IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Unlocking College and Career Success: How the RELs are Making a Difference in Access, Enrollment, and Completion

A smiling student works looks at the person accross from her while working at a round table.

Removing barriers to college access and success begins well before the first college application is submitted. It starts with high schools offering advanced courses, work-based learning (WBL), and career programs, giving students a clear roadmap toward higher education and career readiness. While recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics show that 73 percent of public high schools offer some type of advanced academic course, and 86 percent offer career and technical education (CTE), not all students, especially those from historically underserved backgrounds, have equal access to these resources and opportunities. Improving college access, enrollment, and completion for all students can help address the inequities we see in higher education and the workforce and facilitate equal opportunities for all students to achieve economic stability.

Many policymakers and educators are focused on ensuring that students are ready for college and careers when they graduate from high school. RELs work in partnership with states and districts to 1) conduct original high-quality research, 2) provide training, coaching, and technical support, and 3) disseminate high-quality research findings on the topic of college and career readiness.

In this fourth installation of our blog series, we share how two of IES’s Regional Educational Laboratories (RELs) are making a difference in college and career success.

REL Northeast & Islands: Preparing Students for Success after High School

REL Northeast & Islands is partnering with education leaders In Vermont, Rhode Island, and New York to support college and career readiness initiatives.

Facing an aging workforce and stagnant postsecondary enrollment, Vermont has launched a statewide initiative to offer students multiple pathways to achieve education and career success. With support from REL Northeast & Islands through the Partnership to Strengthen Flexible Pathways for College and Career Success, Vermont is assessing the quality and completeness of the data they currently collect about program access, participation, and success and exploring how that data can be used to identify inequities and barriers. REL Northeast & Islands supported a series of meetings that bring together Vermont Agency of Education staff from the divisions of Data and Analysis and Student Pathways and work-based learning coordinators from comprehensive high schools and regional Career and Technical Education Centers to identify and address opportunity gaps in access to and participation in these various pathways, particularly for students from historically underserved groups and those in rural locations. REL Northeast & Islands also supported partners as they consider developing policies and guidance to improve data collection about student CTE and WBL participation and success.

In Rhode Island, REL Northeast & Islands’ Partnership to Support Early College Opportunities is studying whether and how early college opportunities help bring the state closer to achieving its postsecondary enrollment goals. The REL Northeast & Islands team supported school and postsecondary leaders and counselors by conducting coaching sessions to increase school and district teams’ understanding of their early college data, setting goals for improvement, and supporting the use of Rhode Island Department of Education’s data dashboards. Through 2024, REL Northeast & Islands is also conducting an applied research study to investigate the cost-effectiveness of three state programs that help students earn college credits during high school: dual enrollment, concurrent enrollment, and advanced placement programs.  “Our Rhode Island partners are very interested in understanding the results of these programs and whether they work for all students,” explains REL research scientist and partnership co-lead Dr. Katherine Shields. “So in this study, we are looking at whether the effects of the programs differ for students who started high school academically proficient and those who did not.”

And in New York, REL Northeast & Islands just established a new partnership with state education leaders,  the Partnership to Support Equity in Early College Programs, to address a persistent decline in postsecondary enrollment and support equity in early college programs. A study with the New York Department of Education will help New York policymakers and education leaders better understand inequities in access and enrollment and outcomes experienced by participating students. 

REL West: Using Evidence-Based Strategies to Reengage and Support Adults with Some College but No Credential

In addition to identifying evidence to support college and career readiness through collaboration with K–12 agencies, the RELs are working with postsecondary institutions to extend this support. For example, to re-engage Californians who have some college experience but did not complete their credentials, REL West has established the California Adult College Completion Partnership, comprising six higher education institutions in northern California. Using a continuous improvement model, REL West is helping these institutions implement strategies to re-engage these students and encourage them to return to college and complete credentialing. The partnership identified strategies that fall under three main buckets: communications and outreach, reenrollment and onboarding, and student supports. REL West is providing tailored coaching support to help each of the six participating institutions identify, implement, and test at least one of these strategies.

