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How REL Coaching Helped Improve Data Collection at a CTE Program in Alaska

By Hella Bel Hadj Amor | August 6, 2020


Hella Bel Hadj Amor
Hella Bel Hadj Amor is an applied research and technical support leader at Education Northwest. She also serves as a REL activity lead in Alaska and co-leads a research-practice partnership of Oregon stakeholders focusing on improving equity in high school and college outcomes.

Stakeholders' ideas drive REL Northwest's work to create more detailed and impactful projects. Along those lines, REL Northwest partners with stakeholders to support data-informed decision-making, while taking the time to understand local contexts, and tailoring support accordingly to meet stakeholders' needs.

This was the case with the Bristol Bay Regional Career and Technical Education (BBRCTE) program, an initiative that delivers CTE instruction to students in four small and rural districts in Alaska. Stakeholders reached out to REL Northwest for support on using data to better understand what the program was doing well and how it could improve.

To support BBRCTE, REL Northwest provided coaching on program progress monitoring. One of the first steps was to co-develop a logic model. This graphic representation of a program's inputs, activities, and outputs defines desired outcomes and how to reach them. Logic models serve as a road map for program evaluation, as well as the jumping-off point for future program improvements.

After collaborating with REL Northwest to create a logic model, BBRCTE began to examine what it was doing well and how it could improve. Specifically, stakeholders wanted to explore three questions:

  • How do students hear about the program, and why do they choose to participate?
  • How do students describe their experience in the program, and do they feel it increased their skills and preparedness for life after high school?
  • What are students' recommendations for improving the program?

To answer these questions, REL Northwest provided coaching on survey design and data use. Based on the survey data, BBRCTE learned that students:

  • Hear about the program mainly from educators and participate to help achieve their postsecondary goals
  • Believe the program improves their academic, career-related, and life skills
  • Recommended more career-oriented experiences, support with college applications and financial aid, and help with setting goals.

Drawing on the coaching from REL Northwest, BBRCTE used the survey data to improve participant recruitment (including underrepresented student groups), determine areas of improvement in instruction, gauge student interest and engagement during sessions, understand why students are attending specific courses, and inform decision-making by the advisory council.

When the coaching ended, stakeholders used the skills they had acquired to design and administer surveys in other areas of their work. They also conducted additional administrations of the BBRCTE survey.

Jon Clouse, director of state and federal programs at Southwest Region School District and former interim director of BBRCTE, said the coaching from REL Northwest will continue to help BBRCTE personnel improve the program and optimize services for students.

"We went from, quite honestly, quite lame survey questions about food to getting meaningful data, which allowed us to move this program forward," Clouse said. "This is a great baseline for developing our program. It's very important work, and I'm very happy with the results."

Zach Stenson, director of BBRCTE, agreed. "We're sometimes a little isolated in terms of people who can help us with this kind of work, so it's been a great opportunity to work with REL Northwest," he said. "It's been helpful to have that level of knowledge as we build and refine our program so we can better meet student needs."

From logic modeling to survey design and data use, REL Northwest's coaching can play a key role in optimizing education programs—and ultimately help more students achieve success.

Stakeholders interested in receiving similar support from REL Northwest may contact us. They may also find these resources useful:

Logic modeling

Survey design