IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

From the NCSER Commissioner: Letter to the Field

Headshot of Joan McLaughlin

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to announce my retirement at the end of December of this year. It has been a delight to serve as Commissioner, and Deputy Commissioner before that, of the National Center for Special Education Research. The work of NCSER is important and unique in the federal government—supporting research to improve our understanding of children and youth with disabilities and the services provided through IDEA. We have accomplished a great deal in the last several years. We have invested over 1 billion dollars in roughly 550 research grants to improve academic access, engagement, and progress; social and behavioral skills for learning; functional and transition skills; and the tools educators need to improve outcomes for students with or at risk for disabilities. We have made a meaningful difference in special education research and in the lives of students, educators, and families. And we have committed to providing research training opportunities to increase the capacity in the field—to date we have funded training for 79 postdoctoral fellows and research and mentoring for 33 early career scholars as well as hundreds of established researchers in our methods trainings. NCSER is in a good place for new leadership.

None of this would have been possible, of course, without two key ingredients. The first is the work of NCSER staff. Their expertise, hard work, and passion for the mission of the Center has supported the advances that have been made across all our research portfolios. Their kindness and sense of humor have helped get us through the tougher times of limited budgets and the COVID-19 pandemic. They made each workday better and will continue to keep our small Center mighty. I know I leave you in good hands as NCSER transitions to a new Commissioner.

The second ingredient is the work of the researchers who have taken on the challenges of working in early intervention and special education. Thank you all for your commitment to high quality research, your concern for learners with disabilities, and your patience and persistence when circumstances, such as the pandemic, got tough. I hope that you have felt the importance of your contribution toward evidence building and addressing issues of critical importance to students, practitioners, and families. I have learned so much from you and appreciate your support, and I look forward to hearing about your current and future projects.

IES Director Mark Schneider and I are of course invested in making sure the excellent research funded by NCSER continues. If you have thoughts about the Commissioner role or individuals you would like to be considered for the role, you can reach Mark at mark.schneider@ed.gov.

Take care and support one another in this important work. I will be around until the end of December, but my thoughts will continue to be with you long after I leave IES. Thank you all so much.

Wishing you all the best,

Joan McLaughlin
NCSER Commissioner

Grateful for Our Interns: The 2022-23 Data Science Interns at NCER and NCSER

In preparation for Thanksgiving, NCER and NCSER would like to express their gratitude to all the student volunteer interns who are giving their time and talents to help us understand and communicate about education research. In our second blog about these interns, we are highlighting our data science interns. These interns come to us through either the Virtual Student Federal Service program or the Student Volunteer Trainee Program. The interns are working on different data science tasks, such as data visualizations, finding ways to connect publication information from different federal databases to funded NCER and NCSER projects, and helping to understand and improve internal data on research projects. Their primary mentors, Sarah Brasiel (NCSER) and Meredith Larson (NCER), are proud to introduce the team.

Megan Church

Headshot of Megan Church

I am a senior at William & Mary, pursuing a bachelor’s degree with a double major in data science and psychology. I am a lead researcher at William & Mary's School of Education, focusing on elementary students’ interactions with data. Due to my interest in education research and love of creating data visualizations, the IES data science internship seemed like the perfect fit. I hope this opportunity will give me a glimpse into the inner workings of the research branch of the U.S. Department of Education and help me decide on a future career path.

Fun Fact: I have been to seven concerts this year in six cities, three states, and two countries.

Katelyn Egan

Headshot of Katelyn Egan

I am pursuing a master’s degree in educational psychology with a concentration in learning analytics through the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I’m looking forward to applying the data science and analysis skills I have learned in my program and learning more about the research goals and initiatives of the Institute of Education Sciences. Previously, I received a Fulbright grant to work with English language learners at a vocational secondary school in Bulgaria for the 2019-20 academic year and worked as a teacher for 2 years in South Africa with the Peace Corps. I have also spent 2 years working in the educational technology industry and hope to continue using data science and analytics to serve K-12 educators and students.

Fun Fact: I play the bassoon!