“The work of the REL allowed us to refocus the efforts to identify and re-engage students at Shasta College who completed some courses but have no credentials. We were also able to add capacity to the efforts with other stakeholders on our campus. This resulted in an increase in enrollment by near completers. Also, involvement in the cohort has strengthened our partnerships with other colleges in the region, and we look forward to continuing our joint efforts after the completion of the project.”
—Kate Mahar, Associate Vice President and Strategic Initiatives at Shasta College and Executive Director of Shasta College Attainment and Innovation Lab for Equity (SCAILE)

How RELs are Contributing to the Research Base

RELs collaborate with school districts, state departments of education, and other education partners to help generate evidence and contribute to the research base through rigorous inquiry and data analysis. The two studies highlighted below focus on college and career readiness and both meet the What Works Clearinghouse standards with reservations, with at least one statistically significant finding and moderate evidence of effectiveness.

REL Central: The Impact of Career and Technical Education on Postsecondary Outcomes in Nebraska and South Dakota

Education leaders in Nebraska and South Dakota partnered with REL Central to examine how completing a sequence of career and technical education courses in high school affects students' rates of on-time high school graduation and their rates of postsecondary education enrollment and completion within two and five years.

REL Northeast & Islands: The Effects of Accelerated College Credit Programs on Educational Attainment in Rhode Island

This study examined participation in accelerated college credit programs dual enrollment, concurrent enrollment, and Advanced Placement courses in Rhode Island high schools to understand their effects on educational attainment. This video, What are the effects of taking college-level courses in high school?, shares findings from the report.

Learn More about the College and Career Work of the RELs

The examples shared here illustrate the varied support RELs can provide across data systems, access, and analysis, cost effectiveness, and support for research and development. In addition to the work highlighted in this blog, multiple RELs across the program are working hard to support college and career readiness and success in their regions. Learn more about this work by visiting:

REL Appalachia

Strengthening Students’ Preparation for College and Careers

Developing Resilient and Supportive Community Colleges

REL Central

Supporting Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness of Students in Kansas

REL Mid-Atlantic

Improving Post-High School Transitions for Students with Disabilities in Maryland

REL Midwest

Employability Skills Partnership

REL Northwest

Portland High School Graduation

REL Southeast

Diversifying the Teacher Pipeline with Historically Black Colleges and Universities


The Regional Educational Labs (REL) program, operated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), supports state education agencies, schools and school districts, and institutions of higher education nationwide in using data and evidence-based practice to improve opportunities and outcome for learners. Operating in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Territories and Freely Associated States of the Pacific region, the REL program brings together the expertise of local communities, top-tier education researchers, and education scientists at IES’s National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE) to address the most vexing problems of education policy and practice in states and regions—on demand and free of charge.

This blog was written by Laura Dyer, NCEE Knowledge Use Dissemination contract

Data-Driven Decision-Making in Education: How REL Work Makes a Difference

Photo of a workshop REL Appalachia conducted as part of their Strengthening Students’ Preparation for College and Careers in Northeastern Tennessee partnership
Photo of a workshop REL Appalachia conducted as part of their Strengthening Students’ Preparation for College and Careers in Northeastern Tennessee partnership

The Regional Educational Labs (REL) program, operated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), supports state education agencies, schools and school districts, and institutions of higher education nationwide in using data and evidence-based practice to improve opportunities and outcomes for learners. Operating in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Territories and Freely Associated States of the Pacific region, the REL program brings together the expertise of local communities, top-tier education researchers, and education scientists at IES’s National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE) to address the most vexing problems of education policy and practice in states and regions—on demand and free of charge.

Data-driven decision-making can be a critical tool to address resource disparities, enhance student success, and promote equitable outcomes. Collecting and analyzing relevant data gives insights into student performance, attendance patterns, disciplinary actions, and more. Rather than relying solely on assumptions or "how we've always done things," educators can use these insights to more effectively tailor policy and practice to better meet the unique needs of their students and communities.

In this third installation of our blog series, we'll explore three case studies showcasing the significance of data-driven decision-making and highlighting the REL Program’s pivotal role in shaping the future of education.

REL Mid-Atlantic: Data-Driven Decision-Making to Improving School Accountability Measures in the Wake of COVID-19

The suspension of standardized testing and accountability measures during the pandemic posed challenges for schools and districts. The interruption in assessments meant there was no baseline data from the 2020-21 school year against which to compare future performance. The sudden shifts between in-person and remote learning, disruptions in curricula, and variations in student participation made it difficult to interpret school performance data and introduced additional instability to school performance indicators. This uncertainty made it more important than ever to ensure that accountability measures were as accurate and reliable as possible to avoid mislabeling schools and educators.

