IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Students with Disabilities and Postsecondary Success: An Interview with Lynn Newman, Ed.D. and Joseph Madaus, Ph.D.

By Meredith Larson, NCER Program Officer                                                                                     

Although more students with disabilities are pursuing postsec ondary education, completion rates for this group of students have not changed very much in recent years. In a two-year study funded through an IES grant, Lynn Newman, of SRI International, and Joseph Madaus, director of the Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability at the University of Connecticut, have examined the impact that supports and accommodations have had on the postsecondary success of students with disabilities.

             

 

At the heart of their study is the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 , the largest and richest data set available to address the postsecondary experiences and outcomes of youth with disabilities. It is the only dataset that can address those topics for postsecondary students with disabilities nationally, independent of students’ decisions to disclose a disability to their postsecondary school.

Below are excerpts from an email interview with the researchers. 

 

What motivated your study, and what questions are you grappling with?

Although postsecondary enrollment rates for students with disabilities have increased dramatically for youth in all disability categories over the past two decades, postsecondary completion rates for students with disabilities have remained stagnant over time. These students continue to be less likely to graduate from postsecondary school than their general population peers.

This led us to ask

  • What is the link between receipt of postsecondary supports and accommodations – both those available because of a disability and those available to the general student body – and postsecondary persistence and completion for students with disabilities?
  • What factors are associated with requesting/receiving postsecondary supports and accommodations?

What are your major findings?

First and foremost, students with disabilities who received supports, particularly supports available to the full student body (such as tutoring and access to writing and study centers), are more likely to persist in and complete their postsecondary programs. This finding applies to students with disabilities enrolled at both 2-year and 4-year colleges.

However, we didn’t find a significant relationship between receipt of disability-specific supports and accommodations (such as test accommodations, readers, interpreters) and postsecondary persistence or completion for the full population of students with disabilities. We found that the link between supports/accommodations and outcomes differs by disability category. For example, students who were deaf or hard of hearing and received disability-specific accommodations and supports were more likely to persist in or complete postsecondary education than were those who had not received these types of help.  

Does your research suggest why some students seek out or use supports more than others?

Fewer than half of those with disabilities in postsecondary institutions accessed the types of supports available to the general student body, and less than one-quarter received disability-specific help during postsecondary school. Students who received transition planning education in high school and those whose transition plans specified needed postsecondary supports and accommodations were significantly more likely to access both generally-available and disability-specific supports in postsecondary school, particularly at 2-year institutions.

If you could tell each of your target audiences what your research means for them in practical terms, what would you say?

Students and families: By accessing supports and help at postsecondary institutions,  you increase your odds for postsecondary success. If you are uncomfortable sharing information about your disability, which is required to receive disability-specific supports, you should, at least, access the types of supports available to the general student body, such as tutoring and writing centers.

High school staff: Help students avail themselves of supports at the postsecondary level through transition planning. Transition planning education and transition plans that specify postsecondary accommodation needs significantly affect whether students seek postsecondary supports. Clearly, the transition education and planning you can do matters. However, as many as one third to one half of high school students with disabilities do not receive such transition planning services.

Postsecondary staff: Keep in mind that only 35% of students with disabilities who received services in high school disclosed their disability to their postsecondary institutions, so you probably have more students with disabilities on your campus than you may be aware of. Because receipt of postsecondary supports (especially general supports available to all students) are particularly beneficial to students with disabilities, we encourage active and broad outreach about these supports to the entire student body, rather than focusing on just the few students who have chosen to disclose their disability.

In addition, we encourage professional development for postsecondary staff, particularly those involved in providing generally available supports, to help them better recognize and support students with disabilities.

Researchers: Consider the representativeness of your samples of postsecondary students with disabilities. If respondents are identified through self-disclosure of a disability, your sample probably has a large amount of underreported students with disabilities overall. Your sample is also likely to be biased, in that students with more visible disabilities are much more likely to disclose their disability than are those in the higher incidence disability categories, such as learning disabilities.

What might some next research steps be?

Given our findings, we believe there are many opportunities for research related to postsecondary education for students with disabilities.  For example, researchers could study questions about the characteristics, content, extent, and timing of effective postsecondary supports and accommodations. The field would also benefit from additional knowledge about effective high school transition planning education and answers to questions about the characteristics and structures of high schools and postsecondary schools that offer effective supports and accommodations and transition planning education. 

Questions? Comments? Please send them to IESResearch@ed.gov.

Virtual schools: Measuring access to elementary and secondary education in online environments

By Mark Glander

Many people are familiar with the increasing availability of online education at the postsecondary level, but did you know that the number of virtual elementary and secondary schools is also growing? Virtual schools can offer flexibility to students who may have difficulty accessing or attending traditional schools, or as an alternative to homeschooling for parents who elect not to enroll their children in traditional brick and mortar schools. As the number of schools offering virtual education increases, it is important to be able to track these schools.

