IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage in Education

Hispanic Heritage Month was celebrated from September 15 to October 15 this year. There was much to be thankful for, but also much work still to do. In our work at the Center for the Success of ELs (CSEL), an IES funded National Research and Development Center, our team is diligently working to clarify issues related to English learner (EL) classification and achievement, as well as the special challenges brought on by the pandemic, and to identify future challenges to which we must turn our attention.

Proper Accounting for ELs and their Achievement

The linguistic diversity of our student population is remarkable. Over 300 languages other than English are spoken in U.S. homes with Spanish by far the most common. Although many student and school factors influence time to English proficiency, we do not celebrate often enough the significant accomplishments of these language minority students, including those who enter school as proficient English speakers, but especially those who achieve proficiency in English through their hard work in school and that of their teachers and families.  Many students with Hispanic heritage who are designated as language minority students enter U.S. schools in kindergarten fully proficient in English and are never designated as ELs within the school system. Many more who are initially designated as ELs become proficient in English within 3-5 years of entering US schools.

Our persistent focus on those students not yet proficient in English has merit. Focus placed on students during this stage of their development can improve progress towards English proficiency and student outcomes when students receive access to appropriate instruction and supports that afford access to grade level content. However, to focus exclusively on the achievement of students who are not yet proficient in English fails to recognize the temporary nature of this stage of development for most ELs. This skews our understanding of the achievement of ELs and undermines student efforts toward educational attainment and school efforts to foster that development. This deficit orientation in accounting and reporting creates an aura of inferiority that is at once unwarranted, unhelpful, and unnecessary.

Reclassification Should be Celebrated

Excluding reclassified students from analyses of EL achievement presents a misleading picture and ignores countless individual successes. Numerous studies, including work funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and IES within our group, have found that ELs who have attained proficiency in English perform at least as well as peers who were never designated as ELs. In fact, this comparability appears to be present for many ELs who remain classified as ELs but are scoring in the top performance band of the English proficiency test. The same cannot be said for students who have not yet achieved high levels of English proficiency.

The significant accomplishments of our ELs receive too little attention in our reports and conversations about education. Unfortunately, this statement is true for Hispanic students as well as for students from the hundreds of other language backgrounds who populate our diverse schools. This year, as schools and districts announce their valedictorians, college bound students, rising elementary and middle school students and other academic accomplishments, we should take note of how many of these students began school as ELs and celebrate their success—an outcome achieved by the hard work of teachers and students.

New and Unprecedented Challenges for EL Education

"This is the worst educational crisis ever seen in the region, and we are worried that there could be serious and lasting consequences for a whole generation, especially for the most vulnerable sectors."  Carlos Felipe Jaramillo, World Bank VP for Latin America and the Caribbean

Despite these successes and our general optimism for the post-pandemic educational system, there are significant challenges on the horizon as we consider educational practices for ELs. In March 2021, UNICEF estimated that total and partial school closures in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) had left approximately 114 million students in the region without face-to-face schooling. The impact of these school closures is particularly devastating in a region in which the majority of students did not achieve basic proficiency in reading, math, and writing prior to the pandemic. The World Bank estimates that as many as 71% of lower secondary education students in the region may not achieve basic levels of reading proficiency following this pandemic. Their educational risk is further compounded by twin crises of violence and poverty across the region.

This regional crisis is already felt in U.S. schools. Immigration data document a sharp increase in the number of families and unaccompanied minors from Latin America entering the US this past spring. This fall and beyond, U.S. schools will face the challenge of meeting the educational and social emotional needs of these at-risk immigrant youth but must do so with limited guidance from the research community on effective educational programs for newcomer English learners. Previous research with students who entered schools at a young age as ELs may not reliably generalize to students arriving at an older age following the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the pandemic and other socio-political challenges, many newcomers have interrupted formal educations, speak very little or no English on school entry, and may demonstrate academic weaknesses in their native language. A significant number are fleeing crises of violence and poverty with related psychological trauma that impacts learning.

Fortunately, this critical gap in research is explicitly acknowledged in the most recent Request for Applications for the National Center for Special Education Research, who set aside their research funding for the current year to specifically address educational challenges linked to the pandemic. Meeting the critical need for evidence-based strategies to ensure successful outcomes for newcomer ELs at significant educational risk will require everyone’s best efforts. The LAC region was disrupted more than any other region on the globe, experiencing the world’s longest school closures and inconsistent or non-existent remote learning options in the context of the deepest recession in decades. The learning loss resulting from this pandemic-related disruption is likely to be deep and pervasive, increasing school dropout and negatively impacting wellness and mental health.  

