IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Congratulations and Thanks to the 2021 Winners of the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences

The mission of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is to provide scientific evidence on which to ground education practice and policy and to share this information in formats that are useful and accessible to educators, parents, policymakers, researchers, and the public. The research for which David Card, Joshua D. Angrist, and Guido W. Imbens were recognized by the Nobel Foundation’s Economic Sciences Prize Committee has greatly contributed to the ability of researchers to provide causal evidence in support of education practice and policy decision making.

Many key issues in education cannot be analyzed using randomized experiments for practical and ethical reasons. Card’s work (with Alan Krueger) on natural experiments helped open up a novel approach to providing causal findings. In natural experiments, outcomes are compared for people who have differential access to a program or policy (or a change in a program or policy) because of real life conditions (for example, institutional or geographic differences) rather than through random assignment by researchers. Natural experiments have been adopted by IES grantees to examine a broad variety of education programs and policies such as PreK expansion, early literacy, school choice, school turnaround programs, high school curriculum change, and changes to postsecondary remediation course requirements. Angrist and Imbens showed how to estimate a causal treatment effect when individuals can choose to participate in a program or policy, which often occurs in natural experiments and can occur in randomized experiments after researchers have randomly assigned participants. IES grantees widely use their approach using instrumental variables for both experimental (often involving designs based on school lotteries) and quasi-experimental designs.

In addition to developing evaluation designs and methods that have been broadly applied within education research, Card and Angrist have also directly carried out education research important to the field, sometimes with the support of IES. For example, Card is a Principal Investigator (PI) on two IES-funded studies on gifted education (elementary school and middle school) and is a co-PI on the National Center for Research on Gifted Education. Angrist is PI on two IES-funded studies, one on charter schools and one evaluating a Massachusetts desegregation program. Imbens has provided the IES What Works Clearinghouse with advice on standards for regression discontinuity designs (RDD) and co-authored one IES-supported paper regarding RDD (a method that has also become widely used in IES-funded research).

IES congratulates Drs.Card, Angrist, and Imbens on their Prize in Economic Sciences and thanks them, both for their work that has increased opportunities for researchers to evaluate important education programs and policies and for their direct participation in education research.

Importance of Measuring Spanish Literacy Skills

The Latinx population comprises the second largest ethnic group in the US and has grown more than 600% since 1970. In states like California, Texas and New Mexico, nearly half of people are Latinx and almost one third are bilingual. States in the Northeast, Midwest, and South have also experienced double-digit growth in their Latinx populations since 2010. Millions of children all across the country are growing up in communities where both English and Spanish are spoken. In response to these trends, there has been a push to support and celebrate student bilingualism and biliteracy. Forty states and Washington, D.C. offer a State Seal of Biliteracy for students who achieve proficiency in speaking, reading, and writing in English and an additional language, most often Spanish. In this guest blog, Drs. Ashley Adams Sanabria, Amy Pratt, and Elizabeth Peña discuss the importance of measuring literacy skills in Spanish and their new IES-funded measurement project that aims to develop assessments to measure Spanish language and literacy skills.

 

Why is it important to measure literacy skills in Spanish?

In the IES practice guide for effective language and literacy instruction for English language learners, the first recommendation is to monitor children’s reading progress and use the data to make informed instructional decisions. Traditionally, this type of assessment has been conducted exclusively in English; however, we risk missing an important part of the constellation of skills that bilingual children possess when we do not assess their Spanish (or other first language) skills. Bilingual children’s language and literacy skills are often divided across both of their languages. Factors like exposure to Spanish versus English, preference for using Spanish versus English, and the language of formal reading instruction will affect a bilingual’s early literacy development. Measuring skills in only one language may make it appear that bilinguals are behind when in actuality, the assessment strategy has not captured the entirety of their skill set.

Furthermore, research shows that bilingual language profiles are dynamic and interact with the type of instruction children receive. Progress monitoring assessments in both languages allow teachers to track how children are progressing in different skills in each of their languages and can provide important information that will inform how teachers plan instruction for bilingual learners. As part of a new IES-funded measurement project, researchers at the University of California, Irvine and San Diego State University are developing the A2i-ALE (Adquisición de Lectura en Español) assessments to measure Spanish language and literacy skills. These new assessments will be computer adaptive and designed to be used alongside the existing Assessment-to-Instruction (A2i) English assessments to monitor progress within and across school years for bilingual children in PreK through 3rd grade.

Which literacy skills should be measured in Spanish?

For our project, given we cannot measure everything, a key question we had to consider was which literacy skills to measure in Spanish. The Simple View of Reading holds that reading comprehension is the product of decoding skills and linguistic comprehension. Importantly, this framework can be applied to bilingual reading development, as well. Simply put, students must be able to decode written symbols into their spoken equivalent. But, we need to consider language differences. Languages with transparent orthographies and simple phonological structure, like Spanish, are easier to segment into their component sounds because there is a near 1-to-1 mapping between letters and sounds compared to English which has complex letter-sound mappings.

