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Partnering with districts and schools to identify research needs

Partnering with districts and schools on research needs

By Joni Wackwitz
January 17, 2019

Many school districts are investing in data analysis and research to inform decisionmaking and better understand the challenges they face. But determining which research topics to tackle, and how, can be difficult, especially when resources are tight. A research agenda serves as a roadmap to guide research efforts and ensure they produce relevant, actionable results.

Research agenda-setting workshop: Cleveland Metropolitan School District

In Ohio, the Multilingual Multicultural Education Department at the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) had a growing number of questions about how best to serve English learner (EL) students. This rapidly expanding population had doubled in size from 2010 to 2017 while becoming increasingly diverse, representing some 45 different languages and dialects.

In need of research and technical assistance to better understand and support this population, the department teamed up with Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest to form the Cleveland Collaboration for English Learner Success. This partnership, which includes district staff from both CMSD’s Multilingual Multicultural Education and Research and Evaluation departments, seeks to increase district capacity to access, conduct, and interpret English learner research and support its use at the school and district levels.

The first step for the partnership was to develop a research agenda—a set of research topics and questions that would define the partnership’s focus and work. In May 2017, REL Midwest hosted an all-day workshop, during which facilitators led CMSD partnership members through a structured process for setting a research agenda. Participants engaged in guided discussions to identify research topics, prioritize them based on need, and then translate the top choices into actionable research questions. In addition, participants learned about research designs for studying their questions. This structured process ensured that projects based on the research topics and questions would be useful to members, address real needs, and produce evidence that informs policy and practice.

Lyzz Davis, Ph.D., is the REL Midwest facilitator and researcher for the Cleveland partnership. She noted that “the workshop helped members learn how to hone in on what they want to know, write researchable questions, and think in terms of how we would measure the impact of this, how we would study this, [and] how we would know if we are implementing this correctly.” She added, “It was a real shift. They began to think in terms of formative and summative evaluation.”

As a result of the workshop, the Cleveland partnership created a research agenda [196 KB PDF icon ] to guide its efforts for the next three to five years. The work plan includes three focus areas:

  • Multilingual Multicultural Education’s program model
  • Factors associated with English learner student success
  • Issues for English learner high school students

The partnership chose the second focus area for its initial study, which is examining school-level factors associated with EL student success for five consecutive cohorts of students. A report of the findings will be published in 2019.

>> Workshop materials (slides [2.00 MB PDF icon ] and a meeting agenda [136 KB PDF icon ]) are available for download.

Train-the-trainer workshop: Expanding the process districtwide

Partnership member Matt Linick, Ph.D., the executive director of research and evaluation at CMSD, found the research agenda-setting workshop to be a highly productive process. In fact, he thought school staff across the district would benefit from learning how to identify and prioritize their research and evaluation needs—which would, in turn, help inform the district’s research projects.

“The role of the Research and Evaluation team at CMSD,” explained Dr. Linick, “is to support district and school leaders. Our support includes identifying and answering educators’ questions.”

To build CMSD’s capacity to lead research agenda-setting workshops, REL Midwest hosted a train-the-trainer workshop in July 2018. Attendees included CMSD’s Research and Evaluation staff as well as key leadership in the Cleveland Alliance for Education Research, another education research-practice partnership in which CMSD participates. The workshop gave participants a chance to practice leading an agenda-setting workshop of their own, including how to tailor the activities for different stakeholder groups, settings, and time constraints.

“The train-the-trainer workshop provided my team with a common language and approach so that we can ensure that we are systematically meeting the needs of Cleveland’s students, teachers, and school administrators,” summarized Dr. Linick.

Beyond REL Midwest

For the Cleveland Collaboration for English Learner Success, going through the process of developing a research agenda has helped members not only focus their work but also obtain further funding. In August 2017, the partnership submitted a proposal for a two-year IES-funded research grant focused on English learner high school students’ postsecondary readiness and success. In 2018, the partnership received the exciting news that they had won the grant, and work began in fall 2018. Plans for the grant include research studies, a workshop for CMSD high school principals, and professional development for CMSD teachers.

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Author Information

Joni Wackwitz Staff Picture

Joni Wackwitz

Senior Communications Specialist | REL Midwest

jwackwitz@air.org

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College and Career Readiness (20)

Data Use (15)

Early Childhood (14)

Educator Effectiveness (19)

English Learners (4)

Online Courses (1)

Rural (11)

Teacher Preparation (13)

Teacher Workforce (1)

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