Juliette Gudknecht

Headshot of Juliette Gudknecht

I am pursuing a master’s degree in the applied statistics program at Columbia University. My prior internships at NASA, the U.S. State Department, and my university were among the experiences that helped me prepare for this internship. My goal is to pursue a PhD in special education studying autism spectrum disorder in academic contexts. I applied for this internship to gain critical data analysis skills and learn about the U.S. Department of Education and IES. I hope this experience will allow me to gain the necessary skills to become a qualified researcher in quantitative studies within special education. Thank you to everyone at IES for this amazing opportunity!

Fun Fact: I have my own nonprofit for Autism advocacy!

Rikesh Patel

I am pursuing a bachelor's degree in economics with minor in data science engineering at University of California, Los Angeles. I have honed my analytical and technical skills in working with SharePoint databases in past internships, which led me to this internship. I will be working with internal data to help the research centers gain more insight into their grants and contracts. I fell in love with data years ago, and now I aspire to become a full-fledged data scientist in the future, applying Python, SQL, and other technical knowledges to do my best. One day, I want to help develop a model that helps people all over the world.

Fun Fact: I recently got into traveling. This winter, I'm planning on taking some cooking classes in Greece!

Morgan Tucker

Headshot of Morgan Tucker

I am in my final undergraduate year at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, studying international political economy and data science. I currently work as a research assistant for UT’s Innovations for Peace and Development Lab, researching the connections between government/agency responsiveness and discrimination towards citizens and am using many different packages, analytics, and visualization tools in R to do so. I previously worked under the U.S. Embassy Amman as a data management intern, where I created tutorials, researched best data management practices, and incorporated feedback to improve data collection, management, and distribution. I also used Python and SQL as a data scientist for the V&A Waterfront marketing team in South Africa, using large data sets, advanced querying, and machine learning to develop consumer profiles. Right now, my main goal is to remain sane as I reach the end of my undergraduate experience. I also hope to stay in Austin and enroll in a master’s programs this fall to further hone my programming skills and work at the intersection of data science and government. With my background in economic development and R programming, this internship opportunity was the perfect mix of both and will be an amazing way to improve my programming expertise and see what my future career may look like.

Fun Fact:  I studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa this past summer. I learned a lot about urban economic development during my time there and can’t wait to visit again!

Grateful for Our Interns: The 2022-23 Writing and Communications Interns at NCER and NCSER

In preparation for Thanksgiving, NCER and NCSER would like to express their gratitude to all the student volunteer interns that are giving their time and talents to help us understand and communicate about education research. In our first blog about these interns, we are highlighting our writing and communications team. These interns come to NCER and NCSER through the Virtual Student Federal Service program and are contributing to different writing tasks, such as helping to revise and update our online abstracts and working on blogs for Inside IES Research | Notes from NCER & NCSER. The NCER mentors, Meredith Larson and Vinita Chhabra, and the NCSER mentor, Amy Sussman, are proud to introduce the team.

Shanna Bodenhamer

Headshot of Shanna Bodenhamer

I am currently pursuing a PhD in educational psychology with an emphasis in special education at Texas A&M University (whoop!). Prior to starting my PhD program, I taught in the public schools as a special education teacher. Other roles I have had in public schools include working as a board-certified behavior analyst providing behavioral training and support to teachers and as a program facilitator overseeing the implementation of a state-funded autism grant for an early childhood intervention program. My goals are to complete my PhD, continue conducting research, and ensure that this research makes its way into practice. I was excited to start this internship because it focuses on making research and evidence-based practices available and accessible to everyone. My hope is to close the research-to-practice gap and provide practitioners with the tools they need to provide quality services for children with disabilities.

Fun Fact: My favorite place to be when the weather is warm is on a lake, wakesurfing with my family. We're a little competitive, but it's always in good fun!  In my spare time, my hobbies are photography, reading mystery/thriller novels, and proving to my teenage daughters that I am, in fact, very cool.

