IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Real-World Responses in Real Time: Social Inequality in Access to COVID-19 Information

Whether you are a trained healthcare provider, a grocery store clerk, or a retired professor, you are probably seeking information about COVID-19 and how best to take care of yourself and others. However, your age, level of education, and other factors may influence how you seek information and how likely you are to benefit from it.

IES researchers Dr. Taka Yamashita (University of Maryland, Baltimore County) and Dr. Phyllis Cummins (Miami University) have been exploring the intersection of education, age, health, and problem solving (grant R305A170183). Program officer, Dr. Meredith Larson, spoke with them about their work and its implications during the current pandemic.

 

What has the COVID-19 epidemic brought to your attention?

For us, the COVID-19 epidemic has highlighted health information disparities by education and basic skills. In combination with other risk factors, like older age and lower income, some sub-populations are particularly vulnerable in the public health crisis. It is our sincere hope that our research underlines the urgent needs to promote education, literacy, and numeracy throughout the life course, not only to protect vulnerable populations but also to promote disaster preparedness and the well-being of our society.

What does your research suggest are important factors for predicting health information seeking behavior?

In general, we often seek health information only when we need it due to poor health. What is interesting is that, when we need health information, some sociodemographic characteristics and basic skills (for example, reading and numeracy skills) lead to differences. For example, in our analysis of PIAAC data, older age is related to lower usage of online health information sources while greater literacy skills are related to use of more online health information sources. Also, people with greater educational attainment and higher literacy skills are more likely to seek disease prevention and health promotion information from online sources and books. Overall, age, education, and literacy skills are closely and consistently related to what kind of health information sources people use and how much they do it.

How might these factors affect what people find or whether they benefit from it?

Age, education, and literacy skills differentiate how and where people seek health information. We believe that the Internet is one of the best information sources in terms of timeliness and amount of available information. However, some sub-populations, such as younger adults, those with higher education, and those with higher literacy skills, tend to take advantage of and benefit from the online health information more than their counterparts. As such, older adults, those with lower education, and those with lower literacy skills tend not only to miss online health information sources but also to under-utilize and/or mis-use health information.

What could information providers do to better reach different audiences?

Information providers could consider how and where they publish their information. For example, older adults, those with lower education, and those with lower literacy skills tend not to use online sources. Therefore, it is critical to provide accessible health information to offline sources such as newspapers and healthcare professionals (for example, face-to-face with a physician or nurse). Also, paying attention to the “at-risk” populations’ needs is important. There are simple things like using a large font, plain English and multiple languages (for example, English and Spanish) that can immediately enhance the quality of health communication.

Where can people go to learn more about this line of research?

More information about our studies on education and literacy can be found on our IES grant page. Also, one of our recent articles on literacy skills, language use, and online health information seeking among Hispanic adults in the United States has been featured in the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) health communications science digest.


Written by Meredith Larson. This is the second in a series of blog posts that explores how researchers respond to various education-related issues and challenges. The first blog post can be found here.

New Remote Learning Resources from the REL Program-- Week of 5/1/2020

In response to COVID-19, the 10 Regional Educational Laboratories (RELs) have collaborated to produce a series of evidence-based resources and guidance about teaching and learning in a remote environment, as well as other considerations brought by the pandemic. See below for a roundup of upcoming REL events and recently published resources on this topic. A full list of resources is available on the REL COVID-19 webpage.

Upcoming Webinars

Adapting Instruction for English Learner Students During Distance Learning
Tuesday, May 5 at 3:00–3:45 p.m. CT
REL Southwest
This webinar will provide an overview of promising practices and resources to support remote instruction of English learner (EL) students, followed by a discussion with EL teachers and specialists about how they have leveraged strategies and resources to engage English learner students in remote instruction.

Audience: Teachers, principals, instructional coaches, district superintendents, and state education staff

Teaching Young Learners in a Pandemic: Supporting Children Pre-K–Grade 3 and Their Learning Partners at Home
Wednesday, May 6 at 2:00–3:00 p.m. ET
REL Mid-Atlantic
This webinar will provide research-based information about remotely teaching young children in pre-kindergarten to grade 3, including practical steps that align with research guidance. The webinar will also address ways state and local education agencies can strengthen support for remote learning over the longer term.

