IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

How to Use the Improved ERIC Identifiers

ERIC has made recent improvements to help searchers find the education research they are looking for. One major enhancement relates to the ERIC identifiers, which have been improved to increase their usefulness as search tools. It is now easier than ever to refine searches to obtain specific resources in ERIC.

The identifier filters can be found on the search results page in three separate categories: (1) laws, policies, and programs, (2) assessments and surveys, and (3) location. After running a search on an education topic, users can scroll to the category on the left of the results page, select the desired identifier limiter within a category, and limit the results to only those materials tagged with that identifier.

We recently released a video that describes the enhanced identifiers, and walks through how to best use them to find materials in the ERIC collection. (We've embedded the video below.) 

Using the improved identifiers, searchers are now able to find materials related to specific locations, laws, or assessments no matter how the author referred to them in the article.

In other words, identifiers can now be used as an effective controlled vocabulary for ERIC, but this has not always been the case. While they have been part of ERIC since 1966, identifiers were not rigorously standardized, and they were often created "on the fly" by indexers. Also, the previous identifiers field had a character limit, meaning that some terms needed to be truncated to fit into the space allowed by the available technology. Therefore, over time, the identifiers proliferated with different spellings, abbreviations, and other variations, making them less useful as search aids.

To solve these issues, we launched a project in 2016 to review the lists of identifiers, and devise an approach for making them more user-friendly. Our solution was to streamline and standardize them, which eliminated redundancy and reduced their number from more than 7,800 to a more manageable 1,200. We also added the updated identifiers to the website’s search limiters to make them easier to use.

In addition to our new video, which demonstrates the best ways to use identifiers in your search, we also have a new infographic (pictured above) that depicts what identifiers are. You can use these companion pieces to learn more about identifiers, and begin putting them to work in your research. 

What Are the Payoffs to College Degrees, Credentials, and Credits?

The Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment (CAPSEE) is an IES-funded Research and Development Center that seeks to advance knowledge regarding the link between postsecondary education and the labor market. CAPSEE was funded through a 2011 grant from the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and is in the process of completing its work. CAPSEE will hold a final conference to discuss its findings on April 6 & 7 in Washington, DC.

Recently, Tom Bailey (pictured), Director of the Community College Research Center, Columbia University, Teachers College, and the Principal Investigator for CAPSEE, answered questions from James Benson, the NCER Program Officer for the R & D center.

Can you describe some of the original goals of CAPSEE?

We were especially interested in the economic benefits of a college education for community college students, including those who complete awards (Associate’s degrees or certificates) and those who do not, as well as those who transfer to four-year colleges. We were also interested in differences in earnings by field of study. When we started CAPSEE in 2012 there were a lot of studies that used survey datasets to look, in general, at the returns to completing a Bachelor’s degree. The CAPSEE approach was to use large-scale statewide databases and follow college students over time, to look in detail at their earnings before, during, and after college.

In addition, CAPSEE researchers sought to examine two key policy issues. One was how financial aid and working while enrolled affect students’ performance in college and their labor market outcomes. The other was whether for-profit colleges help students get better jobs.

You have synthesized findings from analyses in six states. What are your main findings?

We found that, in general, Associate’s degrees have good returns in the labor market; they’re a good investment for the individual and for society. However, there is quite a bit of variation in returns by program. For students in Associate degree programs primarily designed to prepare them for transfer to a four-year college, if they don’t transfer, their degrees will not be worth very much. But when they complete vocational degrees, especially in health-related fields, the earnings gains are usually strong and persistent (and robust to how we estimated them). Also, we did a lot of research on certificates, credentials that many see as the best fit for students on the margin of going to college. We found benefits to students who completed certificates, again especially in fields that directly relate to an occupation or industry. And finally, we examined outcomes for students who enrolled and took courses without attaining a degree or certificate. We found that their after-college earnings increased in proportion to the number of credits they earned.

"The fundamental policy implication is that college is a good investment."

What do you see as the key policy implications of these findings?

The fundamental policy implication is that college is a good investment. This merits emphasis because there are repeated critiques of college in terms of how much it costs and how much debt students accumulate. That said policymakers do need to think about the value of each postsecondary program. Even within the same institution, programs have very different outcomes. Yet on average, attending college for longer and attaining more credits has beneficial effects. Policymakers should see this evidence as supporting public and private investments in college.