Rachael Higham

Headshot of Rachael Higham

I am pursuing a master’s degree in English with a concentration in professional writing and rhetoric at Bowling Green State University. Prior to this, I worked with students to build foundational skills in reading and writing at a school focused on language-based learning differences. Through this work, I became interested in accessibility. My research examines the use of communication models in popular science and how best to create content that allows inclusive access to scientific knowledge. My goal is to transition to professional writing. I applied to this internship because I hope this opportunity will continue to help me build skills and a knowledge base for both my academic and professional goals.

Fun Fact: I am working on seeing all the national parks and took two cross country trips last year to add to the list. My favorite so far is Mt Rainier!

Rebecca Sun

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I’m currently a second-year undergraduate majoring in English at University of California, Riverside. My academic experience helped me prepare for this internship as I’ve spent a large majority of my time reading, writing, and analyzing a range of texts and sources. In addition, I’m interested in education research—I’ve done volunteer and advocacy work to support a more inclusive English language arts (ELA) curriculum in K-12 schools. My goals include further exploring my interests in English, graduate school, and publishing. Applying to this internship will help get me closer to those goals because I’ll be able to gain technical writing experience by updating abstracts, learning official writing guides, and learning more about IES. All the while, I am gaining more personal and professional guidance and opportunities from my mentors.  

Fun Fact: Aside from reading books, another one of my hobbies is listening to music. My favorite artist is Taylor Swift—I love her entire discography and her songwriting ability that captures the different human experiences and emotions. 

Leading with Evidence: Celebrating Evidence-Based Policymaking at the U.S. Department of Education

Matthew Soldner,

Commissioner, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance &

Chief Evaluation Officer, U.S. Department of Education

(Remarks made on November 17, 2022, at Results for America’s 2022 Invest in What Works Federal Standards of Excellence events.)

If you walk into almost any kindergarten classroom today, you’ll almost always find a “Star Chart.” It’s usually displayed with pride next to the chalkboard in the front of the room. On it, the name of every student in the class. And next to each name, a long row of stars, each signifying a task earnestly mastered by a young learner. (More than forty years later, I can still remember the pride associated with finally getting a gold star for “can tie shoes,” which I was seriously delayed in getting due to an overabundance of shoes secured with Velcro in my youth.)

Today, I’m very proud to acknowledge that the U.S. Department of Education has received its own gold star. It was bestowed by Results for America, which advocates for the use of evidence in federal, state, and policymaking to improve outcomes for students, families, and communities, as part of its 2022 Federal Standards of Excellence program. Each year, participating federal agencies are evaluated on their progress in using high-quality evidence as a “north star” in policymaking. This year, Education was recognized alongside two other agencies – the Millennium Challenge Corporation and the U.S. Agency for International Development – as a top-scorer, earning the “Gold” designation.

ED’s national leadership in using evidence to inform policymaking has been a journey that now spans more than two decades. Its roots can be traced to the 107th Congress, which in 2001 reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 as the No Child Left Behind Act and, in 2002, passed the Education Sciences Reform Act. The latter authorized the founding of a group toward which I’m somewhat partial: the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). (I would invite you to join my colleagues and me in celebrating #IESat20, now through mid-2023!) But no single event, and no distinct component of the Department, is individually responsible for our success building evidence about “what works” in education and putting that evidence to work to better serve learners, educators, and communities. I often say “evidence-building is a team sport at the Department of Education,” and it truly does take the commitment of talented professionals from across the organization to make it a reality.

This year, that team has been particularly busy. Department-wide, we have supported states, school districts, and institutions of higher education in their continued efforts to meet the challenge of pandemic recovery. Much of that work has focused on the use of evidence-based practices to accelerate learning for all students, making the most of historic investments in education such as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) and American Rescue Plan (ARP) Acts. Key partners in that work include IES’ Regional Educational Laboratories, operated by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE);  the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education’s Comprehensive Centers; the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services’ Technical Assistance and Research Centers; and the Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development’s Grant Policy Office.