Audience: Teachers, principals, and administrators from state education agencies, districts, and schools

Engaging Parents and Students from Diverse Populations in the Context of Distance Learning
Monday, May 11 at 1:00–2:00 p.m. PT
REL West
Effective student and family engagement relies on establishing trusting relationships in which educators, students, and parents see themselves and each other as equal partners. Without opportunities to interact in person, it is now more difficult and more important to build and maintain these strong relationships. This webinar will share lessons from research and practice to help educators engage with students and their families to support continued learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Presenters will discuss strategies in three areas: cultivating a partnership orientation, practicing cultural responsiveness, and establishing two-way communication.

Audience: State, district, and school-level staff

Supporting Postsecondary Transitions During COVID-19
Thursday, May 14 at 3:00–4:00 p.m. ET
REL Appalachia
This virtual chat will discuss logistical and nonacademic supports for keeping students on the path to postsecondary education, such as supporting students and families in completing and making updates to FAFSA applications, understanding financial aid award letters and comparing costs, addressing "summer melt," and providing students with social-emotional supports. Following a brief presentation, a panel of representatives from the National College Attainment Network (NCAN), the College Transition Collaborative (CTC), and the Virginia College Advising Corps (VCAC) will answer questions from participants and discuss resources to address current concerns.

Audience: School counselors, school leaders, teachers, and other support providers

New Resources

Guidance for Navigating Remote Learning for English Learner Students
Blog | REL Midwest
Audience: School leaders, teachers

How Can Educators Engage Families in At-Home Learning and Provide Support to Them During These Challenging Times?
FAQ | REL West
Audience: School leaders, teachers, families

Plan and Deliver: Educating Students with Disabilities in Remote Settings
Blog | REL Midwest
Audience: School leaders, teachers

Remembering Social Presence: Higher Education Remote Teaching in COVID-19 Times
Blog | REL Southeast
Audience: University leaders, university instructors

Using Culturally Responsive Practices to Foster Learning During School Closures: Challenges and Opportunities for Equity
Blog | REL Mid-Atlantic
Audience: School leaders, teachers

Real-World Responses in Real Time : COVID-19 Information Needs to Consider Literacy Gaps

During the COVID-19 pandemic, when people have a heightened need for information, literacy barriers can be life threatening. In the United States, roughly 20 percent of adults read at the lowest level, with another 33 percent still below proficiency1. Thus, many may be struggling to understand written guidance on COVID-19.

IES researchers at the Center for the Study of Adult Literacy (R305C120001 and R305H180061) and their associated Adult Literacy Research Center at Georgia State University are working to address the needs of adults with literacy skill gaps. Dr. Meredith Larson spoke to Dr. Daphne Greenberg and Dr. Iris Feinberg about their work in this area.

What are your concerns for adults with low literacy during the pandemic?

Daphne GreenbergIris FeinbergWe have known for a long time that the high prevalence of adults with low basic skills has consequences for both the individual and society. These consequences are heightened during this pandemic. Many adults with low literacy have “essential” jobs and must continue to work. They often interact with many different people daily. So it is crucial that they understand COVID-19 precautions for their own health and because their ability to know and practice safe behaviors has a direct impact on disease transmission to others. To be quite frank, we are concerned about the health and safety of our learners and the health and safety of others.

In the United States, we receive an overwhelming amount information about COVID-19 daily. To make matters worse, there’s no uniform national guidance, some of the information is incorrect, and other information is conflicting. It is challenging for highly literate individuals to make sense of it all. For example: When can a COVID-positive person step out of quarantine? Can someone be re-infected? How many feet constitute safe distance? The list of questions goes on and on.

For someone with low literacy, it’s even more difficult to make sense of all the COVID-19 information. For example, people with low reading skills may not be able to read or understand all of the written information. Additionally, because much of the information is on the internet, adults with low digital skills and/or poor access to the internet have the added problem of not being able to find information that could possibly be helpful to them.

How are you trying to address their needs?

We’ve created a library with a large sample of materials written for 9th grade reading levels and below available on the ALRC website. These documents provide specific information on topics like how to stop the spread or what to do if someone in your home has COVID-19. We hope that providers who work with adults with low literacy skills—like adult educators, community organizers and healthcare providers—will use our library and find the high-interest/low-literacy materials. The library is also divided into “easier” and “harder” resources, so people can quickly find material at appropriate reading levels.

What could healthcare providers, the media, or others do to help?

