Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Education announced that WestEd was awarded two grants totaling $12 million from the Department’s Education Innovation and Research (EIR) Program to help address academic recovery and advance educational equity and innovation.

The funding includes grants for Reading Apprenticeship for Academic Literacy (RAAL) Learning and Project Pathways: Creating the Pathways to Improve Student Mental Health and Well-Being.

“The EIR funding will enable WestEd to support educators and students in two crucial areas made even more pressing by the pandemic­—literacy and mental health and well-being,” said WestEd Chief Executive Officer Jannelle Kubinec.

Reading Apprenticeship for Academic Literacy Learning

The project is intended to improve the academic outcomes of 6,750 high-need 8th and 9th graders who scored below proficiency on state literacy tests across Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, and Utah. To develop students’ disciplinary literacy and foundational reading skills, WestEd will refine and test the evidence-based RAAL curriculum (also designed by WestEd), provide professional learning and classroom coaching to use the curriculum, and develop mechanisms for sustainability and scale.

Using the RAAL curriculum, students will read disciplinary texts, collaborate with their classmates, and use foundational reading and comprehensive-building practices to improve their literacy.

“Reading is among the most essential skills needed for success in all facets of life,” said Linda Friedrich, project director and director of WestEd’s Reading Apprenticeship. “With this funding, we can potentially alter the course of thousands of students’ academic and career trajectories.”

The original RAAL curriculum was developed in the early 2000s by Reading Apprenticeship at WestEd, with funding from private foundations and federal grants. A 2010 study supported by the Institute of Education Sciences revealed that the curriculum had a statistically significant and positive impact on students’ reading comprehension scores.

With the $8 million grant from EIR, the Reading Apprenticeship team will be able to update its innovative curriculum and professional learning, which allow students to acquire foundational reading skills alongside their exploration of complex texts. Combined, the professional learning and refined curriculum will support educators and students as they rebound from the pandemic.

The project will be independently evaluated by SRI International through a randomized control trial, and the Center for the Collaborative Classroom will serve as an advisory and dissemination partner.

Project Pathways: Creating the Pathways to Improve Student Mental Health and Well-Being

The other EIR grant will fund Project Pathways, which will develop and evaluate a free digital program to help middle schools in Placer County, California build data-informed mental health support systems for students and accurately identify students with mental health concerns.

The program will use data to determine the efficacy of universal schoolwide mental health promotion, specifically social–emotional learning (SEL) practices. It will also ensure that students with mental health concerns, particularly those from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds, receive the mental health interventions they need.

“Through Project Pathways, more than 18,000 middle schoolers in Placer County will gain greater access to robust mental health care,” said Nicholas Gage, project director and senior researcher at WestEd. “Just as importantly­, the project will also help schools build the infrastructure to tend to students’ mental health long after the project is completed.”

To design key components of the program, the project team will solicit input from educators, students, and families representing 27 middle schools in the county. Once the program is completed, the team will disseminate the findings and the program to inform similar programs across the state and country.

Partners for the project include the Placer County Office of Education, University of California, San Francisco, and Dr. Joni Splett, Associate Professor in the School Psychology program at the University of Florida.

WestEd received a $4 million EIR grant to bring Project Pathways and its program to fruition.

In total, the U.S. Department of Education awarded 45 EIR grants to advance educational innovation and research, and to develop new solutions to remove educational opportunity gaps for students who have been historically underserved.

For more information about WestEd’s 2023 EIR-funded projects, contact Gretchen Wright, Director of Strategic Communications, at gwright@wested.org.