Realizing the Benefits of Research-Practitioner Partnerships

Jill Weber brings 25 years of experience advancing the education reform efforts of state and local education agency leaders to her role as director of EDC’s Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast and Islands. EDC is now a little over halfway through its second five-year term administering the REL, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Over the past few years, the REL has formed research alliances—researcher-practitioner partnerships in which education practitioners and policymakers in New England, New York, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico work closely with EDC and other researchers to carry out research agendas targeted at priority areas of educational improvement. In this post, Weber provides a glimpse into the work of the English Language Learners Alliance (ELLA), which is examining state and district data to gain insight into how school programs and characteristics affect English language learners’ achievement and outcomes.  

In all of our eight research alliances, researchers are collaborating with policymakers and practitioners to make research more relevant, accessible, and actionable for stakeholders. The following story of impact from this work is one of many that I could share.

Working closely with English Language Learners Alliance (ELLA) members, our researchers conducted a study—“The Correlates of Academic Performance for English Language Learners in a New England District”—that provides demographic and student achievement information about English language learner students in an urban district here in the Northeast. Based on a previous study conducted with state-level data, the study focuses on district-level data and includes information on the program type in which English language learners are placed (a variable unavailable in the earlier state-level study).

The urban district that researchers selected for the study was keenly interested in the study’s focus. The district had data to provide but had no capacity to analyze it and was grateful for our assistance. One of our ELLA members contributed to the design of the study, including the formation of research questions; assisted with understanding the district data elements necessary for analysis; and supported our researchers in understanding and correcting initial anomalies in the data. In August, IES published the REL Northeast & Islands report presenting findings from the study.

There have been several impacts along the way. Even before the analysis was concluded, the district's participation in the study spurred district leaders to think about the programs they offer English language learners and how best to serve this population. In addition, the director of the district’s English language learner programs is interested in one of the many technical assistance workshop series we provide—“Developing Program Evaluations to Support Improvement”—which supports districts in creating a logic model to implement policy decisions based on study findings. The workshop series will help the district communicate the study’s findings to district personnel, which could further support decision-making about English language learner programs and policies.

In the months and years ahead, findings from “The Correlates of Academic Performance for English Language Learners in a New England District”—including several patterns in the data—will help advance the alliance’s agenda. The findings also suggest future directions for more research on the links between programs for English language learners and student outcomes that will interest the broader education research community. In an August 28 blog, Conor Williams at New America Foundation did a good job exploring some of those avenues.