August 2016  

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Note: Rather than opening this edition of the REL Appalachia newsletter with the usual Director's Perspective, we instead highlight a perspective that is too often missing from our work: the student perspective.
Student Voice in Research:  The Student Perspective
By Gentry Fitch and Amanda Wahlstedt, Prichard Committee Student Voice Team
To learn more about the student role at the Cross-REL conference hosted by REL Appalachia, REL Mid-Atlantic, and REL Northwest, check out this blog post by Amanda Wahlstedt, a student who participated in the conference. Read it here.
Understanding and ultimately improving public education is an enigma. Researchers identify and describe a myriad of factors that contribute to student success, and practitioners struggle to consider each and every one of those factors for each and every student. Even as these combined perspectives push policymakers to craft stronger education policy, there is a missing piece to the puzzle: students. Students bring richness to researchers' and practitioners' understanding of what works, helping to bridge the gap between education research, policy, and practice.
Gentry and Amanda also discuss the importance of student voice in research, policy, and practice in two short videos.

Cross-REL Event, Student Voice Perspective: Amanda Wahlstedt
Click the thumbnail to the left to watch our interview with Amanda Wahlstedt. 
Cross-REL Event, Student Voice Perspective: Gentry Fitch
Click the thumbnail to the left to watch our interview with Gentry Fitch. 
Elevating, amplifying, and integrating student voices into education research, policy, and practice is the mission of over 100 students who make up the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team, based in Lexington, Kentucky. For nearly four years, the Student Voice Team has listened to Kentucky students and used their stories to help inform smarter policymaking at the grassroots and the grasstops. These stories have resulted in nationally recognized postsecondary transition research, statewide media campaigns to increase FAFSA completion, a legislative battle to restore scholarships for low-income students, and more. Through this work, we have connected with students and organizations ready to take student voice to every corner of the state and every facet of education policymaking, illuminating new ways our schools can grow at every turn.

Critical to our mission, though, is the incorporation of student voice with those of researchers and practitioners to bring education advocacy to its deepest authenticity and strongest impact. REL Appalachia is among a rapidly growing coalition in Kentucky and throughout the nation embracing the added value of student voice. Most recently, at a Cross-REL event on postsecondary readiness held in Nashville, Tennessee, students worked alongside practitioners and researchers during plenary panel presentations and breakout sessions to share new contexts and ideas about postsecondary education research, policy, and practice. Beyond this, REL Appalachia is supporting the Student Voice Team's ongoing research into a more realistic understanding of postsecondary readiness. We believe these partnerships contribute to a more robust conversation by uplifting a diverse set of voices to tackle the diverse set of challenges we face in improving education.

Read more about us and our work here:
New report on teacher and administrator turnover in West Virginia public schools
REL Appalachia partnered with the West Virginia School Leadership Research Alliance to study retention, attrition, and mobility 
Click here for an infographic on selected findings.
rates among teachers and administrators in the West Virginia public school system. The analyses are based on personnel data from the West Virginia Department of Education for 2008/09-2012/13 and district information for the same years from the National Center for Education Statistics Common Core of Data. The study describes average retention, attrition, and mobility rates and how these rates varied by teacher or administrator characteristics and by district characteristics. The report also provides average rates for each district in the state.

Click here to read the full report.

Click here for a summary of the study findings.

Workshop Series for Richmond Schools Aims to Support Teacher Data Use
Dr. Kenneth Anderson at the first Collaborative Data Use workshop in Richmond.
REL Appalachia, in partnership with Richmond Public Schools (RPS), is offering a workshop series to build the capacity of priority school educators to use Data Wise (Boudett, City, & Murnane, 2015), a step-by-step guide for using assessment data to inform classroom practice. In the workshops, Richmond educators use the Data Wise process to analyze data from past assessments. This approach supports RPS efforts to develop a school progress plan template that ensures schools across the district use the same language and data processes in their school improvement efforts. The workshops help educators use systemwide tools and resources to conduct a comprehensive needs assessment that informs the development of school progress plans.

In the first workshop on August 1, teachers learned the components of the Data Wise process, and applied the process to actual problems of practice from other school districts. In the second workshop on August 2, teachers analyzed RPS assessment data to identify learning challenges. The Northwest Educational Association (NWEA) then provided an in-depth overview of the Learning Continuum, a process that provides a summary of skills and concepts to be reinforced, developed, or introduced to students. "REL Appalachia effectively produced a workshop series that was aligned to our district's vision," said Valenta Wade, Manager of Data and Testing for Richmond Public Schools. "The quality of their work is evidence of their dedication to enhancing the learning experience for students, teachers, and administrators. We appreciate their service and look forward to working with them in them in the near future."

In the third workshop on August 26, REL Appalachia, RPS, and NWEA will help leadership teams evaluate implementation of their school progress plans and develop posters that document this progress to take back to their schools.

