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Works in Progress

REL Southwest conducts research to advance understanding of pressing education issues and support evidence-based decisionmaking in our region. We identify projects in collaboration with our research partnerships and other regional stakeholders, including our Governing Board. See also our training, coaching, and technical support projects.

American Indians

  • English Language Development Among American Indian English Learner Students in New Mexico
    This study was developed with members of the REL Southwest English Learners Research Partnership in New Mexico to better understand the progress toward English proficiency among American Indian English learner students, who comprise 17 percent of New Mexico’s English Learner students. This study will provide longitudinal evidence on progress toward English proficiency and grade-level readiness in English language arts and mathematics in the early grades among a population of American Indian English learner students in New Mexico. The study will examine two statewide cohorts of American Indian students classified as English learner students in kindergarten during the 2013/14 and 2014/15 school years in New Mexico public schools. The study will follow these students longitudinally for four years after the first kindergarten year. REL Southwest researchers will use descriptive statistics to examine students' English language development in the areas of listening, speaking, reading, and writing; grade-level readiness based on the state achievement test; and the percentage of students who were reclassified as fluent English proficient within five years. The findings from this study will help REL Southwest partners identify language domains and grade levels in which American Indian English learner students may benefit from additional support and inform plans and guidelines for multicultural bilingual education programs serving American Indian students. Related research partnership: Southwest English Learner Students

College and Career Readiness

  • The Impact of Nudge Communication Mode, Presentation, and Sender on Parental Visits to a State Literacy Program Website in Arkansas
    Parent engagement in their child's education can be fundamental to a student's academic development. The Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) seeks to understand best practices for parent outreach to encourage equitable engagement with parents and caregivers. To support this goal, REL Southwest is conducting a study to examine the feasibility and effectiveness of a low-cost "nudge" communications intervention to increase parent and caregiver visits to an ADE website designed for parents of elementary school students—the Arkansas Reading Initiative for Student Excellence (R.I.S.E.) Literacy website. R.I.S.E. aims to coordinate statewide efforts among stakeholders, including parents and caregivers, to improve child literacy. ADE is interested in understanding the impact of the communications on parent responses and in applying the study findings to improve communication with and engagement among parents and caregivers. The study is a randomized controlled trial and will use three treatment factors: communication mode (email or text), communication presentation (text or text plus images), and communication sender (ADE or school principal). REL Southwest will randomly assign schools to a treatment condition defined by combinations of the three factors. All families enrolled in Arkansas public elementary schools will be eligible to participate in the study. Related research partnership: Southwest College and Career Readiness
  • Examining student group differences in Arkansas indicators of postsecondary readiness and success
    In 2021, the REL Southwest College and Career Readiness Research Partnership published a study on the attainment of postsecondary readiness and success outcomes among Arkansas students and the accuracy of college and career indicators during middle and high school in predicting those outcomes. The Arkansas Department of Education has requested an additional study focused on differences in college and career readiness indicators by student group. Specifically, the Department would like evidence on differences in the attainment of college and career readiness indicator threshholds and outcomes, as well as evidence on the accuracy and strength of college and career readiness indicators, for the following student groups: African American/Black students, Hispanic students, male students, students with a disability designation, students eligible for the national school lunch program, English learner students, and students across different regions of the state. These supplemental findings for specific student groups will help Arkansas education leaders focus on indicators that serve all students well and minimize generalizations in the use of indicators that could inequitably affect students. Related research partnership: Southwest College and Career Readiness

English Learners

  • English Learner Proficiency in Texas Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic
    As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, students across Texas have had limited and disrupted access to typical education contexts and services. During the 2020/21 school year, many students attended school in fully or partially remote settings, and for students who did attend school in-person, the face-to-face experience changed. These changes to remote or hybrid instruction raise risks for student progress and learning, especially for English learner students, who need extensive opportunities to practice speaking and hearing English in order to develop English oral language proficiency and literacy skills. This study, conducted in partnership with the Texas Education Agency, will include descriptive and correlational analyses to understand the extent to which Texas English learner students' English language proficiency differed before and after the start of the pandemic. The findings will help the Texas Education Agency make decisions about how and where to invest resources for English learner students in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, including in the upcoming legislative session. In addition, the findings will be used to inform the revision of the state’s English language proficiency standards in the coming years.
  • Characteristics and Outcomes Among Schools Granting and Students Receiving Biliteracy Seals in an Urban District
    New Mexico is one of 40 states currently offering a seal of biliteracy (or seal of bilingualism–biliteracy) to their graduating high school students. Quantitative research evidence is limited regarding the equitable allocation of seals of biliteracy across students and schools, and the benefits of earning a seal for students. This study will examine the characteristics of students in an urban district in New Mexico who earned biliteracy seals from school year 2017/18 through 2019/20 and the pathways students took to earn the seals. The study will provide insight into the composition of schools offering the seals, requirements that may serve as barriers to earning the seals, and the differences in postsecondary outcomes between students who earned and did not earn biliteracy seals. The New Mexico Public Education Department and the district can use study results as they review their biliteracy seal policies to expand the process of awarding seals, as well as to consider ways to reduce barriers to students obtaining seals. Related research partnership: Southwest English Learners