As we take stock and celebrate the joy and enrichment that Hispanic heritage brings to everyone in the US, regardless of their own heritage, let us commit to doing all we can to ensure the academic success and socio-emotional health of our ELs in the United States.  In doing so, let’s also keep in mind that these students willingly face many challenges in pursuit of their own American Dream, and their success in this pursuit benefits us all. 


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.

David J. Francis is the Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished University Chair of Quantitative Methods in the Department of Psychology at the University of University. He is also the Director of the Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistics (TIMES) and the Director of the IES-funded Center for the Success of English Learners National Research and Development Center.

Jeremy Miciak is an associate research professor at the University of Houston in the Department of Psychology and at the Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistics (TIMES). He is also a co-investigator on the IES-funded Center for the Success of English Learners National Research and Development Center.

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 at the National Center for Education Research for the ELs portfolio.

Film Detective: How an AI-powered Game Aims to Improve Outcomes for Students with ASD

Artificial intelligence (AI) is poised to revolutionize the way humans live, even in ways yet unseen, and education is no exception. IES funds research at the cutting edge of technology and education science, and, as Director Mark Schneider has recently pointed out, AI may eventually serve to help educators identify, assess, and support students with disabilities. In 2018, NCSER awarded funding to Dr. Maithilee Kunda of Vanderbilt University to do just that.

Dr. Kunda and her team are developing a new game called Film Detective to improve theory of mind (ToM) reasoning in adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ToM reasoning is the ability to infer the mental state of others, allowing us to understand and predict behavior based on our perception of their beliefs, intentions, and desires. The game builds on a technology-based intervention known as Betty’s Brain. Developed with support from a NCER grant, Betty’s Brain is a computer-based instructional program for middle school science that allows students to teach a computer agent to understand certain concepts. By teaching the agent, students grew their own knowledge and understanding. Dr. Kunda and her team are building on this software by adapting the learning-by-teaching model to improve ToM reasoning in neurodiverse students. (For more on Dr. Kunda’s perspective on the importance of neurodiversity, see this blog.)

The Film Detective game takes students through an interactive storyline in which they must help a scientist from the year 3021 “decode” the way people in today’s world behave in a series of films. The stakes are high as students help a scientist unlock a time machine by retrieving codes hidden in films by an evil scientist—aptly named Von Klepto—who has stolen items from the Museum of Human History. By teaching the computer agent—the player’s robot sidekick (named T.O.M.)—how to identify modern behaviors, the student develops their own ToM reasoning. The Film Detective storyline is a product of the creative talents of several Vanderbilt creative writing students, and the game mechanics were designed with insights of college students with ASD themselves. With the help of post-doctoral student and project lead, Roxanne Rashedi, the project team has used participatory design and qualitative methods to better tailor the game to the community for which it is intended. By working closely with students with ASD and their families, the project team was able to refine the original Betty’s Brain structure with new reward structures and storylines that balance the challenge of the game with the frustration that students can feel playing the game.

Screen shot of the Film Detective’s theatre and time machine room
Film Detective’s Theatre and Time Machine Room (illustration by Kayla Stark)

Every part of the project draws on the diverse expertise of the team, and the inclusion of a variety of perspectives has been crucial to informing the project’s development. The team includes experts from Vanderbilt’s School of Engineering and the Vanderbilt Medical Center’s Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders (TRIAD), with Dr. Kunda and students in computer science and psychology providing insights in cognitive science and artificial intelligence. The joining of expertise in artificial intelligence, clinical psychology, and educational psychology has allowed the team to merge theoretical perspectives on ToM development with conceptions of knowledge representation and modeling in computational systems. This approach offers the team a unique framework for understanding the development of social reasoning skills in students with ASD. Beyond the theoretical, the team has also leveraged artificial intelligence to evaluate how students progress through the game, using advanced data mining techniques and eye-tracking-enabled user studies to better understand how students with ASD can develop greater ToM reasoning through learning-by-teaching.

Film Detective’s hallway to concessions
Film Detective’s Hallway to Concessions (illustration by Kayla Stark)

The work that has gone into Film Detective exemplifies the ways that novel research that combines technological advancement and diverse perspectives can lead to important innovations in the education sciences. While Film Detective is still under development (it is currently being user tested, and readers are encouraged to sign up to take part here), IES is eager to see what will come out of this exciting collaboration.

Dr. Maithilee Kunda is the director of the Laboratory for Artificial Intelligence and Visual Analogical Systems and a faculty investigator for the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation at Vanderbilt University. This blog was written and edited by Bennett Lunn, Truman-Albright Fellow for the National Center for Education Research and the National Center for Special Education Research.

