IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Low-Cost, Short-Duration Evaluations: Helping States and School Districts Make Evidence-based Decisions

Last year, IES launched two new grant programs to help state and district education agencies obtain rigorous and timely evidence they can use to inform decisions about education interventions of high importance to the agency: Low-Cost, Short-Duration Evaluation of Education Interventions (CFDA 84.305L) and Low-Cost, Short-Duration Evaluation of Special Education Interventions (CFDA 84.324L). These programs are intended to support relatively quick (completed within 2 years) and inexpensive ($250,000 or less) evaluations to test the effects of education interventions that schools and other education institutions may want to scale up or redesign to improve student education outcomes.

IES developed the Low-Cost, Short Duration Evaluation grant programs to help states and school districts plan and launch rigorous evaluations when they roll out new interventions. Such interest is likely to intensify under the Every Student Succeeds Act, which requires states to set accountability goals and encourages use of evidence-based programs to close achievement gaps and improve low-performing schools. 

Advances in technology and administrative data systems have also led some policymakers and researchers to suggest that rigorous evaluations ought to be less expensive to perform today than in the past, when evaluators had to do much of their own data collection.

To meet the goals of relevance, rigor, and affordability, the Low-Cost, Short-Duration Evaluation grant programs set out specific requirements and expectations for applicants:

  • To ensure the relevance, the evaluations must be focused on an intervention that the education agency identifies as a priority and will be implemented in Year 1 of the grant, and must be carried out as a partnership between a research institution and a state and local education agency. 
  • To ensure rigor, evaluation designs must either be randomized controlled trials or regression discontinuity designs that have the potential to meet the What Works Clearinghouse evidence standards without reservation. Beginning in FY 2017, single-case designs may also be used in evaluations of special education interventions. 
  • To ensure lower-cost, the evaluations are expected to rely mainly on agency administrative datasets or other secondary sources rather than on new data collection. 

The short-term nature of the grants leads to a focus on interventions that are expected to improve student education outcomes within a summer session, quarter, semester or academic year. The low cost also means that researchers are not expected to conduct in-depth research into program implementation, comparison group practices, and costs and benefits of interventions unless the data exist in the administrative datasets. Other IES funding opportunities – including Education Research Grants, Special Education Research Grants, and Evaluation of State and Local Education Policies and Programs – are available to support longer-term and/or more in-depth evaluations. 

In sum, the Low-Cost, Short-Duration Evaluation grant programs fill a special niche within the IES portfolio by providing results on specific types of interventions that education agencies can use in making important decisions on programs, policies, and spending. They can also lay the groundwork for future grant-funded research to investigate implementation, underlying mechanisms, and longer-term impacts.

The results from last year’s competitions will be released soon and both programs are being re-competed this year with an application deadline of August 4, 2016.  On June 9, 2016, 2:00-3:30 p.m. (EDT), IES will host a webinar on the two grant competitions. Please register in advance. An archive of the webinar will also be available on the IES funding webinar page.

Written by Allen Ruby, Associate Commissioner, National Center for Education Research

A Renewed Focus on Education Leadership

Education leaders, such as school principals, have been the focus of education research for decades. While research suggests that there are substantial (albeit mostly indirect) relationships between school leadership and student achievement, there is still much to learn. More information is needed about how the knowledge, skills, abilities, and actions of school leaders are impacting student outcomes and the best ways to prepare and support school leaders.

Since 2004, the National Center for Education Research (NCER) within the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) has only funded 15 research studies on education leadership through several education research grant programs. A technical working group met last year and recommended that NCER strengthen its portfolio of research on this important topic.

In response, IES is revamping its Education Leadership topic as a separate part of its Education Research grants program. By doing so, we hope to provide a greater focus on education leadership research and increase understanding of how school leadership can improve achievement and opportunities for students.

Through the leadership topic, IES is offering research opportunities on programs, policies, and practices that support leaders in K-12 education systems at the school, district, or state level and ultimately lead to improved student outcomes.  While IES invites all applications that meet the topic requirements, we are especially interested in

  • exploratory research on the specific competencies and behaviors needed by leaders to support at-risk or high-risk students and improve student outcomes in challenging educational settings, such as persistently low-performing schools and high-poverty schools and districts;
  • exploratory research on the relationship between student education outcomes and district policies regarding the identification and selection of education leaders, assignment of leaders to specific schools, leadership turnover, and the distribution of leadership roles and responsibilities among multiple individuals within a school;
  • evaluations of leadership interventions that have the potential to improve student outcomes; and
  • the validation of existing leadership measures and the development and validation of new leadership measures for the purpose of research, formative assessment, and accountability.

