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Midwest Alliance to Improve Knowledge Utilization


Jill Bowdon

Partnership Objective

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) calls on practitioners and policymakers in education to use rigorous evidence when deciding how to invest their resources. As a result, many education stakeholders across the Midwest are grappling with how to successfully equip state and local education agency staff to access, use, and disseminate research results.

The REL Midwest Alliance to Improve Knowledge Utilization (MAIKU) examines and shares effective strategies for increasing the uptake of research results by state and local education agency staff. MAIKU focuses on knowledge utilization in a variety of states across the Midwest region.

Educators based in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin are working with REL Midwest on projects in this area, ranging from research methods trainings to coaching on developing surveys and identifying evidence-based practices.


  • Jon Bales, Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators
  • Heather Boughton, Ohio Department of Education
  • Kirk Hamilton, Buckeye Association of School Administrators

Training, Coaching, and Technical Support Projects

Understanding District Use of Ohio’s Evidence-Based Interventions to Support Students with Reading Improvement and Monitoring Plans

Ohio legislation requires that districts establish a reading improvement and monitoring plan for every student identified as needing reading support in kindergarten through grade 3. Each plan must connect students with strategies that have evidence of prior success at improving reading outcomes for struggling readers. What are districts’ experiences with the process for creating these plans? What supports do they need to connect students with evidence-based interventions to help them become proficient readers? With help from researchers at REL Midwest, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) aims to understand districts’ experiences with the reading improvement and monitoring plans and ODE’s current resources for districts. REL Midwest is providing coaching support to ODE staff as they design and conduct a qualitative study to gather perspectives and feedback from districts to drive improvements to the reading improvement and monitoring plan process.

In-Depth ESSA Tiers of Evidence Training Series for Michigan Data Hub

Building on a previous training on evidence-based practices for the Michigan Data Hub, REL Midwest offered a training series to provide regional staff with a deeper understanding of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) tiers of evidence. Sessions covered an overview of the ESSA tiers, how the ESSA tiers align with the What Works Clearinghouse design standards, a deep dive into ESSA tiers 3 and 4, and how to align evidence with context. By developing a deeper understanding of the ESSA criteria, stakeholders at the Michigan Data Hub are better positioned to assist district and school leaders and integrate these evidentiary requirements into their work. The slides and handouts from each session are available online.

Illinois State Board of Education Research and Evaluation Office Coaching

REL Midwest is partnering with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) Office of Research and Evaluation on a coaching project supporting the execution of ISBE’s research agenda. ISBE requested support from REL Midwest to provide methodological expertise, content-area expertise, quality assurance, and thought partnership while pursuing its research agenda.

Examining the Literacy Planning Processes of Ohio Districts

REL Midwest partnered with the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) on a coaching project around the district literacy planning process. The project stemmed from Ohio’s requirement for identified districts to submit a reading achievement plan that outlines their strategies to address literacy deficits within their schools. ODE requested support from REL Midwest to better understand how Ohio districts are developing these plans and the supports they need to be successful. Through this project, REL Midwest worked with ODE to learn more about district experiences and increase the department’s capacity to support districts in this area.

Evidence-Based Practices Training for Michigan Data Hub

The Michigan Data Hub (MIDataHub) is an effort to connect data systems across and within 446 Michigan school districts that represent more than 1 million students. MIDataHub seeks to make school-based data more usable for educators and families while reducing inefficiencies and improving accuracy. REL Midwest facilitated a training session to help MIDataHub staff learn about the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) tiers of evidence, the What Works Clearinghouse and other clearinghouses, and how the clearinghouses’ evidence ratings align with ESSA.

Lakes Country Service Cooperative Research Methods Training

REL Midwest provided a three-hour training on research methods for Lakes Country Service Cooperative (LCSC) staff in Minnesota. The session aimed to improve LCSC staff members’ understanding of research methods as they make programmatic decisions and provide training to educators on developing curriculum and using evidence-based practices and programs.

Wisconsin Technical College System Research Methods Training

REL Midwest provided two training sessions for institutional researchers from the 16 colleges in the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) to build participants’ data literacy, knowledge of research methods, and capacity to use data and research to improve their programs. The project includes two sessions: The first session provided an overview of research methodology, and the second session covered strategies for communicating research findings. The sessions were tailored to align to the data sources and career and technical education programming of interest to WTCS participants. The slide decks and handouts from each session are available online.

Research Methods Training for Illinois State Board of Education Staff

REL Midwest facilitated a five-part, in-person training series to build staff capacity at the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to understand and apply research to support ISBE’s continued efforts to focus on evidence-based decision making. The trainings built on a previous series of trainings for Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction staff and were tailored for ISBE. The slides, activities, and handouts from each session are available online.

Leadership Coaching for Organizational Learning

State education agencies face changing expectations from state and federal legislation, as well as public pressure to improve education for all students. In order to cope with this shifting landscape and improve student achievement, these agencies need to operate more strategically and efficiently. To help states navigate this transition, REL Midwest offers leadership coaching for state education agencies, including projects with the Ohio and Michigan departments of education. A study guide based on REL Midwest’s coaching project is available online.

Developing Plans for a Teacher Exit Survey

As part of the Ohio Department of Education’s (ODE’s) work to understand teacher mobility and improve retention, ODE wanted to provide districts with an instrument to collect data from teachers who are leaving their teaching positions. In December 2017, REL Midwest conducted a workshop on the topic that helped ODE staff clarify the project’s goals, create a timeline for survey development, and begin to define the survey content and administration guidance. Then, REL Midwest supported ODE staff as they developed the survey and planned for its use by districts through a nine-phase coaching project.

Evidence-based Intervention Clearinghouse Coaching

While states previously provided direct support to low-performing schools, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) now places more responsibility on districts by requiring them to select evidence-based interventions to help these schools improve. But how will districts know which programs meet this standard? With help from researchers at REL Midwest, ODE is working to fill this knowledge gap by creating tools to help districts identify evidence-based interventions. REL Midwest provided coaching to ODE staff and developed a crosswalk that allows practitioners and policymakers to determine the ESSA tier of evidence achieved by an intervention if it meets a particular research clearinghouse’s evidence standard.

Research Methods Training for Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Staff

REL Midwest provided a six-part training series for staff at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI). The sessions covered the fundamentals of research and evidence; the use and development of data collection methods, including surveys, focus groups, and rubrics; basic statistics; and communication of research findings. Workshop participants came from a variety of divisions across the department. The workshop content was developed in collaboration with DPI staff to ensure that the presentations and activities related to their work. The slides, activities, and handouts from each session are available online.

Costing Out an Appropriate Education for Ohio’s Gifted and Talented Students

REL Midwest partnered with ODE to develop and conduct a one-day, in-person training on best practices surrounding educational cost analysis. This helped inform the design of a study to measure the cost of providing adequate services for Ohio’s gifted and talented children. Training participants included ODE research staff, gifted and talented program leadership, and external researchers supporting ODE’s analysis.

Evidence Reviews

At stakeholders’ request, REL Midwest reviews research studies to assess levels of evidence using the nonregulatory Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) standards. The following review memos are available for download:

In addition, REL Midwest partnered with the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) in 2019/20 to examine studies of principal leadership programs and practices as part of ODE’s efforts to expand its evidence-based clearinghouse.