Listen Now: English Learners in Secondary Schools Podcast

In FY 2020, IES established the National Research & Development Center to Improve Education for Secondary English Learners to support a large-scale, coordinated research effort to improve opportunities and achievement for English learners (ELs) in secondary settings, who represent more than one-third of all K-12 ELs enrolled in the United States. The Center, composed of experts and leaders in the field, and led by Dr. Aída Walqui at WestEd, is conducting a multi-pronged research approach to better understand the systemic and instructional influences that affect secondary ELs.

As part of their work, Dr. Walqui, Dr. Ilana Umansky from the University of Oregon, and Dr. Karen Thompson from Oregon State University participated in a webinar on English Learners in Secondary Schools: Trajectories, Transition Points, and Promising Practices hosted by the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) in early 2021. The purpose of this webinar was to discuss what research has shown about the academic trajectories of ELs in secondary school settings, including the trajectories of newcomer students, students who have been labeled as long-term ELs, ELs with disabilities, and former ELs.

Due to the overwhelming response from the audience, OELA brought the panelists back together for a two-part podcast to answer questions submitted during the webinar. In part 1, the panelists discuss how to support ELs in meeting graduation requirements, mitigate risks that may lead ELs to drop out of school, and provide English language development instruction. In part 2, the panelists discuss the needs of students with limited or interrupted formal education, professional learning opportunities for educators of secondary ELs, and promising practices that can help educators meet the needs of ELs in secondary schools.

Listen now to learn more about the work that Drs. Walqui, Umansky, and Thompson are doing regarding the education of ELs in secondary schools.


Written by Helyn Kim (Helyn.Kim@ed.gov), Program Officer for the English Learners portfolio, National Center for Education Research

Education at a Glance 2021: Putting U.S. Data in a Global Context

International comparisons provide reference points for researchers and policy analysts to understand trends and patterns in national education data and are important as U.S. students compete in an increasingly global economy.

Education at a Glance, an annual publication produced by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), provides data on the structure, finances, and performance of education systems in 38 OECD countries, including the United States, as well as a number of OECD partner countries. The report also includes state-level information on key benchmarks to inform state and local policies on global competitiveness.

The recently released 2021 edition of the report shows that the United States is above the international average on some measures, such as participation in and funding of postsecondary education, but lags behind in others, such as participation in early childhood education programs. The report also presents some initial comparisons on countries’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Postsecondary Educational Attainment

The percentage of U.S. 25- to 34-year-olds with a postsecondary degree increased by 10 percentage points between 2010 and 2020, reaching 52 percent, compared with the OECD average of 45 percent (figure 1). Attainment rates varied widely across the United States in 2020, from 33 percent for those living in Nevada to 61 percent for those living in Massachusetts and 77 percent for those living in the District of Columbia.


Figure 1. Percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with a postsecondary degree, by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) country: 2020

1 Year of reference differs from 2020. Refer to the source table for more details.
SOURCE: OECD (2021), Table A1.2. See Source section for more information and Annex 3 for notes.


In the United States in 2020, 25- to 34-year-old women were more likely than 25- to 34-year-old men to attain a postsecondary education: 57 percent of women had a postsecondary qualification, compared with 47 percent of men, a difference of 10 percentage points. Across OECD countries, the postsecondary education gap between 25- to 34-year-old men and women was wider (13 percentage points) than the gap in the United States (10 percentage points). In 2020, the postsecondary attainment rate of 25- to 34-year-old men in the United States was 8 percentage points higher than the OECD average, whereas the rate of 25- to 34-year-old women in the United States was 5 percentage points higher than the OECD average.

Postsecondary Education Spending

U.S. spending on postsecondary education is also relatively high compared with the OECD average, in both absolute and relative terms. The United States spent $34,036 per postsecondary student in 2018, the second-highest amount after Luxembourg and nearly double the OECD average ($17,065). Also, U.S. spending on postsecondary education as a percentage of GDP (2.5 percent) was substantially higher than the OECD average (1.4 percent). These total expenditures include amounts received from governments, students, and all other sources.

Early Childhood Education

The level of participation in early childhood education programs in the United States is below the OECD average and falling further behind. Between 2005 and 2019, average enrollment rates for 3- to 5-year-olds across OECD countries increased from 77 to 87 percent. In contrast, the rate in the United States remained stable at 66 percent during this time period. Among U.S. states, the 2019 enrollment rates for 3- to 5-year-olds ranged from less than 50 percent in Idaho and North Dakota to 70 percent or more in New York (70 percent), Vermont (76 percent), Connecticut (76 percent), New Jersey (77 percent), and the District of Columbia (88 percent).

