IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

SELweb: From Research to Practice at Scale in Education

With a 2011 IES development grant, researchers at Rush University Medical Center, led by Clark McKown, created SELweb, a web-based system to assess the social-emotional skills in children in Kindergarten to Grade 3. The system (watch the video demo) includes illustrated and narrated modules that gauge children’s social acceptance with peers and assess their ability to understand others’ emotions and perspectives, solve social problems, and self-regulate. The system generates teacher reports with norm-referenced scores and classroom social network maps. Field trials with 8,881 children in seven states demonstrate that system produces reliable and valid measures of social-emotional skills. Findings from all publications on SELweb are posted here.

In 2016, with support from the university, McKown launched a company called xSEL Labs, to further develop and ready SELweb for use at scale and to facilitate the launch SELweb into the school marketplace. SELweb is currently used in 21 school districts in 16 states by over 90,000 students per year.

Interview with Clark McKown of Rush University Medical Center and xSEL Labs

 

From the start of the project, was it always a goal for SELweb to one day be ready to be used widely in schools?

CM: When we started our aspiration was to build a usable, feasible, scientifically sound assessment and it could be done. When the end of the grant got closer, we knew that unless we figured out another way to support the work, this would be yet another good idea that would wither on the vine after showing evidence of promise. In the last year and a half of the grant, I started thinking about how to get this into the hands of educators to support teaching and learning, and how to do it in a large-scale way.

 

By the conclusion of your IES grant to develop SELweb, how close were you to the version that is being used now in schools? How much more time and money was it going to take?

CM: Let me answer that in two ways. First is how close I thought we were to a scalable version. I thought we were pretty close. Then let me answer how close we really were. Not very close. We had built SELweb in a Flash based application that was perfectly suited to small-scale data collection and was economical to build. But for a number of reasons, there was no way that it would work at scale. So we needed capital, time, and a new platform. We found an outstanding technology partner, the 3C Institute, who have a terrific ed tech platform well-suited to our needs, robust, and scalable. And we received funding from the Wallace Foundation to migrate the assessment from the original platform to 3C’s. The other thing I have learned is that technology is not one and done. It requires continued investment, upkeep, and improvement.

What experiences led you to start a company? How were you able to do this as an academic researcher?

CM: I could tell you that I ran a children’s center, had a lot of program development experience, had raised funds, and all that would be true, and some of the skills I developed in those roles have transferred. But starting a company is really different than anything I’d done before. It’s exciting and terrifying. It requires constant effort, a willingness to change course, rapid decision-making, collaboration, and a different kind of creativity than the academy. Turns out I really like it. I probably wouldn’t have made the leap except that the research led me to something that I felt required the marketplace to develop further and to realize its potential. There was really only so far I could take SELweb in the academic context. And universities recognize the limitations of doing business through the university—that’s why they have offices of technology transfer—to spin off good ideas from the academy to the market. And it’s a feather in their cap when they help a faculty member commercialize an invention. So really, it was about finding out how to use the resources at my disposal to migrate to an ecosystem suited to continuing to improve SELweb and to get it into the hands of educators.

How did xSEL Labs pay for the full development of the version of SELweb ready for use at scale?

CM: Just as we were getting off the ground, we developed

 a partnership with a research funder (the Wallace Foundation) who was interested in using SELweb as an outcome measure in a large-scale field trial of an SEL initiative. They really liked SELweb, but it was clear that in its original form, it simply wouldn’t work at the scale they required. So we worked out a contract that included financial support for improving the system in exchange for discounted fees in the out years of the project.

What agreement did you make with the university in order to start your company and commercial SELweb?

CM: I negotiated a license for the intellectual property from Rush University with the university getting a royalty and a small equity stake in the company.

Did anyone provide you guidance on the business side?

CM: Yes. I lucked into a group of in-laws who happen to be entrepreneurs, some in the education space. And my wife has a sharp business mind. They were helpful. I also sought and found advisors with relevant expertise to help me think through the initial licensing terms, and then pricing, marketing, sales, product development, and the like. One of the nice things about business is that you aren’t expected to know everything. You do need to know how and when to reach out to others for guidance, and how to frame the issues so that guidance is relevant and helpful.

How do you describe the experience of commercializing SELWeb?

CM: Commercialization is, in my experience, an exercise in experimentation and successive approximations. How will you find time and money to test the waters? Commercialization is an exciting and challenging leap from the lab to the marketplace. In my experience, you can’t do it alone, and even with great partners, competitive forces and chance factors make success scale hard to accomplish. Knowing what you don’t know, and finding partners who can help, is critical.

I forgot who described a startup as a temporary organization designed to test whether a business idea is replicable and sustainable. That really rings true. The experience has been about leaving the safe confines of the university and entering the dynamic and endlessly interesting bazaar beyond the ivory tower to see if what I have to offer can solve a problem of practice.

In one sentence (or two!), what would say is most needed for gaining traction in the marketplace?

CM: Figure out who the customer is, what the customer needs, and how what you have to offer addresses those needs. Until you get that down, all the evidence in the world won’t lead to scale.

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

CM: It’s not really practical for most university researchers to shift gears and become an entrepreneur. So I don’t advise doing what I did, although I’m so glad I did. For most university researchers, they should continue doing great science, and when they recognize a scalable idea, consider commercialization as an important option for bringing the idea to scale. My impression is that academic culture often finds commerce to be alien and somewhat grubby, which can get in the way. The truth is, there are whip-smart people in business who have tremendous expertise. The biggest hurdle for many university researchers will be to recognize that they lack expertise in bringing ideas to market, they will need to find that expertise, respect it, and let go of some control as the idea, program, or product is shaped by market forces. It’s also a hard truth for researchers, but most of the world doesn’t care very much about evidence of efficacy. They have much more pressing problems of practice to attend to. Don’t get me wrong—evidence of efficacy is crucial. But for an efficacious idea to go to scale, usability and feasibility are the biggest considerations.

