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Midwest Achievement Gap Research Alliance

Download the alliance’s overview handout [136 KB PDF icon ]

Partnership Facilitator

Kyle Fagan

Research Liaison

Jameela Conway-Turner

Partnership Objective

Many Black students excel academically and draw on resources such as supportive peers and teachers, as well as strong family ties. However, along their path to educational success, Black students face many hurdles that can prevent them from reaching their full potential. Research shows that Black students are less likely than their peers to have access to high-level mathematics and science courses, more likely to face harsher school discipline, and more likely to attend schools with higher concentrations of inexperienced teachers. These inequities in learning opportunities and environments have been described as opportunity gaps, educational debt, and achievement gaps.

The REL Midwest Achievement Gap Research Alliance (MAGRA) leverages data from state education agencies and other key stakeholders to increase the region’s capacity to access, conduct, interpret, and make sense of achievement gap research and to support the use of this research in state and local decisionmaking to significantly and meaningfully improve opportunities for Black students. MAGRA’s primary focus is addressing educational outcomes for Black students in Wisconsin. In addition, a community of practice connects key stakeholders across the region and is an active partner in the research process.

Wisconsin’s overall high school graduation rate ranks among the top in the nation, according to the National Center for Education Statistics 2015 Condition of Education report. However, the gap in scores between White and Black students on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress was the widest in the country. To address this disparity, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is prioritizing improving educational outcomes among Black students.


  • Tony Chambers, Wisconsin Collaborative Education Research Network
  • Andreal Davis, Wisconsin Response to Intervention Center
  • Allison DeGraaf, Kennedy Elementary School, School District of Janesville
  • Carl Frederick, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
  • Eric Grodsky, Wisconsin Center for Education Research
  • Madeline Hafner, MSAN Consortium
  • Julia Hartwig, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
  • Kurt Kiefer, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
  • Brad Saron, Sun Prairie Area School District
  • Seena Makeeba Skelton, Midwest and Plains Equity Assistance Center
  • Chrishirella Sutton, Racine Unified School District
  • Karen Wendorf-Heldt, Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA) 9
  • Jonas Zuckerman, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction

Training, Coaching, and Technical Support Projects

Racine Unified School District Coaching on Equity Foundational Factors

In partnership with the Wisconsin Urban Leadership Institute and Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, REL Midwest is providing in-depth coaching and consultation to staff from the Racine Unified School District on the foundational factors necessary for establishing educational equity identified in the first-year evaluation of the Wisconsin Urban Leadership Institute. This project aims to work with district leaders to identify problems of practice and understand the root causes related to the recruitment and retention of a diverse teaching workforce; develop logic models that use research to guide the design, selection, and implementation of evidence-based approaches; and move through a continuous improvement cycle to implement and evaluate the fidelity, effectiveness, and sustainability of implemented practices over time.

Madison Metropolitan School District Training With High Hopes and Higher Education: Honoring Black Students’ Aspirations Documentary

REL Midwest is conducting a training with staff at Madison Metropolitan School District to highlight and share research-based strategies for encouraging postsecondary education opportunities to educators working with Black students. This training session features the REL Midwest documentary High Hopes and Higher Education: Honoring Black Students’ Aspirations and interactive activities to allow participants to work individually and collaboratively. In the training, participants reflect, discuss, and develop action plans on their schools’ capacity and readiness to implement the strategies highlighted in the documentary.

Culturally Responsive Instruction Professional Development Coaching With Evanston/Skokie School District 65

REL Midwest is providing in-depth coaching and consultation to district leaders in Evanston and Skokie, Illinois. Evanston/Skokie School District 65 is providing educators with professional development related to culturally responsive instruction as a way to improve outcomes for students of color and students with disabilities. REL Midwest is working with district leaders to develop a logic model for the professional development approach to identify evidence-based practices, ensure fidelity of implementation, and determine measurement points for evaluation.

Reducing Disparities in Student Discipline Coaching With the Minnesota Department of Human Rights

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) identified 43 districts and charter schools that suspend or expel students of color or students in special education programs at a higher rate than their peers. Most of these districts and charter schools entered formal agreements with MDHR and developed plans to meet the agreements’ requirements. Although similarities exist across the plans, the differences challenge MDHR’s ability to identify best practices and draw inferences on the effectiveness of the plans. In this project, REL Midwest is providing in-depth coaching and consultation to help MDHR provide formative feedback to participating districts and charter schools and identify the elements of the plans that are most associated with reducing disparities and improving outcomes.

School Board Administrator Equity Training

REL Midwest worked with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and partner organizations to train school board members on understanding and applying research to increase educational outcomes among Black students. MAGRA members requested this training project to support stakeholders in making evidence-informed decisions and highlight the interventions identified in REL Midwest’s systematic literature review. The training materials were designed to increase school board members’ knowledge and skills about how to use available research to improve educational outcomes among Black students. A recording and slide deck from the training are available online.

Madison Metropolitan School District Environmental Scan of Literacy Interventions

REL Midwest partnered with the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), a member of MAGRA, on in-depth coaching and consultation to conduct an environmental scan of programs and interventions used by MMSD’s 48 schools to support K–12 literacy development. District leaders requested coaching to better understand what literacy interventions are being used, how they are being targeted toward students, and how they are being implemented and supported. MMSD plans to use the results of this scan as an important first step in developing stronger policies and program guidance to support students’ literacy skills overall and address racial literacy gaps in particular. The following coaching materials are available for download:

Environmental Scan on Closing the Black-White Achievement Gap

REL Midwest provided in-depth coaching and consultation to support the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s continued efforts to close the achievement gap between the state’s Black and White students. REL Midwest’s environmental scan included state and district profiles outlining existing policies, programs, and practices aimed at closing the achievement gap. REL Midwest also created an infographic that details the process for completing an environmental scan.

Works in Progress

Determining the Effect of Discipline Reform Plans on Student Suspensions and Expulsions in Minnesota

In 2017, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights determined that 43 school districts and charter networks in the state violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act by suspending and expelling Black and Native American students and students in special education programs at high rates. These districts and charter networks were required to create a plan to reform disciplinary practices in their organizations. This REL Midwest study will help the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and the Minnesota Department of Education better understand the effectiveness of this approach.

Initial Findings on a Culturally Responsive Practices Professional Development Training Program in Wisconsin

Improving educational outcomes among Black students is a priority in Wisconsin, and stakeholders formed the Midwest Achievement Gap Research Alliance to address this issue. One topic that the alliance prioritized is understanding how culturally responsive practices are related to student and school outcomes. This study will examine a culturally responsive practices professional development training program to determine whether completing this program is related to school outcomes.


Evidence-Supported Interventions Associated with Black Students’ Education Outcomes: Findings from a Systematic Review of Research

REL Midwest conducted a systematic review of research on interventions that may improve academic outcomes for Black students. A related infographic [347 KB PDF icon ] highlights the study’s key findings.

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