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Research Papers and Reports

McREL studies education research to find evidence-based best practices for effective teaching, learning, leading, systemic change, and school improvement. We share insights from our analyses in the free publications you’ll find on this page.

  • Our white papers present a combination of research-based insights, thought leadership, and suggestions for how to adapt and apply these new ideas to classrooms, schools, districts, and other education systems.
  • Our briefs are short explorations of a specific topic, presenting a quick summary of research along with a few ideas educators can use right away in their schools.
  • Our research and evaluation reports describe studies we’ve done for schools, districts, and education companies, shared here with our clients’ permission so that other educators can deepen their understanding of how the initiative or product impacts teaching and learning.

To explore these ideas more deeply and build your team’s professional capacities, contact us for a conversation about professional learning or consulting with the publication’s authors.

Shifting Learning Objectives Into Personalized Student Goals

Research on effective teaching and learning shows that when students set and monitor their own learning goals, achievement gaps are narrowed. Teacher-written objectives are important for instructional clarity, but when students convert objectives into personal learning goals, it creates relevance and motivation to learn. This 4-page brief from our Expert Teaching Series outlines how to help students personalize learning goals.

Designing Better Professional Learning with the Brain in Mind

How can professional learning be more meaningful and impactful? This paper gives an overview of six phases of learning that everyone—including adults—goes through when learning something new. The learning model offers clarity and practical guidance for school and district staff who develop PL sessions, helping them design and sequence learning experiences that are more engaging and effective at addressing educators’ needs.

Balanced Leadership for Student Learning: An Overview

Effective principals do have an impact on student achievement and teacher efficacy. McREL’s analysis of research found that effective leadership isn’t dependent on natural-born personality or style. Instead, we found it’s about a set of 21 specific, learnable actions and behaviors that are significantly associated with higher levels of student achievement, teacher efficacy, and schoolwide success.

Shifting From Planning for Teaching to Planning for Learning

This 4-page brief from our Expert Teaching Series outlines the importance of creating unit and lesson plans that are focused on what students need to experience in order to become interested in learning, make sense of their learning, and extend and apply their learning. The brief offers suggested steps for teachers and school leaders who want to make this change in their practice.

Efficacy Study: Literacy Footprints Guided Reading System

McREL investigated the effects of Pioneer Valley Book’s Literacy Footprints guided reading system on third-grade students’ English language arts performance on the Florida Statewide Assessment. Our study found a small but statistically significant positive effect on the average ELA test scores for students who used Literacy Footprints. Read the report for a full description of the study methodology and results.

Unleashing the Power of Best First Instruction

To improve student achievement, close gaps, and ensure equitable outcomes, there’s likely no better place to start than focusing on consistently providing Tier 1 “best first instruction” every day, in every classroom. Based on an extensive review of high-quality research studies, this paper presents 14 best first instruction strategies that are connected to higher levels of student learning.

Ed-tech Evaluation: Providing Evidence of Product Success

This brief for ed-tech product developers explains why federal ESSA requirements are causing schools to ask about a product’s evidence of success before they commit to using it. The paper outlines how to responsibly conduct an evaluation of your product and gives key considerations and best practices for ensuring insightful and actionable results.

The “Silent Epidemic” Finds Its Voice: Demystifying How Students View Engagement in Their Learning

McREL researchers collaborated with members of student voice organizations in Oregon and Kentucky to delve into what shapes students’ cognitive, behavioral, emotional, and social engagement in school, including students’ experiences during pandemic-caused online learning. The report provides recommendations and a framework for schoolwide and classroom practices that support student engagement.

Classroom Walkthroughs: Where Data-Gathering and Relationship-Building Meet for School Improvement

Many principals and instructional coaches, and some teachers themselves, conduct classroom walkthroughs to gain insights on teaching, learning, and school improvement initiatives. There are different types of walkthroughs for different purposes, however. In this paper we describe the research on effective walkthroughs and how to match the right type of walkthrough to your school and classroom goals.

To Make Big Changes for Students, Teachers Should Think a Little Smaller

While district leaders and policymakers often focus on sweeping reforms, teachers can get big results with modest adjustments, managing their classrooms just a little differently. This paper introduces seven simple shifts from our Tilting Your Teaching book—research-based, practice-proven techniques every teacher can use to gain (or regain) student focus, engagement, and cooperation.