To address these challenges, Pennsylvania's Department of Education (PDE) turned to the expertise of REL Mid-Atlantic. The state recognized the need to reduce measurement error and increase the statistical reliability of performance measures, particularly for subgroups of students, who are critical in identifying schools for targeted support and improvement under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). REL Mid-Atlantic and PDE embarked on a pioneering effort to use Bayesian statistical methods to reduce random error and stabilize performance measures. One focus was the potential instability that small sizes of student subgroups introduced. By minimizing statistical fluctuations, the new approach aims to ensure that schools are not wrongly identified for improvement based on temporary fluctuations in data. This represents a significant advancement in educational accountability and can have far-reaching implications for how states evaluate school performance.

This innovative work is groundbreaking in multiple ways. It addresses an immediate need to ensure that schools are not unfairly labeled as underperforming due to the unpredictability of data during the pandemic. This helps to maintain the credibility of the accountability system. Moreover, this effort extends beyond the immediate crisis. By introducing more accurate and reliable accountability measures, educators can be more confident that performance evaluations are based on solid, consistent data. This, in turn, can lead to greater buy-in and cooperation from educators and stakeholders.

REL Appalachia: Strengthening Preparation for College and Careers in Northeastern Tennessee

Recently, educators from a consortium of districts in northeastern Tennessee report having experienced a wake-up call when they reflected on their own experience preparing for their own college and careers and compared it with feedback from interviews with current students. Educators learned that students are still facing the same challenges, like not receiving enough guidance on navigating the college application process or finding and applying for scholarships.

Since early 2022, district leaders and staff from the Niswonger Foundation have joined with REL Appalachia in the Strengthening Students Preparation for College and Careers partnership. Together, they reflect on districts’ college and career readiness data and identify improvements to programs and services that better prepare students for life after college. Educators have participated in coaching and technical assistance workshops led by REL Appalachia where they look at quantitative data such as their college enrollment and career technical education (CTE) attainment rates. They have supplemented these numbers with student voices through interviews to better understand the whole picture.

One key takeaway from the analysis of outcome data and student interviews was an increased awareness that everyone in their system has the potential to affect postsecondary trajectories. Partners are now considering what changes they can make to help foster social-emotional preparation for college. For example, one partner stated that these changes could be as simple as having counselors support lunch duty as an opportunity for them to build relationships with students.

With a better understanding of their data on college and career preparation, partners are now asking deeper questions about how they can improve their systems to better support students. In the coming years, REL Appalachia will help the partnership address research questions that will allow them to understand better how their programs and services are strengthening preparation for college and careers.

REL Northwest: Accelerating Literacy Outcomes in Montana Through Evidence and Data Use

Despite having a dedicated leadership team that had implemented multi-tiered systems of support to improve literacy, Laurel Public Schools in Montana faced a pressing challenge: only 50 percent of students in grades 3-8 were proficient in reading. For students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, this dropped to 25 percent. Moreover, achievement gaps persisted between White students and students from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, ranging from 10 to 35 percentage points. The district’s own data made it evident that a significant intervention was needed to uplift literacy instruction and outcomes in the district.

Laurel Public Schools and REL Northwest collaborated to address the immediate issue while creating a sustainable solution that would transform literacy instruction and student outcomes over the long term. Laurel wanted to take a close and critical eye to their existing multi-tiered systems of support in reading (MTSS-R) and revise their practices to align better with evidence-based methods to effectively tailor reading instruction and assessment practices. Their goal was to ensure that classroom instruction and interventions were appropriately differentiated for all learners, leading to improved reading achievement and reduced achievement disparities.

REL Northwest was pivotal in guiding the district toward using data effectively. In the first year of the project, REL Northwest worked with literacy leadership teams at Laurel to create a rubric that asked Laurel educators to reflect on evidence-based practices within their MTSS-R and describe practices in their district that are aligned with evidence-based practices and practices in need of improvement.

Using the data they collected, the literacy leadership teams identified previously undetected problems of practice. For example, while evidence-based targeted Tier 2 reading interventions and processes were in place, the data suggested that teachers skipped these targeted interventions and moved directly to Tier 3, referring struggling readers for special education. To support long-term improvement, the literacy leadership teams have begun work on action and monitoring plans as part of a “Plan-Do-Study-Act” continuous improvement cycle. 