COVID-19 Pandemic

Education at a Glance also presents a first look at countries’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. The spread of COVID-19 impeded access to in-person education in many countries around the world in 2020 and 2021. By mid-May 2021, 37 OECD and partner countries had experienced periods of full school closure since the start of 2020.

Despite the impact of the crisis on employment, the share of NEETs (those neither in employment nor education or training) among 18- to 24-year-olds did not greatly increase in most OECD and partner countries during the first year of the COVID-19 crisis. On average, the share of 18- to 24-year-old NEETs in OECD countries rose from 14.4 percent in 2019 to 16.1 percent in 2020. However, Canada, Columbia, and the United States experienced an increase of more than 4 percentage points. In the United States, the share of 18- to 24-year-old NEETs increased from 14.6 percent in 2019 to 19.3 percent in 2020.

In 2020, many postsecondary education institutions around the world closed down to control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, potentially affecting more than 3.9 million international and foreign students studying in OECD countries. Early estimates show the percentage of international students attending postsecondary institutions in the United States declined by 16 percent between 2020 and 2021.

Browse the full report to see how the United States compares with other countries on these and other important education-related topics and learn more about how other countries’ education systems responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

By Rachel Dinkes, AIR

IES Funds Innovations Across the Age Spectrum for Students with ADHD

Nearly 10% of all children in the United States have at one time been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—over 6 million children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As the name implies, ADHD can lead children to have primary problems with attention, hyperactive behavior, or both. Over the past two years, NCER and NCSER have awarded more than $12 million to four projects focusing on children and youth with ADHD through their primary grant competitions, from preschool to high school.

Comparing Virtual and In-Person Sessions for Parents of Young Children

Photo of George DuPaulPhoto of Lee KernDeveloped with NCSER funding, the Promoting Engagement with ADHD Pre-Kindergartners (PEAK) program has preliminary evidence of positive impacts on parent and child outcomes. Building on these findings, Principal Investigators (PIs) George DuPaul and Lee Kern are now testing the efficacy of the intervention with both face-to-face and online delivery methods. PEAK gives parents information on ADHD and a host of strategies, including behavioral management and response, reading and math skill development, and communication with school personnel to aid in the transition to kindergarten. The research team is comparing the face-to-face version, online version, and a control group without PEAK to determine the efficacy of the intervention and comparative efficacy between each method of delivery. They will also determine whether effects are maintained for up to 24 months after the end of the parent sessions.

English Language Learners (ELLs) in Early Elementary Grades

Photo of Nicole Schatz

PI Nicole Schatz and her team are addressing a gap in existing research: very few interventions for the development of language and reading skills in ELL students are tailored to those who also have disabilities, particularly for ELL students with behavior disorders such as ADHD. Their 2021 NCSER-funded study will examine whether language and behavioral interventions, delivered independently or combined, improve learning outcomes for kindergarten and first grade ELLs with or at risk for ADHD. The research team will examine the impact of one of these three interventions: 1) an educational language intervention involving small-group, interactive reading; 2) a behavioral classroom intervention; and 3) a combined intervention in which students receive both the language intervention and the behavioral classroom intervention.

Academic and Social Effects of Sluggish Cognitive Tempo (SCT) in Elementary and Middle School

Photo of Stephen Becker

SCT is an attention disorder associated with symptoms similar to ADHD, such as excessive daydreaming, mental confusion, seeming to be "in a fog,” and slowed behavior/thinking. In this recent extension of PI Stephen Becker’s initial NCER grant, he explores how SCT is associated with academic and social impairments over development. The research team will collect measures of student engagement and organization, withdrawal and social awareness, and contextual factors like student-teacher relationship and school climate. The yearly observations will follow cohorts of 2nd-5th graders through their 5th-8th grade years, half with and half without SCT.

Peer Support from Upperclassmen for 9th Graders with ADHD

Photo of Margaret Sibley

Sometime in adolescence, there tends to be a shift from the influence of parents and teachers to the influence of peers. With their recent grant from NCER, researchers Margaret Sibley and Joseph Raiker will be testing Sibley’s peer-intervention program, Students Taking Responsibility and Initiative through Peer-Enhanced Support (STRIPES). Developed with IES funding, STRIPES was designed to support students with ADHD by leveraging successful peer influence to address organization, time management, and planning. Supervised by a campus staff member, 11th and 12th grade students who have demonstrated academic and social competencies mentor 9th grade students with ADHD. These older peers are trained to help with goal setting, strategies for completing homework and organization, and maintenance of skills once the program is finished.

Stay tuned for findings and lessons learned from these newly funded studies.

Written by Julianne Kasper, Virtual Student Federal Service Intern at IES and graduate student in Education Policy & Leadership at American University.