Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Celebrating and Learning with the FPG Institute

The Franklin Porter Graham Child Development Institute, at the University of North Carolina, is celebrating its 50th year of conducting research, technical assistance, outreach, and service to shape the care and education of young children. This makes its annual symposium, May 24 and 25, 2016, a very special event. The symposium will focus on early care and education; race, ethnicity and cultural diversity; and children with disabilities and their families.

Representatives and grantees from the two research centers at the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) will participate in the conference, sharing what we are learning about ways to improve education for all learners.

Dr. Joan McLaughlin, the commissioner of the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER), will be part of a plenary panel of funding organizations on Wednesday, May 25, at 2:45 p.m., which will focus on considerations for future research activities. (Learn more about current NCSER funding opportunities)

NCSER grantees who are participating in the sessions include Judith Carta, Patricia Snyder, and Samuel Odom.  Grantees who have received funding from the National Center for Education Research are also participating, including  Margaret (Peg) Burchinal and Donna Bryant.

Portions of the conference, Advancing Knowledge, Enhancing Lives: A Vision for Children and Families, are being live-streamed both days

Low-Cost, Short-Duration Evaluations: Helping States and School Districts Make Evidence-based Decisions

Last year, IES launched two new grant programs to help state and district education agencies obtain rigorous and timely evidence they can use to inform decisions about education interventions of high importance to the agency: Low-Cost, Short-Duration Evaluation of Education Interventions (CFDA 84.305L) and Low-Cost, Short-Duration Evaluation of Special Education Interventions (CFDA 84.324L). These programs are intended to support relatively quick (completed within 2 years) and inexpensive ($250,000 or less) evaluations to test the effects of education interventions that schools and other education institutions may want to scale up or redesign to improve student education outcomes.

IES developed the Low-Cost, Short Duration Evaluation grant programs to help states and school districts plan and launch rigorous evaluations when they roll out new interventions. Such interest is likely to intensify under the Every Student Succeeds Act, which requires states to set accountability goals and encourages use of evidence-based programs to close achievement gaps and improve low-performing schools. 

Advances in technology and administrative data systems have also led some policymakers and researchers to suggest that rigorous evaluations ought to be less expensive to perform today than in the past, when evaluators had to do much of their own data collection.

To meet the goals of relevance, rigor, and affordability, the Low-Cost, Short-Duration Evaluation grant programs set out specific requirements and expectations for applicants:

  • To ensure the relevance, the evaluations must be focused on an intervention that the education agency identifies as a priority and will be implemented in Year 1 of the grant, and must be carried out as a partnership between a research institution and a state and local education agency. 
  • To ensure rigor, evaluation designs must either be randomized controlled trials or regression discontinuity designs that have the potential to meet the What Works Clearinghouse evidence standards without reservation. Beginning in FY 2017, single-case designs may also be used in evaluations of special education interventions. 
  • To ensure lower-cost, the evaluations are expected to rely mainly on agency administrative datasets or other secondary sources rather than on new data collection. 

The short-term nature of the grants leads to a focus on interventions that are expected to improve student education outcomes within a summer session, quarter, semester or academic year. The low cost also means that researchers are not expected to conduct in-depth research into program implementation, comparison group practices, and costs and benefits of interventions unless the data exist in the administrative datasets. Other IES funding opportunities – including Education Research Grants, Special Education Research Grants, and Evaluation of State and Local Education Policies and Programs – are available to support longer-term and/or more in-depth evaluations. 

In sum, the Low-Cost, Short-Duration Evaluation grant programs fill a special niche within the IES portfolio by providing results on specific types of interventions that education agencies can use in making important decisions on programs, policies, and spending. They can also lay the groundwork for future grant-funded research to investigate implementation, underlying mechanisms, and longer-term impacts.

The results from last year’s competitions will be released soon and both programs are being re-competed this year with an application deadline of August 4, 2016.  On June 9, 2016, 2:00-3:30 p.m. (EDT), IES will host a webinar on the two grant competitions. Please register in advance. An archive of the webinar will also be available on the IES funding webinar page.

Written by Allen Ruby, Associate Commissioner, National Center for Education Research

A Renewed Focus on Education Leadership

Education leaders, such as school principals, have been the focus of education research for decades. While research suggests that there are substantial (albeit mostly indirect) relationships between school leadership and student achievement, there is still much to learn. More information is needed about how the knowledge, skills, abilities, and actions of school leaders are impacting student outcomes and the best ways to prepare and support school leaders.

