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Celebrating five years of using research and data to support teaching and learning across the Southwest

Southwest | December 21, 2022

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The last five years have posed challenges for educators and students, from the COVID-19 pandemic to a rapid shift to remote learning and teacher shortages and burnout. Through it all, REL Southwest has partnered with states, districts, and schools to improve teaching and learning across our five-state region. Working with six research partnerships and other collaborations in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas, we helped educators use data and research to support regional priorities and meaningfully improve student outcomes. Read on for highlights from our work and accomplishments.

College and Career Readiness in Arkansas

Through the Southwest College and Career Readiness research partnership, REL Southwest and the Arkansas Department of Education teamed up to increase the postsecondary preparation of all Arkansas students. The partnership focused on improving student graduation rates and postsecondary success in two- or four-year institutions, job training programs, paid employment, or the military. Partnership activities informed the refinement of data dashboards by coaching ADE staff on aligning Arkansas college and career readiness indicators with the Employability Skills Framework and on best practices for using data visualization to facilitate data use across multiple stakeholders. In addition, the partnership collaborated on applied research studies that helped ADE identify student indicators of postsecondary readiness and success and investigate the impact of nudge communication on parental visits to a state literacy program website. Browse all college and career readiness resources.

Early Childhood Education in Oklahoma

Through the Southwest Early Childhood Education research partnership, REL Southwest, the Oklahoma State Education Department, and other partners strengthened the quality of state-funded early learning programs to ensure that all children enter kindergarten ready to learn. The partnership improved preK programming by building the capacity of state education staff to develop, plan for, and conduct a pilot study of an Early Learning Inventory. At the classroom level, the partnership supported teacher practice by training teachers on using formative assessment to target the skills and behaviors that promote learning in early elementary grades. In addition, the partnership built the capacity of state education agency staff to develop and administer surveys to assess preK teachers' use of curricula and assessments. Finally, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the partnership addressed the needs of teachers and families by developing just-in-time resources to support young children's learning at home. Browse all early childhood education resources.

English Learner Students in New Mexico

Through the Southwest English Learners research partnership, REL Southwest partnered with the New Mexico Public Education Department and other partners to improve educational outcomes for the state’s English learner students. New Mexico has one of the highest proportions of English learner students in the nation, and the state has prioritized providing high-quality and culturally appropriate instruction for these students. The partnership improved practice by building the capacity of bilingual and multicultural education directors, school leaders, coaches, specialists, and teachers across the state to implement promising practices to support English learner students. In addition, the partnership developed a framework to increase collaboration among teachers and English language development specialists. To inform state policy for identifying English learner students who have achieved English proficiency, the partnership conducted research to examine how being reclassified as fluent English proficient affected student achievement in grades 3–8. The partnership also studied who earns New Mexico’s biliteracy seals and the impact of doing so on college outcomes to support equitable access to the seals. Finally, the partnership supported improving educational outcomes for American Indian English learner students by developing resources for educators and state education staff to implement culturally responsive instructional practices. Browse all English learner resources.

Networked Improvement Communities in Oklahoma

Through the Southwest Networked Improvement Communities research partnership, REL Southwest partnered with the Oklahoma State Department of Education to develop and facilitate networked improvement communities (NICs) as a part of the state’s Champions of Excellence initiative. The partnership improved classroom practices in English language arts, math, social studies, and science teaching by building the capacity of educators to apply improvement science routines to generate evidence on field-based improvement strategies that lead to measurable improvements in student outcomes. Through this capacity-building, the partnership also developed a toolkit to support educators nationally in collecting data to measure continuous improvement efforts in the classroom and in using the data to inform future action. Browse all networked improvement communities resources.

School Improvement in Texas

Through the Southwest School Improvement research partnership, REL Southwest and the Texas Education Agency partnered to enhance the ability of agency staff to evaluate and continuously improve low-performing schools and districts. Projects focused on supporting the use of promising and evidence-based practices that significantly reduce the number of low-performing schools and increase the number of students attending high-performing schools. To help inform the state’s school improvement policy, the partnership built the capacity of state education staff to develop logic models showing the links and alignment of strategic school actions and expected outcomes. The partnership also built the capacity of state educators to identify data elements for monitoring the implementation and effectiveness of schoolwide reforms, including the state’s System of Great Schools. In addition, the partnership conducted research to determine the effects of a district-managed restart strategy for low-performing schools and to identify indicators of school performance in Texas that can be used when accountability ratings are not available. Browse all school improvement resources.

Teacher Preparation and Professional Development in Louisiana

Through the Southwest Teacher Preparation and Professional Development research partnership, REL Southwest worked with the Louisiana State Board of Education and other partners to increase the number of certified and effective teachers in Louisiana public schools. Louisiana faces significant challenges in ensuring that certified and effective teachers are in every classroom for all subjects. The partnership informed instructional practices by building the capacity of state educators to collect and interpret survey data on teacher and mentor perceptions of a teacher residency program and to create and interpret Geographic Information System maps to visualize teacher workforce needs and strengthen the teacher pipeline. In addition, the partnership informed teacher preparation policy by conducting research to determine the evidence of a pilot residency program and the mechanisms through which the program may have influenced outcomes, including potential changes to teacher content knowledge, the school placement of early career teachers, and mentor attributes. Browse all teacher preparation and professional development resources.

Other Collaborations Across the Region

REL Southwest also collaborated with stakeholders across our region to support changing education needs. In Texas, REL Southwest informed legislative priorities by conducting research to support policy decisions in the state. One study and a companion webinar explored the importance of targeted services to support students with disabilities in their transition to and success in postsecondary education. Another study examined how English learner students in Texas fared during the COVID-19 pandemic to inform supports for their academic and language recovery and to address learning disruptions. Finally, REL Southwest informed district strategies and investments to sustain and scale strengths and address weaknesses and gaps in career and technical education (CTE) programs across nine Texas districts by coaching CTE directors on how to review and interpret their CTE graduates’ postsecondary outcomes.

In Oklahoma, REL Southwest informed instructional practices by training state education agency staff on using Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) tiers of evidence and What Works Clearinghouse ratings to select and implement evidence-based practices for the classroom. In addition, REL Southwest conducted an evidence review of blended learning programs and instructional practices, trained district and school staff on the results of the review, and supported them with adopting and monitoring new practices.

In New Mexico, REL Southwest coached leadership at the Santa Fe Indian School to support the development of a teacher and a principal evaluation guidance document that reflects American Indian pedagogy, local education agency strategic direction, and performance evaluation best practices.

Across our region, REL Southwest supported families and communities during the COVID-19 pandemic by holding webinars on addressing collective trauma and supporting the well-being of students and school staff. REL Southwest also developed a webinar, infographic, and additional resources for families to support students’ academic and mental health while at home. And to strengthen the relevance of education research, REL Southwest developed a tool to help researchers and practitioners assess the health of research-practice partnerships by analyzing input gathered from partners.


Angelica Herrera

Angelica Herrera
Partnership Task Lead

Lynn Mellor

Lynn Mellor

Michael Vaden-Kiernan

Michael Vaden-Kiernan

Connect with REL Southwest