IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Every Transition Counts for Students in Foster Care

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Institute of Education Science funds and supports Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships (RPP) that seek to address significant challenges in education. In this guest blog post, Elysia Clemens (pictured left), of the University of Northern Colorado, and Judith Martinez (pictured right), of the Colorado Department of Education, describe the work that their IES-funded RPP is doing to better understand and improve outcomes for students in foster care.

May is Foster Care Awareness Month and 2017 is an important year for raising awareness of the educational outcomes and educational stability of students in foster care.

With passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA), provisions are now in place for states to report on the academic performance and status of students in foster care. ESSA also requires collaboration between child welfare and education agencies to ensure the educational stability (PDF) of students while they are in foster care. This includes reducing the number of school changes to those that are in a student’s best interest and ensuring smooth transitions when changing schools is necessary.

To address the need for baseline data on how students in foster care are faring academically, the University of Northern Colorado, the Colorado Department of Education, and the Colorado Department of Human Services formed a researcher-practitioner partnership in 2014. This IES-funded partnership is currently researching the connection between child welfare placement changes and school changes and how that relates to the academic success of students.

Our goals are to raise awareness of gaps in academic achievement and educational attainment, inform the application of educational stability research findings to the implementation of ESSA’s foster care provisions, and develop and maintain high-quality data that can be easily accessed and used.

Achievement and educational attainment

Until recently, Colorado students in foster care were not identified in education data sets, and child welfare agencies did not always know how the youth in their care were faring in school. The Colorado partnership linked child welfare and education data from 2008 forward and found that across school years, grade levels, and subject areas, there is an academic achievement gap of at least 20 percentage points between students in foster care and their peers (see chart from the partnership website below).

The most critical subject area was mathematics, where the proportion of students scoring in the lowest proficiency category increased with each grade level. The data also revealed that less than one in three Colorado students who experience foster care graduate with their class.

Source: The Colorado Study of Students in Foster Care (

Like many states, Colorado has a long way to go toward closing academic achievement gaps for students in foster care, but with the availability of better data, there is a growing interest in the educational success of these students statewide.  

Educational Stability

Educational stability provisions, such as the ones in ESSA, are designed to reduce barriers to students’ progress, such as unnecessary school moves, gaps in enrollment, and delays in the transfer of records. To estimate how much implementation of these provisions might help improve educational stability for students in foster care, we used child welfare placement dates and school move dates to determine the proportion of school moves associated with changes in child welfare placements. A five-year analysis of school moves before, during, and after foster care placements revealed that the educational stability provisions in the ESSA would apply to two-thirds of the school moves Colorado students experienced.

To fully realize this policy opportunity, we began by generating heat maps on where foster student transfers occur (an example is pictured to the right). These geographical data are being used by Colorado Department of Education and Colorado Department of Human Services to prioritize relationship-building among specific local education agencies and child welfare agencies. Regional meetings are being held to strengthen local collaboration in implementing ESSA’s mandates regarding educational stability and transportation plans.

We also summarized the frequency of school moves by the type of child welfare placement change (e.g., entry into care, transitions among different types of out-of-home placements). We found that nearly one-third of Colorado students who enter foster care also move schools at the same time. This finding can help child welfare and education agencies anticipate the need for short-term transportation solutions and develop procedures for quickly convening stakeholders to determine if a school move is in a child’s best interest.

Accessible and Usable Data

A key communication strategy of the Colorado partnership is to make the descriptive data and research findings accessible and actionable on our project website. The data and findings are organized with different audiences in mind, so that advocates, practitioners, grant writers, and policy makers can use this information for their own distinct purposes. 

The website includes infographics that provide an overview of the data and recommendations on how to close gaps; dynamic visualizations that allow users to explore the data in-depth; and reports that inform conversations and decisions about how to best serve students in foster care.

In our final year of this IES RPP grant, we will continue to identify opportunities to apply our research to inform the development of quality transportation plans and local agreements. We also will study how the interplay between the child welfare placement changes relates to academic progress and academic growth.