Elsewhere in the Department, the emphasis has been on evidence-building. Here, IES has taken a particular leadership role. The National Center for Education Statistics’ (NCES’) School Pulse Panel is a critical new component in our evidence-building infrastructure. The Pulse allows us to more rapidly collect and report descriptive information about conditions on the ground in our nation’s schools, addressing topics from the extent of staffing shortages to the programs schools are offering to support learning acceleration. That and other information supports a vibrant research and development infrastructure, led by the National Centers for Education Research (NCER) and Special Education Research (NCSER). In addition to their regular education grant programs, both Centers ran special competitions in Fiscal Year 2022 specifically designed to support pandemic recovery, including those aimed at better leveraging longitudinal data to support state recovery policymaking and building evidence about the approaches states and districts used to address the pandemic, and, when possible, their effectiveness.  

In Fiscal Year 2023, more good work is already underway.

First, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge an important investment this most recent Congress has made in the evidence-building work of the Department: authority as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022 to reserve up to one-half of one percent from selected programs authorized by the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, to support high-quality research and evaluation related to the Department’s postsecondary programs. A similar set-aside for the Department’s K-12 programs dramatically catalyzed our ability to build and use evidence there – and I have every confidence this new authority, if continued, would do the same for our postsecondary portfolio.

Second, and consistent with my belief that “evidence building is a team sport,” I want to take a moment to encourage you to join the team! As an initial step, I’d like to invite you to join me and special guests from the Department in our new webinar series creatively entitled “Evidence-based Policymaking at ED: Introducing the U.S. Department of Education’s Inaugural Learning Agenda.” Across three installments, we’ll discuss the Department’s evidence-building priorities in three areas: the educator workforce; meeting students’ social, emotional, and academic needs; and increasing postsecondary value. In each, we’ll dig a bit deeper into each topic and its nexus with an equitable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

I hope – but cannot promise – that Education will, this time next year, report that we’ve earned another gold star for building and using evidence in service of smart policymaking. What I can promise is that, because both educators and education policymakers will continue to need high-quality evidence to do their best work on behalf of the nation’s learners, we will do our best to help them meet challenges both old and new. Thanks to Results for America for today’s recognition, and to all those who support our nation’s students, educators, and communities every day.

 

From the NCER Commissioner: How IES’ Investment in Literacy Is Changing Education

A cornerstone challenge in education is that too many learners in our nation can’t read well enough to succeed in their future education and employment. In addition, a disproportionate number of individuals with low literacy skills are members of underrepresented groups. Since IES’ founding in 2002, we have devoted millions of dollars to addressing this challenge, seeking to generate high-quality evidence about literacy practices that work for learners across our nation. Today, we can see how this 20-year investment focused on improving literacy has generated interventions and assessments that are transforming practices at scale and meeting the needs of learners and educators by incorporating evidence-based practices into the materials they use daily.

Since IES is an applied research agency, its mission is to provide scientific evidence on which to ground education practice and policy and to share this information in formats that are useful and accessible to educators, parents, policymakers, researchers, and the public. IES and its four centers work together to collect data on the current state of education; identify solutions and innovations through research, grant programs, and competitions; and evaluate the success of investments in order to identify solutions worthy of scaling across the nation’s education system.

The education research community is often accused of generating findings and products that sit in an attic corner unused. We aim to disrupt this perception and make it clear that our grantees’ knowledge and tools are both useful and used. Here I want to share a few examples to showcase how American tax dollars are transforming how millions of learners are learning to read.

IES Technologies and Google Classroom

In April 2022, we were excited to learn that Google had acquired the intellectual property rights for Moby.Read and SkillCheck, education technology products developed through IES programs by California-based Analytic Measures, Inc. (AMI). Google Classroom is advertised as an educators’ “all-in-one place for teaching and learning,” and many tools and apps are integrated into the system, including the IES-developed and IES-evaluated product, ASSISTments, which provides student feedback assistance and assessment data to teachers.

Moby.Read and SkillCheck are technology solutions created to provide teachers with a more efficient way to assess their students’ reading skills and provide them with individualized feedback.  These technologies were developed over two decades with IES funding, a process that included prototype development starting in 2002, followed by ED/IES Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding to test Moby.Read in 2016 and 2017 and SkillCheck in 2020 and 2021, with validation research conducted all along the way.

