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Coaching on the Study of Differentiated Learning Supports Initiative


Dr. Archie Hill


Since the winter of 2017, REL Southeast has presented two coaching sessions as part of the regularly scheduled alliance meetings. Several topics of interest were discussed, from using mixed methods research in school improvement initiatives to the Center for School Turnaround at WestEd's framework for rapid school improvement.

In these coaching sessions, alliance members were eager to learn how to use mixed methods research to examine low-performing schools and inform their state-wide approach to school turnaround. Members discussed how states can assist local education agencies in building capacity to sustain their improvement efforts and how to create a set of expectations for student outcomes that are clear, measurable, and adaptable.

adult education in classroom

REL Southeast invited Dr. Carlas McCauley, Director of the Center on School Turnaround at WestEd to discuss the framework for rapid school improvement and facilitate a conversation around Alabama State Department of Education's challenges in turning around low-performing schools. Dr. McCauley highlighted the importance of developing an improvement cycle theory of action to establish alignment of practices across the state, districts, and schools to improve student achievement.

The REL Southeast convened a strategy session with 10 VirtualSC leaders to begin outlining VirtualSC's vision for its personalized learning work and formulating a research-based approach to implementing and evaluating changes to VirtualSC courses. The REL Southeast and the Southeast Comprehensive then hosted a collaborative workshop to review research on personalized learning and gather additional ideas from VirtualSC lead teachers and instructional designers.

The primary participants in this project have formed small group task forces that are working to further develop the vision and outcomes of VirtualSC's implementation of personalized learning. The REL Southeast is providing ongoing support, with additional strategy sessions scheduled for September and November 2018. These sessions will include discussions on how to obtain data that will let VirtualSC know if the changes they make will lead to successful outcomes. A blog post about this work has been published by the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute.


"The research alliance was helpful in providing current research that was relevant to the work of my department and helping us to integrate that research with our support effort in a way that was practical."

"The session with Dr. McCauley was most helpful to me because it allowed me to re-visit, reflect, and re-engage with information relating to rapid school improvement."

"Research provided by REL is informative, timely, and applicable to our work. In addition, the professional learning opportunities available on the Four Domains was especially relevant – we were able to dig deeper into the framework so that we could provide more informed support to our low-performing schools."


Bhatt, N., Driver, M., Gilbert, K., Jones, L., Patterson-Menckowski, C., Perry-Osler, A., & Shipman, S. (2018). School Improvement in Rural Communities: An Intentional Approach to Systemic Support.

Brown, K. M., Thompson, C., Townsend, L., & Roney, K. (2017). Turning around High Schools via" Scaffolded Craftsmanship". Journal of Instructional Pedagogies, 18.

Dooley, N. A., Vivanco, K. H., Connell, P. H., & Hannah, J. P. (2017). A Study of Differentiated State Support to Priority Schools in Alabama. The Alabama Journal of Educational Leadership, 1.

Hitt, D. H., Robinson, W., & Player, D. (2018). District readiness to support school turnaround: A guide for state education agencies and districts, 2nd edition. [The Center on School Turnaround at WestEd]. San Francisco, CA: WestEd.

The Center on School Turnaround. (2017). Four domains for rapid school improvement: A systems framework [The Center for School Turnaround at WestEd]. San Francisco, CA: WestEd.

The Center on School Turnaround at WestEd. (2017). Thought Leadership Forum brief: Talent development and Opportunity Culture. San Francisco, CA: WestEd.

The Center on School Turnaround at WestEd. (2018). Thought leadership form brief: Formative assessment and agency as drivers of instructional transformation. San Francisco, CA: WestEd.

Wrabel, S. L., Herman, R., & Gates, S. M. (2018). RAND School Leadership Intervention Evaluation Toolkit.