International Comparisons of School Crime and Safety

By Lauren Musu-Gillette

Indicators of School Crime and Safety provides a wealth of information on the safety of schools and colleges. The report is updated annually, which allows the public to compare many data points over time in the United States. But how does crime and safety for U.S. students compare to students from other countries? This year’s report helps put some of the U.S. data in an international context by comparing it to crime and safety indicators in other countries.

For example, 15 percent of U.S. fourth-grade students reported experiencing bullying at least once a month, which was lower than the international average (16 percent).[1] This percentage was also lower than the percentages in 16 countries, higher than the percentages in 21 countries, and not measurably different from the percentages in 10 countries. Similarly, the percentage of U.S. eight-grade students who reported experiencing bullying at least once a week was lower than the international average (7 vs. 8 percent), and was lower than the percentages in 13 countries. The U.S. percentage was higher than the percentages in 16 countries, and not measurably different from the percentages in 6 countries.

Percentage of eighth-grade students who reported experiencing bullying at least once a month during the school year, by country or other education system: 2015

1 Norway collected data from students in their 9th year of schooling rather than in grade 8 because year 1 in Norway is considered the equivalent of kindergarten.
NOTE: Most of the education systems represent complete countries, but some represent subnational entities; England, for example, is part of the United Kingdom. Data are based on rounded estimates.
SOURCE: International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), 2015.

Data from this spotlight come from the 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). The primary purpose of TIMSS is to compare the mathematics and science performances of fourth- and eighth-grade students in participating countries and education systems. In addition to assessments, TIMSS provides questionnaires to students who participate, as well as to the teachers and principals of participating students. The 2015 TIMMS questionnaire collected data on students’ reports of bullying, teachers’ reports of whether the school environment is safe and orderly, and principals’ reports of school discipline issues for students in grades 4 and 8.

In the U.S., 7 percent of participating fourth-grade students attended schools that were less than safe and orderly, according to the data reported by their teachers.[2] This was higher than the international average of 4 percent and higher than the percentages in 22 countries, while being not measurably different from the percentages in 19 countries. About 13 percent of participating U.S. eighth-grade students reported attending schools that were less than safe and orderly; higher than the international average of 8 percent and higher than the percentages in 26 countries.

About 3 percent of U.S. fourth-graders and 2 percent of U.S. eighth-graders attended schools with moderate to severe discipline problems, according to data reported by their principals.[3] These percentages were lower than the international averages for fourth-graders and eighth-graders (10 percent and 11 percent, respectively).

For more detailed information, visit the spotlight in Indicators of School Crime and Safety 2016.


[1] The bullying questionnaire item asked, “During this school year, how often have other students from your school done any of the following things to you (including through texting and the Internet)?” These behaviors were listed after the question: Made fun of me or called me names; Left me out of games or activities; Spread lies about me; Stole something from me; Hit or hurt me (e.g., shoving, hitting, kicking); Made me do things I didn’t want to do; Shared embarrassing information about me; Threatened me; and Posted embarrassing things about me online (only asked of eighth-graders).

[2] The questionnaire item was, “Thinking about your current school, indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with each of the following statements,” and it was followed by these statements: This school is located in a safe neighborhood; I feel safe at this school; This school’s security policies and practices are sufficient; The students behave in an orderly manner; The students are respectful of the teachers; The students respect school property; This school has clear rules about student conduct; and This school’s rules are enforced in a clear and consistent manner.

[3] The questionnaire item asked, “To what degree is each of the following a problem among [fourth-grade/eighth-grade] students in your school?” These behaviors or occurrences were listed following the questionnaire item: Arriving late at school; Absenteeism (i.e., unjustified absences); Classroom disturbance; Cheating; Profanity; Vandalism; Theft; Intimidation or verbal abuse among students (including texting, emailing, etc.); Intimidation or verbal abuse of teachers or staff (including texting, emailing, etc.); Physical fights among students (only asked of fourth-grade principals); Physical injury to other students (only asked of eighth-grade principals); and Physical injury to teachers or staff (only asked of eighth-grade principals).


