By John Rice, Director of the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) West at WestEd. This article first appeared on the REL West blog and is posted here with permission.

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) recently awarded the Regional Educational Laboratory West (REL West) contract for the 2022–2027 cycle. The REL West team is looking forward to working in partnership with regional education practitioners and policymakers over the next five years. Together, we will use data and research to address pressing issues to improve the lives of students, particularly students of color, English learners, and those who are economically disadvantaged.

For those of you who are not familiar with REL West, we partner with education practitioners and policymakers in Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah to increase their use of data and evidence in decisionmaking. As a partner, REL West brings rigorous research and development expertise, plus deep knowledge of pressing challenges in policy and practice to improve access, opportunity, and outcomes for all students.

Throughout this REL cycle, the REL West team will sharpen its focus on increasing equitable opportunities and improving learning outcomes for historically underserved students, in particular. REL West will work with partners to analyze systemic disparities, identify the root causes of these disparities, and adopt programs and practices designed to mitigate biases and increase equitable outcomes across a range of subject areas.

Approximately ten new REL West partnerships will launch in 2022, each of which have a distinct set of short, medium, and long-term goals to achieve measurable educator or student outcomes. To reach these goals, each partnership will develop applied research, analytical technical assistance, and strategic dissemination projects unique to its specific context and needs.

Focus Areas: Reducing Disciplinary Incidents for Black Students, and Lowering Chronic Absence Rates for Latinx and Indigenous Students, and Students Affected by Homelessness

One new REL West partnership beginning in 2022 is with San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD). The goal of the partnership, Creating Equitable Educator Practices and Improved Discipline Outcomes for Black Students, is to reduce racial discipline disparities for Black students. REL West and SFUSD will work collaboratively to examine and dismantle structures that drive racial disparities in disciplinary practices affecting Black students in the district. The partnership will conduct rigorous research to test evidence-based policies and practices that address these challenges. Together, REL West and SFUSD will undertake continuous improvement processes to implement, test, and refine approaches to solving racial discipline problems. The partnership will also engage in strategic dissemination efforts, communicating lessons learned from the implementation of evidence-based strategies.

Also in 2022, REL West plans to launch a new partnership with Washoe County School District in Nevada and several community organizations to reduce chronic absence. The partnership, Reducing Chronic Absence by Strengthening Multi-Tiered Systems of Support, seeks to strengthen the use of evidence-based tiered interventions in a multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) framework. Along with rigorous studies of evidence-based interventions and strategies to reduce chronic absence, this partnership will develop an action plan to reduce chronic absence, particularly for Latinx and Indigenous students, and students affected by homelessness. These student groups have some of the highest rates of chronic absence in the district.

The Creating Equitable Educator Practices and Improved Discipline Outcomes for Black Students partnership aims to adopt evidence-based approaches such as empathic discipline practices—which emphasize relationships and perspective-taking over punishment—and strategies that shift adult and student mindsets to address perceptions of stereotype threat and encourage students’ feelings of belonging.

A Toolkit to Improve Grade 3 Reading Comprehension

In addition to launching new partnerships in 2022, REL West will partner with the Arizona Department of Education and an Arizona school district to develop a toolkit for teachers, coaches, and administrators. The toolkit will support the implementation of the five recommendations from the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) Practice Guide Improving Reading Comprehension in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade. Improving grade 3 reading comprehension is a high-leverage need in Arizona, which has a statewide goal that 72 percent of grade 3 students will be proficient on the English Language Arts statewide exam by 2030.

The toolkit will help educators understand and use the WWC Practice Guide recommendations through job-embedded opportunities to reflect on and refine their practices for supporting K–3 reading comprehension. Arizona district and state educators will partner with REL West to develop the content and ensure it is practitioner-friendly, action-oriented, and designed to support equity-focused student achievement outcomes. Prior to its broad dissemination, REL staff will rigorously test the toolkit using a randomized controlled trial (RCT) prior to its broad dissemination. Continued use of evidence-based curricula and interventions, paired with evidence-based practices in the toolkit, will help Arizona meet its goal of improved grade 3 reading comprehension.

Future blogs written by me, other REL West staff, and our partners will highlight the outcomes of these and other projects. You can also find updates on our work on our website, and by following us on Twitter @REL_West. In the meantime, please let me know if you have questions or ideas you would like to share (