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REL Pacific

Conducting Research Within the Unique Pacific Region Context

REL Pacific
Dr. Phillip Herman and Dr. Sheila Arens
December 11, 2018

As the REL Pacific administrator since 2012, our focus has been on building the capacity of stakeholders in the region to use research, data, and evidence for educational improvement. But the Pacific region differs considerably from other regions within the REL network, from the urban multiracial, multilingual, multicultural mix of Honolulu, to the U.S. Territories of American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), to the Freely Associated States (the Federated States of Micronesia [FSM], the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau). For example, while American Samoa is 96% Samoan, CNMI includes a multicultural society of Chamorros, Carolinians, Filipinos, Russians, Chinese and others, with no one ethnic majority in the school system.

The region's size and diversity can pose a challenge to conducting research and providing technical support. These challenges can range from a lack of data, linking data across schools or agencies for addressing questions of interest, to small sample sizes, to reconciling federal requirements with regional capacity and approaches to research and/or data collection. For example, one of the realities we face in the Pacific is that the sample sizes are often so small that data must be suppressed to mask student identities, which means that our reported results might not provide stakeholders with the full picture—and may implicitly, therefore, allow the continuation of disparities. In addition, the research or evaluation that may be most appropriate for a specific topic, using the available data, may be descriptive, which can be a departure from the “gold standard” studies often conducted on the mainland.

So how do we report and operationalize research findings within the unique Pacific region context? Our approach is multi-pronged: first, we involve our stakeholders in the process from the outset of the study, identifying primary areas of interest, deciding together what questions we'll answer, and articulating the goals and mindsets of the stakeholders who will develop strategies to address evaluation results. We keep our partners in the region informed as the research is underway, and present findings in both formal ways—for example, though IES-published reports and approved trainings—and less-formal ways, including ongoing dialogue about the meaning of the data. Our intent is for our stakeholders to walk away from these conversations with a general, big-picture understanding of the research—and a deeper understanding of how it impacts them and their students, along with what actions they might take next as a result of the research findings. And we're with them to support them in any way we can as they take those next steps.

To learn more about REL Pacific's research, please contact Phillip Herman at or Sheila Arens at