Education leadership researchers who have strong partnerships with school districts and/or state education agencies should also consider applying to the Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships in Education Research topic within the Partnerships and Collaborations Focused on Problems of Practice or Policy grants program.  This topic allows researchers to carry out initial research that is of importance to district and/or state partners and then develop a plan for future research.

For more information on funding opportunities for research on education leadership contact Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov) or Corinne Alfeld (Corinne.Alfeld@ed.gov) or visit the IES website. If you missed the deadline to submit an optional Letter of Intent for the Education Leadership topic, please email it to Katina or Corinne directly.

A One-Stop Shop for Leadership Research

We have consolidated all education research grants related to education leaders under our Education Leadership research portfolio. The focus of these studies varies and includes the development and validation of leadership measures (such as the Vanderbilt Assessment of Leadership in Education (VAL-ED) and the exploration of potential relationship(s) between malleable factors (such as principals’ skills and behaviors) and student outcomes. In addition to these studies, NCER has funded research on education leadership through its R&D centers on school choice, scaling up effective schools, and analyzing longitudinal education data

Written by Katina Stapleton, Education Research Analyst, NCER

PHOTO: Principals meet with the U.S. Department of Education leadership in 2015 (courtesy of U.S. Department of Education)

Funding the Next Generation of Education Technology and Assessment

Games and other education technology are increasingly being used as a way to engage students in learning and support the work of teachers and educational leaders. The Institute of Education Sciences is proud to have been a part of this growth through its Small Business Innovation Research Program (ED/IES SBIR).

In recent years, thousands of schools around the country have used technologies developed through ED/IES SBIR funding, such as products by Filament Games, Fluidity Software, Zaption, and Mindset Works, to name a few. The program emphasizes a rapid research and development (R&D) process, with rigorous research informing iterative development and evaluating the promise of products for improving student outcomes. ED/IES SBIR also focuses on the commercialization after development is complete so that products can reach schools and be sustained over time.

This month, IES announced its 2016 awards, supporting 14 products covering a range of topics and forms of technology. Read about the awards here.


WATCH: YouTube Playlist of ED/IES SBIR PHASE II Awardees


The new awards continue two recent trends—developing new forms of assessment and applying next-generation technology for use in the classroom.

Emerging Forms of Assessment

All of the 2016 Phase II awards (for full-scale development) and several Phase I awards (for prototype development) are building technologies that center on assessment.

  • Using Phase II awards, Brainquake and Querium are fully developing adaptive engines to assess student performance on standards-aligned topics in mathematics and provide feedback to students and teachers to improve performance and practice. Teachley and Apprendis are building platforms to organize student performance data and generate reports to inform teacher instruction. And 3C Institute is developing a website for special education teachers to assess and track the social and emotional development of students diagnosed with High Functioning-Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  • Using Phase I awards, Analytic Measures is developing a prototype of an app to measure grade school student’s oral reading fluency and Early Learning Labs is developing a screening assessment for teachers of children who are Spanish-English Dual Language Learners.

The assessment trend echoes the broader movement in the field, and at ED, highlighted by the Every Student Succeeds Act, which calls for new forms of digital assessments, and the National Education Technology Plan, which includes a section on assessment.

Trend 2: Developing the Next Generation Technologies to Schools and Classrooms

Modern technological advances have transformed how we work and live every day.  For educators, the challenge is how to take advantage of next generation technologies in order to improve education. In the current group of Phase I awardees, many developers are seeking to make this happen.

  • Schell Games is integrating a virtual reality headset within a game so that students can do immersive chemistry experiments;
  • Spry Fox and Fablevision are developing mobile app-based learning games;
  • Parametric Studios is developing an engineering and design platform that incorporates a 3D-printer.
  • Analytic Measures is using automated speech recognition technology to assess students oral fluency in real-time; and
  • Two projects are building web-based platforms to organize user-generated content to inform practice.  Future Engineers is developing a platform to facilitate engineering design challenges and EdSurge is building a platform to support administrators in selecting technology tools to support school improvement.  