Once decoded, students must then apply their language skills (for example, vocabulary, knowledge of syntactic structures, background knowledge) to understand the meaning of the text they have just decoded. The Simple View of Reading has important implications for literacy instruction: (a) effective early reading instruction should develop skills in both decoding and language comprehension, and (b) given that these two domains develop relatively independently, reading comprehension outcomes will be enhanced by differentiating the amount of instructional time devoted to each of the two domains depending on individual learners’ skill level in each area.

Applying the Simple View of Reading to improve reading instruction for bilingual learners requires that teachers have valid, reliable information about decoding skills and language comprehension skills in all of their languages and use the information in planning and implementing reading instruction.

What’s next?

In our IES-funded study, we plan to develop A2i Spanish measures that will be designed to (a) describe each bilingual’s unique literacy skill profile in terms of their Spanish language, comprehension, and decoding skills, and (b) monitor children’s Spanish language and reading growth within and across school years. The goal is to inform Spanish language instructional decisions in dual language programs (that is, children demonstrating weaknesses in Spanish word reading or vocabulary could get more Spanish instructional time in those areas), as well as inform literacy instruction for bilingual children in English-only classrooms building on what is known about cross-language transfer.


This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see here and here) showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. As part of our Hispanic Heritage Month blog series, we are focusing on Hispanic researchers and fellows, as well as researchers that focus on the education of Hispanic students.

Ashley Adams Sanabria is an assistant professor at San Diego State University in the School of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences.

Amy S. Pratt is a project scientist at the University of California, Irvine in the School of Education

Elizabeth D. Peña is an associate dean of faculty development and diversity at the University of California, Irvine in the School of Education.

Produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council, and Helyn Kim (Helyn.Kim@ed.gov), Program Officer for the English Learners portfolio, National Center for Education Research.

NCES Welcomes Peggy Carr as Its New Commissioner

On August 24, 2021, President Biden announced the appointment of Dr. Peggy G. Carr as Commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) at the U.S. Department of Education. Prior to serving as the Commissioner, Carr was the Associate Commissioner for Assessment at NCES, where she oversaw the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and a portfolio of large-scale international assessments, including the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). Carr also served as Acting Commissioner of NCES between 2016 and 2018.

Since joining NCES in the early 1990s, Carr has played a lead role in planning, directing, and managing NAEP and the international assessments through several major milestones, such as the transition from paper-and-pencil assessments to digitally based ones. During her decades-long tenure with NAEP, Carr managed all aspects of its technical infrastructure, including item development, data collections, scoring, psychometrics, analysis, and reporting. Most recently, in January 2021, at the request of Secretary Cardona’s office and in response to an IES Executive Presidential Order to gather data on school openings and modes of instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic, Carr led the development and implementation of the NAEP 2021 Monthly School Survey. The survey reported crucial information on the reopening of schools for in-person learning from February through June of 2021, and it will provide valuable context for understanding student achievement results from the upcoming NAEP assessments in 2022.

Before coming to NCES, Carr served as the chief statistician for the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. While in this role, she applied statistics and survey methods to the field of discrimination in U.S. schools and institutions.

Carr received her B.S. in psychology, with a concentration in statistics, from North Carolina Central University. She earned her M.S. and Ph.D. in developmental psychology from Howard University.

Disrupting the Status Quo to Support Latino Students from Immigrant Families

Driven in part by massive demographic shifts in the U.S. population, education and social behavioral research has increasingly attended to the growing diversity of the student population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Latinos accounted for more than 50% of the U.S. population growth between 2010 and 2020. While the country’s white population is shrinking, the Latino population grew by 23% in the last decade and now makes up almost 19% of the U.S. population. Although the raw numbers are worthy of attention, the change rate—and what it means for how schools and other systems serve students—may be even more important, especially given that the K12 education system is not built to accommodate such rapid demographic shifts.

NCES data show that, although there has been overall progress in improving high school graduation rates, the nation’s Latino student dropout rate is 65% higher than White students and almost 40% higher than Black students. Only 20% of Latinos aged 25 to 29 have obtained a college degree—the lowest degree attainment rate of any racial/ethnic subgroup. Growing evidence shows that the disparities in college participation among Latino and first-generation college students may become even more pronounced as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage.

Since 2015, with the support of two IES-funded NCER grants, my team of colleagues and I have led work designed to challenge and innovate how schools support the positive development and college access and success for Latino students from immigrant families. Our Juntos Project was designed to create a new intervention model working directly with teachers, school leaders, and parents of Latino middle school students. The goal of the project was to address common challenges confronting immigrant families as they navigate the U.S. education system, to use effective strategies for recognizing and transforming teacher bias, and to create a school climate that centers equity leadership and builds authentic family-school partnerships—all with the promise to improve academic and school success for Latino students. The second project, Project LEAPS (Latino Education After Public School), which is currently underway, extends the model we developed in Juntos by working with teachers, parents, and school counselors to support the postsecondary readiness (and ultimately the college access and success) of Latino students as they transition from middle school to high school.

