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Looking Back and Preparing for the Road Ahead

Sarah Ryan

Sarah Ryan
Research Scientist

Thu Sep 02 2021

I was delighted to join REL Northeast & Islands in June to lead our applied research initiatives. Since that time, I have had the opportunity to reflect on the robust body of work our researchers and technical support experts engaged in over this past year in partnership with stakeholders from across the region. It is an understatement to say that our 10 research alliances and partnerships like all of you, have been navigating uncharted territory. Yet, in looking back on the critical work we have undertaken with our stakeholders over this period, I am even more hopeful about what we can accomplish together for students as we look ahead to a new school year.

In early 2020, just as many of our projects were entering their most intensive phases, the world was rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost overnight, the practitioners and policymakers we serve had to transform many aspects of their work while simultaneously maintaining core functions and key initiatives. Following their lead, REL Northeast & Islands took on the dual purposes of continuing the important work already underway, while responding to the emerging needs of our state and local education agency partners resulting from the pandemic.

Looking Back

In the early months of the pandemic, we worked with states and districts to support their need to make informed decisions quickly. We rapidly gathered information and provided responses to their questions as they were pivoting to remote teaching and learning. These COVID-19 FAQs shared resources and ideas from districts across the country on topics ranging from transitioning to online instruction to addressing equity concerns and the social emotional needs of students.

Over the summer, we partnered with Boston Public Schools to rapidly analyze thousands of open-ended survey responses about the practices district educators were using to effectively implement remote instruction. This work led BPS Director of Research Apryl Clarkson to observe, "This survey [analysis] is showing that research isn't just used for academic purposes," adding that the speed with which REL researchers completed the analysis shows that educational research can be a vital tool in helping districts adapt to rapidly changing conditions.

Throughout the pandemic, our partners in the region have also been keenly focused on accelerating equity. In more recent months, we have been working with a set of districts that sought technical support for providing high-dosage tutoring to students whose learning was especially impacted as a result of the pandemic. We are currently providing data coaching to one large district in our region to support the districtwide goal of centering their use of data for decisionmaking around issues of equity.

Amidst these COVID-related projects, our ongoing research and technical support initiatives with state and local education agencies within our region forged ahead. Over the past year, we have released new reports and tools related to high-leverage issues of policy and practice in our region and across the nation. These issues include building and maintaining an effective educator workforce, launching statewide universal prekindergarten, and bolstering student readiness for postsecondary education through accelerated college credit options.

The Road Ahead

Looking ahead to the upcoming school year, we are continuing to consider how to support both the ongoing priorities and emergent critical needs identified by our partners from across the region, ranging from effectively providing remote learning and other flexible options to supporting the wellbeing of students and families. Whatever the coming year has in store, we at REL Northeast & Islands are prepared to navigate the opportunities and challenges together with the countless stakeholders with whom we are privileged to collaborate. It is their commitment to the connection between research and practice—even during a global pandemic—that continues to make the work we do not only possible but also meaningful in the lives of students.