To gain a better understanding of the role virtual schools play in public elementary and secondary education, NCES added a flag identifying these schools to its Common Core of Data (CCD). The CCD is an annual collection of data from all public schools, public school districts, and state education agencies in the United States. The recently released School Year 2013–14 collection includes the new virtual school flag. For this purpose, a virtual school is defined as, “A public school that offers only instruction in which students and teachers are separated by time and/or location, and interaction occurs via computers and/or telecommunications technologies. A virtual school generally does not have a physical facility that allows students to attend classes on site.”

Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia reported having one or more virtual schools for a total of 478 virtual schools in the U.S. in 2013–14. Florida reported the most of any state with a total of 182. A new data item is often under-reported in the first year of collection; ten states and other jurisdictions did not report having any virtual schools or reported virtual schools as not applicable (California, Delaware, North Dakota, Texas, Washington, the Department of Defense Education Activity, American Samoa, Guam, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands). 

All but 12 of the reported schools were “regular” schools, meaning they offered a general academic curriculum rather than one focused on special needs or vocational education. 

The CCD distinguishes several types of local education agencies, defined by their level of governance.  Almost all virtual schools were administered by regular, local school districts (350 schools). Most other virtual schools were administered by independent charter school districts (116 schools), which are districts composed exclusively of charter schools.

The two states with the largest number of students in virtual schools were Ohio (38,169) and Pennsylvania (36,596).  Idaho had the largest percentage of students in virtual schools (2.4 percent), followed by Ohio (2.2 percent), and Pennsylvania (2.1 percent).

CCD identifies four school levels:  primary, middle, high, and “other”.  “Other” includes schools that span these categories and schools with high school grades but no 12th grade. A total of 309 of the 478 virtual schools had a school level of "other".  These schools accounted for 84 percent of students in virtual schools.

To see tables summarizing the above data, please visit our web page – http://nces.ed.gov/ccd/data_tables.asp.

To learn more about the CCD, please see our latest report, or visit our web page.  You can also access CCD data files for additional information about public elementary and secondary schools.  

A Night to Play and Learn

By Dana Tofig, Communications Director, IES

It was an event that had the feel of an arcade, but the heart of a schoolhouse.

The Ed Games Expo on Wednesday, December 9, 2015, hosted 45 developers who are building games for learning that are designed to engage students across a variety of topics and subject matters. One-third of the games on display at the Expo are supported by the Institute of Education Sciences Small Business Innovation Research (ED/IES SBIR) program, which provides awards to companies to improve the use of technology in education.

Photo by Lauren Kleissas

(Photo by Lauren Kleissas)

"Games are inherently engaging," said Brooke Morrill, an educational researcher at Schell Games. "A student may or may not be interested in a topic matter, but it doesn't matter. They are engaged in the game."

Schell Games was demonstrating a prototype of "Happy Atoms," a game that combines hand-on resources with technology to create an interactive learning experience. Users can use create atom models with balls and sticks; similar to the way it’s been done in Chemistry classes for generations. But using an app equipped with vision recognition software, users can scan the model they've built to see what they've created or if they've made any mistakes. The app then connects to curriculum-aligned content about the molecule and how it is used in the real world.

Happy Atoms (pictured below) was a long-time pet project of the company's CEO, Jesse Schell, who is a vanguard in the educational gaming industry. However, the company didn't have funding to put a full-time team on the game's development. In 2014, Schell received a Phase I funding from ED/IES SBIR to develop a prototype and, earlier this year, received a Phase II award to further develop and evaluate Happy Atoms.

"We wouldn't be where we are without our IES funding," Morrill said.

A few tables away, the Attainment Company was demonstrating ED/IES SBIR-supported technology that is designed to build the reading, comprehension, and writing skills of special education students. For instance, Access: Language Arts is an app and software designed to allow middle school students with intellectual disabilities to read adapted versions of the books their peers are reading (like The Outsiders and the Diary of Anne Frank) while building their writing skills and even engaging in research.

 

"We know many students, especially those with autism, are motivated by technology because of the consistency it provides," said Pamela J. Mims, an assistant professor of special education at East Tennessee State University, who is working with Attainment on Access: Language Arts.  "We collected a lot of data on this and we see a lot of engagement."

Engagement is a big part of what drove John Krajewski, of Strange Loop Games, to develop ECO, another game that has received Phase I and II funding through ED/IES SBIR. Krajewski calls ECO a “global survival game,” in which students work together to build and maintain a virtual world for 30 days.

“You are trying to build up enough technology for your society, but in the process you can pollute and damage this world to the point it could die on its own,” Krajewski said. “You have to make decisions as a group about what has to be done in this world.”

