IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Coming Soon to a Research Center Near You!

The summer movie season is still a couple of months away, but the trailers are already popping up on social media and in movie theaters, building anticipation and excitement. The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) has released its own preview, of sorts, this week.

One of the most important roles IES serves is as the engine for rigorous education research across a wide array of important areas. In the spring, IES will put out its Requests for Applications (RFA) for research grants and will begin accepting proposals from researchers and research organizations.

But an entry on the Federal Register, which went live this week, is sort of a preview for the competition. For instance, it includes the competition areas for each IES research center:

  • National Center for Education Research (NCER): Education research, education research training, statistical and research methodology in education, partnerships and collaboration focused on problems of practice or policy, low-cost, short-duration evaluations, and research networks.
  • National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER): Special education research, special education research training, and low-cost, short-duration evaluations.

The Federal Register entry also includes specific topic areas where NCER and NCSER will be accepting applications in each competition area. It’s a long list and some of it will look familiar to the research world. But there are some new areas of focus. For instance, NCER has introduced three special topics in the education research competition – arts in education, career and technical education, and systemic approaches to educating highly mobile students. And NCER will be accepting applications for a new network to that will study science teaching in elementary school classrooms in an effort to improve practices and student outcomes. This is similar in structure to the Early Learning Network that was announced earlier this year.  

NCSER applicants should note that in FY 2017, only applications that focus on teachers and other instructional personnel will be considered in the special education research competition.

Other information available on Federal Register includes the approximate range of funding in each competition area, information about the process, and the expected timeline for submitting applications. In the coming weeks, IES will be updating its funding opportunities website with the full RFA information and the research centers will be hosting webinars on a variety of topics related to RFAs. You can view previous webinars on the IES website.

To be notified of important dates in the RFA process and new webinars, sign up to receive IES newsflashes or follow IES on Twitter.

This grant competition may not be as funny as the Ghostbusters reboot, as exciting as the next Captain America movie, or as thrilling as latest chapter in the Jason Bourne series. But in the research world, it’s going to be a blockbuster! 

By Dana Tofig, Communications Director, IES

Examining the workforce skills of U.S. unemployed, young, and older adults: Updated data from the PIAAC

By Stephen Provasnik and Holly Xie

Educational attainment is one of the most common measures of workforce preparation and is certainly an important indicator of whether someone is job-ready. But this one metric does not fully capture the variety of skills that can be important to potential employers. One way that NCES measures the basic workplace skills and abilities of U.S. adults is through the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).[1] 

PIAAC includes a number of assessments designed to evaluate real-world skills in three important areas:

  • Literacy: The literacy assessment measures the extent to which respondents can understand, evaluate, use, and engage with written text in different contexts, such as home, work, and community;
  • Numeracy: The numeracy assessment evaluates respondents’ ability to access, use, interpret and communicate mathematical information that is deemed to be important in the workplace; and
  • Problem solving in technology-rich environments: This skill area assesses respondents’ use of digital technology, communication tools, and networks to gather and evaluate information, communicate with others, and perform practical tasks.

The newly released Skills of U.S. Unemployed, Young, and Older Adults in Sharper Focus: Results from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) 2012/2014 describes the workforce skill levels of unemployed adults (age 16-65), young adults (age 16-34), and older adults (age 66-74). The report, along with additional data on the NCES website, includes results from the assessments described above, as well as information about respondents’ educational background, work history, the skills they use on the job and at home, their civic engagement, and their health and well-being.

The PIAAC results show a connection between skills and employment. For instance, more than 75 percent of unemployed adults (age 16-65) had attained a high school credential or less. Roughly one-third of these adults (with a high school credential or less) scored at the lowest levels in literacy and about half scored at the lowest levels in numeracy. Overall, adults who were unemployed or out of the labor force performed worse than their employed peers in all areas of the PIAAC.


