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Technical Working Group Helps Keep REL Research Rigorous and Relevant

Julie Riordan

Julie Riordan
Deputy Director, REL Northeast & Islands

Thu Feb 01 2018

At REL Northeast & Islands, one of our most important jobs is to ensure that the research we develop and use in partnership with our stakeholders is rigorous and relevant. Our applied research studies must be methodologically sound, and our training, coaching, and technical support projects must be informed by current and credible research. Additionally, we want our projects to meet local needs and contribute to broader conversations about critical challenges facing U.S. schools.

To help make this happen, REL Northeast & Islands convenes a Technical Working Group (TWG) comprised of 15 leading education researchers from across the country. These TWG members represent content expertise in our four regional education priorities and bring substantial methodological expertise in conducting descriptive, correlational, randomized controlled trial, and cost-effectiveness studies. They also offer in-depth knowledge about how to elevate the role of research in education improvement.

Our TWG supports our work and researchers in several ways. Individually, they review (1) project proposals to provide support in conceptualizing the study or project; (2) preliminary analyses, for research studies, to offer input about how to "make sense" of early findings; and (3) draft reports and materials, to inform the interpretation and presentation of findings, including implications for policy and practice.

Additionally, we convene our entire TWG once a year to review future study and project ideas; examine our current research portfolio; discuss potential contributions to the empirical and/or theoretical literature; suggest venues and audiences to disseminate findings; and recommend directions for future research.

In January, our TWG met in Cambridge, Mass., for its inaugural face-to-face meeting. The conversation was rich and engaging. TWG members pushed us to think deeply about the coherence of the work we are doing and how our projects fit together to address the high-leverage needs in our region. They encouraged us to make sure we are building off existing research, collaborating with the other RELs and other research centers, and advancing new knowledge, not only with the questions we ask but also with how we answer them. They challenged our thinking about the research designs we choose and encouraged us to consider or try new approaches. We also had a lengthy conversation about data-the challenges of getting data, the reliability of the data-and TWG members offered some solutions and suggestions for how to mitigate those challenges.

I was grateful for the opportunity to bounce ideas off such a seasoned group of education researchers, who know their subject matter inside and out and who have worked directly with federal, state, and local education agencies, across all levels of the system. Our REL research team took the TWG members' feedback back to office, and what we learned is informing our plans for future work. Now that we have several approved research projects underway, we look forward to more TWG feedback on our future analyses and findings. It is always invaluable to have a fresh and experienced set of eyes and ears to provide guidance about the feasibility and usefulness of research.

To learn more about our TWG, contact us.