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About REL Midwest

Regional Educational Lab (REL) Midwest partners with key stakeholders in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin to develop evidence that can inform consequential decisions about policy, programs, and practice. Key stakeholders include organizations with decision-making authority and the ability to influence education policy and practice, such as state and local education agencies, school boards, institutes of higher education, and student, family, and community organizations. RELs partner with these organizations on applied research and development; training, coaching and technical supports; and dissemination. Click here to learn more about the REL Program.

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PARTNERSHIPS

Supporting Minnesota school leaders in promoting favorable working conditions and in retaining teachers of color and Indigenous teachers. Learn more
Supporting Wisconsin grade 6 teachers in integrating computational thinking and student-focused practices into mathematics instruction, with the aim of improving students’ mathematics engagement and achievement. Learn more
Supporting Iowa middle school leaders in using data and culturally responsive practices with the goal of reducing racial/ethnic disparities in students’ sense of belonging, discipline referrals, and absenteeism. Learn more
Supporting Michigan educators and school leaders in integrating evidence-based strategies and culturally responsive practices into K–1 literacy instruction, with a focus on phonological awareness and phonics. Learn more
Partnering with school districts in Indiana to strengthen high-quality career pathways and programs of study at the secondary level, with a focus on increasing student participation in immersive work-based learning (WBL). Learn more
Supporting Ohio high schools in identifying policies and practices misaligned with the needs of students of color and students receiving special education services as a way to improve school climates and reduce disparities in discipline referrals. Learn more
Supporting Illinois teachers in addressing gaps in students’ mathematics achievement with a focus on fractions. The partnership will draw on a What Works Clearinghouse practice guide to develop an educator toolkit. Learn more

OUR TEAM

REL Midwest is led by AIR with support from the following partners:

  • Civilytics Consulting
  • EDC
  • TRAC Research Group

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GOVERNING BOARD

The REL Governing Board helps REL Midwest prioritize the education needs of the region, provides strategic guidance on REL work to maximize local effectiveness, and leverages members’ regional networks to amplify and disseminate REL products. REL Midwest Governing Board members represent diverse expertise and experience.

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REL Midwest will provide grade 6 mathematics teachers with support and coaching to integrate computational thinking and student-focused practices into their mathematics teaching. Teachers will participate in a 3-day summer institute followed by a series of coaching sessions throughout the school year. Resources provided to teachers will include 15 videos modeling integration of computational thinking and student-focused practices into mathematics lessons, viewing guides to support teachers in interpreting the videos, lesson planning templates, and student exit tickets.
REL Midwest will develop a measure of teachers’ student-focused pedagogical content knowledge for computational thinking in middle school mathematics. Partnering districts will administer the measure to 200–300 teachers. REL Midwest will conduct analyses to determine the measure’s reliability and validity.
REL Midwest will test the usability and feasibility of the ENACT professional development provided by its coaching team on integrating computational thinking into grade 6 mathematics instruction. The team will conduct teacher surveys and interviews to learn which components of the professional development work best for teachers. REL Midwest also will examine student surveys, mathematics grades, and test scores to measure the relationship between ENACT, student perceptions, and achievement outcomes.
REL Midwest will provide coaching to staff in the Office of Research and Evaluation (ORE) at the Illinois State Board of Education through structured opportunities for thought partnership. REL Midwest will provide subject-area expertise related to departmental needs and support ORE in developing quality assurance practices.
REL Midwest will work with Ohio school districts to develop, implement, test, and refine an approach designed to address inequities in school discipline. This approach will bring together school community members over 1 semester to examine data, openly discuss equity gaps, explore solutions, and develop a plan to promote equitable discipline. The research team will conduct interviews, stakeholder feedback surveys, and observations to address research questions related to the usability, feasibility, and acceptability of the components for the approach. The usability/feasibility study will provide information that improves the implementation of the MESA approach to improve student academic and social and emotional outcomes.
REL Midwest will support district and school staff to collect, analyze, and interpret data related to school disciplinary policies and practices. Over 1 semester, REL Midwest will facilitate an equity audit to examine data, discuss equity gaps, explore solutions, and develop a plan to promote equitable discipline. Following the equity audit, REL Midwest will provide 6 months of supportive coaching focused on discussing audit team recommendations, developing an implementation plan and timeline, and creating a plan to track implementation and results.
REL Midwest will coordinate with state and district staff to cultivate and sustain working conditions and school cultures that increase the retention of Indigenous educators and educators of color. This work will focus on areas of cultural proficiency training identified through REL Midwest–facilitated needs assessments and co-design planning meetings with state, district, and school personnel. Support will entail schoolwide training, leadership coaching, mentor coaching for Indigenous mentors and mentors of color, and affinity groups for Indigenous educators and educators of color. Each of these components will also incorporate resources focused on topics elevated by the schools.
REL Midwest will examine the usability, feasibility, and acceptability of SIDEE’s four intervention components designed to improve school climate for Indigenous educators and educators of color. REL Midwest will conduct surveys and interviews with participants in up to four schools during 2 academic years, with the data collection and reporting sequenced throughout the school years to inform continuous improvement. The purpose of the study is to ensure the final intervention is aligned with the needs of Minnesota districts and schools and can support the state’s educator diversification goals.
REL Midwest will test the usability, feasibility, and acceptability of a package of professional learning opportunities for kindergarten and grade 1 teachers called Strategies to Improve Reading (STIR). STIR has multiple components, including (a) a summer institute; (b) a facilitated professional learning community; and (c) on-site, job-embedded coaching. STIR is designed to support effective instruction in phonics and phonological awareness; data collection and use to inform literacy instruction and intervention; and effective leadership practices for literacy for kindergarten and grade 1 teachers and school leaders. To understand whether STIR is usable, feasible, and acceptable to educators, the research team will conduct surveys and interviews with teachers, school leaders, and district leaders; collect data from artifacts used during the professional learning opportunities; and collect student test scores. The research team will produce multiple deliverables, including a report, a blog post, an infographic, and presentations to district stakeholders.
The STIR partnership works with educators to improve the implementation of instructional routines and data-based decision making related to phonological awareness and phonics in K-2 classrooms. Improving students' skills in phonological awareness and phonics will help them become fluent readers capable of making meaning from text. STIR currently works with Lansing Public Schools and Battle Creek Public Schools in Michigan with an aim of scaling up to additional Michigan districts during the five-year contract. This work is done in partnership with the Michigan Department of Education.

