Today, we want to present to you Dr. Jeong Hoon Choi, assistant research professor at the University of Kansas. Dr. Choi’s work focuses on testing whether Resources Aligned and Integrated for Student Equity (RAISE)—a systematic, data-informed decision-making process—improves the academic and behavioral outcomes of elementary school students with or at risk for disabilities. We hope you enjoy learning more about Dr. Choi’s work as much as we did!
*Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER): How would you describe your research project in a sentence?
Dr. Jeong Hoon Choi: The project is designed to examine the efficacy of a decision-making procedure (called RAISE) that integrates and aligns general and special education resources at all levels of an equity-based, multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) with inclusive instructional strategies and family and community engagement to enhance instruction for students with or at risk for disabilities in general education settings.
NCSER: What was the need that inspired you to conduct this research?
Dr. Jeong Hoon Choi: Equity-based MTSS can be a powerful way to provide equitable and inclusive education; however, the most intensive level (tier) of support of the equity-based MTSS is still often considered the same as special education, and thus not all students who need the support have access to available resources offered within the prevention and instruction system. It is also expected that all students with or at risk for disabilities—regardless of their cultural, gender, and socioeconomic backgrounds—can more effectively learn when educators are making decisions that include all available resources and instructional strategies, regardless of tier level. My colleagues and I agreed that proper responses to this issue can accelerate the recovery from the pandemic and minimize the likelihood of overidentification of disability.
NCSER: What outcomes do you expect to change with this research?
Dr. Jeong Hoon Choi: The RAISE model provides tools and guidance for grade-level and school-wide teams to review data and make instructional decisions for students with or at risk for disabilities. The research investigates the impact of the implementation on student academic scores, measured by benchmark assessments, and behavior, measured by the major office discipline referrals (ODRs). In the meantime, changes in the adult problem-solving behavior at the grade-level/school-wide team meeting will be examined.
NCSER: What inspired you to do research in special education?
Dr. Jeong Hoon Choi: The education of students with or at risk for disabilities seems to be the most complicated issue. It is highly associated with other social and educational issues, such as racial equity, poverty, cultural diversity, social class, ableism, and so on. Our previous special education research studies regarding school reform, system change, and school leadership led us to apply to NCSER’s pandemic-recovery competition for support to conduct this study.
NCSER: Why is this particular research project important to you?
Dr. Jeong Hoon Choi: The impact of the pandemic is huge, especially for those who may have experienced or are experiencing learning regression as a result. Students with or at risk for disabilities may experience its impact more acutely and for a longer time. We have observed outcome improvements for this population with equity-based MTSS implementation in other projects. The current research’s rigorous design will contribute to understanding how to address such regression in academic and social skills.
NCSER: How do you think this grant will impact special education?
Dr. Jeong Hoon Choi: The findings of the current project, if successful, will provide a practice model for special and general educators to work together within grade-level and school-wide teams to use data to align and integrate general and special education resources to better support students with or at risk for disabilities. The project will produce knowledge of the usable and feasible implementation of RAISE in authentic conditions on valued student outcomes. The products of this research will be a set of support resources to strengthen routine data practices to intensify support for students to engage with the general education curriculum.
NCSER: How will this project address challenges related to the pandemic?
Dr. Jeong Hoon Choi: The pandemic not only caused some students to experience regression in academic learning and social and behavioral skills, but also a high level of educator burnout. The project is designed to provide guidance to use data and plan academic, social, and behavior instruction. In addition, RAISE encourages school teams to routinely work as a team with special educators, utilize students’ strengths and needs when making decisions, and connect and share progress with various stakeholders. The teaming, collaborative decision-making, and resource mapping embedded in this data-use routine will provide educators with emotional support and solutions that work for their classrooms and students.
“The concept of disability is socially and historically constructed. Education ought to be able to deal with diverse academic, behavior, and social-emotional learning needs without applying labels to students that may limit the expectations of the educators who instruct them.”
NCSER: What are some of the biggest challenges in special education research today?
Dr. Jeong Hoon Choi: Special education, as it is known, is a multi- and cross-disciplinary field that integrates education, health, mental health, policy, community and family services, and so on. No doubt the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has led to improved results for students with disabilities. The next level of research in special education should be large-scale and longitudinal studies to investigate the impact of special education or related practices, such as inclusive education, in the community with other multidisciplinary group members. The biggest barriers would include limited data access, disconnected data-based communication among general and special education, and inconsistent data collection across SEAs/LEAs and over time.
NCSER: What’s one thing you wish more people knew about children and youth with or at risk for disabilities?
Dr. Jeong Hoon Choi: The concept of disability is socially and historically constructed. Education ought to be able to deal with diverse academic, behavior, and social-emotional learning needs without applying labels to students that may limit the expectations of the educators who instruct them.
NCSER: What are some of the most exciting news/innovations/stories that give you hope for the future of special education research?
Dr. Jeong Hoon Choi: The most exciting part since I started working on special education research is that more research funding has been available to study system change, school climate, and multidisciplinary collaboration (especially between general and special education). I personally hope to see joint funding opportunities between general and special education research agencies in the future.
NCSER: What are some of the future goals for you and your team?
Dr. Jeong Hoon Choi: We at SWIFT Education Center received three federal awards from the Department of Education this year. These awards support the following projects: 1) National Center on Inclusion toward Rightful Presence (from the Office of Special Education Programs), 2) Supporting Effective School Leaders through Professional Learning and Resources for Equity Leadership and Educator Well-Being (from the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education), and 3) Resources Aligned and Integrated for Student Equity (RAISE): A Protocol for Grade-Level Teams to Intensify Instruction for Students with or at Risk for Disabilities (from IES). Although these projects have methodological differences, all three include research components. Findings from those research activities will allow us to build knowledge regarding how equity-based MTSS works for various populations, including students with or at risk for disabilities and economically, culturally, and socially disadvantaged students. We will continue to work on equity and excellence in education.
Thank you for reading our conversation with Dr. Jeong Hoon Choi! Come back tomorrow for our next grantee spotlight!