More Opportunities for Innovation in Education

SBIR is not the only IES funding program that feeds the R&D and evaluation pipeline.  The grants programs in Education Research and Special Education Research  support developers across the arc of a project lifespan – from basic research to test theories to inform concept ideation, to development and refinement of interventions or assessments, and for efficacy evaluations to test fully developed interventions in schools.  All awards are multi-year with funding levels varying from $1.4 million for development to $3.3 million for efficacy evaluations.

The Low-Cost, Short Duration Evaluation of Education Interventions supports rigorous evaluations of education interventions (including technology) over a short period. For developers, this program provides the opportunity to strengthen the research-base for existing technology products over the course of a school year. All awards are for up to one year and $250,000. The Request for Applications for Fiscal Year 2017 for these programs is now open, with a submission deadline of August 4, 2016. 

Stay tuned for updates on Twitter (@IESResearch) as IES projects drive innovative forms of technology.

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

What Are the Characteristics of Students Who Have Ever Been Suspended or Expelled From School?

By Lauren Musu-Gillette

Suspensions and expulsions from school are often associated with negative academic outcomes, such as lower levels of achievement and higher dropout rates.[i] Using data from the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:2009), NCES recently published a new spotlight feature in Indicators of School Crime and Safety that shows that a greater percentage of students who are suspended or expelled have low engagement in school and are less academically successful.  

While there is a large body of research on this topic, this is the first time that the nationally representative HSLS study has been used to examine outcomes for and characteristics of suspended and expelled youth. The comparisons presented here cannot be used to establish a cause-and-effect relationship, but the longitudinal nature of the dataset could provide researchers an analytical path to understanding how these relationships have unfolded over time.

Research shows that students’ attitudes toward school are associated with their academic outcomes, and that schools with a supportive climate have lower rates of delinquency, including suspensions and expulsions.[ii] As part of the HSLS:2009 data collection, students reported on their school engagement[iii] and sense of school belonging[iv] in the fall of their ninth-grade year (2009). A greater percentage of students who were suspended or expelled between 2009 and 2012 were reported low school engagement entering high school. A similar pattern was seen with regard to a sense of belonging in school.


 Percentage of fall 2009 ninth-graders who were ever suspended or expelled through spring 2012, by school engagement and sense of school belonging: 2012

1A school engagement scale was constructed based on students' responses to questions about how frequently they went to class without homework done, without pencil or paper, without books, or late.

2A school belonging scale was constructed based on the extent to which students agreed or disagreed that they felt safe at school, that they felt proud of being part of the school, that there were always teachers or other adults at school they could talk to if they had a problem, that school was often a waste of time, and that getting good grades was important to them.

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:2009).


The percentages of students who had ever been suspended or expelled were higher for those students with lower grade point averages (GPAs). Nearly half of students with a cumulative high school GPA below 2.0 had ever been suspended or expelled and just 11 percent had a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Additionally, as of 2013, a higher percentage of students who had not completed high school than of students who had completed high school had ever been suspended or expelled (54 vs. 17 percent).


Percentage of fall 2009 ninth-graders who were ever suspended or expelled through spring 2012, by cumulative high school grade point average and high school completion status: 2013

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:2009).


Differences in the demographic characteristics of students who had ever been suspended or expelled were similar to those found in other datasets, such as the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). Characteristics of youth in the HSLS study who were ever suspended or expelled include:

  • A higher percentage of males (26 percent) than of females (13 percent) were ever suspended or expelled.
  • A higher percentage of Black students (36 percent) than of Hispanic (21 percent), White (14 percent), and Asian students (6 percent) had ever been suspended or expelled.
  • A higher percentage of students of Two or more races (26 percent) and Hispanic students had ever been suspended or expelled than White students.
  • A lower percentage of Asian students than of students of any other race/ethnicity with available data had ever been suspended or expelled.

For more information on the characteristics of students who have ever been suspended or expelled, please see the full spotlight in Indicators of School Crime and Safety 2015.


[i] Christle, C.A., Nelson, C.M., and Jolivette, K. (2004). School Characteristics Related to the Use of Suspension. Education and the Treatment of Children, 27(4): 509-526.; Skiba, R.J., Michael, R.S., Nardo, A.C., and Peterson, R.L. (2002). The Color of Discipline: Sources of Gender and Racial Disproportionality in School Punishment. Urban Review, 34(4): 317-342.