We all must help those who may not know where to find information. Not everyone knows how or where to look for health information or whether the information they find is valid. Our analysis of PIAAC data found that people with low literacy rely more on TV and radio for information. Simple, short public service announcements that are action oriented would be great for anyone who relies on TV or radio but particularly for those who have low reading skills.

Also, we need to be better prepared for all kinds of emergencies by creating community-wide partnership plans among trusted sources for adults with low literacy like community organizations, healthcare providers, and adult education providers. In addition, we should be following plain language guidelines in all of our written and oral communications. Writing health information in plain language helps everyone and should not be an afterthought.

 


Written by Meredith Larson. This is the first in a series of blog posts that explores how researchers respond to various education-related issues and challenges.


About the PIAAC

The PIAAC is an international assessment for adults that assesses cognitive skills (literacy, numeracy, and problem solving) and contains data on educational background, workplace experiences and skills, and other items. For the purposes of this blog, the category of lowest levels is defined as Below Level 1 and Level 1 and below proficiency is Level 2. For more information about estimates of U.S. adult skills as measured by the PIAAC: https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/piaac/current_results.asp

 

New Data on Public and Private School Teacher Characteristics, Experiences, and Training

Teachers and principals have a critical impact on the education experience of students in the United States. The National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS) collects data from public and private school principals and teachers in order to better understand their characteristics and experiences. Using data collected during the 2017–18 school year, reports describing these findings for schools and principals were released in August 2019, and a new report about teachers was released in April 2020. During the 2015–16 school year, NTPS collected data about only public schools, principals, and teachers. The data collection for the 2017–18 school year included data about private schools, principals, and teachers as well.

Among the findings from the recently released teacher report are the following:

  • Race and ethnicity. Seventy-nine percent of all public school teachers in the 2017–18 school year were non-Hispanic White, 7 percent were non-Hispanic Black, and 9 percent were Hispanic. Among private school teachers, 85 percent were non-Hispanic White, 3 percent were non-Hispanic Black, and 7 percent were Hispanic.
     
  • Salary. Regular full-time teachers in public schools had a higher average base salary ($57,900) than regular full-time teachers in private schools ($45,300) in the 2017–18 school year.
     
  • Work outside of school. In the 2017–18 school year, 18 percent of public school teachers and 21 percent of private school teachers held jobs outside their school system during the school year.
     
  • Evaluation. In the 2017–18 school year, 78 percent of public school teachers and 69 percent of private school teachers were evaluated during the last school year.
     
    • ​Among teachers who were evaluated, higher percentages of private school teachers than public school teachers agreed with statements about the positive impact of evaluations on their teaching. Eighty-three percent of private school teachers agreed that the evaluation process helped them determine their success with students, 84 percent agreed that the evaluation process positively affected their teaching, and 81 percent agreed that the evaluation process led to improved student learning (figure 1). Comparable estimates for public school teachers were 72 percent, 73 percent, and 69 percent, respectively.

 


Figure 1. Percentage of teachers who agreed with different statements about the positive impact of evaluations, by school type: 2017–18


 

More information about these and other topics (including teachers’ years of experience, class size, and professional development) are available in the full report.

NTPS is a nationally representative survey of teachers and principals from public and private schools. For the public sector (but not the private sector), NTPS includes state representative data as well. NTPS uses scientifically proven methods to select a small sample of school faculty to provide information about major education issues related to school and staffing characteristics while minimizing the burden on teacher and principal communities. Without the cooperation and participation of districts and their teachers and principals, reports such as these could not be produced.

Data files for the 2017–18 NTPS will be released later this year. In order to protect the identities of respondents, researchers must apply for a restricted-use license to access the full restricted-use data files. Data will also be available through NCES’s online data tool, DataLab, where users can create custom tables and regressions without a restricted-use license.

 

By Maura Spiegelman, NCES

Meeting the Literacy Needs of Students with Autism: What Do We Know and Where Do We Need to Go?

April is Autism Awareness Month, which celebrates the importance of people with autism, the contributions they make every day to our world, and what we are learning about improving outcomes for the growing number of people with autism. IES supports research in this area, primarily through grants funded by the National Center for Special Education Research. Dr. Emily Solari at the University of Virginia (UVA) was awarded an IES grant in 2018 to lead an autism-focused postdoctoral training program. This program provides postdoctoral fellows with extensive research training in the academic, behavioral, and social development of students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) from pre-K through their transition out of secondary school. Currently, their research focuses on literacy development, including reading comprehension and writing, in children with ASD.

