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National Center for Special Education Research


Joan McLaughlin, Acting Commissioner of the National Center for Special Education Research

Joan McLaughlin

Commissioner of the National Center for Special Education Research

IES Director John Q. Easton announced that Joan McLaughlin, who has served as Acting Commissioner of the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) since July 2013, has been named Commissioner.

"I am so pleased that Joan has agreed to become the Commissioner of the National Center for Special Education Research for a six-year term. Joan has demonstrated her true mettle for this position over the past several months," Easton said. "We are all delighted with the prospect of working with her to advance IES's mission to provide rigorous and relevant research aimed at improving education outcomes for all students."

McLaughlin said, "It is an honor to serve as the Commissioner for the National Center for Special Education Research. Since awarding our first grants in 2006, the Center has made great strides in funding research that addresses critical issues in early intervention through high school transition. I am committed to continuing building knowledge through high quality research, including the use of state of the art methodology and technology, to help us understand how best to improve education outcomes for children with or at risk for disabilities. I am equally committed to maintaining our research training efforts to build research capacity in the field. I look forward to the continued support and commitment of the special education community to successfully accomplish this work."

McLaughlin first joined the Institute of Education Sciences as Deputy Commissioner of the National Center for Special Education Research in February 2009. In addition to her role as Deputy Commissioner, McLaughlin served as NCSER's program officer for the Early Intervention and Early Learning in Special Education grant program.

Prior to joining IES, McLaughlin spent 16 years working in the Education and Family Services area of Abt Associates Inc., a research consulting firm. While there, she served as principal investigator or project director for numerous evaluations of federal education, food assistance, and early childhood programs. McLaughlin has also served as a program officer in the Office of Analysis and Evaluation at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service, where she oversaw design, process, and implementation studies of programs and initiatives focused on maternal and child health and child nutrition issues. She also served as a program analyst in the Program Evaluation and Methodology Division of the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

McLaughlin received her bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Notre Dame and her master's and doctoral degrees in developmental psychology from Cornell University.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the federal law established to ensure that children with disabilities and families of such children receive access to a free appropriate public education and to improve educational results for infants, toddlers, and children with disabilities.
PDF File View, download, and print IDEA (PL 108-446, 2004) as a PDF file (422 KB)

Established by the Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002, the Institute of Education Sciences is the research arm of the Department of Education. Its mission is to expand knowledge and provide information on the condition of education, practices that improve academic achievement, and the effectiveness of Federal and other education programs. Its goal is the transformation of education into an evidence-based field in which decision makers routinely seek out the best available research and data before adopting programs or practices that will affect significant numbers of students.
PDF File View, download, and print ESRA (PL 107-279, 2002) as a PDF file (165 KB)

Definition of Disability and Risk of Disability

For the purpose of Institute's special education research programs, a student with a disability is defined in Public Law 108-446, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA), as a child "(i) with mental retardation, hearing impairments (including deafness), speech or language impairments, visual impairments (including blindness), serious emotional disturbance (referred to in this title as 'emotional disturbance'), orthopedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairments, or specific learning disabilities; and (ii) who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services" (Part A, Sec. 602). An infant or toddler with a disability is defined in IDEA as, "an individual under 3 years of age who needs early intervention services because the individual (i) is experiencing developmental delays, as measured by appropriate diagnostic instruments and procedures in 1 or more of the areas of cognitive development, physical development, communication development, social or emotional development, and adaptive development; or (ii) has a diagnosed physical or mental condition that has a high probability of resulting in developmental delay" (Part C, Sec. 632).

Applicants proposing to study children at risk for developing disabilities must present research-based evidence of an association between risk factors in their proposed sample and the potential identification of specific disabilities. The determination of at risk for disabilities status must be made on an individual child basis and may include, for example, factors used for moving children to higher tiers in a Response to Intervention model. The method to be used for determining if a child is at risk for developing a specific disability must be made explicit in applications and must be completed as part of the sample selection process. Evidence consisting only of general population characteristics (e.g., labeling children as "at risk for disabilities" because they are from low income families or are English learners) is not sufficient for this purpose. In addition, applicants must identify the disability or disability categories that the sampled children are at risk of developing.