The partnership between Laurel Public Schools and REL Northwest showcases how the partnership between RELs and dedicated state and local leaders can lead to educational transformation. It underscores the power of data as a catalyst for change and highlights the importance of evidence-based practices in driving educational excellence.

Looking Ahead

Data-driven decision-making can help states and districts deliver on their commitments to equity, evidence-based classroom practice, enhanced student outcomes, and informed policymaking. As these case studies demonstrate, the REL program can support these states and districts in effectively harnessing data to shape a brighter future for our students and the whole of our educational system.


This blog was written by Nicassia Belton (Nicassia.Belton@ed.gov), contracting officer’s representative with the REL Program at NCEE.

The Regional Educational Lab Program: Making a Difference in Educator Recruitment and Retention

Torrence Williams, Director of Teacher Advancement at the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, leads a professional learning module training for Louisiana’s New Teacher Experience program.
Torrence Williams, director of teacher advancement at the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, leads a professional learning module training for Louisiana’s New Teacher Experience program.

The Regional Educational Labs (REL) program, operated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), supports state education agencies, schools and school districts, and institutions of higher education nationwide in using data and evidence-based practice to improve opportunities and outcome for learners. Operating in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Territories and Freely Associated States of the Pacific region, the REL program brings together the expertise of local communities, top-tier education researchers, and education scientists at IES’s National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE) to address the most vexing problems of education policy and practice in states and regions—on demand and free of charge.

It's not exactly breaking news that many schools in our country struggle to fill vacancies in their teacher workforce. This past fall, IES’s National Center for Education Statistics surveyed public school leaders about staffing challenges as they began the 2022-23 school year. The statistics were sobering: 45 percent of schools reported having at least one vacant position more than one month into the school year, and more than 25 percent of schools reported multiple vacancies. Worryingly, our most underserved students were experiencing this crisis most acutely, with roughly 60 percent of schools in high-poverty neighborhoods or with a high-minority student body reporting at least one vacancy. While all of us anxiously await data on the 2023-24 school year—which should be available later this year—RELs and their state and local partners are working to strengthen all aspects of the teacher pipeline.

In the second of a four-part blog series, we highlight four REL research and development projects that address educator recruitment and retention. Each demonstrates how RELs are leveraging their distinct capacity for innovation, rigorous research, and authentic partnership to deliver locally focused and evidence-based supports to the regions, states, and communities they serve.

REL Northwest: Examining Strategies to Improve Teacher Recruitment and Retention in Rural Alaska

Like many rural school districts across the nation, Alaska’s Lower Kuskokwim School District (LKSD) is experiencing a persistent and pressing need to attract and retain educators. Near the start of the 2022-23 school year, 78 positions—nearly one-quarter of all teaching positions in the district—remained unfilled. New teachers were often recruited to the district from other countries such as the Philippines, leading to low retention rates and a constant churn of new educators. Faced with this persistent, high-stakes problem, leadership at LKSD decided to partner with REL Northwest to discover research-based solutions to their teacher recruitment and retention crisis.

REL Northwest is partnering with LKSD to identify evidence-based strategies and tools to continuously monitor and improve working conditions with the goal of increasing teacher retention. To do that, LKSD plans to implement the recommendation of strengthening teacher working conditions from the state's Teacher Retention and Recruitment Plan. As a first step in this partnership, REL Northwest staff reviewed and summarized research on working conditions and teacher retention to identify eight factors that may influence a teacher's decision to stay or leave.  

Lower Kuskokwim leaders decided to focus on activities to identify how changes related to three of those factors—supportive school leadership, available time for teachers, and community engagement—may improve working conditions. The first activity will adapt existing LKSD data sources and develop a research-informed tool to monitor teacher perceptions of school leadership and collect further data to inform the district’s action plan.

Staff also identified a school leadership responsibility unique to their district that may affect teacher trust: managing teacher housing. Housing is a major challenge, not only in remote villages without road access, but in many areas of the country. REL Northwest led partners through an activity to brainstorm how school leaders could improve housing and develop a theory of action for how those strategies would improve working conditions and promote retention. The strategies included establishing realistic housing expectations for new teachers, revising the process for leader evaluation of housing needs, and changing the budgeting process to make maintenance needs and upgrades easier. As a result of the work, district leaders are designing a program that allows teachers to apply for district funding to make simple housing upgrades, such as changes in lighting or painting.

