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Research & Evaluation

Connecting Research & Practice

Since WestEd’s inception in 1966, our researchers have been conducting studies to address significant questions and issues related to teaching and learning and to human development in a range of social settings.

WestEd staff operate at the intersection of research, policy, and practice, bringing the methods of systematic inquiry to bear on real-world problems. Our Approach to Research & Evaluation framework illustrates our dual commitment to building the general knowledge base while supporting applied learning in local contexts.

Contact Us About Our Research Work

Facilitate Learning Networks

WestEd facilitates learning networks, where educators use systematic approaches to learn together as they seek shared goals.

Educators often want to learn from each other — to see how others have tackled challenges like theirs and with what results. Increasingly, educators from preschool through college are coming together to learn in formal networks with their peers. To make the most of these partnerships, they need assistance accessing research and structuring their own learning activities.

WestEd assists such networks as a research partner and may facilitate the network’s operations, serving as a hub for network activities and a consolidator of learning. WestEd staff have expertise to help the network develop a shared framework for understanding the problem that the members want to tackle, identify appropriate ways to measure outcomes, collect and analyze data, select and implement interventions, and reflect on progress over time. As members of the network share what they are learning and plan ways to test out interventions more systematically, they can learn what works for whom, when, and under what conditions.

Illustrative examples from our work

Research-practice partnerships and alliances

In four regions of the country, WestEd is part of a Regional Educational Laboratory (REL), that facilitates research partnerships with local districts, states, universities, and others who share a topic of interest. WestEd staff help the group generate a relevant research agenda; conduct studies or help partners carry out their own research; and facilitate group discussion and application of evidence. Directly connecting research and practice through a partnership brings relevant and applied research to bear on local problems.

For example, the Professional Learning and Development Alliance in the Northeast and Islands used a structured agenda-setting process to help alliance members refine and prioritize research questions. Given their substantial investment in professional learning and development, districts wanted help with effectively and rigorously evaluating their PLD efforts. Through assistance with evaluation design and analysis by the REL, districts aim to make evidence-based decisions regarding the selection, adaptation, scale up, and/or discontinuation of PLD programs and interventions.

Two groups working with REL West are focused on chronic absence and how schools, districts, and school-based health centers can reduce it through a tiered approach that ranges from broad community awareness campaigns to targeted responses to individual student attendance data.

Continuous improvement efforts

Networks may come together to address a shared goal for improvement in practice through repeated cycles of local inquiry. Some of these networks use an “improvement science” approach, using the language of “plan, do, study, act.” Others use similar processes and tools to structure systematic learning over time. WestEd serves as a hub for learning design and analytics.

In the New Generation of Educators Initiative (NGEI), faculty teams from California State University (CSU) campuses are learning to use improvement science methods to improve teacher preparation. Improvement Fellows, trained and coached by WestEd, facilitate cycles of improvement focused on a key element of their shared framework for design of teacher preparation, such as practice-based clinical preparation.

Teachers in Washoe County School District are implementing a new writing curriculum by using an improvement science approach, in partnership with REL West. Meeting in “learning huddles,” teachers engage in inquiry cycles. They collect and share data on key practices, such as tracking the time students spend writing, or the number of writing conferences with the teacher; then they plan and carry out changes in practice and look for improvements over time.

Professional learning networks

National organizations that provide teacher professional development have come together, with funding from the Gates Foundation, to learn how teacher leaders at school sites can be a more powerful support for teacher learning. WestEd has facilitated their Teacher Practice Network, coordinating Network activities, and analyzing data on common measures to provide a more robust picture of the important role of teacher leaders.

WestEd has led the efforts of the National Center for Systemic Improvement (NCSI), funded by the Office of Special Education Programs, to help states transform their systems to improve outcomes for infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities. As part of the work, NCSI established nine Cross-State Learning Collaboratives (CSLCs) focused on key improvement outcomes targeted within state Part C and Part B programs. The CSLCs hold monthly networking calls, offer learning opportunities through webinars in areas of need identified by states, provide opportunities for sharing of new resources across states, and plan face-to-face meetings twice each year for state leaders and technical assistance providers.

If you’d like more information on how we can help or partner with you, contact Neal Finkelstein tel: 415.615.3171 Contact by Email