IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

New Remote Learning Resources from the REL Program

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 related to the pandemic. See below for a roundup of upcoming REL events and recently published resources on this topic.


Upcoming Webinars

Friday, April 24: Refining Your Distance Learning Strategies Using a Data-Driven Approach: The Evidence to Insights Coach: REL Mid-Atlantic will discuss a free tool that districts and schools can use to test and identify—in real time—which online learning approaches work best for their own students. The webinar will discuss what you’ll need to make the tool work for you and how you can be strategic about using existing data.
Audience: State leaders, district leaders, school boards, school leaders

Wednesday, April 29: Strategies for Districts to Support Self-Care for Educators During the COVID-19 Pandemic: REL West, the Region 15 Comprehensive Center, and the National Center to Improve Social & Emotional Learning and School Safety, will offer practical information and guidance backed by research to help school staff cope with the stresses of school closures, service provision, and quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Audience: District leaders

New Resources

How can Districts Promote a Safe and Secure Digital Learning Environment?
FAQ | REL West
Audience: District leaders, school leaders, teachers

Research-Based Resources, Considerations, and Strategies for Remote Learning
Webinar recording | REL Midwest
Audience: School leaders, instructional coaches, teachers

Resources for Schools and Districts Responding to the COVID-19 Crisis
Topics covered on this page include providing high-quality instruction to English learners in an online environment, engaging families to support student learning, alternative approaches to graduation ceremonies, and more.
FAQs | REL Northeast & Islands
Audience: District leaders, school leaders, teachers

Strategies to Support Learning Along a Continuum of Internet Access [PDF]
Fact sheet | REL Central
Audience: District leaders, school leaders

Supporting Your Child’s Reading at Home: Kindergarten and First Grade
Videos and activities | REL Southeast
Audience: Families, caregivers

Using Transparency to Create Accountability When School Buildings Are Closed and Tests Are Cancelled
Blog | REL Mid-Atlantic
Audience: District leaders, school leaders

Responding to COVID19 in Education: ED/IES and Government Supported Developers Offer Virtual Resources and Activities for Distance Learning

We recently posted this blog listing more than 80 learning games and technologies that are available at no cost until the end of the school year in response to the closure of schools due to the COVID crisis. The resources were created by education technology developers with support from the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Programs at ED/IES and other agencies, as well as through programs at IES and across government. In recent weeks, more than 100,000 teachers and students around the country have accessed these learning technologies at a distance.

Today, we are sharing more resources and activities that this group of developers is making available to the education community in response to COVID19.

A Series of Day-Long Virtual Unconferences

Over the coming weeks, developers are hosting a series of free virtual “Unconferences” on different topics for educators, parents, and students. The events will feature innovative models and approaches to teaching and learning during this time of distance learning and in-depth looks at the learning games and technologies created by the presenters, available at no cost until the end of the school year. While presenters will describe the delivery of online interventions via computers and devices, sessions will also focus on innovative approaches to implementing the interventions in low-resource settings.

The events are called “Unconferences” because the sessions are informal in nature and attendees can select sessions to join across the day. Attendees can participate by asking the presenters questions through the chat box and by responding to polls that capture reactions and views on topics.

Schedule and Information about the Virtual Unconferences in Education:

National K12 Student Challenge

ED/IES SBIR awardee Future Engineers (@K12FutureE) launched a nation-wide challenge for K12 students to submit entries to “invent a way to make someone smile or feel appreciated during COVID19.” Teachers can sign up a class to participate or students can participate on their own. See this page for more information and to submit an entry.

Stay tuned to the Inside IES Blog for more information and resources about the response to the COVID19 in education.


Edward Metz is a research scientist and the program manager for the Small Business Innovation Research Program at the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. Please contact with questions or for more information.


Bar Chart Race: States With the Highest Public School Enrollment

Recently, bar chart races have become a useful tool to visualize long-term trend changes. The visual below, which uses data from an array of sources, depicts the changes in U.S. public school enrollment from 1870 to 2020 by region: Northeast (green), South (orange), Midwest (light blue), and West (dark blue). Since 1870, states’ populations and public school enrollment have increased, with differential growth across the country.