REL Central: Strengthening the Teacher Pipeline in South Dakota to alleviate Teacher Shortages

Like many states, South Dakota is experiencing a teacher shortage that has worsened in recent years. Late last year, SDDOE partnered with REL Central to support one component of their response to this challenge: developing new pathways into teaching for candidates such as paraprofessionals and other South Dakota residents who have interest in entering the teacher workforce. Initially, the work focused on the design and implementation of a teacher apprenticeship program designed to support paraprofessionals as they acquire their teaching degrees and as they are mentored to become certified teachers.

In March, REL Central began work with SDDOE on a fast-turnaround project to support the development of a survey for paraprofessionals about their interest in the pilot apprenticeship program and the types of supports they seek from mentor teachers. Within a matter of weeks, the survey was developed and administered to paraprofessionals statewide. With survey data in hand indicating that hundreds of South Dakota paraprofessionals were interested in such a program, the pilot was expanded by SDDOE to support additional slots starting in fall 2023. In the coming months, REL Central will work with SDDOE to further refine this program by incorporating research evidence from other “Grow Your Own” teacher workforce programs on the components of effective mentoring and by helping the state to generate, collect, analyze, and use data from participants to inform further improvements to the pilot apprenticeship program.

REL Pacific: Strengthening the teacher workforce in Palau

The Republic of Palau, like many school systems, has experienced challenges in recruiting and retaining enough teachers to provide every student with a high-quality education. The geographic isolation of Palau compounds these challenges. Many local Palauan teachers do not have a four-year college degree or are teaching outside of their area of certification. As was the case in Alaska’s Lower Kuskokwim School District, one solution has been to bring in teachers from out of the country to fill vacancies; however, the turnover rate of these teachers is very high. The Palau Partnership to Support Teacher Effectiveness–– a collaboration with the Palau Ministry of Education (MOE), Palau Community College (PCC), six private schools, and REL Pacific ––is focused on building more sustainable solutions. 

The long-term goals of the partnership include Palau private schools adopting a teacher effectiveness measurement system to support, develop, and retain effective teachers; Palau private schools adopting a systemwide instructional coaching process for improving teacher effectiveness; and Palau MOE and PCC reviewing data on the effects of teacher education programs and making implementation adjustments so that their available resources may be used more effectively and efficiently. 

REL Pacific is supporting partner schools to realize their goals by drawing from resources on indicators of successful teacher recruitment and retention as well as best practices of effective teaching. REL Pacific is providing schools training and coaching on data-driven decision-making and plan-do-study-act (PDSA) cycles in the context of the schools’ goals to improve literacy instruction through developing systemic supports for teachers. By incorporating ways of measuring best practices of effective teaching into the schools’ instructional coaching processes, each school will be better able to enact systemic change to address its specific teacher development and retention needs. Additionally, an applied research study is underway that will describe teacher pathways and certification patterns. The findings from this descriptive study will inform future efforts of Palau’s education community to address the new teacher certification requirements and overall educator shortage crisis.

REL Southwest: Partnering to support early career and aspiring teachers in Louisiana

Louisiana’s educator shortage is compounded with low retention rates for early-career teachers. Teachers with 2–5 years of experience left public schools in 2020 at a rate of 30 percent, compared with 17 percent of teachers with 6–10 years of experience. REL Southwest and the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) have formed the Supporting Early Career and Aspiring Teachers (SECAT) partnership to improve supports for novice and aspiring teachers. Through the SECAT partnership, REL Southwest aims to strengthen LDOE’s capacity to use evidence to refine new initiatives that support early career and aspiring teachers, such as the New Teacher Experience program and the Louisiana Pre-Educator Pathway, the state’s largest “Grow Your Own” program. This work builds from a previous partnership between REL Southwest and LDOE focused on exploring and evaluating the early impacts of Louisiana’s Believe and Prepare teacher residency program.  

The work of the SECAT partnership kicked off this past spring. Over the next five years, REL Southwest will work with LDOE and school systems in Louisiana to strengthen their capacity to generate and use evidence to refine existing programs for early career and aspiring teachers. In the first year of the partnership, REL Southwest and LDOE partners plan to focus on technical assistance that builds LDOE’s capacity for evaluating the New Teacher Experience. In future years of the partnership, REL Southwest will study LDOE’s efforts to support new and aspiring teachers. Along the way, REL Southwest will share important takeaways, resources, and policy implications related to teacher recruitment and retention learned through the partnership with Louisiana.

