Research Alliances Look at Pressing Regional Issues


March 26, 2013


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How suspension and expulsion rates vary in a group of Oregon school districts and how students of color may be affected by those differences is just one of the topics that REL Northwest researchers are delving into in the coming months. Seven studies are now underway by REL Northwest research alliances, touching on important regional issues such as dropout prevention, school improvement, and coordination of statewide services.

“Each of these studies addresses important problems of practical significance that our research alliance members are grappling with,” says Christopher Mazzeo, REL Northwest Director. The alliances are made up of stakeholders who share a specific educational concern and agree to work together to learn more about the concern so that they can make sound decisions to improve education outcomes. The alliances identify study topics and work with REL Northwest staff to produce reports that are highly relevant, actionable, and meet rigorous guidelines set by the Institute of Education Sciences. Current studies include the following:

The Alaska State Policy Research Alliance, made up of K–12 and higher education researchers and policymakers, is examining pathways of Alaska high school students into postsecondary options. This study looks at the choices students make as they exit high school and how those trajectories influence outcomes such as employment and college attendance and persistence. Decision makers will use the findings to examine which state-level interventions can help keep students on track for graduation.

A study by the Idaho Statewide System of Support Research Alliance centers on the educational effectiveness surveys that low-performing schools in Idaho complete each year. The surveys track the presence of nine characteristics of high-performing schools. Researchers are trying to understand how teachers’ reports of these characteristics correlate to student proficiency in reading and math and to attendance. Study results will likely inform future uses of the survey in allocating support to schools in need of improvement.

The Oregon Leadership Network (OLN) Research Alliance is engaged in two studies. One focuses on early identification of students likely to drop out or graduate on time from OLN schools. Researchers will evaluate how background characteristics such as gender, race, eligibility for special education, and eligibility for Limited English Proficiency programs interact with factors such as GPA, behavior, number of course Fs, and attendance. The OLN is also examining disciplinary practices and policies among their schools and whether exclusionary discipline is more likely to affect students in different subgroups.

The Rural Schools Network (RSN) Alliance is studying how college enrollment and persistence rates vary among groups of students in RSN schools. The study will analyze what gaps in college enrollment and persistence exist between groups of students and whether persistence varies by college type and time of initial enrollment. As part of the study, researchers will examine how students perform academically in first-year classes in public Oregon colleges; the relationship between high school state test scores and placement in remedial college courses; and where correlations exist between student performance in postsecondary courses and college persistence. This study will provide baseline data that will help track high school students’ progress towards college readiness.

Researchers will examine how graduation rates of English language learners (ELLs) compare to non-ELLs in a study underway by the Road Map ELL Workgroup. Road Map is a cradle to career initiative in seven south Seattle and south King County school districts. Study findings will show how accurately early warning indicators currently in use in these districts predict dropout for ELL and non-ELL students and whether different cut points for the indicators are more accurate for the ELL population.

Washington’s nine educational service districts (ESDs) are investigating how coordinated their services are in 13 statewide teaching and learning support areas. With the state facing increasing fiscal constraints, the Washington ESD Network Alliance wants to identify cost efficiencies and reduce duplication of services.