  • Modeling Costs to Inform Performance-Based Financing of Texas Community Colleges
    Public community colleges serve a vital role in offering individuals from a variety of social backgrounds enhanced opportunities in the labor market and subsequent financial stability. Determining how to fund community colleges in an adequate and equitable manner in order to achieve the desired outcomes for students is a hotly debated and arguably understudied issue. To inform the funding debate among policymakers in Texas, this research project will leverage empirical cost modeling. The study will look at data for all Texas community colleges and campuses from 2014 through the year for which the most recent data are available. The data set will include information on community college expenditures, institutional context, student outcomes, and student characteristics. Statistical analyses will explore the relationships among institutional inputs (expenditures), student outcomes (persistence and completion), student characteristics, and institutional context and include an equity analysis, risk analysis, and cost function analysis. The project will result in a 1-page snapshot and 15-page research report as well as funding simulation tool and corresponding documentation.

School Improvement

  • Indicators of School Performance in Texas
    Many states, including Texas, categorize schools as "low performing" based on student scores on standardized tests, and in some cases, other indicators such as low graduation rates and achievement. A primary concern of state education leaders in Texas is how to identify, monitor, and support persistently low-performing schools over the next few years without 2020 State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) standardized test data and when 2021 STAAR data may be less representative or reliable than in past years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To assist the Texas Education Agency in addressing this concern, REL Southwest researchers are conducting school-level analyses to determine the relationship between school performance ratings and potential predictors not currently used to monitor school performance (such as student attendance rates, course grades, disciplinary records, and educator characteristics). The team will then develop binary indicators based on the school-level predictors that are significantly associated with school accountability ratings. In cases where accountability ratings are not available or when their reliability is uncertain, the Texas Education Agency can use these binary indicators to identify schools that may be at risk of low performance and are in need of supports. The study will include data from the 2017/18 to 2020/21 school years. The analyses will be conducted separately for elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. The researchers anticipate that the study will be more likely to identify useful indicators for schools that include high school grades because of the larger number of non-STAAR potential predictors available. Related research partnership: Southwest School Improvement Research Partnership

Teacher Preparation and Recruitment

  • Early Progress and Outputs of a Grow Your Own Teachers Program for High School Students and Paraprofessionals in Texas
    In 2018, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) launched a Grow Your Own grant program for Texas school districts to help increase the pipeline and diversity of teachers, particularly in small and rural districts. The program provides funds for districts to offer Education and Training courses to high school students, with the goal of encouraging diverse groups of students to pursue a teaching career. The program also provides funds to support district-employed paraprofessionals, instructional aides, and long-term substitute teachers in the pursuit of education and certification for full-time teaching roles. At the request of TEA, REL Southwest is studying participation in the Grow Your Own program by high school students and paraprofessionals in grantee districts as well as short-term outputs of the program. The study will use administrative longitudinal data and Grow Your Own program records for the 2018/19 and 2019/20 cohorts of Grow Your Own grantees. The findings will provide timely evidence of progress toward achieving Grow Your Own program outcomes, which can inform the ongoing implementation, refinement, and monitoring of the program and prepare TEA for a study of outcomes in later years.
  • Outcomes of the Louisiana Believe and Prepare Educator Preparation Program
    The Louisiana Department of Education is seeking systematic evidence regarding the effects of the state’s Believe and Prepare teacher residency program. This initiative is designed to strengthen preservice teacher experiences by providing yearlong residencies under the guidance of a certified mentor teacher, emphasizing competency-based teacher preparation curricula, and setting standards for mentor development and certification. In this study, REL Southwest researchers will compare teacher and student outcomes for teacher candidates who were prepared before and after adoption of Believe and Prepare requirements. The study will include the 18 institutions of higher education that offered traditional undergraduate educator preparation programs in Louisiana in 2012/13 through 2019/20. The research team also will examine mechanisms through which the Believe and Prepare program may have influenced outcomes, including potential changes to teacher content knowledge, the school placement of early career teachers, and mentor attributes. Findings from this study will provide the Louisiana Department of Education and teacher preparation providers with evidence about whether Believe and Prepare is working as intended and more broadly, inform educators and policymakers about the benefits of teacher residencies and the types of preservice experiences encompassed in Believe and Prepare. View the Data Management Plan. Related research partnership: Southwest Teacher Preparation and Professional Development