Stay tuned for part three of our “Making a Difference” series, focused on school accountability systems. As always, my (virtual) door is open if you have questions about the work highlighted in this blog, or anything else on REL Program. Just email me at chris.boccanfuso@ed.gov.

The Regional Educational Lab Program: Making a Difference in Literacy and Math Outcomes

by Chris Boccanfuso, REL Program Branch Chief

REL Midwest ENACT Coach, Katie Rich, works with Milwaukee Public Schools’ grade 6 teachers and math coaches during the ENACT Summer Institute.
REL Midwest ENACT Coach, Katie Rich, works with Milwaukee Public Schools’ grade 6 teachers and math coaches during the ENACT Summer Institute.

When educators at Harts PreK-8 and Omar Elementary School in southwestern West Virginia wanted to pioneer a new approach that supported families to engage in their child's math learning, they turned to a partner who had supported their State for more than 50 years: Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Appalachia. The resulting program, known in the Appalachian region and elsewhere as community math nights, has now served hundreds of families in West Virginia and Kentucky. And thanks in part to the attention of education writers and the national media, it is poised to help even more.

The Regional Educational Labs program, operated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), supports state education agencies, schools and school districts, and institutions of higher education nationwide in using data and evidence-based practice to improve opportunities and outcome for learners. Operating in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Territories and Freely Associated States of the Pacific region, the REL program brings together the expertise of local communities, top-tier education researchers, and education scientists at the IES National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE) to address the most vexing problems of education policy and practice in states and regions—on demand and free of charge.

In this first of a four-part blog series, we highlight four REL research and development projects focused on strengthening math and literacy outcomes. Each demonstrates how RELs have leveraged their distinct capacity for innovation, rigorous research, and authentic partnership to deliver locally-focused and evidence-based supports to the regions, states, and communities they serve.

REL Appalachia: Engaging families for math success in Kentucky and West Virginia

A community math night (CMN) brings together educators, students, family members, and other caring adults to learn about, talk about, and have fun with math. CMNs are designed to reinforce positive math mindsets, help family members participate in their child's learning, and build a sense of community and partnership around a subject that many caregivers find daunting. As part of its support for a series of CMNs across Kentucky and West Virginia, REL Appalachia published materials and a facilitators guide so that any school can host their own event.

True to the program’s emphasis on continuous improvement and innovation, REL Appalachia has begun a new partnership with Logan County (WV) schools that builds from the foundations of the existing CMN approach as a jumping-off point to further accelerate improvement in middle school math achievement using a more comprehensive, year-round set of supports. This new effort involves coaching school-based teams to build their capacity to promote positive math attitudes with students and families, implement research-based instructional practices in the classroom, and employ inclusive family engagement strategies. Materials used to coach school teams will be pulled together into a single resource when the project is complete, but you can begin to use early content now! (See, for example, resources for “Promoting Positive Mathematics Attitudes.”)  

REL Midwest: Inspiring Milwaukee students to be lifelong STEM learners

What if some of the principles powering today’s most innovative technologies—such as artificial intelligence—could be taught to elementary students to encourage lifelong learning and success in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)? The ENgagement and Achievement through Computational Thinking (ENACT) partnership, which includes Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) and REL Midwest, is working with teachers to do just that.

Together, MPS and REL Midwest are developing, evaluating, and refining an approach for integrating computational thinking—a set of skills related to problem solving and explaining one’s reasoning—into MPS’ 6th grade math curriculum.

Laura Maly, an MPS mathematics teacher-leader, shared how integrating computational thinking strategies has influenced her work this year. "The [ENACT] computational thinking strategies are very prevalent throughout all strands of mathematics and across all of the grade levels that I work with," she said. "It is easy to bring the CT [computational thinking] strategies to life when working in mathematics classrooms."

REL Southeast: Improving Literacy in Mississippi –The Journey Continues

After many years at the bottom in student performance when compared with other states, the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) made a concerted effort to improve the foundational literacy skills of students in kindergarten through grade 3. The results of that effort speak for themselves, with many referring to the state’s transformation as the “Mississippi Miracle.” Now the state is turning its attention to the next leg of its journey: improving the literacy skills of all students, focusing on grade 4 and beyond.