Percentage of adults age 16 to 65 at each level of proficiency on the PIAAC numeracy scale, by employment status: 2012 and 20141

1United States data are the U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014 data. PIAAC international average is calculated from the U.S. PIAAC 2012/2014 data and international data from 2012 for all other countries shown in this report. Country- and region-specific results are available at http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/piaac/results/makeselections.aspx.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), Skills of U.S. Unemployed, Young, and Older Adults in Sharper Focus: Results from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) 2012/2014: First Look


Among young adults age 16-34, the higher the level of education completed, the larger the percentages of young adults at the highest proficiency levels in all three skill areas, and the smaller the percentages at the lowest levels. This pattern was not seen among older U.S. adults (age 66-74). Among older U.S. adults, there was no measurable difference in the percentage performing at the highest levels in literacy or numeracy between those who had a bachelor’s degree and those who had a graduate or professional degree.


Percentage of adults age 66 to 74 at each level of proficiency on the PIAAC literacy scale, by highest level of educational attainment: 2014

# Rounds to zero.
‡ Reporting standards not met. Sample size insufficient to permit a reliable estimate.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), Skills of U.S. Unemployed, Young, and Older Adults in Sharper Focus: Results from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) 2012/2014: First Look.


Much more data can be read in the full report. Additional PIAAC data will be released later this year, including information about adults who were incarcerated.

For more information, check out this video:

 


[1] The PIAAC survey is coordinated internationally by the OECD. NCES implements PIAAC in the United States. PIAAC is a household survey administered by trained data collectors to a nationally-representative sample of adults, ages 16 through 65, in each country, in the official language(s), and in most cases, in respondents’ homes on a laptop computer. PIAAC was first conducted in 2011-2012 and results were released in October 2013 with data from 23 countries, including the United States.

The findings reported here are based on data from the first round of PIAAC and a second round conducted in 2013-2014 in the United States to collect additional data on key subgroups of the adult population. To learn more about the U.S. administration and reporting of PIAAC, as well as related data tools, see https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/piaac/.

 

SREEing is Believing: Conference Shows Range of IES-Supported Work

By Ruth Curran Neild, Delegated Director, IES

Spring brings cherry blossoms to Washington D.C., turning the District into a city in bloom. The spring will also bring two major education research conferences to the city and, while these events may not offer breathtaking views like the cherry blossoms, the potential impact of the research being discussed is powerful.

The Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness (SREE) kicks things off this week (March 2 – 5), with the theme “Lost in Translation: Building Pathways from Knowledge to Action.” Of the 60-plus presentations, courses, and forums at the SREE conference, more than 40 involve research funded by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), feature IES staff, or demonstrate products that have been developed with IES support. These sessions show the many ways that work supported by IES is being used to improve education across the country.

(The second conference, the American Education Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting, will also include IES-supported work, but more on that later).

Research Studies, Large and Small

The core business of IES includes funding research studies on important topics of policy and practice. Funded work ranges from small pilot studies that test innovative approaches, to studies that are appropriately large – for example, evaluations that examine the impact of major Federal initiatives.  At one Thursday afternoon session, “Improving Mathematics Instructional Practice,” two of the studies being presented were funded through IES research centers—the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER). Later on Thursday, you can attend the “Reading for Understanding: New Findings from the Catalyzing Comprehension for Discussion and Debate Project,” in which all three studies being discussed were IES-funded.

And on Saturday, the “Evaluating the Scaling of Curriculum and Policy” session will feature three IES-funded studies, including a national, large-scale evaluation of the Teacher Incentive Fund pay-for-performance program, which is being conducted by our National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE).

Partnership and Collaboration

Many of the sessions at SREE feature IES-supported work done through alliances and partnerships that bring researchers and practitioners together. Much of this work is being done through our Regional Educational Laboratories (RELs), which are a key way that we help connect research to policy and practice every day.

For example, on Thursday morning, a session on “Pathways to Algebra Success” will feature studies that grew out of a REL research alliance. For all three studies, the questions that were asked came from practitioners and policymakers in the field.