Since 2004, the National Center for Education Research (NCER) within the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) has only funded 15 research studies on education leadership through several education research grant programs. A technical working group met last year and recommended that NCER strengthen its portfolio of research on this important topic.

In response, IES is revamping its Education Leadership topic as a separate part of its Education Research grants program. By doing so, we hope to provide a greater focus on education leadership research and increase understanding of how school leadership can improve achievement and opportunities for students.

Through the leadership topic, IES is offering research opportunities on programs, policies, and practices that support leaders in K-12 education systems at the school, district, or state level and ultimately lead to improved student outcomes.  While IES invites all applications that meet the topic requirements, we are especially interested in

  • exploratory research on the specific competencies and behaviors needed by leaders to support at-risk or high-risk students and improve student outcomes in challenging educational settings, such as persistently low-performing schools and high-poverty schools and districts;
  • exploratory research on the relationship between student education outcomes and district policies regarding the identification and selection of education leaders, assignment of leaders to specific schools, leadership turnover, and the distribution of leadership roles and responsibilities among multiple individuals within a school;
  • evaluations of leadership interventions that have the potential to improve student outcomes; and
  • the validation of existing leadership measures and the development and validation of new leadership measures for the purpose of research, formative assessment, and accountability.

Education leadership researchers who have strong partnerships with school districts and/or state education agencies should also consider applying to the Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships in Education Research topic within the Partnerships and Collaborations Focused on Problems of Practice or Policy grants program.  This topic allows researchers to carry out initial research that is of importance to district and/or state partners and then develop a plan for future research.

For more information on funding opportunities for research on education leadership contact Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov) or Corinne Alfeld (Corinne.Alfeld@ed.gov) or visit the IES website. If you missed the deadline to submit an optional Letter of Intent for the Education Leadership topic, please email it to Katina or Corinne directly.

A One-Stop Shop for Leadership Research

We have consolidated all education research grants related to education leaders under our Education Leadership research portfolio. The focus of these studies varies and includes the development and validation of leadership measures (such as the Vanderbilt Assessment of Leadership in Education (VAL-ED) and the exploration of potential relationship(s) between malleable factors (such as principals’ skills and behaviors) and student outcomes. In addition to these studies, NCER has funded research on education leadership through its R&D centers on school choice, scaling up effective schools, and analyzing longitudinal education data

Written by Katina Stapleton, Education Research Analyst, NCER

PHOTO: Principals meet with the U.S. Department of Education leadership in 2015 (courtesy of U.S. Department of Education)

NCSER Researchers Receive Awards from the Council for Exceptional Children

In April, the annual Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) held its annual Convention and Expo, during which scholars were recognized for their research contributions to the field. A number of NCSER-funded investigators were among those honored by the CEC.

Michael Wehmeyer (right) received the CEC Special Education Research Award, which recognizes an individual or team whose research has made significant contributions to the education of children and youth with exceptionalities. Dr. Wehmeyer has served as the principal investigator (PI) on two NCSER-funded awards.  He tested the promise of efficacy for the Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction, an intervention to promote self-determination, access to the general education curriculum, and support for the needs of students with disabilities to achieve academic and transition-related goals.  He and his research team are currently developing an assessment, the Self-Determination Inventory System, to measure self-determination for a range of disability groups as well as youth and young adults without disabilities.

Rob Horner (right) is the 2016 recipient of the Kauffman-Hallahan Distinguished Researcher Award. This honor, awarded by the CEC Division of Research, recognizes individuals or research teams who have made outstanding scientific contributions in basic or applied research in special education over the course of their careers. Dr. Horner has been the recipient of several IES-funded awards. He is currently testing the efficacy of Team-Initiated Problem Solving, a training and coaching intervention for teaching school teams to use behavioral and academic progress-monitoring data to define and solve problems. For a number of years Dr. Horner has also been a lead faculty member of the IES Summer Research Training Institute for Single-Case Intervention Research Design and Analysis, a professional development program that has increased the national capacity of education researchers to conduct methodologically rigorous single-case intervention studies.

