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Leveraging Research Alliances to Increase Evidence-Based Policy Decision Making for Educational Equity

Tue, April 12, 8:15 to 9:45am, Convention Center, Floor: Level One, Room 101


REL Northwest examined how Research Alliances assist policymakers in designing evidence-informed policy addressing education equity issues. The REL works with three alliances in Oregon and Alaska—one district-level alliance focused on eliminating discipline disparities; one alliance concerned with dual enrollment in higher education; and one state-level alliance examining postsecondary pathways across agencies. Both Oregon and Alaska prioritize equity. A state Equity Lens policy in Oregon infuses all educational efforts, and Alaska focuses on culturally responsive education.

Historically, policymakers have not taken full advantage of available evidence (even as access and quality increase) to make policy decisions. They cite obstacles to evidence-based decisionmaking, including time constraints, the volume of research evidence available, presentation format, and difficulty applying evidence to their own situations (Nelson, Leffler & Hansen, 2009). The RELs address capacity challenges emerging when the availability of education data and research overwhelms the capacity of policymakers to use this evidence to drive productive change.

Three alliance studies—examining gaps for historically disadvantaged students—provide evidence. Each study utilizes descriptive predictive analysis of dichotomous outcomes using demographic controls and academic and behavioral predictors. The analyses were based on longitudinal administrative data from K–12 and higher education state agencies. For the first study, data included student background characteristics, exclusionary discipline occurrences, and length of event; for the second, dual enrollment, grades, and enrollment in a two-to-four year postsecondary institution; for the third, high school exit, college enrollment and completion, and workforce employment and wage data. Findings were translated to odds-ratios to help policymakers better interpret them.

All three studies found significant differences in the key outcomes for historically disadvantaged students. White students typically outperformed other groups. Additionally, each study found significant mediated relationships among predictors and outcomes across student characteristics, suggesting the need for policies that target programs and initiatives for these different student groups. In the poster specific study findings will be highlighted that connect to policy change.

Upon completion of each study, the REL provided technical assistance to alliance members to help them use the data to understand more fully the problem they were addressing and how to translate the study results into actionable policy recommendations. The three alliances have made specific policy recommendations, each at their level of influence. The poster will focus on policy changes made by each alliance and how those changes address equity issues in different contexts.

Scholarly and Policy Implications
While findings from each study increase scholarly knowledge on issues facing policymakers, broader implications emerge for how researchers and policymakers can work together to drive evidence-based change. For example, policies on dual enrollment or zero-tolerance discipline have markedly different impacts on different students. Therefore, the lessons learned provide insight to policymakers on using evidence to better understand the students they serve and the unintended consequences that policies have for different populations. The three example studies and follow-up technical assistance illustrate that even descriptive evidence is valuable in helping policymakers understand the issues they are addressing for the benefit of all students.


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