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How Can We Better Translate Education Research into Action?

Jill Marcus

Jill Marcus
Research Assistant II, REL Northeast & Islands

Mon Oct 01 2018

Despite the growth in the number of education researcher-practitioner collaborations, gaps in knowledge remain about how to translate research into action effectively.1 Education practitioners still make limited direct use of education research findings to drive their decision-making at state, district, school, and classroom levels. Although the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), a federal education law passed in 2002, increased efforts to improve the use and dissemination of research knowledge, education research has not been widely used by policymakers and practitioners.2

To help researchers more effectively translate education research into action, REL Northeast & Islands hosted a two-part virtual workshop series to guide and support education researchers in their work with practitioners. The goal of the training, titled “Learning Together: Translating Research to Practice,” was to encourage researchers to do more than simply present their work, and to instead engage practitioners in understanding the research findings and how to use them to drive their decision-making at state, district, school, and classroom levels.

More than 100 researchers and other participants from higher education, state education agencies, nonprofit organizations, school districts, and other RELs joined in the two workshop sessions, held on May 17 and June 13. In the first session, REL Northeast & Islands researchers Dana Ansel, Candice Bocala, and I introduced a framework to guide participants through the process of planning and delivering impactful presentations. Participants downloaded tools to help them consider the audience’s needs and perspectives, develop a compelling storyline, and create a culture of co-exploration and meaning-making. They also practiced applying the tools to an example scenario, and they discussed how best to engage practitioners. The session ended with a spotlight conversation between REL Northeast & Islands researcher Clare Irwin and Wendy Geller, Director of Analysis and Data Management at the Vermont Agency of Education, who shared their experiences communicating about research to a variety of audiences.

The second session focused on how researchers can co-interpret research findings with practitioners to help ensure the findings are used in appropriate ways. As with the first session, participants were able to download tools they can use to help them with co-interpreting research, ensuring proper use of findings, and supporting stakeholders to develop action plans. Participants used these tools during the session to consider a sample research study and to imagine how practitioners could be encouraged to engage in making meaning of the findings and to avoid misinterpretation of the findings. This session also ended with a spotlight conversation, this time between our REL colleague Karen Shakman, who served as principal investigator for the sample study, and her partners at the Boston Public Schools, who talked about how they have used findings from the study to inform action in the district.

The practical examples, downloadable tools, and opportunity to hear from others in an interactive fashion all prepared workshop participants to better work with practitioners to increase their use of education research findings. Feedback from participants included:

  • “[I most valued] walking through the presentation scenarios, polls, and audience input of solutions to address common challenges outlined in the seven questions in the ‘Considering your Audience’ segment. The examples of solutions were especially helpful. The polls and chat features were used in a way that kept me engaged and gave me ideas of how to more effectively run webinars/virtual networks. I have shared the pre-work handout with my team already.”
  • “I really appreciated the practical examples and the opportunity to hear from others the ways they might incorporate the ideas shared. The interactive facets of the session were particularly valuable to ensure my engagement.”
  • “I actually have a meeting planned with a district later this summer to review results of a study we did. I intend to incorporate some of the activities you presented into the agenda… so thank you!”
  • “[I appreciated] the practitioner engagement tools and the framework of pitfalls around research mis-interpretation. I also found your discussion of the use of research for different types of purposes (conceptual/political) to be very helpful. I have already downloaded Carol Weiss’s works and will read them to inform my own research-to-practice work.”

Access the workshop materials and tools and view the recordings here.

Contact us to learn more about REL Northeast & Islands training, coaching, and technical support for your state, district, or school.


1Scholz, C., Ehrlich, S. B., & Roth, E. (2017) Reflections from a professional learning community for researchers working in research alliances (REL 2017-262). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education, Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Midwest. Retrieved March 27, 2017, from https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/edlabs/projects/project.asp?projectID=4548

2Asen, R., Gurke, D., Conners, P., Solomon, R., & Gumm, E. (2013). Research evidence and school board deliberations: Lessons from three Wisconsin school districts. Educational Policy, 27, 33-63; Burkhardt, H., & Schoenfeld, A. H. (2003). Improving educational research: Toward a more useful, more influential and better-funded enterprise. Educational Researcher, 32(9), 3-14; Finnigan, K.S., Daly, A.J., Che, J (2013). Systemwide reform in districts under pressure: The role of social networks in defining, acquiring, using, and diffusing research evidence. Journal of Educational Administration, 51 (4), 476-497; Honig, M.I., & Coburn, C. (2008). Evidence-based decision making in school district central offices: Toward a policy and research agenda. Educational Policy, 22(4), 578-608; Lagemann, E.C. (2002). Usable knowledge in education: A memorandum for the Spencer Foundation Board of Directors. Chicago, IL: Spencer Foundation.