Source: Report of the Commissioner of Education (1870–71, 1879–80, 1989–90, 1899–1900, and 1909–10); the Biennial Survey of Education in the United States (1919–20, 1929–30, 1939–40, and 1949–50); and the Statistics of State School Systems (1959–60). The intervening earlier years for these decades are estimated by NCES for the purposes of this visual, as are data from 1960 to 1964. Data for 1965 to 1984 are from the Statistics of Public Elementary and Secondary Day Schools. Data for 1985 and later years are from the Common Core of Data and Projections.

Here are some highlights from the data:

  • 1870: All of the top 10 states for public school enrollment—including the top 3 states of New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio—were in the Northeast and Midwest. No states from the South or West were in the top 10 at this time.
  • 1879: A state in the South—Tennessee—entered the top 10 for the first time.
  • 1884: Texas first entered the top 10 and, as of 2020, has never left the top 10.
  • 1891: Illinois displaced Ohio as the state with the third-highest public school enrollment.
  • 1916: A state in the West—California—entered the top 10 for the first time and, as of 2020, California has never left the top 10.
  • 1935: Texas displaced Illinois as the state with the third-highest public school enrollment. New York and Pennsylvania still remained the two states with the highest public school enrollments.
  • 1942: California displaced Texas as the state with the third-highest public school enrollment. In 1947, California displaced Pennsylvania as the state with the second-highest public school enrollment. In 1953, California overtook New York and became the state with the highest public school enrollment.
  • 1959: Florida entered the top 10 for the first time and was in the top 4 by 1990.
  • 1980: Texas displaced New York as the state with the second-highest public school enrollment.
  • 2014: Florida displaced New York as the state with the third-highest public school enrollment.

Projections indicate that the 10 states with the highest public school enrollment in fall 2020 will be California (6.3 million), Texas (5.5 million), Florida (2.9 million), New York (2.7 million), Illinois (2.0 million), Georgia (1.8 million), Pennsylvania (1.7 million), Ohio (1.7 million), North Carolina (1.6 million), and Michigan (1.5 million).


By Rachel Dinkes, AIR

ASSISTments: From Research to Practice at Scale in Education

ASSISTments is a free, web-based formative assessment platform for teachers and students in Grades 3 through 12. The tool is designed for teachers to easily assign students math problems from OER textbooks such as Illustrative Math and EngageNY, existing item banks, or items they have developed on their own. ASSISTments will continually assess students as they solve math problems and provide immediate feedback and the chance to try again. The computer-generated reports provide teachers with information to make real-time adjustments to their instruction. Teachers can use it with their school’s existing learner management systems, such as Google Classroom and Canvas. Watch a video here.



Over the past 13 years, ASSISTments was developed and evaluated with the support of a series of IES and National Science Foundation awards. With a 2003 IES award to Carnegie Mellon University and Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), researchers created the first version of ASSISTments. The system was populated with Massachusetts high-stakes mathematics test questions and the tutoring for the questions was authored by WPI staff with assistance from local teachers. After students completed problems assigned by the teacher, reports provided teachers with information about question difficulty and the most commonly submitted wrong answers, initiating class discussions around the completed assignments. In 2007, researchers at WPI received an award to build additional functionalities in the ASSISTments program so that teachers could assign supports (called “skill builders”) to students to help them master content.  An additional eight grants allowed the researchers to create other features. 

With a 2012 IES research grant award, SRI evaluated the efficacy of the ASSISTments program as a homework tool for academic learning.  In the study, the researchers took all 7th grade textbooks in the State of Maine and added answers to homework problems into ASSISTments.  The results of the efficacy trial demonstrated that teachers changed their homework reviewing behavior, mathematical learning improved an extra three quarters of a year of schooling, and using ASSISTments reliably closed achievement gaps for students with different achievement levels. ASSISTments is currently being evaluated again through two IES studies, with over 120 schools, to attempt to replicate this result. To view all publications related to ASSISTments, see here.

As of 2020, ASSISTments has been used by approximately 60,000 students with over 12 million problems solved.


Interview with Neil Heffernan and Cristina Heffernan

From the start of the project, was it always a goal that ASSISTments would one day be used on a wide scale?