What did you discover about the relationships between financial aid, college outcomes, and labor market outcomes?

In an era of tight public resources, the effectiveness of financial aid policy is a crucial issue. Financial aid does help students persist in college, but one way to promote greater effectiveness is through academic performance standards for students receiving federal financial aid. These have existed in the federal need-based aid programs for nearly 40 years, in the form of Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) requirements. These have not received much attention. Our research on SAP suggests such policies have heterogeneous effects on students in the short term: they increase the likelihood that some students will drop out, but appear to motivate higher grades for students who remain enrolled. After three years, however, the negative effects dominate. Though it has little benefit for students in the long term, SAP policy appears to increase the efficiency of aid expenditures because it discourages students who have lower-than-average course completion rates from persisting. But the policy also appears to exacerbate inequality in higher education by pushing out low-performing, low-income students faster than their equally low-performing, higher-income peers.

Many students work while in college.  Does this seem to help or hurt students in the long run?

Our research found that for Federal Work-Study (FWS) participants who would have worked even in the absence of the program, FWS reduces hours worked and improves academic outcomes but has little effect on post-college employment outcomes. For students who would not have worked, the effects are reversed: the program has little effect on graduation, but a positive effect on post-college employment.  Results are more positive for participants at public institutions, who tend to be lower income than participants at private institutions. Our findings suggest that better targeting to low-income and lower-scoring students could improve FWS outcomes. This is consistent with much of the CAPSEE research—you need more detail and specificity to really understand the relationship between education and employment and earnings.

What did you learn about credentials from for-profit institutions?

Our findings on students at for-profit colleges were quite pessimistic. Although enrollment in for-profit colleges grew significantly after 2000, the sector has been declining during the last two years, as evidence on inferior outcomes – particularly with regard to student debt – emerged. In general, our researchers found that for-profit students have worse labor market outcomes than comparable community college students although in some cases the difference is not statistically significant. Our evidence suggests that these colleges need to be monitored to ensure they are delivering a high-quality, efficient education.

You are holding the final CAPSEE conference in April. What do you hope people will get out of it?

At the conference, we will focus on several important and controversial policy questions related to higher education: 

  • Have changes in tuition and the labor market created conditions in which college is not worth it for some students, contributing to an unsupportable increase in student debt? 
  • Has higher education contributed to inequality rather than promoting economic mobility? 
  • Is continued public funding of college a worthwhile investment? 
  • Should public funding be used only for some programs of study?  
  • What are the arguments for and against making community college free?
  • Can changes in the operations and functioning of colleges change the return on investment from a college education for both the individual and society?
  • How important should information on earnings outcomes be for accreditation decisions and/or for eligibility of students to receive financial aid? 

At the conference participants will have the opportunity to discuss and learn about these issues drawing on five years of CAPSEE research as well as input from other experts.

Measuring the Achievement and Experiences of American Indian and Alaska Native Youth: National Indian Education Study 2015

By Lauren Musu-Gillette and James Deaton

In order to measure the progress of education in the United States, it is important to examine equity and growth for students from many different demographic groups. The educational experiences of American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) youth are of particular interest to educators and policymakers because of the prevalence of academic risk factors for this group. For example, the percentage of students served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2013-14 was highest for AI/AN students,[1] and in 2013 a higher percentage of American Indian/Alaska Native 8th-grade students than of Hispanic, White, or Asian 8th-grade students were absent more than 10 days in the last month.[2]  

Although NCES attempts to collect data from AI/AN students in all of our surveys, disaggregated data for this group are sometimes not reportable due to their relatively small population size. Therefore, data collections that specifically target this group of students can be particularly valuable in ensuring the educational research and policy community has the information they need. The National Indian Education Survey is one of the primary resources for data on AI/AN youth.

The National Indian Education Study (NIES) is administered as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to allow more in-depth reporting on the achievement and experiences of AI/AN students in grade 4 and 8. NIES provides data at the national level and for select states with relatively high percentages of American Indians and/or Alaska Natives.[3] It also provides data by the concentration of AI/AN students attending schools in three mutually exclusive categories: Low density public schools (less than 25 percent AI/AN);[4] High density public schools (more than 25 percent AI/AN);[5] and Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools.[6]

In a recently released report on the results of the 2015 NIES, differences in performance on the reading and mathematics assessments emerged across school type. In 2015, students in low density public schools had higher scores in both subjects than those in high density public or BIE schools, and scores for students in high density public schools were higher than for those in BIE schools. Additionally, there were some score differences over time. For example, at grade 8, average reading scores in 2015 for students in BIE schools were higher than scores in 2009 and 2007, but were not significantly different from scores in 2011 and 2005 (Figure 2). 


* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2015.
NOTE: AI/AN = American Indian/Alaska Native. BIE = Bureau of Indian Education. School density indicates the proportion of AI/AN students enrolled. Low density public schools have less than 25 percent AI/AN students. High density public schools have 25 percent or more. All AI/AN students (public) includes only students in public and BIE schools. Performance results are not available for BIE schools at fourth grade in 2015 because school participation rates did not meet the 70 percent criteria.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), various years, 2005-15 National Indian Education Studies.


The characteristics of students attending low density, high density, and BIE schools differed at both grades. For example, BIE schools had a significantly higher percentage of students who were English language learners (ELL) and eligible for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). Additionally, high density schools had a significantly higher percentage of ELL students and NSLP-eligible students than low density schools.

The report also explored to what extent AI/AN culture and language are part of the school curricula. AI/AN students in grades 4 and 8 reported that family members taught them the most about Native traditions. Differences by school type and density were observed in responses to other questions about the knowledge AI/AN students had of their family’s Native culture, the role AI/AN languages played in their lives, and their involvement in Native cultural ceremonies and gatherings in the community. For example, 28 percent of 4th-grade students in BIE schools reported they knew “a lot” about the history, traditions, or arts and crafts of their tribe compared to 22 percent of their AI/AN peers in high density schools, and 18 percent of those in low density schools. Similarly, 52 percent of 8th-grade students at BIE schools participated several times a year in ceremonies and gatherings of their AI/AN tribe or group, compared to 28 percent of their peers at high density public schools, and 20 percent of their peers at low density public schools.

If you’re interested in learning more about NIES, including what the study means for American Indian and Alaska Native students and communities, you can view the video below. Access the compete report and find out more about the study here: https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/nies/


[1] See https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cgg.asp

[2] See https://nces.ed.gov/programs/raceindicators/indicator_rcc.asp

[3] American Indian and Alaska Native state-specific 2015 NIES results are available for the following 14 states:  Alaska, Arizona, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. 

[4] Less than 25 percent of the student body is American Indian or Alaska Native. In low density schools, AI/AN students represented 1 percent of the students at grades 4 and 8.

[5] 25 percent or more of the student body is American Indian or Alaska Native. In high density schools, 53 percent of 4th-graders and 54 percent of 8th-graders were AI/AN students.

[6] In BIE schools, 97 percent of 4th-graders and 99 percent of 8th-graders were AI/AN students. 

CTE Programs Ripe for Research and Evaluation

Each February, the education community highlights the important of Career and Technical Education (CTE) by celebrating National CTE Month. And this year, we are celebrating a milestone—2017 marks 100 years of CTE legislation.  Participation in CTE classes and programs continues to grow and, as we discussed in a previous blog, there is a critical need for more research in this area of education.

IES is beginning to help fill the CTE research gap. In 2016, the IES National Center for Education Research (NCER) funded a new study led by Professor Shaun Dougherty at the University of Connecticut. Dr. Dougherty (pictured right) and his colleagues will examine the impact of attending a CTE-focused high school on students' achievement, high school graduation, and college enrollment. This will be one of only a handful of studies to provide causal evidence about the impact that CTE has on students.

Specifically, the researchers will compare the outcomes of students attending one of 16 high schools in the Connecticut Technical High School System (CTHSS), where all students participate in some form of CTE, with those of students attending a traditional comprehensive high school, with fewer opportunities to participate in CTE. In addition, the research team will conduct school observations and interviews regarding CTE delivery (e.g., number of CTE programs, industry credentials, and work-based learning opportunities offered) in both types of high schools.

Although this is the first time that Dr. Dougherty has served as a Principal Investigator on an IES-funded grant, he has conducted other research on CTE across the country. IES also sponsors other CTE-related initiatives, including the National Center for Education Statistics’ CTE Statistics Program (which has a new website).