The DILE approach will incorporate professional learning in culturally responsive practices as well as training and tools specifically designed to support the systemic use of data to act on racial and other group inequities in student experiences and outcomes in middle school. The DILE approach will include four components: Action-based monitoring (ABM) to facilitate the monitoring of students’ sense of belonging and engagement (i.e., attendance, discipline) over across time; a protocol to guide school leaders and staff in identifying and addressing the school policies, practices, and initiatives that might be leading to differences in student sense of belonging and engagement; training for school leaders and staff in culturally responsive practices, ABM and the protocol; and coaching to support implementation.

REL Midwest will partner with Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) and other Iowa districts to develop, pilot, and refine the DILE approach, which aims to support educators with knowledge and skills to use real-time data and make decisions that lead to the reduction of disparities between student groups in sense of belonging, disciplinary actions, and attendance. The research team will conduct interviews and stakeholder feedback surveys to address research questions related to the usability, feasibility, and acceptability of the components for the approach. The study will provide information that improves the implementation of the DILE approach.

REL Midwest will develop the Teaching Fractions Toolkit to support teachers to enact evidence-based practices summarized in the What Works Clearinghouse practice guide, Developing Effective Fractions Instruction for Kindergarten Through 8th Grade. Drawing on the recommendations and implementation steps outlined in the practice guide, the toolkit will address both teacher understanding of fraction computation, rates, and ratios as well as implications for classroom practice related to fractions content for grade 6 teachers. The Teaching Fractions Toolkit will include teacher supports for grade 6 teachers—six professional development modules as well as tools to monitor instruction—and supports to develop the knowledge of leaders who support these teachers, including informational videos, infographics, and checklists for monitoring conditions for successful use of the toolkit.

REL Midwest will work with Indianapolis Public Schools to strengthen the career pathways and programs of study offered to students in the district, with the goal of increasing the percentage of students engaged in high-quality work-based learning (WBL). Planned activities include gathering information through surveys and process mapping to inform the development of action plans to increase WBL offerings and student participation.

REL Midwest will conduct an efficacy evaluation to rigorously test the efficacy of the Teaching Fractions Toolkit in improving teacher self-efficacy and practices for fraction computation and rate and ratio instruction as well as student learning outcomes in grade 6 mathematics. The evaluation will use a blocked randomized controlled trial (RCT) design in which schools within each district or within each block of similar schools will be randomly assigned to receive the toolkit. The evaluation will be conducted in 40 Illinois schools during the 2024/25 school year.

REL Midwest staff will support the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) in analyzing survey data on Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) spending in the state’s elementary and middle schools. REL Midwest will explore if there are any differences in how schools allocated ESSER funds between schools that demonstrated declines and schools that demonstrated recovery in academic outcomes since the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, REL Midwest will examine the relationship between postpandemic recovery strategies and student academic achievement growth in English Language Arts and math. Finally, REL Midwest will conduct interviews with school administrators to further understand the practices and strategies that were implemented and seem to be promising in the schools that demonstrated postpandemic recovery in academic outcomes.

REL Midwest staff provided coaching to the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) to build on existing supports and help district leaders, school leaders, and educators develop knowledge and skills. REL Midwest designed and implemented a workshop model for IDOE state leaders as a train-the-trainer model on how to develop a theory of action and logic model that they could ultimately deliver to district teams and educators. REL Midwest also created an accompanying facilitator's guide.

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