Friday morning, the “Making Meaning of Research Study Findings” session will focus on how you “translate research into action.” The session will cover four studies from REL research alliances across the country, from New England to Indiana to the state of Washington. The studies cover a broad array of important topics in education—the academic performance and reclassification of English learner students; the effectiveness of teacher evaluation systems; and college enrollment patterns of high school graduates.

(If you’re not familiar with the RELs, read this blog post by Joy Lesnick, acting commissioner of NCEE, which oversees the REL program).

Making Science Better, Making Results More Accessible

Another big bucket of IES work that will be featured at SREE is resources and tools that are improving the research field and making it easier for people to access and use research.

For instance, a workshop on Wednesday featured the IES-funded CostOut tool, which can be used to determine return on investment. Another workshop featured the “Generalizer,” a privately funded, web-based tool that improves generalizations from experiments and uses data from IES’s National Center for Education Statistics.

On Thursday afternoon, attendees can preview software intended to make it easier for states and districts to conduct randomized controlled trials and quasi-experiments.  At another session, there will be a demonstration of the new “Find What Works” tool to help practitioners and policymakers find effective programs in the What Works Clearinghouse.

On Friday morning, NCER Associate Commissioner Allen Ruby will be a part of a panel discussing plans for a new “Registry of Effectiveness Studies in Education,” which will be developed with IES grant support. Study registries can contribute to increased transparency in studies of what works.

There is terrific work going on to connect research to practice.  Don’t miss out -- follow us on Twitter at @IESResearch to learn more about IES-supported work at the SREE conference.  

Looking Beyond the Label to Better Help English Learners

By Karen Douglas, NCER Program Officer, English Learners

The education of English learners (EL) continues to be a topic of great interest across the country. But there has been little research to identify what steps to take in order to best serve this diverse group of students.

In recent years, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) has funded a number of grants that are using data to better describe EL students and study the factors that are related to better educational outcomes. Findings from these studies are included in a recent policy brief by the Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE) entitled “Improving the Opportunities and Outcomes of California’s Students Learning English: Findings from School District-University Collaborative Partnerships.”

Although these studies all took place in California, the key findings likely have implications across the United States.

(Editor’s note: In some places you will see EL students referred to as English language learners (ELL), language minority, or limited English proficient (LEP) students. However, English learner (EL) is the term used by IES).

Defining ‘English Learner’

The term ‘English Learner’ seems pretty straightforward. It denotes a student that doesn’t speak English as a first language and whose lack of English skills serves as an impediment to learning. However, this simple term belies the diversity of this group of students.

Many EL students were born outside the U.S., but some are American citizens who were born in this country. Some arrive in the U.S. having gone to school starting at a very young age, while others come to the U.S. as teenagers and may not have had access to regular instruction in their previous country. And some EL students—such as the recent influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America—come from war-torn countries, where they have experienced significant trauma and have social emotional needs, as well.

Some EL students do not speak any English, but others come to our schools with basic English skills. And while a majority of ELs speak Spanish at home, many others speak European, African, and Asian languages.

Given all the ways that EL students differ from each other, there is a pressing need to move beyond the simple “EL” designation in order to better address the educational needs of these students.

You can learn more about the characteristics of EL students in a recent post to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) blog.

Meeting the Needs of EL Students

The context in which students designated as EL attend school is equally varied.  Schools differ greatly in the criteria they use to identify students as ELs, as well as the rules for deciding that a student is no longer an EL.

In addition, some students attend schools at which the majority of students are ELs, whereas others are one of a handful of ELs in the school. Instructional programs, even among those that provide support for the home language, vary widely in regard to the amount of instruction in another language a student will receive and the manner in which it is integrated across content areas.

Leaving EL Status

The complexity of reclassification out of EL status is a central issue in the PACE brief because there is a concern that EL students may not have the same access to the full curriculum as their non-EL peers.  The brief shares study findings in which EL students are overrepresented in lower-track classes, less likely to take important gateway math courses, and are more likely to be in classes with a higher percentage of ELs.

