By Katie Drummond, Director, and Jodi Davenport, Deputy Director, of the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest at WestEd. REL Northwest posted a three-blog introductory series to the REL Northwest website, and it is posted here with permission.

Every five years, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) launches a new work cycle for its Regional Educational Laboratory Program. REL Northwest, one of 10 regional labs in the United States, launched the 2022–2027 cycle with WestEd providing new leadership and a new approach to our work.

REL Northwest works with partners in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington to develop and use evidence to inform decisions designed to improve learner outcomes. The REL Northwest Governing Board provides strategic guidance on REL Northwest’s work to maximize local effectiveness and leverages its regional networks to amplify and disseminate REL products.

For the 2022–2027 cycle, WestEd leads REL Northwest in partnership with Marzano Research. The two organizations bring significant experience leading RELs, a deep bench of subject matter experts, and a history of successfully serving diverse clients.

Our Guiding Principles

Our guiding principles provide the foundation for being an effective, high-performing REL.

Our focus is on results.
Our work must be change- and action-oriented. We want to address the last-mile issue by helping partners adopt continuous improvement processes and implement specific evidence-informed changes to policy and practice to improve student outcomes. The work aims not to describe problems but to solve them.

We prioritize high-leverage and equity-focused activities.
We balance opportunities to support initiatives and improvement efforts that already have momentum with opportunities to focus on overlooked and marginalized students and communities.

Our work cannot be generic or too broad. 
Capacity building and research must be attuned to the local context and culture. We can only be effective by developing authentic, focused partnerships to help solve issues.

Our work is more powerful when it is integrated.
Partnerships that integrate applied research, TCTS (training, coaching, and technical support), and strategic communication are more likely to impact student outcomes positively. We design and staff projects with this integrated approach in mind.

Authentic partnerships are asset-based.
Our partnerships assume practitioners are in the best positions to identify solutions that will work for their students and communities. In many cases, our role may be to help our partners identify, amplify, and accelerate locally developed solutions.

Capacity building is an individual and organizational process.
Our approach to capacity building elevates practitioners and focuses on individual and organizational capacity that is sustainable and resilient to turnover. We look for opportunities to improve the ability of practitioners to use data and evidence to solve their problems, learn from peers, and adapt evidence-based solutions to meet the needs of their communities.

Our community strategy focuses on engagement and action.
Our goal is not to spread knowledge but to create resources that make knowledge actionable by educators, administrators, and policymakers.

How We Approach Our Work

In past years, RELs identified specific topics and priorities and sometimes involved regional partnerships in promoting the use of evidence-based practices. During the 2022–2027 cycle, the RELs emphasize smaller, more focused partnerships, with activities aimed at measurable improvements in outcomes within the five-year contract.

 REL Northwest wants to provide research and support where it’s needed the most, especially regarding equity issues that were magnified during the pandemic. Based on conversations with educators and partner organizations, the following needs have emerged:

  • Literacy
  • Rural educator retention/recruitment
  • Trauma-engaged educational practices
  • Kindergarten readiness
  • Racial equity
  • High school graduation
  • Blended learning
  • Effective use of ESSER funds

We have formed partnerships with educators and are developing and carrying out the specific activities designed to attain specific, measurable outcomes related to these topics. REL Northwest partners with organizations on three types of work:

  1. Applied research and research-based development projects
  2. Training, coaching, and technical support
  3. Dissemination of research and evidence-based practices

REL Northwest, led by WestEd, is excited to be working with the five Northwest states to help move the needle on student, educator, and systems outcomes.

Please subscribe to the REL Northwest newsletter, reach out via email, follow us on Twitter (@RELNW), and visit our website to learn more about REL Northwest.