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Research with impact: The RELs' field-initiated and high-leverage approach

Midland on the move: Call for quality schools

By Michael Vaden-Kiernan, Ph.D. | June 28, 2018

Through collaborative research partnerships, Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Southwest works with school districts, state education agencies, and others in our region to expand the evidence base and increase the use of data and research in education policy and practice. This work is distinguished by a focus on education issues that are both field-initiated and high-leverage. But what does that mean?

REL Southwest work is field-initiated. Needs from the field related to education policy, practice, and research form the genesis of our work—whether it be training, coaching, and technical support; applied research; or dissemination and engagement activities. We identify state and regional education needs through conversations with our research partnerships, Governing Board, and other stakeholders, such as staff at state and local education agencies. We also conduct needs-sensing activities. For example, we look at the questions submitted to the Ask A REL reference desk service to help identify needs for our region. In addition, we focus on the priorities our five states have identified in their Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans and on the research evidence needed to implement those plans to provide field-initiated supports that are practical, relevant, and applicable.

REL Southwest work focuses on high-leverage problems. High-leverage problems are issues that are education priorities for our region, that require research or research-related supports to address well and that once addressed, can result in substantial improvements in education outcomes for students across our region and beyond. To identify high-leverage education problems, we collaborate with each partnership to develop a research agenda that specifies topic areas and research questions to address. In general, REL Southwest's emphasis is on larger, more persistent education issues that we can dig into over several years, as opposed to more passing issues in the education policy arena.

For example, our Southwest English Learners Research Partnership in New Mexico—a state with one of the nation's highest proportions of English learner (EL) students—has prioritized the delivery of high-quality, culturally appropriate EL language instruction as a way to improve outcomes for EL students. The partnership's work in New Mexico seeks to identify effective instructional practices for EL students, increase the use of those practices in classrooms and schools, and identify models of effective practice.

Taken together, REL Southwest's focus on field-initiated and high-leverage education problems in our states and region ensures that our services and products are both relevant and actionable—driven by the needs of the educators who will use them and targeting meaningful issues for which evidence-based practices and policies may have the greatest impact.

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Author Information

Michael Vaden-Kiernan

Michael Vaden-Kiernan, Ph.D.

Director | REL Southwest

mvaden-kiernan@air.org