MDE and four school districts in the state–Canton, Columbus, Laurel, and George counties–formed the Mississippi Improving Adolescent Literacy Partnership with REL Southeast to ensure educators can integrate literacy strategies into a wide range of academic courses, from social studies to the sciences. To do so, partners are relying on research conducted elsewhere within NCEE: its What Works Clearinghouse. (Check out the WWC’s Improving Adolescent Literacy: Effective Classroom and Intervention Practices and Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively practice guides to learn more!)

After completing a REL Southeast training session, one teacher wrote a message to her principal saying the training gave her tips on how to improve student literacy in her social studies class.  “The training helped prepare me to serve my students in the classroom better and has opened my eyes to a broader range of techniques and skills. The training was so informational and engaging that it gave me the confidence level needed to help my students." Two months after the last session, a follow-up survey of participants showed that over half of the teachers reported changing (or being in the process of changing) their approach to supporting based on the training.

Now, REL Southeast is developing tools that will allow districts across Mississippi—and across the country—to replicate these early successes.

REL Southwest: Studying an enhanced approach to literacy instruction for English learner students in New Mexico

Supporting English learner students is a priority in New Mexico and for the state’s Public Education Department (NMPED). Two recent studies from REL Southwest found that significant numbers of both American Indian and Spanish-speaking English learners in New Mexico are struggling to meet grade-level standards and be reclassified as “Fluent English Proficient.” NMPED has developed a strategic plan designed to strengthen equitable educational opportunities and achievement for English learner students. To do so, the plan emphasizes supporting the whole child through evidence-based literacy instruction that is culturally and linguistically responsive (CLRI).

REL Southwest, NMPED, and several regional education cooperatives and school districts in New Mexico formed the Southwest English Learner Literacy (SWELL) partnership to help turn the State’s new plan into a reality. Over the next two school years, partners will enhance, implement, refine, and test Write to Succeed, a research-based professional learning program to help grades 4–8 teachers implement high-quality literacy instruction that includes appropriate supports for English learner students. After working with school and district coaches and NMPED staff to refine and deliver the Write to Succeed program to teachers statewide, REL Southwest will rigorously evaluate the impact of the program on teacher practice and student outcomes. What is learned will help to inform NMPED’s further adoption—or modification—of this program.

Looking Ahead

These four projects demonstrate RELs working in partnership with educators and policymakers to improve opportunities and outcomes for students in mathematics and literacy. Stay tuned for upcoming blogs about REL work on other important topics such as teacher mentorship and induction, accountability, and trauma-informed supports!

Have questions about anything you read here, or other work within the REL Program? Just email me at chris.boccanfuso@ed.gov.

Regional Educational Laboratories Develop New Tools for Educators Based on WWC Practice Guides

Whenever we get the chance to share information about the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) program with the public, we’re often asked, “How are the 2022-2027 RELs different from past REL cycles?” In this blog, we focus on one major new effort that each REL is undertaking: the creation of a toolkit for educators based on one of the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) Practice Guides. Each REL toolkit will include a set of resources for educators to implement and institutionalize evidence-based recommendations from a WWC Practice Guide. Importantly, each REL is co-developing their resources with educators, school, and district leaders or with postsecondary faculty and staff to ensure the toolkits’ relevance and actionability. Following the toolkit development phase, RELs will partner with educators not involved in developing the toolkits to test the usability of each toolkit and its efficacy in improving student and teacher outcomes. The RELs have current partners for toolkit development and usability testing but are looking for partner schools, districts, and postsecondary institutions in which to test the efficacy of the toolkits. These efficacy-testing partners will be among the first to benefit from the evidence-based toolkits.

