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Going big to promote racial equity in education: Our expanding Midwest Achievement Gap Research Alliance

Going big to promote racial equity in education

By Felice Trirogoff
February 25, 2020

Students have big dreams for their futures, but not all students have equal opportunities. Research shows that Black students are less likely than their White and Asian counterparts to have access to high-level courses. Black students also are more likely to experience harsher discipline and attend schools with a higher concentration of inexperienced teachers.

In 2020, our Midwest Achievement Gap Research Alliance (MAGRA) is going big to address such inequities and improve success for Black students. The Wisconsin-based alliance is expanding its efforts into nearby states with similar priorities as well as adding a focus on school discipline—all while continuing to partner with districts to keep the work close to students.

Past work: Identifying practices that support Black student success

Formed in 2017, MAGRA seeks to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for Black students across Wisconsin and the Midwest. The alliance brings together researchers from the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest with representatives from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI), the Midwest and Plains Equity Assistance Center, the Minority Student Achievement Network, the Wisconsin Response to Intervention Center, and several Wisconsin school districts, among others. A community of practice engages similar stakeholders across REL Midwest’s seven-state region.

Past alliance projects have assisted the Wisconsin DPI, districts, and others in identifying and supporting the use of evidence-based practices that lead to meaningful and significant increases in Black students’ educational outcomes. In addition, alliance work has focused on promoting the use of culturally responsive practices to ensure all students are able to learn in supportive environments. Project highlights include the following:

  • A systematic literature review identified research-supported interventions associated with improved Black student outcomes, and an environmental scan and gap analysis determined how well Wisconsin’s state and local practices align with the research.
  • An environmental scan identified programs that schools in the Madison Metropolitan School District are using to support the development of literacy skills in grades K–12.
  • School board administrator equity training helped Wisconsin school boards understand evidence-based practices to increase Black students’ opportunities and achievement.
  • An ongoing applied research study is examining the outcomes for Wisconsin teachers of participating in a professional development program on culturally responsive practices.
  • Communication tools, such as infographics and documentaries, shared project findings and research and delved into topics of interest.

MAGRA’s work in 2020: Expanding into new states and areas of focus

MAGRA’s past body of work and existing relationships in the region provide a strong foundation on which to grow. New projects underway serve not only Wisconsin but also three new states: Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota. In addition, a new alliance focus explores the intersection among school discipline, race, and student outcomes. Highlights include the following:

  • Illinois: REL Midwest is offering coaching and consultation to assist district leaders in Evanston/Skokie School District 65 in implementing professional development on culturally responsive instruction, with a focus on supporting students of color. The project includes building district capacity to evaluate the professional development offerings’ effectiveness in changing teacher behavior and improving student outcomes.
  • Michigan: Using data from the Ingham Intermediate School District, REL Midwest is conducting an applied research study to examine the association between student characteristics and student suspensions and expulsions, and between teachers’ reported use of restorative practices and student suspensions and expulsions.
  • Minnesota: REL Midwest is offering coaching and consultation to assist the Minnesota Department of Human Rights in providing formative feedback to districts and charter schools that suspended or expelled students of color or students in special education at higher rates than their peers. The coaching will also unpack policies and practices that perpetuate discrimination and discriminatory behavior. A related Just-in-Time study will measure the impact for districts and schools and identify the most promising practices.

Part of REL Midwest’s mission is to help partners move beyond knowing to doing. MAGRA’s expanded scope of work is intended to do just that. Now it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get busy!

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Author Information

Felice Trirogoff Staff Picture

Felice Trirogoff

Communications Specialist | REL Midwest


Beating the odds (2)

Charter Schools (2)

College and Career Readiness (42)

Data Use (32)

Discipline (4)

Early Childhood (31)

Educator Effectiveness (36)

English Learners (10)

Literacy (11)

Math (1)

Online Courses (7)

Research Tools (2)

Rural (14)

Teacher Preparation (24)

Teacher Recruitment (2)

Teacher Retention (2)

Teacher Workforce (14)

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