Below we share a recent conversation with Dr. Solari about the importance of this work and what she and researchers at UVA are learning about literacy development.

What do we know about the needs of students with ASD in the area of literacy?

Children with ASD have a unique constellation of strengths and weaknesses that impacts their academic development. Several studies by our research group and others have shown that children and adolescents with ASD are at risk for difficulties in the area of literacy. Some individuals with ASD show a particular strength in alphabet knowledge, including letter names and sounds, as well as reading words. A strength in word reading ability does not always translate into adequate reading comprehension. Many adolescents with ASD who can successfully read words still demonstrate difficulties with reading comprehension, especially comprehension that requires inferencing. Difficulties may be due, in part, to the highly social content that is embedded in stories. Children with ASD often struggle in the area of social communication and theory of mind (understanding others’ mental states), which may inhibit their ability to comprehend narrative texts. Additionally, we know that vocabulary and oral language are both important for reading comprehension; therefore, difficulties in these areas – often seen in individuals with ASD – may impact reading comprehension as well.

Similarly, the existing data show that children with ASD have a more difficult time with writing-related tasks, such as composition. Our work in this area suggests that these writing difficulties may be due to broader difficulties related to language development and social communication skills. 

What research is being done to address the needs of students at different ages?

While we are beginning to understand developmental trajectories of reading for this population, very little research has been conducted on specific interventions for reading and writing. Our research group has begun to look at early elementary (K-3rd grade) language and reading comprehension interventions for students with ASD. Our initial studies have shown that when we implement highly interactive language and listening comprehension instruction, these students show gains in oral language and listening comprehension. We have found that instructional strategies that use shared book reading, where the teacher reads aloud from a book and asks children targeted questions about the characters in the story, are effective. Our instruction also provides students practice with vocabulary words and opportunities to respond to texts both orally and through writing.

There are also other research groups investigating emergent literacy (prekindergarten years) with this population of students. For example, Jaclyn Dynia at The Ohio State University has engaged in work investigating strengths and weaknesses in emergent literacy skills such as phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge, and print awareness.  Also, in the early childhood years, Dr. Veronica Fleury at Florida State University is engaged in some work in this area, including an IES-funded study aimed at developing and testing the feasibility of an adaptive shared book reading intervention for preschoolers with ASD. 

To address difficulties in reading comprehension with older students, Michael Solis and his team at the University of California, Riverside are using IES funding to develop and test explicit instructional routines and curricular materials for a reading comprehension and behavior intervention for students with ASD in upper elementary and middle school.

In collaboration with our colleagues at the University of California, Davis, we continue to analyze and publish developmental studies examining literacy skills. Additionally, we have become increasingly interested in understanding the transition from prekindergarten to kindergarten and early elementary school and how literacy is developing during this time. At UVA, we have started a longitudinal data collection project to investigate the relations among early reading, oral language, social attention, and cognition variables in young children with higher functioning ASD.

Our group is also starting to think about how we can design interventions that specifically target early reading skills and language development as well as social communication skills. Children’s books often provide very rich opportunities to engage around events and feelings that could be used to teach children with ASD social communication skills. Our next school-based intervention study will combine our previously successful language and listening instruction with targeted social communication instruction.

What recommendations or resources do you have for parents who are supporting children with ASD as they learn from home during the pandemic?

Here are some tips for reading at home with children. Additional resources are below.

  • Friends on the Block was developed through an IES grant as an early literacy curriculum for children with disabilities.  They have provided some free content online for use at home by caregivers.
  • Self-regulated strategy development (SRSD) is an approach that emphasizes direct instruction of writing strategies, knowledge, and self-regulation skills via flexible, recursive instructional stages. SRSD approaches have been shown to be effective for some elementary and middle school children with autism.
  • Book Share Time provides read aloud texts and allows caregivers to filter the books based on specific speech or language goals.

This blog was co-authored by Sarah Brasiel (Sarah.Brasiel@ed.gov), Amy Sussman (Amy.Sussman@ed.gov), Katie Taylor (Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov) at IES and Emily Solari (ejs9ea@virginia.edu), and her IES funded postdoctoral fellows (Alyssa Henry & Matthew Zajic) at UVA.  IES hopes to encourage more research on students with ASD in the coming years in order to increase the evidence base and guide program and policy decisions.