Building capacity for collaborative data use: An interview with Dr. Margie Johnson
For the last three years, REL Appalachia has supported the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools' (MNPS) collaborative inquiry initiative, led by Dr. Margie Johnson. The goal of the initiative is to build educators' capacity to use data to inform their practice (read more about this project here). We talked with Margie about her work with MNPS and what it means for the students the district serves.

Q: If you were to describe your program to a friend, what would you say to them?
Everyone talks about collaborating with others, but what does it really look like? Are there strategies, structures, and principles that facilitate others collaborating effectively?....In MNPS, we are building educators' capacity to have meaningful, productive, collaborative conversations so that they can optimize the supports and services they provide to students.

Q: How is this work benefitting teachers and students?
During our interviews and focus groups with teachers this past spring, they mentioned that their team meetings had become more focused and data-centered, which in turn has made them more productive and efficient. Furthermore, their discussions have been richer and had more depth, because they are working to address root causes of problems of practice, and not just surface issues. For example, the teachers at Haynes Middle Prep identified student behavior and discipline as one root cause, and they are now working together to address it by supporting students' social-emotional learning in the classroom. Read their story here.

Q: You've been involved in this work for nearly four years, and now you're expanding the program. What is the goal of this expansion, and what will this work entail?
Currently, we are working with nine middle schools (20 percent of our total middle schools) in this journey of cultural change, and we recently welcomed three elementary schools to the project. Our goal is to serve more students by supporting collaborative inquiry in more schools.
Read the full interview.

Q: In your time working with MNPS, what have been some of the barriers along the way, and how did you address them?
Interesting that you ask about barriers. One of the first things we did as part of this project was to bring together 41 stakeholders, including principals, teachers, coaches, central office, and community partners from across the district to discuss "What are the barriers to implementing collaborative inquiry in MNPS?" We identified about 31 barriers and prioritized the top three:
  • Lack of a common language.
  • Lack of trust throughout the organization.
  • Lack of leadership modeling - i.e., "walk the walk."
Read the full interview.

Q: In a perfect world, what would be the result of this initiative? How would you like to see it grow and expand?
My vision is for MNPS to be a place that exceeds great expectations by leveraging collaborative expertise, not only within the organization, but throughout our community. Nashville is an awesome place to work and live. We have some of the most talented people in the world. Collaborative inquiry is a process to harness those talents to support our students, the next generation of leaders.

Changing culture is hard work, so I want to see the work expand not just to the schools I'm supporting now, but throughout the entire school district.
Read the full interview.
Upcoming Events
The Kentucky Longitudinal Data System (KLDS): Connecting Education and Outcomes
August 31, 2016, 3:30-4:30 p.m. EDT
REL Appalachia, in partnership with the Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics (KCEWS), is hosting a webinar on the capabilities, products, and services available to Kentucky school districts and practitioners through the Kentucky Longitudinal Data System (KLDS). Featured speakers are Kentucky Secretary of Education and Workforce Development Hal Heiner, KCEWS staff Kate Akers and Justin Otto, and former Kentucky superintendent Lu Young.

The webinar is designed for data users, including district data managers, district assessment coordinators, school principals, instructional coaches, assessment coordinators, and others who routinely use data to inform decisionmaking. It will focus on ways in which school and district staff can use the KLDS to improve decisionmaking and long-range planning.
Register here.
Webinar Series: Teacher Data Use Survey
Coming in October and November, 2016
Webinar series
REL Appalachia developed the Teacher Data Use Survey (TDUS), a tool that can help schools and districts learn about ways teachers use data, teachers' attitudes toward data, and the supports that help teachers use data. This four-part webinar series will orient participants to the TDUS, its administration and application in schools and districts, and its ability to promote data-informed decisionmaking. The webinar series is designed for district and school leaders and district research and evaluation staff.
Details are forthcoming.

Recent Events
In-Person Events: Teaching Academic Content and Literacy to English Learners
July 11-15, 2016
As the REL Appalachia region faces an ever-growing population of English learner students, local educators face the task of teaching students not only academic content but also English literacy. To address this issue, REL Appalachia has held workshops for the past two summers on combining literacy skills and academic content in teaching English learner students. In July, we cohosted the workshop with regional partners on five days in five locations in Kentucky and Tennessee to support 266 educators!

The workshop was designed to help participants understand and implement the recommendations in the IES practice guide Teaching Academic Content and Literacy to English Learners in Elementary and Middle School and to familiarize them with the REL Southwest Professional Learning Communities Facilitator's Guide, designed to support teachers in implementing Practice Guide recommendations.

Workshop materials have been posted on the individual event pages on our website:
Nashville, TN
Bowling Green, KY
Louisville, KY
Lexington, KY
Erlanger, KY

We had great attendance and great participation at all of our workshops. Thank you to all who attended for helping make these workshops a success!