Through this work, we continue to learn important lessons about how to be disruptive given that current approaches have too often failed to make a lasting impact on nurturing the academic success and positive behavioral health of Latino students. Here are a few of those lessons:

Parents are the most important teachers in a child’s life. As much as education researchers and professionals attend to the role educators play in student life, our approach is designed to capitalize on the strengths of Latino families and the deep cultural value of familismo, which prioritizes dedication, connectedness, and loyalty to family, as essential targets of our intervention. Notwithstanding the influence of adult agents inside the education system, parents (that is, all of the adults in a child’s life who play a major role in raising them) play the most important and sustained role in raising healthy children. Although the education system frequently frames parents and home environments as “the problem” when considering the challenges of underserved students, data from the NCES National Household Education Survey show that parents of students of color are as likely or more likely to be engaged in their children’s education (for example, checking on homework completion, monitoring school performance) than their white peers. This is especially true for Latino parents, including those who are Spanish speaking and those who have low educational attainment themselves.

Move from a deficit framing to an asset framing. Undoubtedly, many Latino students and their families experience challenges as they navigate the education system. However, many of these challenges are not of their making. The fact that we can mark disparities in educational outcomes and access to higher education by race/ethnicity, poverty, rurality and other factors should be a source of outrage. None of these demographic characteristics should be correlated with school success or can legitimately be described as causal. The true causes stem from deeply rooted inequities embedded in the education system. One way to shift away from a student or family deficit framing is to focus on a more interesting question: What makes students, families, schools, and communities thrive in the face of difficult circumstances? The answers to this question can help us leverage assets that too often go untapped in service of student success.

Attend to within-group variation. Like other racial/ethnic groups, Latinos are not monolithic. Comparative designs in which outcomes for Latino students are contrasted with White students or students from other groups often contribute little to nuanced understandings about how variables linked to these group identifications might explain differences in outcomes. Ample research shows that within-group variation among Latinos on factors such as country of origin, nativity, generational history, language, time in U.S. residency, context of reception for immigrants, and acculturation level are more important in understanding the nature of risk and protection around academic and social behavioral adjustment than are between-group differences. In designing intervention programs for the families and students we serve, our goals are to understand these sources of variation and carefully attend to them in our development work.  


This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see here and here) showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. As part of our Hispanic Heritage Month blog series, we are focusing on Hispanic researchers and fellows, as well as researchers that focus on the education of Hispanic students.

Charles Martinez (@c_martinez) is the dean of the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin, a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, and the founding director of the Texas Center for Equity Promotion. He is a first-generation college graduate and a third-generation Mexican American. His Project LEAPS co-investigators are Heather McClure, University of Oregon, and Elma Lorenzo-Blanco, University of Texas at Austin.

This guest blog was produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council.

Research Roundup: NCES Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month

Breaking down data by race and ethnicity can provide a better understanding of education performance and outcomes than examining statistics representative of all students. In observation of Hispanic Heritage Month, this blog presents NCES findings on the learning experiences of Hispanic students throughout their education careers.

Early Childhood Education

  • In 2019, 43 percent of Hispanic 3- to 4-year-olds and 86 percent of Hispanic 5-year-olds were enrolled in school.

 

K12 Education



  • Between 2009 and 2018, the percentage of students enrolled in public schools who were Hispanic increased from 22 to 27 percent.


  • In school year 2018–19, the adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) was 82 percent for Hispanic public school students. The ACGRs for Hispanic students ranged from 60 percent in the District of Columbia to 91 percent in Alabama and West Virginia.
  • Between 2010 and 2020, the percentage of Hispanic 25- to 29-year-olds who had completed at least high school increased by more than 20 percentage points, from 69 to 90 percent.

 

Postsecondary Education

  • In 2007, postsecondary enrollment of Hispanic students surpassed 2.0 million for the first time in history. In 2012, enrollment of Hispanic students surpassed enrollment of Black students, making Hispanic students the largest minority population enrolled in postsecondary education.


  • Between fall 2009 and fall 2019, Hispanic undergraduate enrollment increased by 48 percent (from 2.4 million to 3.5 million students).


  • In 2017–18, there were 99,718 bachelor’s degrees awarded to Hispanic students at Hispanic-serving institutions, which have a full-time undergraduate enrollment that is at least 25 percent Hispanic.


  • In academic year 2018–19, 17 percent of bachelor’s degrees conferred to Hispanic graduates were in a STEM field.
  • About 58 percent of Hispanic students who began seeking a bachelor’s degree full-time at a 4-year institution in fall 2013 completed that degree at the same institution within 6 years.

 

By Mandy Dean, AIR