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Our Region

Our work is shaped by a deep understanding of the communities we serve


Large Urban Areas Separated By Vast Rural Expanses

With more than 1 million square miles, the Northwest region includes almost 30 percent of the total land mass of the United States. While more than half (56 percent) of the Northwest's 2.2 million public school students are concentrated in the six largest metropolitan areas, two-thirds of the school districts are in rural locales and more than 40 percent have fewer than 250 students.

An Increasingly Diverse Student Population

The estimated poverty rate for Northwest children is 18 percent compared to 21 percent nationally. However, poverty rates for the region's African American, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander children are above 30 percent, while those for white and Asian children are less than half that rate.

The Native American enrollment rate in the Northwest is more than three times the national average and is particularly high in Alaska (24 percent) and Montana (11 percent). Meanwhile, the proportion of racial/ethnic minority students enrolled in Northwest public elementary and secondary schools has more than doubled in the past 20 years, from 17 percent to 35 percent. About 1 in 5 students is Hispanic, making this the largest and fastest growing student group. Students classified as English learners make up more than 7 percent of the Northwest student population, with the highest percentages in Alaska (12 percent), Washington (10 percent), and Oregon (8 percent).

States We Serve



Regional Priorities

Based on ongoing needs sensing and interactions with regional stakeholders, we have identified five educational priorities in the Northwest. Each priority affects substantial numbers of students in the region and represents an ongoing challenge that research and technical support work can inform and address.

With the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states have significantly more control over how they measure and evaluate school and district performance and support improvement. This flexibility comes with significant challenges for our SEA partners and local stakeholders, including decisions about the best measures to use, how to collect and validate measures, and how much weight to give them in accountability calculations. REL Northwest is providing coaching and analytic support to two research partnerships in how to collect and use data to meet ESSA accountability and reporting requirements:

  • Alaska State Policy Research Alliance
  • Idaho Educator Pipeline Alliance

There are more than 160,000 EL students in the Northwest, and there is much to do to meet their needs. Three Northwest states reported that fewer than 5 percent of their grade 8 EL students met the standards in English language arts and math on recent state assessments. Similarly, in 2015 EL students in four Northwest states graduated high school at rates 25-31 percent below the state average.

EL students have unique needs, and recent research finds that professional development in oral language development, academic language, and cultural diversity is essential to ensuring that teachers can support EL students. Shifts to the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Science Standards require teachers to understand language progression, language scaffolds, and language supports to ensure that EL students can successfully meet the new standards. REL Northwest is assisting partnerships in two states with using data and evidence to better understand how to serve the needs of EL students:

  • Alaska State Policy Research Alliance
  • Oregon Bilingual Teacher Pipeline

Early learning, preschool instruction, and school readiness are important areas of focus for the Northwest states. High-quality preschool experiences are especially important to students who belong to historically disadvantaged groups, as racial and socioeconomic disparities in access to high-quality early education contribute to achievement gaps that are already noticeable by the time children enter kindergarten. Nationally, preschool-aged Hispanic students enroll in school at rates about 15 percent lower than their white counterparts.

This is an especially acute issue in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington where the enrollment of four-year-olds in public preschool programs is less than half the national rate. REL Northwest is part of two research partnerships working to use data and evidence to support high-quality early education for all children:

  • Alaska State Policy Research Alliance
  • Oregon Early Learning Collaborative

Increasing the number of students who graduate prepared for college and careers is a priority for high schools in the Northwest. Four states in the region lag behind the national average in on-time graduation rates, with only Montana exceeding the national benchmark. In addition, there are distinct disparities in graduation rates by race/ethnicity and student group. Of particular concern are American Indian/Alaska Native students, EL students, and students with disabilities. In four Northwest states, fewer than 60 percent of students in these groups graduate on time. Areas of focus for our partners working to improve high school graduation and college and career readiness for all students include early warning systems, accelerated learning, K-12 and higher education systems alignment, rural guidance counselor networking, and college access.

Regarding postsecondary success, all states in the region except Washington have public four-year college graduation rates that are below the national average, with Alaska's (30.6 percent) being the lowest in the nation. Public two-year college graduation rates in Idaho (18.1 percent) and Oregon (16.1 percent) are also well below the national average. Similar to high school graduation, all five Northwest states have large gaps in the college completion rates of students from different racial/ethnic groups compared to those of their peers. From studying programs designed to prepare underserved students for STEM careers to improving the transferability of tribal college credits for American Indian students, REL Northwest's partners are dedicated to closing postsecondary education opportunity gaps.

Research partnerships addressing this priority include:

  • Montana Education Research Alliance
  • Oregon Graduation and Postsecondary Success Alliance
  • Washington STEM Education Collaborative

Northwest schools, especially in remote areas, struggle to recruit, train, and retain high-quality teachers and administrators. This is also a significant challenge in states and districts with too few bilingual teachers and EL specialists to support their growing populations of EL students. In addition, many schools in the region are trying to recruit more diverse teachers that reflect the racial/ethnic diversity of the student population. Since enrollment in traditional teacher preparation programs has declined by more than 30 percent in the past decade, the problem of maintaining a robust teacher pipeline is likely to worsen in the coming years. Potentially magnifying these issues, Montana, Oregon, and Washington have taken steps to become more selective in admitting students to teacher preparation programs, which will reduce the number of eligible applicants and may make the applicant pool less diverse.

For these reasons, our partners in all five Northwest states are looking for ways to bring data and evidence to bear on their program and policy decisions regarding training and supporting excellent educators. Research partnerships addressing this priority include:

  • Alaska State Policy Research Alliance
  • Idaho Educator Pipeline Alliance
  • Montana Education Research Alliance
  • Mountain West State Executives Dialogue
  • NW RISE Network Collaborative
  • Oregon Bilingual Teacher Pipeline
  • Washington Vibrant Teaching Force Alliance

We also conduct work on other topics that are critical to the success of our region's school systems. For example, two cross-state partnerships are focused on using data and evidence to reduce disparities in educational participation and performance:

  • Northwest Tribal Educators Alliance
  • Equity in School Discipline Collaborative

In addition, we are providing research and technical support for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) through these partnerships:

  • Alaska State Policy Research Alliance
  • Idaho Educator Pipeline Alliance
  • Washington STEM Education Collaborative

National Leadership Area: Postsecondary Readiness and Success

In addition to regional priorities, REL Northwest leads the national, cross-REL working group on Postsecondary Readiness and Success. This entails collaborating with other RELs across the country to learn about REL work in the area of postsecondary readiness and success and plan professional development, joint research, and dissemination activities that are mutually beneficial to each region's stakeholders and to the field.

Contact

Michelle Hodara


Michelle Hodara

503.275.9598