Since their commercial launch in 2019, Moby.Read and SkillCheck have been used for more than 30,000 student assessments in 30 states.

IES Literacy Innovations and Scholastic

In September, Scholastic announced that the A2i (Assessment to Instruction) system—a system for literacy screening, progress monitoring and assessment, and instructional planning designed for classrooms and community organizations—and the Learning Ovations team that had developed and evaluated A2i would become part of its education solutions group. A2i provides educators with a system that enables them to deliver individualized reading. IES has invested in developing and evaluating this system since 2003, generating evidence of its effectiveness in improving young learners’ reading skills and comprehension. In 2020, we interviewed the creators of this system, who told the story of how their evidence-based system was prepared to scale. The system will continue to evolve so that it can serve all learners in our nation: IES is currently supporting the expansion of this system and its assessments for use with English learners.

A2i will help enhance Scholastic’s literacy platform, which integrates literacy screening, progress monitoring and assessment, instructional planning, and professional learning with their books and e-books, print- and technology-based learning programs, and other products that support children’s learning and literacy. With this acquisition, the IES-supported A2i system will have the opportunity to reach the 115,000 schools in the Scholastic community, potentially helping 3.8 million educators, 54 million students, and 78 million parents/caregivers in the United States.

Improving Literacy Outcomes Through Assessment

Teaching students how to read depends upon knowing what learners do and do not know. The acquisition of Moby.Read and SkillCheck highlights the recognition of that need by Google but is only one example of the IES commitment to developing and validating literacy assessments. While the two examples described above have the potential to touch many millions of learners, we have also invested in many other literacy assessments that are being widely used.

For example, since 2014, more than 2.5 million 3rd to 12th grade learners have been evaluated through a reading diagnostic system developed with IES funding: the Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading Aligned to Florida Standards. Another diagnostic tool for 3rd to 12th graders, available nationally via the Educational Testing Service (ETS), is Capti Assess with ETS® ReadBasix™. This diagnostic assessment system was developed and validated with funding from both NCER and ED/IES SBIR.

Educators in more than 13,000 U.S. schools rely on myIGDIs (currently distributed via Renaissance Learning) to evaluate the needs of their preschool learners. These individual growth and development indicators (IGDIs) are brief, easy-to-use measures of early language and literacy designed for use with preschool children. The development and validation of these measures have been (and are being) supported by multiple IES projects. Their current work seeks to expand the IGDIs for use with young Spanish-speaking and Hmong-speaking learners.

Scaling Evidence-Based Innovations to Accelerate Literacy Learning After COVID

Launched with funding from the American Rescue Plan, the Leveraging Evidence to Accelerate Recovery Nationwide Network (the LEARN Network) is adapting and preparing to scale existing, evidence-based products to assess students whose learning was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. IES has made four awards to product teams and one to a scaling lead, and these five teams will establish the LEARN Network together.

In addition to the LEARN Network’s generating of solutions to the nation’s most pressing challenges to COVID-19 recovery within the education sector, IES expects that the combined efforts of this network will lead to the establishment of best practices for the field for how to prepare to scale evidence-based products effectively.

Three of the four product teams are focused on preparing to scale literacy products developed and tested with prior IES funding. These innovations are designed for students in grades K–3 (Targeted Reading Instruction), fourth and fifth grades (Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies), and middle school (Strategic Adolescent Reading Intervention). The projects will work with students and teachers in elementary schools in Florida and North Carolina, in fourth grade classrooms in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, and in urban middle schools in the District of Columbia.

As I reflect on 20 years of investment in rigorous and relevant literacy research, I am hopeful. Our investment is transforming what we know and improving how that knowledge is being translated to ensure that every learner in our nation can read at or above grade level.

With our newest investment in supporting the systematic scaling of evidence-based practices, I believe that our educators and learners will have access to tools that support their needs for the next 20 years and beyond.

Elizabeth Albro (elizabeth.albro@ed.gov) is the commissioner of the National Center for Education Research.