We created ASSISTments to help as many teachers and students as possible. After we learned that the ASSISTments intervention was effective, we set the goal to have every middle school student in the country get immediate feedback on their homework. We created ASSISTments to be used by real teachers and have been improving it with each grant. Because of the effectiveness of ASSISTments, we kept getting funded to make improvements allowing our user base to grow.

At what point was ASSISTments ready to be used at a large scale in schools?

We were ready in year one because of the simplicity of our software. Now that we integrated seamlessly with Google Classroom, most teachers can use the system without training!

ASSISTments is backed by a lot of research, which would make some think that it would be easy for many schools to adopt. What were (or are) the biggest obstacles to ASSISTments being used in more schools?

A big obstacle has been access to technology for all students. The current environment in schools is making that less and less of a barrier. Now, teachers are looking for effective ways to use the computers they have.      

What options did you consider to begin distributing ASSISTments?

We had major companies try to buy us out, but we turned them all down. We knew the value was being in control so we could run research studies, let others run research studies and AB test new ideas. It was important to us to keep ASSISTments free to teachers. It is also a necessity since we crowdsource from teachers.

How do you do marketing?

Our biggest obstacle is marketing. But we are lucky to have just received $1 million in funding from a philanthropy to create a nonprofit to support the work of making our product accessible. Foundation funding has allowed us to hire staff members to write marketing materials including a new website, op-eds, blog posts and press releases. In addition to our internal marketing staff member, we work extensively with The Learning Agency to get press and foundation support for ASSISTments.

What costs are associated with the launch and distribution of ASSISTments, including marketing? Will a revenue model needed sustain ASSISTments over time?

When creating ASSISTments, we didn’t want a traditional business model based on schools paying. Our vision for future growth, instead, focused on crowdsourcing ideas from teachers and testing them. We are trying to replicate the Wikimedia platform idea created by Jimmy Wales. He crowdsources the content that makes up the encyclopedia, so it must be free. We envision using ASSISTments to help us crowdsource hints and explanations for all the commonly used questions in middle school mathematics.  

Do you have any agreement about the IP with the universities where ASSISTments was developed?

The ASSISTments Foundation was founded in 2019 and supports our project work in tandem with Worcester Polytechnic Institute due to our integration with research. The close relationship takes care of any issues that would arise with intellectual property. Additionally, the fact that we are a nonprofit helps address these issues.

How do you describe the experience of commercializing ASSISTments? What would you say is most needed for gaining traction in the marketplace?

Even though we are free, we do have several competitors. To gain traction, we have found that word of mouth is an effective disseminator and our positive efficacy trial result. Currently, there are many teachers on Facebook sharing how much they like ASSISTments. We also attend conferences and are working on an email campaign to get new users onboard.

Do you have advice for university researchers seeking to move their laboratory research into widespread practice?

Make sure your work is accessible and meaningful! We are solving a super-pervasive problem of homework in schools. Everyone finds meaning in making homework better.

Neil Heffernan (@NeilTHeffernan) is a professor of computer science and Director of Learning Sciences and Technologies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.  He developed ASSISTments not only to help teachers be more effective in the classroom but also so that he could use the platform to conduct studies to improve the quality of education.  

Cristina Heffernan (@CristinaHeff) is the Lead Strategist for the ASSISTments Project at WPI. She began her career in education as a math teacher in the Peace Corps and after went on to teach middle school math in the US.  She began working with teachers while a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh. As one of the co-founders of ASSISTments, Cristina has nurtured the system to be a tool for teachers to improve what they already do well in the classroom. 

This interview was produced by Edward Metz of the Institute of Education Sciences. This is the fourth in an ongoing series of blog posts examining moving from university research to practice at scale in education.​

The Prevalence of Written Plans for a Pandemic Disease Scenario in Public Schools

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted our daily lives in unprecedented ways and raised questions about how prepared our institutions, including our public schools, are for a national health crisis. The School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), which collects data from a nationally representative sample of 4,800 K–12 public schools, asks schools to report on whether or not they have a written plan that describes the procedures to be performed in select scenarios. Data from the 2017–18 SSOCS show a strong majority of the nation’s schools have a written plan for certain emergency scenarios, such as natural disasters, active shooters, and bomb threats, but fewer than half have a written plan for a pandemic disease.