In order to preserve the world, players have to pass laws that will protect resources while allowing society to continue to develop. For example, students might decide to limit the number of trees that can be cut down each day. Then, they can use graphs and data to see the impact of their laws and the health of their world. ECO not only builds an understanding about ecology and environmental science, but it builds real-world skills, like collaboration, communication, and scientific conversation and debate.

Krajewski said the funding from ED/IES SBIR not only allowed the project to be developed, but was a vote of confidence that allows ECO to be accepted in the field.

“IES has given us total runway to make this thing happen, which is awesome,” he said.

ED/IES SBIR is now soliciting Phase I proposals from firms and their partners for the research, development, and evaluation of commercially viable education technology products. You can learn more on the IES website

 

Exploring a range of educational outcomes within and across countries: Sub-national data supplement to Education at a Glance 2015

By Lauren Musu-Gillette and Tom Snyder

Situating educational and economic outcomes in the United States within a global context can help researchers, policy makers, and the public understand how individuals in the U.S. compare to their peers internationally. The annual publication Education at a Glance produced by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) provides information on the state of education in many countries across the world. While these data are instrumental in helping us to understand how the U.S. compares to other OECD and partner countries on a number of key educational and economic outcomes, national averages can mask the high degree of variation that can occur within individual countries. In order to address this, several OECD and partner countries, including the U.S., provided sub-national data on several select indicators previously only available at the country level.   

These data, posted on the NCES website, serve as a supplement to Education at a Glance 2015 and provide select sub-national data for six indicators in this edition. These include data on educational attainment by selected age groups, employment rates by educational attainment, annual expenditure per student, enrollment rates by age, enrollment rates in early childhood and primary education, and enrollment rates and work status of 15-29 year-olds.

In order to understand the amount of variability in an indicator for a particular country, we can compute a ratio of the state, territory, or region with the highest percentage to that with the lowest percentage on any given metric. For example, within the United States, the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds who completed any level of postsecondary education in 2013 ranged among the states from 30 percent in Nevada to 55 percent in Massachusetts.

The ratio of high to low percentages of 25- to 34-year-olds completing postsecondary education in the United States (2.4) was among the largest of the reporting countries.  The ratio was higher in Brazil (5.8) with a range of 6 to 31 percent, and in Spain (2.8), with a range from 21 to 58 percent. The U.S. ratio was slightly higher than in Canada and Russia (both 2.3).  The ratio was lower in Sweden (1.8) and lowest in Slovenia (1.0), Ireland (1.2), and Belgium (1.2). The high to low ratio between OECD countries was 2.8, ranging from a low of 24 percent to a high of 68 percent.


Average percentage of the 25-34 year old population with postsecondary education (with subnational high/low value) in selected OECD and partner countries: 2014

NOTE: Countries are ranked in ascending order of the average percentage of the 25-34 year old population with postsecondary education. Data years differ. Data for Canada is from 2012, while data for the United States and Brazil is from 2013. Data for all other countries is from 2014.

SOURCE: OECD. Table A1.3a. See Annex 3 for notes and sub-national Summary Table A1.3a.


Regional policy makers can benefit most from the comparisons presented in Education at a Glance when they can compare the results from their own sub-national areas with national and sub-national data from other countries. It is not surprising that large federal countries, such as Canada, Germany, and the United States, in which education is largely controlled by regional authorities, might have large internal variations. But, many other countries with centralized education systems such as Spain and Sweden have substantial variations within their countries as well. These new sub-national data can help illuminate these differences and provide additional information to U.S. states on how they compare to their peers both within the U.S. and internationally. 

ED Games Expo 2015: Showcasing ED/IES SBIR-Supported Games for Learning

Game-based learning is gaining popularity as more and more young people and adults play and learn from games in and out of the classroom. Well-designed games can motivate learners to actively engage in challenging tasks, master content, and sharpen critical thinking and problem solving skills. The meteoric rise and popularity of mobile handheld and tablet devices has enabled game-playing anywhere and at any time, providing expanded opportunities for game developers.

In recent years, the Small Business Innovation Research program at the Institute of Education Sciences has supported the R&D and evaluation of many games for learning.  Other SBIR programs across the Federal government are also investing in games for learning across education, health, and the military.

The ED Games Expo is an annual event. This year the Expo is showcasing 45 developers (including 15 supported by ED/IES SBIR) who created games for learning. At the Expo, attendees will meet the developers while playing games that cover a range of topics – including earth science, ecology, chemistry, math, early learning, social and emotional learning, smoking cessation, mental health, stress resilience, or cultural awareness.

Event Details

  • Date: Wednesday, December 9, 2015, from 6PM to 8PM 
  • Location: In Washington DC, at 1776, 1133 15th St. 12th floor
  • RVSP: rsvp@theESA.com
  • Note: The Expo is sponsored by 1776 and the Entertainment Software Association and is free to attend. Please RVSP to ensure entry to the event, as space is limited. 

 

 

Questions? Comments? Please email us at IESResearch@ed.gov.