Changes in Children’s Nonparental Care Arrangements From 2001 to 2012

By Lauren Musu-Gillette

While the percentage of children in nonparental care arrangements remained unchanged between 2001 and 2012, the cost of those arrangements increased significantly. These findings come from a recently released report from NCES, The Years Before School: Children’s Nonparental Care Arrangements From 2001 to 2012. Childcare arrangements are influential in children’s early education, and can often be where children learn early literacy and numeracy skills that are important for kindergarten entry.[1]

While the percentage of children who participated in a nonparental care arrangement remained statistically unchanged from 2001 to 2012, there were shifts in the patterns of relative,[2] nonrelative,[3] and center-based care arrangements.[4] For instance, from 2001 to 2012, the percentage of children who had a relative care arrangement increased (from 22 percent to 26 percent) as did the percentage of children who had multiple arrangements (from 10 percent to 12 percent). In both 2001 and 2012, the greatest percentage of children participated in center-based care.

Percentage of children from birth to age 5 who are not yet in kindergarten, by type of nonparental care arrangement: 2001, 2005, and 2012

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES), Early Childhood Program Participation (ECPP) Survey, 2001, 2005, and 2012.

There were higher out-of-pocket hourly expenses for care in 2012 than in 2001 for children in all types of care arrangements. The expense for center-based care increased by 58 percent and that of relative care by 57 percent, while the expense for nonrelative care increased by 25 percent.

Percentage of children from birth to age 5 who are not yet in kindergarten, by type of weekly nonparental care arrangement and child’s age: 2001, 2005, and 2012

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES), Early Childhood Program Participation (ECPP) Survey, 2001, 2005, and 2012.

In 2012, out-of-pocket hourly expenses for children in center-based programs were the most expensive for families, averaging $6.70 per hour—60 percent higher than relative care ($4.18 per hour) and 27 percent higher than nonrelative care ($5.28 per hour).

Data used for this report come from the National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES) Early Childhood Program Participation Surveys (ECPP) collected every several years. This study is different from most NCES data collections in that it focuses on children before they enter formal schooling. In addition to collecting information on children’s early care and education arrangements, parents are also asked about early learning, such as how high the child can count and whether the child can recognize the letters of the alphabet. Learn more about the variables included in the study by visiting the website or accessing the First Look report.


[1] Flanagan, K.D., and McPhee, C. (2009). The Children Born in 2001 at Kindergarten Entry: First Findings From the Kindergarten Data Collections of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort (ECLS-B) (NCES 2010-005). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics.

[2] Relative care: care provided by a relative (e.g., grandparent, aunt/uncle, brother/sister, or another relative) in either the child’s home or another home. Relative care does not include the child’s parents or guardians (e.g., a father or mother caring for the child).

[3] Nonrelative care: care provided by a nonrelative, either in the child’s home or another home. It includes care provided by home child care providers or neighbors, but not day care centers or preschools.

[4] Center-based care: care provided by day care centers, preschools, prekindergarten programs, Head Start programs, and other early childhood programs.



IES Grantees Receive SRCD Distinguished Scientific Contributions Award

Two Institute of Education Sciences (IES) grantees were recently recognized by the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) for their lifetime contributions to the knowledge and understanding of child development.

Roberta Golinkoff and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek received SRCD’s Distinguished Scientific Contributions to Child Development Award in April. It is the first time a team received the award. Dr. Golinkoff (pictured, right) is the Unidel H. Rodney Sharp Chair in the School of Education at University of Delaware and Dr. Hirsh-Pasek (pictured, left) is the Stanley and Debra Lefkowitz Faculty Fellow in the Department of Psychology at Temple University and a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.

The duo has been collaborating on research in a variety of areas of young children’s development and education for several decades, including pioneering work in language, spatial development, and learning through play. They have also dedicated themselves to the widespread dissemination of research findings to the public.

Dr. Golinkoff and Dr. Hirsh-Pasek have received a number of grants from IES, spanning three topic areas across the two research centers.  In 2011, their research team, led by Dr. Golinkoff, received an award to systematically develop a computerized language assessment for preschool children, which has resulted in a reliable and valid product, the Quick Interactive Language Screener (QUILS).  The research team recently published the QUILS, which is now available online.  Based on the success of the assessment for preschoolers, they received a grant from the National Center for Special Education Research in 2016 to expand the QUILS program to assess 2-year-old children, creating an instrument that can be used for early screening of children at risk for language disabilities.

