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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
  • 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

Training on Strategies to Create Inclusive Environments for Black Teachers

REL Midwest, in collaboration with the Minority Student Achievement Network (MSAN), provided a training for district leaders on creating inclusive environments for Black teachers. The session shared research on the importance and challenges of retaining Black teachers, and highlighted evidence-based strategies that can increase retention rates for Black teachers and potentially improve educational outcomes among Black students.

Oak Park and River Forest High School Coaching on Systems Change and Curriculum Evaluation

In Illinois, REL Midwest is working with staff from Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 as they implement a curriculum change and remove an academic tracking program. REL Midwest is providing coaching on the development of a logic model to guide implementation of the new curriculum and increase capacity of district leaders to ensure alignment among school, district, and community visions. REL Midwest supported district staff in developing a flyer explaining the freshman curriculum restructuring [64 KB PDF icon ] for parents and community members.

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.

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

REL Midwest provided in-depth coaching and consultation to leaders in Evanston/Skokie School District 65 (Illinois) related to the district’s professional development for educators on culturally responsive instruction as a way to improve outcomes for students of color and students with disabilities. REL Midwest worked 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 challenged MDHR’s ability to identify best practices and draw inferences on the effectiveness of the plans. In this project, REL Midwest provided 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 slides from each session are available online.

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.


The Effect of Discipline Reform Plans on Exclusionary Discipline Outcomes in Minnesota

This REL Midwest study examined the use of exclusionary discipline practices by Minnesota local education agencies from 2014/15 through 2018/19 and the extent to which the creation of discipline reform plans was associated with changes in discipline outcomes.

Participation in a Professional Development Program on Culturally Responsive Practices in Wisconsin

This REL Midwest study examined the percentages of schools that participated in the program and their practices and characteristics, and the relationship between program participation and school outcomes. A related infographic highlights an approach to measure the use of culturally responsive practices.

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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