Why this investment of REL and partner time and resources? WWC Practice Guides are among IES’ premier resources for translating evidence on effective practice into accessible and usable strategies for educators. Each Guide is based on a synthesis of the most rigorous research on teaching a particular subject or achieving a particular education goal. Each Guide is also based on the input of a panel of expert practitioners and researchers and includes—

  • Key recommendations for educational practice based on a synthesis of rigorous research
  • Supporting evidence for each recommendation
  • Steps to carry out each recommendation
  • Examples of the practices
  • Discussions of common implementation challenges and strategies for overcoming those challenges

WWC Practice Guide Associated with Each REL Toolkit:

REL

Practice Guide

Appalachia

Teaching Math to Young Children

Central

Teaching Strategies for Improving Algebra Knowledge in Middle and School Students

Mid-Atlantic

Teaching Elementary School Students to Be Effective Writers

Midwest

Developing Effective Fractions Instruction for Kindergarten through 8th Grade

Northeast & Islands

Assisting Students Struggling with Math: Intervention in the Elementary Grades

Northwest

Using Technology to Support Postsecondary Student Learning 

Pacific

Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively

Southwest

Providing Reading Interventions for Students in Grades 4 – 9

Southeast

Assisting Students Struggling with Reading: Response to Intervention (RtI) and Multi-Tier Intervention in the Primary Grades

West

Improving Reading Comprehension in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade

RELs Emphasize Active Learning to Support Implementation of Evidence-Based Practices

Although WWC Practice Guides are some of IES’ most popular products, we also know that teachers and leaders cannot simply read about a new practice to master it. Instead, they need to engage in active learning by observing the new practice, discussing it, implementing it, receiving feedback on the practice, and continuing to improve. The REL toolkits are designed to support educators in the creation and implementation of a professional learning community (PLC) focused on the evidence-based practices outlined in a WWC Practice Guide. In these PLCs, educators will learn about the Practice Guide recommendations by reading about the practices, discussing them with colleagues, and by developing plans for implementing the practices in their classrooms. Educators will also put those plans into action and then debrief on those implementation experiences. To support this work, the toolkits will include PLC guides, workbooks, self-study guides, and rubrics. Some toolkits will also include videos of teachers effectively implementing the practices.

Each toolkit will also include the following:

  • An initial diagnostic and ongoing monitoring instrument for assessing instructional practices against the practices recommended in the WWC Practice Guide
  • A tool that enables teachers, teacher leaders, and administrators to assess the extent to which their school, district or postsecondary institution supports the implementation and ongoing monitoring of the evidence-based practice recommendations
  • A discussion of implementation steps for institutionalizing supports that help educators, building leaders, and other administrators adopt the evidence-based practices and sustain them over time

Some RELs have already started usability testing of their toolkits. Across 2025 and 2026, nine of our 10 RELs will publish final versions of their toolkits and efficacy studies on their toolkit. Both will be freely available on the REL website.[1] Visit our Newsflash page and sign up to receive newsflashes from the RELs and the IES center that houses the program—the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE).[2]

Partner with RELs: Help IES Study REL Toolkits

RELs will soon recruit partner schools, districts, and postsecondary institutions in their regions to conduct the toolkit efficacy studies. If you are interested in having your school, district, or institution participate in an efficacy study and benefit from being one of the first users of these toolkits, please email us at Elizabeth.Eisner@ed.gov or Chris.Boccanfuso@ed.gov. The efficacy study for each REL’s toolkit must take place within each REL’s region. Not sure which REL region is yours? Check out the “About the RELs page” on the IES website or the map visualization on our program homepage.

If you have other questions, concerns, or ideas about this work, please reach out to us. We welcome your input so that you can help IES and the RELs make the toolkits as useful and effective as possible.

Past REL Professional Development Resources based on WWC Practice Guides:

The RELs have a successful track record of creating professional development resources that complement WWC Practice Guides. For example, see:

Professional Learning Community: Improving Mathematical Problem Solving for Students in Grades 4 Through 8 Facilitator’s Guide (REL Southeast).

Professional learning communities facilitator’s guide for the What Works Clearinghouse practice guide: Foundational skills to support reading for understanding in kindergarten through 3rd grade (REL Southeast).

Professional Learning Communities Facilitator's Guide for the What Works Clearinghouse Practice Guide Teaching Academic Content and Literacy to English Learners in Elementary and Middle School (REL Southwest).

The new toolkits will expand the number of WWC Practice Guides for which the RELs develop professional development resources and will also provide instruments for assessing instructional practice and implementing institutional supports. 

Liz Eisner, Associate Commissioner for Knowledge Use

Chris Boccanfuso, REL Branch Chief


[1] REL Southwest’s contract started 11 months after the contracts of the other 9 RELs, so the REL Southwest toolkit will be released in 2027.

[2] You can also sign up for Newsflashes from IES and its other three centers—NCES, NCER, & NCSER.