In another area, their research team (led by David Dickinson) received a 2011 National Center for Education Research (NCER) grant to develop and pilot test an intervention designed to foster vocabulary development in preschool children from low-income homes through shared book reading and guided play. The same team, led by Hirsh-Pasek, received a subsequent award in 2015 to extend this work to create a toolkit of shared reading combined with teacher-led playful learning experiences, such as large group games, board games, digital games, songs, and socio-dramatic play.

In addition, Golinkoff led a research team on a 2014 NCER grant to explore how modeling and feedback, gesture, and spatial language affect children’s spatial skills measured through both concrete and digital delivery. 

Written by Amy Sussman (NCSER), Caroline Ebanks (NCER), and Erin Higgins (NCER)

ED/IES SBIR Awards: Funding the Next Generation of Education Technology

Images of SBIR Phase II ProjectsFor more than a decade, the Department of Education’s Small Business Innovation Research program, operated out of the Institute of Education Sciences, has funded projects to develop education technology designed to support students, teachers, and administrators in general or special education. The program, known as ED/IES SBIR, also focuses on the commercialization after development is complete so that the products can reach schools and be sustained over time. It’s research, with a start-up mentality.

In recent years, millions of students in schools around the country have used technologies developed through ED/IES SBIR funding, such as products by Filament Games, Sokikom, Agile Mind, and Mindset Works, to name a few.

This week, IES announced 18 ED/IES SBIR program awards for 2017. Of these awards, 11 are Phase I awards to develop and test a prototype, and seven are Phase II awards to fully develop and evaluate an education technology product in classrooms and schools. (See a video playlist of Phase II projects below)  

The new awards cover topics across math, science, engineering, reading, support social and behavioral development, and several are building platforms to inform decision-making by teachers and administrators. Several projects are pairing software with hardware-based technologies, such as Virtual Reality, 3D-printing, and Wearables.

The new awards also continue to fund projects in two major categories – learning games and dashboards for teachers and administrators.

Learning Games

For the past seven years, about half of ED/IES SBIR awards have focused on the development and evaluation of learning games (click here for a playlist). Continuing that trend, more than half of the 2017 ED/IES SBIR awards are for game-based technologies. Examples include:

  • Phase II awardee Schell Games and Phase I awardee Electric Funstuff are building games for use with Virtual Reality headsets so that students can engage with academic content in immersive 360-degree environments;

  • Phase II awardee Parametric Studios is creating a “makerspace” engineering simulated environment with a 3D-printer;

  • Phase II awardee Fablevision is developing a fractions game with an adaptive component that auto-adjusts in difficulty to meet the competency level of individual students;

  • Phase II awardee Spry Fox is building in-game supports and using rewards and competition to drive game play in teaching vocabulary to struggling middle school students and English Learners; and

  • Phase I awardees MidSchoolMath and Happy People Games are using story-based narrative to engage students and apply learning, while Fokus Labs and Safe Toddles are creating prototypes employing wearable devices paired with a game component to improve performance.

Dashboards for Teachers and Administrators

Many of the newly funded projects are developing a dashboard component populated with data and information to generate reports that teachers and administrators can use to guide instruction and decision making. Examples include:

  • Phase II awardee Analytic Measures is developing an automated speech recognition technology to assess students’ oral fluency in real-time with a dashboard to provide reports to inform teacher instruction;

  • Phase II awardee Future Engineers is developing an open online platform that generates lists of engineering and maker-based projects for students in K-12 classrooms.

  • Phase I projects by Story World, Strange Loop Games, TutorGen, Simbulus, and Myriad Sensors are creating prototypes of dashboards to provide teachers formative assessment results on student performance with reports to guide instruction; and 

  • Two projects focus on platforms for schools administrators – a Phase II project by EdSurge to inform the selection process for technology for school improvement and a Phase I project by LiveSchool to generate reports on student behavior across classes and school.

Stay tuned for updates on Twitter and Facebook as IES continues to support innovative forms of technology.

Written by Edward Metz, program manager, ED/IES SBIR