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The Midwest Alliance to Improve Knowledge Utilization: Supporting states and districts in using research and evidence-based practices

MAIKU in Review

By Mia Mamone
December 14, 2021

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) calls on education leaders, practitioners, and policymakers to use rigorous evidence when deciding how to invest resources. As a result, many education agencies across the Midwest are working to equip staff at the state and local levels with the skills and resources needed to access, use, and disseminate data, research, and evidence-based practices.

In 2018, the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest launched the Midwest Alliance to Improve Knowledge Utilization (MAIKU) to examine and share effective strategies for increasing the uptake of research and data among state and local education agency staff. Over the past four years, MAIKU has focused on facilitating knowledge utilization in states across the Midwest region, including Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

As the MAIKU partnership draws to a close this year, we wanted to take this opportunity to look back at all that REL Midwest and its partners have accomplished.

Building the research capacity of state education agency staff

State education agencies in the Midwest have long turned to REL Midwest for in-depth coaching, training, and technical assistance to build capacity in using and applying data and research. This support focuses on research fundamentals, including appropriate research methods and best practices for answering states’ pressing research questions.

Research methods. After hearing about a research methods training series that REL Midwest developed for the Minnesota Department of Education, a leader in the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction requested similar support. The resulting six-part training covered the fundamentals of research and evidence; the use and development of data collection methods, including surveys, focus groups, and rubrics; basic statistics; and how to communicate research findings. Following the series, other state agencies in the region, including the Illinois State Board of Education, the Lakes Country Service Cooperative in Minnesota, and the Wisconsin Technical College System, requested similar workshops.

MAIKU also supported various projects in Ohio to build educators’ research capacity. Through a nine-part coaching series, REL Midwest assisted the Ohio Department of Education in developing a teacher exit survey to better understand teacher mobility in the state and guide efforts to improve retention. REL Midwest also partnered with the department to deliver a 1-day, in-person training on best practices for conducting an educational cost analysis. This training helped inform the design of a study to measure the cost of providing adequate services for Ohio’s gifted and talented children.

Other activities. Additional MAIKU projects include leadership coaching to help state education agencies in Michigan and Ohio navigate the shifting landscape of state and federal legislation. And in Illinois, REL Midwest partnered with the Illinois State Board of Education’s Office of Research and Evaluation on a coaching project to support the execution of the agency’s research agenda.

Assisting states and districts in identifying evidence-based practices to meet ESSA requirements

Under ESSA, much of the responsibility for supporting low-performing schools shifted from the state to the district level. This shift required that districts select evidence-based practices to help low-performing schools improve. To support these efforts, REL Midwest developed resources—including a video and a webinar—that explained the ESSA evidence tiers and how to use research clearinghouses, such as the What Works Clearinghouse, to identify evidence-based practices that meet ESSA standards.

Product snapshot: Understanding the ESSA Tiers of Evidence

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) encourages school and district leaders to choose evidence-based interventions shown to improve teaching and learning. This video explains the four ESSA tiers of evidence and how schools and districts can use them to rate an intervention’s potential effectiveness. An accompanying handout includes additional information about the ESSA tiers of evidence.

ESSA support in Ohio. MAIKU provided state-specific ESSA support as well. REL Midwest built the capacity of Ohio Department of Education staff to collect, analyze, and act on data describing district efforts to improve literacy. This work involved helping the department build an evidence-based practices warehouse and initially focused on supporting districts in the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Grant competition. REL Midwest helped district grantees understand how to identify evidence-based practices and interpret different ESSA tiers. As part of this work, REL Midwest and department staff developed a tool that aligns the evidence standards at popular research clearinghouses with the ESSA tiers of evidence. REL Midwest also helped the department understand challenges that grantees had in implementing evidence-based practices. This work resulted in the state changing what it required annually from district grantees in their Reading Improvement and Monitoring Plans.

Building on this work, REL Midwest provided coaching to help the Ohio Department of Education better understand how to support districts and community schools tasked with developing Reading Achievement Plans to address literacy deficits within their schools. In addition, as a guide for parents, REL Midwest developed a video focused on best practices for creating and implementing Reading Improvement and Monitoring Plans to support students in kindergarten through grade 3.

ESSA support in Michigan. The Michigan Data Hub (MIDataHub) connects data systems across and within the state’s school districts. REL Midwest facilitated a training session to help MIDataHub staff learn about the ESSA tiers of evidence, the What Works Clearinghouse and other research clearinghouses, and how clearinghouse evidence ratings align with ESSA evidence standards.

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Author information

Mia Mamone Staff Picture

Mia Mamone

Communications Assistant | REL Midwest


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