The studies in the PACE brief suggest that it is beneficial for students to be appropriately reclassified out of EL status, but these studies show that there is great variability in the stated criteria used by schools and districts as well as inconsistency in implementation. The report also highlights the potential benefits of bilingual and dual language programs both for learning in English as well as maintaining the first language.

Key Findings
 
The PACE policy brief makes three broad recommendations. Again, while these recommendations are directed at serving EL students in California, these are ideas that can be used throughout the country:

  • Improve the ways in which students who need language supports are classified and reclassified in order to improve alignment across districts, and alignment between classification and services;
  • Be more systematic in how data on EL students are collected and used, by tracking students’ progress over longer time periods and including all students who were ever EL students in accountability metrics; and
  • Improve EL students’ educational opportunities in school by expanding access to core content, bilingual instruction, and well-prepared teachers. 

Through better attention to the diverse characteristics of students designated as ELs, schools across the country will stand a better chance of both improving educational opportunities, as well as benefiting from the many contributions that EL students can provide to our school communities. 

Practice Guides: How to Use What Works in the Classroom

By Diana McCallum, NCEE

With new education research released every day, it can be difficult to know which teaching methods and classroom practices have been tested and shown to improve student outcomes. You want to know what really works and how to use evidence-based practices in your school or classroom.

What Works Clearinghouse practice guides help bridge the gap between research and practice by examining the findings from existing research studies and combining them with expert advice about applying these findings in the classroom. For each guide, a team of nationally-recognized practitioners and researchers work closely with the WWC to combine evidence from research with guidance from hands-on experience.

Practice guides offer specific recommendations that include a description of the supporting research, steps for carrying out the recommendation, and strategies you can use to overcome potential challenges. Many of the guides also feature supplementary materials, like videos and summaries, to help you quickly find what you need.

One example is our most recent practice guide, Teaching Strategies for Improving Algebra Knowledge in Middle and High School Students. Mastering algebra helps students move from arithmetic operations to understanding abstract concepts, and is for a key to success in future mathematics courses, including geometry and calculus. Teaching Strategies for Improving Algebra Knowledge in Middle and High School Students presents three evidence-based recommendations educators can use to help students develop a deeper understanding of algebra, promote process-oriented thinking, and encourage precise communication. These recommendations help address common challenges in algebra instruction and focus on:

  • Utilizing the structure of algebraic representations to make connections among problems, solution strategies, and representations; 
  • Incorporating solved problems into classroom instruction and activities to help students develop their algebraic reasoning skills; and
  • Comparing and selecting from alternative algebraic strategies to give students flexibility when solving problems. 

You can read the Practice Guide Summary for a quick overview of these recommendations or spend a few minutes watching videos in which Jon Star, of Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, explain the recommendations.  

The Teaching Strategies for Improving Algebra Knowledge in Middle and High School Students is just one of 19 practice guides available on the What Works Clearinghouse website. Some of the others are:

  • Teaching Math to Young Children: Preschool and kindergarten teachers can get details on how to improve math lessons with this guide, including strategies to create a math-rich environment. You’ll find examples of classroom activities and games that can supplement lesson plans and provide opportunities for children to learn math.

You can find information and links to all 19 practice guides on our website. We also cover a variety of other math and literacy topics, as well as guides focused on dropout prevention, using data to monitor student progress and make decisions, and preparing students for college.

Visit whatworks.ed.gov to find the practice guide that’s right for you or to suggest a topic you’d like us to explore.

Dr. McCallum is an education research analyst on the What Works Clearinghouse team.

About the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC)

For more than a decade, the goal of the WWC has been to provide educators with the information they need to make evidence-based decisions with the aim of improving student outcomes. Established by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, the WWC strives to be a central and trusted source of scientific evidence on education programs, products, practices, and policies. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.