Brian Boyd (left) is the winner of the 2016 Distinguished Early Career Research Award, an honor from CEC’s Division of Research that recognizes individuals with outstanding scientific contributions in special education research within the first 10 years after receiving a doctoral degree. Dr. Boyd has played key roles on several NCSER-funded grants, including as co-PI on an award to develop Advancing Social-Communication and Play (ASAP), an intervention aimed at improving the social-communication and play skills of preschoolers with Autism Spectrum Disorders. He is also the PI for a current grant examining the efficacy of ASAP.

All of this year’s CEC Division of Research award winners will give an invited presentation at the 2017 CEC Convention and Expo.  At this year’s convention, held April 13-16, the Division of Research award recipients from 2015 gave presentations. This includes two previous winners of the Distinguished Early Career Research Award – Karrie Shogren and Kent McIntosh – both of whom have been NCSER-funded investigators.

Karrie Shogren (right) had received an award from NCSER in which she analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 to identify individual and environmental factors that predict self-determination and examine the relationship between self-determination and long-term outcomes of students with disabilities. As part of a current NCSER-funded project, Kent McIntosh (left) is conducting an exploratory study to identify malleable factors that enhance or inhibit the implementation and sustainability of school-wide social-emotional and behavior support practices, focusing on School-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.

The Division of Research was not the only CEC group awarding honors to NCSER-funded investigators. Maureen Conroy (right) was awarded the 2016 Outstanding Leadership Award from CEC’s Council for Children with Behavioral Disorders. This award recognizes an individual who has made significant contributions to research, leadership, teacher education, and policy in the field of behavior disorders. Dr. Conroy has received funding to develop a preventative classroom-based intervention that targets problem behaviors by preschool teachers and to evaluate the efficacy of BEST in CLASS, an intervention for young children at high risk for emotional and behavioral disorders.

IES congratulates all the winners!

Written by Amy Sussman, program officer, NCSER

A New Research Spotlight on Educating Highly Mobile Students

Across America, schools struggle with addressing the academic and social needs of students who are homeless, in foster care, from migrant backgrounds, or military-dependent. These students typically change residences and/or schools frequently (often multiple times within a given school year) making it difficult for them to succeed academically.  

This year, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is shining a research spotlight on improving the education outcomes of highly mobile K-12 students through a new special topic within its Education Research grants program. The new Systemic Approaches to Educating Highly Mobile Students special topic invites research on:

  • support services that reduce barriers that highly mobile students typically face;
  • policies that allow highly mobile students to receive credit for full or partial coursework completed while attending their previous schools;
  • policies that facilitate the transfer of student records across jurisdictions, and help highly mobile students navigate standards, course, and graduation requirements that change from state to state;
  • policies and programs that address the academic, physical, psychological, and social needs of highly mobile students who may have experienced deprivation or trauma; and
  • state and local implementation of services for highly mobile students that are required by federal law or are provided through federally funded programs or interstate agreements.  

Through this special topic, IES also encourages studies that create or utilize shared/integrated data systems (such as records exchanges) to identify and track highly mobile students and pinpoint factors that could potentially be used to improve these students' outcomes. 

(Dr. Jill Biden, pictured above, mentioned this new special topic area in her remarks at the American Educational Research Association's annual conference as part of her focus on military families.)

Additional Opportunities for Research on Highly Mobile Students

Researchers who are interested in studying highly mobile pre-K students are invited to apply through to the Early Learning Programs and Policies topic. Similarly, researchers who are interested increasing highly mobile students’ access to, persistence in, progress through, and completion of postsecondary education are invited to apply through the Postsecondary and Adult Education Research topic. 

IES also encourages researchers to partner with local school districts or state education agencies to carry out initial research on highly mobile students and develop a plan for future research. This can be done through the Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships in Education Research topic.

For more information about funding opportunities for research on highly mobile students, please visit the IES website or contact Katina Stapleton.

For examples of previously funded research on highly mobile students, see  Promoting Executive Function to Enhance Learning in Homeless/Highly Mobile Children, Developing a Model for Delivering School-Based Mentoring to Students in Military Families, and Students in Foster Care: The Relationship between Mobility and Educational Outcomes.

Written by Katina Stapleton, Education Research Analyst, NCER; Program Officer, Systemic Approaches to Educating Highly Mobile Students

Photo of Dr. Biden courtesy of AERA