A breakout discussion in Bowling Green, KY.
Warren County Schools ESL Instructor LoriAnn Martin leads a breakout session on using instructional tools and classroom talk.
National expert Dr. Joan Morris facilitates a model professional learning community session around this topic in Nashville, TN.

Cross-REL Event: Postsecondary Readiness in Rural Communities
July  25, 2016
Nashville, TN
REL Appalachia cohosted a conference with REL Mid-Atlantic and REL Northwest in Nashville, Tennessee, on preparing rural students for college and careers. The day was filled with lively discussions incorporating perspectives from researchers, practitioners, and students.

Breakout sessions focused on dual enrollment, measuring postsecondary readiness, career and technical education, and challenges rural students face in postsecondary transitions. Plenary sessions included a keynote address on supporting rural students in making the postsecondary transition, a policy panel discussion, and a student panel.

Throughout the day, participants were invited to share personal stories of how their place of origin influenced their life and career. Here are a few of the responses:
...The time I have spent living in both urban and rural communities has provided me with invaluable experiences that have given me a unique perspective in my professional career. I have found myself representing companies that are looking to understand both the rural and urban communities, and because of my parents' life-changing decision to move our family [to a rural area], I have become the go-to person.
[I am a] suburban, first-generation college student. One way this has influenced my career path is my empathy for underserved students from all areas.
Because of my rural school setting, career exploration was not a priority for our school officials. I wasn't aware of many fields out there. So I went with what was comfortable; I chose my parents' profession: education.
I was born and raised in rural Grundy County, TN. Grundy is considered a persistent poverty county. I was the top of my class and had scholarships offered to several private colleges. I did not have the confidence to attend these schools, choosing to go to a public university closer to home. I don't regret my college choice; I am sad that I felt unprepared to pursue dreams that I had buried deep inside. I did eventually go after my dream. Today, I work in the same school system I attended. I believe I have made a difference, encouraging the kids "not to be afraid to dream big."
Read more responses here.

Participants found keynote speaker Dr. Aaron Thompson's talk about growing up in a rural Appalachian community especially interesting and informative. Thompson stressed that educators must inform students of the importance of a college experience, a college degree, or a certificate, as well as a commitment to learning. Thompson also covered four powerful principles of college success: active involvement, use of campus resources, interpersonal interaction and collaboration, and personal reflection and self-awareness.

Another highlight was the student panel discussion on incorporating student voices into research, policy, and practice on postsecondary readiness. Members of the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team led an engaging discussion of the importance of student voice in advancing education research and policy. These high school and college students also shared their personal experiences growing up in low-income, rural communities and how their experiences served as a catalyst for joining local student voice teams.

The presentation slides and other event materials from this event will be made available on this page of the REL Appalachia website in the coming months.

Keynote speaker Dr. Aaron Thompson speaking at the lunchtime policy panel.
Jennell Ives, Oregon Department of Education, discusses dual enrollment policies.
High school graduate Amanda Wahlstedt shares her experiences with postsecondary readiness in a rural Kentucky school district.
Dr. Sherri Nash, West Virginia Department of Education, at the lunchtime policy panel.
Dr. John Roush, a professor at Southern State Community College, discusses a college success course offered through a K-12/higher education collaboration.
Kentucky high school graduates Andrew Brennan, Gentry Fitch, and Amanda Wahlstedt led a discussion on incorporating student voice into education research and policy.

Click here for more photos.
Powerful Practice: Effective School-Level Data Systems
July 27, 2016
Georgetown, KY

Dr. Tom Guskey
District and school leaders from across Kentucky set aside time from their hectic, midsummer schedules to participate in a REL Appalachia/Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) workshop in Georgetown, Kentucky, on leveraging school-level data systems to improve practice. The event shared relevant research and practical application of research-based strategies and systems.

Keynote speaker Dr. Tom Guskey, a professor at the University of Kentucky's College of Education, framed the day's learning experience. "One of the best parts of the day," Ms. Ali Wright, an Effectiveness Coach at KDE said, "was having the opportunity to listen to how three very different principals approach data. Although their perspectives and priorities vary, they intentionally use data to inform and monitor best practices."

Another highlight was a presentation by Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS), led by Dr. Margie Johnson, on a collaborative inquiry initiative supported by REL Appalachia to build data capacity in MNPS schools. Jenny Ray, a KDE leadership coach, commented, "Learning from MNPS leaders, as well as principals from small, rural Kentucky districts, was impactful. It was interesting to note the similarities in challenges and the like-minded strategies that have proven to be successful in both of these contexts."

In addition to sharing valuable information about data systems, participants networked and discussed problems of practice, an opportunity they do not often get. As Ms. Wright commented, "I look forward to hearing stories from principals who continue to network as a result of this learning opportunity."
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