New York City Schools
  • Stanford-San Francisco Unified School District Partnership
  • University of Chicago Consortium on School Research

A representative from the College Completion Network, an IES grantee focused on the problem of low college completion rates, also attended the event.

The convening provided the assembled practitioners and researchers an opportunity to discuss and document current postsecondary education challenges and needs, along with promising practices for addressing these challenges emerging across the country.

Specifically, participants created a scan of current issues in postsecondary readiness and success and developed practitioner-oriented problem statements, which will serve as a foundation for future applied research work.

Building From Common Ground

Optimizing postsecondary readiness and success is not unique to any city or region. Rather, researchers and practitioners across the country are committed to this goal.

They often tackle issues they see in their own area, however; having a local focus is important, but it can also make it challenging to recognize that stakeholders nationwide are facing many similar practice and policy issues.

The REL Northwest-NNERPP joint convening arose out of this realization and the desire to build collective knowledge.

In a similar vein, the aforementioned research-practice partnerships have postsecondary research agendas that are collectively building a knowledge base but have not yet specified the most critical issues facing educators and policymakers across their respective communities.

By intentionally seeking practitioners' and researchers' perspectives and grounding the discussion in participants' deep knowledge of local contexts, the convening took the first steps toward building a collective knowledge base.

Doing so will further increase the capacity of researchers in REL and non-REL research-practice partnerships to develop practitioner- and policy-relevant projects for supporting postsecondary readiness and success.

It will also support a key goal of the overall REL program: Building the capacity to understand stakeholder priorities, place ongoing work in a national context, and identify opportunities for collaboration across regions.

Looking Ahead

Going forward, participants will be invited to do further work to create a more formal and detailed scan of practitioner-identified challenges in postsecondary readiness and success.

In addition, REL Northwest will explore the possibility of co-authoring a journal article or white paper with representatives from the research-practice partnerships that describes the perspectives and observations identified at the event.

Ultimately, the participants hope to use the work they did at the convening to build on all the work that is already happening to increase postsecondary readiness and success for students in their city or region—and across the country.