CTE programs are poised to grow in the future as the labor market requires more skilled workers and students seek alternative educational options that lead to rewarding careers. The education field needs high-quality CTE-focused research to provide evidence to support practice. In addition, multidisciplinary perspectives on CTE are needed from researchers in related fields, such as cognitive science, educational psychology, organizational psychology, sociology and economics. Researchers from these fields, as well as others examining CTE questions, are welcome to apply for IES research grants.

Written by Corinne Alfeld, Education Research Analyst, NCER 

America’s Advanced Mathematics and Physics Students in a Global Context

By Dana Tofig, Communications Director, Institute of Education Sciences

In today’s increasingly global economy, there is a lot of interest in understanding how students in the United States (U.S.) are performing compared to their peers around the world. That is why the National Center for Education Statistics participates in and conducts several international assessments. One of those assessments—the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) Advanced—gives us a unique opportunity to see how our advanced students are performing in rigorous mathematics and physics classes as they complete high school. TIMSS Advanced is part of a broader data collection that also assesses the performance of 4th- and 8th-grade students in mathematics and science, the results of which are summarized in another blog entry.

The TIMSS Advanced 2015 was administered to students from nine education systems that were in their final year of secondary school who had taken or were taking advanced mathematics or physics courses. In the U.S., the TIMSS Advanced was given to over 5,500 students in Grade 12 who were taking or had taken advanced mathematics courses covering topics in geometry, algebra and calculus, or a second-year physics course. The last time that the U.S. participated in TIMSS Advanced was 1995.

What Percentage of Students Take Advanced Mathematics and Physics?

Among the nine education systems participating in TIMSS Advanced 2015, the percentage of the corresponding age cohort (18-year-olds in the U.S.) taking advanced mathematics varies widely. This percentage, which TIMSS calls the “coverage index,” ranges from a low of 1.9 percent to a high of 34.4 percent. The U.S. falls in the middle, with 11.4 percent of 18-year-olds taking advanced mathematics courses.  The U.S. advanced mathematics coverage index in 2015 has nearly doubled since 1995, when it was 6.4 percent.

In the U.S. and two other participating systems—Portugal and Russian Federation—the students taking advanced mathematics were split fairly evenly between male and female. In the remaining systems, the students in the coverage index were majority male, except for Slovenia, where 60 percent were female. Interestingly, Slovenia had the highest coverage index, at 34.4 percent.

It’s a different story in science for the U.S. Among 18-year-olds in the U.S., 4.8 percent took Physics, which was among the lowest for the nine systems participating in TIMSS Advanced. Only Lebanon (3.9 percent) had a lower percentage, while France had the highest coverage index at 21.5 percent. Males made up a majority of physics students in all nine participating systems, including the U.S. 

How Did U.S. Students Perform in Advanced Mathematics?

U.S. students scored 485 on TIMSS Advanced 2015 in advanced mathematics, which is not significantly different from the average U.S. score in 1995. It should be noted that on TIMSS 2015, given to a representative sample of fourth- and eighth-graders across the U.S., mathematics scores for both grades increased significantly from 1995 to 2015.

On TIMSS Advanced 2015 in advanced mathematics, two systems scored significantly higher than the U.S. (Lebanon and Russian Federation students who took intensive courses[1]) while five systems scored significantly lower (Norway, Sweden, France, Italy and Slovenia). The remaining two systems scored about the same as the U.S.

How Did U.S. Students Perform in Physics?

U.S. students scored 437 on TIMSS Advanced 2015 in physics, which was not statistically different than in 1995. No education system did better on physics in 2015 than 1995, but several did worse—four of the six systems that took the TIMSS Advanced in both 1995 and 2015 saw a significant drop in their scores.

Four of the nine countries participating in TIMSS Advanced 2015 in physics had a score that was significantly higher than the U.S. (Russian Federation, Portugal, Norway, and Slovenia) and three countries scored significantly lower than the U.S. (Lebanon, Italy and France). Sweden’s physics score was not significantly different than the U.S. 

A Note about Interpretation

It’s important to remember that there are differences in student characteristics and the structure of the various education systems that participated in TIMSS Advanced 2015. Those differences should be kept in mind when interpreting results. 


[1] Intensive courses are advanced mathematics courses that involve 6 or more hours per week. Results for students in these courses are reported separately from the results for other students from the Russian Federation taking courses that involve 4.5 hours per week.