Schools can play an important role in slowing the spread of diseases and protecting vulnerable students and staff, in part by implementing strategies to help ensure safe and healthy learning environments.[1] The close proximity of students and staff in classroom settings can increase the risk of community transmission of diseases, which is why schools should work in close collaboration and coordination with local health departments on decisions related to determining risks and implementing school-based strategies. One aspect of school efforts to maintain safety is to have a plan in place for procedures to prevent and mitigate the spread of diseases. These plans may include guidelines on prevention efforts; coordination with local health officials; cleaning and disinfecting school spaces; communicating with staff, parents, and students; making decisions on short- and long-term dismissal of students; and implementing strategies to continue education and other supports for students.

Forty-six percent of public schools reported they had a written plan for procedures to be performed in the event of pandemic disease during the 2017–18 school year (figure 1). This percentage was lower than the percentage of schools reporting that they had written plans for every other type of scenario asked about in the SSOCS questionnaire with the exception of hostage scenarios, for which the percentage of schools with such a plan was not measurably different.

Figure 1. Percentage of public schools that had a written plan describing procedures to be performed in various crisis scenarios: School year 2017–18

1Examples of natural disasters provided to respondents were earthquakes or tornadoes.
2"Active shooter" was defined for respondents as an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area; in most cases, active shooters use firearm(s) and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims.
3Examples of chemical, biological, or radiological threats or incidents provided to respondents were the release of mustard gas, anthrax, smallpox, or radioactive materials.
NOTE: Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about school crime and policies to provide a safe environment.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017–18 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2018.

There were few measurable differences in the percentages of schools reporting plans for pandemic disease when looking across school characteristics. However, some differences were observed based on the enrollment size of the school. In 2017–18, the percentage of schools with enrollments of less than 300 students that reported having a written plan for pandemic disease (38 percent) was lower than the corresponding percentages of schools with enrollments of 300 to 499 students (48 percent), 500 to 999 students (48 percent), and 1,000 or more students (49 percent) (figure 2). However, in no enrollment size group did a majority of schools have a written plan.

Figure 2. Percentage of public schools that had a written plan describing procedures to be performed in a pandemic disease scenario, by enrollment size: School year 2017–18

NOTE: Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about school crime and policies to provide a safe environment.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017–18 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2018.

Prior to the 2017–18 school year, SSOCS asked schools about written plans for pandemic flu, rather than pandemic disease. While comparisons of these prior estimates to the 2017–18 estimates on pandemic disease plans should be made with caution, reviewing previous estimates for pandemic flu plans may provide some insight into how schools may have been prepared for similar outbreaks in the past.

Estimates of schools’ reports of written plans for pandemic flu followed no clear pattern between the 2007–08 and 2015–16 school years. Fifty-one percent of schools reported having a plan for pandemic flu in 2015–16, which was lower than the percentage that reported such a plan in 2009–10 (69 percent)[2] but higher than the percentage that reported such plan in 2007–08 (36 percent) (figure 3).

Figure 3. Percentage of public schools that had a written plan describing procedures to be performed in a pandemic flu or pandemic disease scenario, by school year: Selected years, 2007–08 to 2017–18

NOTE: SSOCS:2008, SSOCS:2010, and SSOCS:2016 asked schools to report on whether or not their school had a written plan to be performed in the scenario of pandemic flu, while the item was modified for SSOCS:2018 to ask schools about written plans for pandemic disease. Due to this change, comparisons of estimates between SSOCS:2018 and earlier years should be made with caution. Responses were provided by the principal or the person most knowledgeable about school crime and policies to provide a safe environment.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017–18 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS), 2018.

You can find more information on these and other data from the School Survey on Crime and Safety in NCES publications, including Crime, Violence, Discipline, and Safety in U.S. Public Schools: Findings From the School Survey on Crime and Safety: 2017–18 and the Digest of Education Statistics, table 233.65.


By Jana Kemp, AIR


[1]Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Interim Guidance for Administrators of US K–12 Schools and Childcare Programs. Retrieved March 18, 2020, from

[2]From April 2009 to April 2010, a novel influenza A (H1N1) virus pandemic occurred in the United States and across the world; schools’ reports of plans for pandemic flu during the 2009–10 school year may reflect heightened awareness and responses to the H1N1 pandemic. See for more information.