[ii] Morrison, G.M., Robertson, L., Laurie, B., and Kelly, J. (2002). Protective Factors Related to Antisocial Behavior Trajectories.Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(3): 277-290; Christle, C.A., Jolivette, K., and Nelson, C.M. (2005). Breaking the School to Prison Pipeline: Identifying School Risk and Protective Factors for Youth Delinquency. Exceptionality, 13(2): 69-88.

[iii] School engagement measured how frequently students went to class without homework done, without pencil or paper, without books, or late.

[iv] Sense of school belonging was measured based on the extent to which students agreed or disagreed that they felt safe at school, that they felt proud of being part of the school, that there were always teachers or other adults at school they could talk to if they had a problem, that school was often a waste of time, and that getting good grades was important to them.

NCSER Researchers Receive Awards from the Council for Exceptional Children

In April, the annual Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) held its annual Convention and Expo, during which scholars were recognized for their research contributions to the field. A number of NCSER-funded investigators were among those honored by the CEC.

Michael Wehmeyer (right) received the CEC Special Education Research Award, which recognizes an individual or team whose research has made significant contributions to the education of children and youth with exceptionalities. Dr. Wehmeyer has served as the principal investigator (PI) on two NCSER-funded awards.  He tested the promise of efficacy for the Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction, an intervention to promote self-determination, access to the general education curriculum, and support for the needs of students with disabilities to achieve academic and transition-related goals.  He and his research team are currently developing an assessment, the Self-Determination Inventory System, to measure self-determination for a range of disability groups as well as youth and young adults without disabilities.

Rob Horner (right) is the 2016 recipient of the Kauffman-Hallahan Distinguished Researcher Award. This honor, awarded by the CEC Division of Research, recognizes individuals or research teams who have made outstanding scientific contributions in basic or applied research in special education over the course of their careers. Dr. Horner has been the recipient of several IES-funded awards. He is currently testing the efficacy of Team-Initiated Problem Solving, a training and coaching intervention for teaching school teams to use behavioral and academic progress-monitoring data to define and solve problems. For a number of years Dr. Horner has also been a lead faculty member of the IES Summer Research Training Institute for Single-Case Intervention Research Design and Analysis, a professional development program that has increased the national capacity of education researchers to conduct methodologically rigorous single-case intervention studies.

Brian Boyd (left) is the winner of the 2016 Distinguished Early Career Research Award, an honor from CEC’s Division of Research that recognizes individuals with outstanding scientific contributions in special education research within the first 10 years after receiving a doctoral degree. Dr. Boyd has played key roles on several NCSER-funded grants, including as co-PI on an award to develop Advancing Social-Communication and Play (ASAP), an intervention aimed at improving the social-communication and play skills of preschoolers with Autism Spectrum Disorders. He is also the PI for a current grant examining the efficacy of ASAP.

All of this year’s CEC Division of Research award winners will give an invited presentation at the 2017 CEC Convention and Expo.  At this year’s convention, held April 13-16, the Division of Research award recipients from 2015 gave presentations. This includes two previous winners of the Distinguished Early Career Research Award – Karrie Shogren and Kent McIntosh – both of whom have been NCSER-funded investigators.

Karrie Shogren (right) had received an award from NCSER in which she analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 to identify individual and environmental factors that predict self-determination and examine the relationship between self-determination and long-term outcomes of students with disabilities. As part of a current NCSER-funded project, Kent McIntosh (left) is conducting an exploratory study to identify malleable factors that enhance or inhibit the implementation and sustainability of school-wide social-emotional and behavior support practices, focusing on School-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.

The Division of Research was not the only CEC group awarding honors to NCSER-funded investigators. Maureen Conroy (right) was awarded the 2016 Outstanding Leadership Award from CEC’s Council for Children with Behavioral Disorders. This award recognizes an individual who has made significant contributions to research, leadership, teacher education, and policy in the field of behavior disorders. Dr. Conroy has received funding to develop a preventative classroom-based intervention that targets problem behaviors by preschool teachers and to evaluate the efficacy of BEST in CLASS, an intervention for young children at high risk for emotional and behavioral disorders.

IES congratulates all the winners!

Written by Amy Sussman, program officer, NCSER