For academics, getting the product into the marketplace requires a new set of considerations, such as: Universities and granting mechanisms reward solo stars; the marketplace rewards partnerships. That is a big shift in mindset, and not easily accomplished. Think partnerships, not empires; listening more than talking.

Any final words of wisdom in moving your intervention from research to practice?

CM: Proving the concept of an ed tech product gets you to the starting line, not the finish. Going to scale benefits from, probably actually requires, the power of the marketplace. Figuring out how the marketplace works and how to fit your product into it is a big leap for most professors and inventors. Knowing the product is not the same as knowing how to commercialize it.

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Clark McKown is a national expert on social and emotional learning (SEL) assessments. In his role as a university faculty member, Clark has been the lead scientist on several large grants supporting the development and validation of SELweb, Networker, and other assessment systems. Clark is passionate about creating usable, feasible, and scientifically sound tools that help educators and their students.

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

Seeking Summer Interns

Would you like to leverage your superpowers to help improve education, science, and communication? Have you always wondered what really goes on in a federal research office? If so, we have the perfect summer internship for you!

Each year, the two IES research centers—the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER)—host on-site, summer volunteer interns. These interns help us compile, synthesize, and communicate the research we support through our grant programs. Previous interns have written and been featured in blogs, identified experts for technical working groups, prepared materials for briefings, and reviewed abstracts and reports to identify emerging themes in education research, among other things. And these interns gain knowledge about non-academic pathways for researchers, build writing and communication skills, learn about grant making and federal agencies – all while being able to enjoy everything that Washington, DC has to offer!

Applicant qualifications:

  • Upper-division undergraduate or graduate students
  • Currently enrolled in good standing at a postsecondary institution
  • Have an interest in education research
  • Have experience with software such as the Microsoft Office Suite
  • Be willing to devote at least 20 hours per week
  • Work in the Washington, DC area

If you’re interested, fill in the application on USAJobs (https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/555512800), noting your interest in the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), and submit your materials before April 30, 2020. International students must contact one of the program officers directly: Dr. Meredith Larson (NCER, Meredith.Larson@ed.gov) or Dr. Amy Sussman (NCSER, Amy.Sussman@ed.gov).

We encourage you to contact us for more information about the summer position and possible remote internships during the academic year!

IES-Funded Researchers Receive Awards from the Council for Exceptional Children

In February, the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) held its annual Convention and Expo, during which scholars were recognized for their research contributions to the field. Several investigators funded through IES were among those honored by the CEC.

 

Photo of Nancy JordanNancy Jordan (University of Delaware) received the 2020 Kauffman-Hallahan Distinguished Researcher Award. This honor, awarded by the CEC Division for Research, recognizes individuals or research teams who have made outstanding scientific contributions in special education over the course of their careers, leading to better education or services for exceptional individuals. Dr. Jordan has been the Principal Investigator (PI) on a number of IES awards. With support from the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER), she is currently developing and testing a fraction sense intervention for middle school students with or at risk for mathematics difficulties. She also served as PI for the large-scale National Research and Development Center on Improving Mathematics Instruction for Students with Mathematics Difficulties, which conducted exploratory research on fractions and related cognitive process as well as developed interventions for fraction understanding among students with mathematics difficulties. In addition, Dr. Jordan has received funding from the National Center for Education Research (NCER), including a grant to refine and validate a number sense screener for students from prekindergarten through Grade 1 and to train postdoctoral fellows to apply cognitive science principals to crucial issues in education such as mathematics, language development, and early learning. She also co-authored a synthesis of IES-funded research focusing on mathematics learning and teaching from kindergarten through secondary school and has served as an expert panelist for the What Works Clearinghouse practice guides in mathematics.

 

Photo of Tim LewisTim Lewis (University of Missouri) received the CEC J.E. Wallace Wallin Lifetime Achievement Award, which recognizes an individual who has made continued and sustained contributions to the education of children and youth with exceptionalities. Dr. Lewis is currently the PI on a NCSER-funded grant to evaluate the efficacy of Check-in/Check-out for improving social, emotional, and academic behavior of elementary school students at risk for emotional and behavioral disorders, as well as co-PI on a project to further develop and refine the Resilience Education Program, a tier 2 intervention for elementary students at risk for internalizing problems. He also served as co-PI on the large-scale National Research and Development Center on Serious Behavior Disorders at the Secondary Level, focused on developing and evaluating the efficacy of a package of intervention strategies designed to reduce the significant behavioral and academic challenges experienced by high school students with behavior disorders.

 

Photo of Sara McDanielSara McDaniel (University of Alabama) received the 2020 Distinguished Early Career Research Award from CEC’s Division for Research. This award recognizes individuals who have made outstanding scientific contributions in basic and/or applied special education research within the first 10 years after receiving a doctoral degree. Dr. McDaniel is a co-Investigator on a NCSER supported grant to develop and test Racial equity Assessment of data, Cultural adaptation, and Training (ReACT), a professional development intervention aimed at reducing racial/ethnic disproportionality in school discipline and special education referrals.

 

Congratulations to the winners!

Lexia RAPID Assessment: From Research to Practice at Scale in Education

With a 2010 measurement grant award and a 2010 Reading for Understanding subaward from IES, a team at Florida State University (FSU) led by Barbara Foorman, developed a web-based literacy assessment for Kindergarten to Grade 12 students.

Years of initial research and development of the assessment method, algorithms, and logic model at FSU concluded in 2015 with a fully functioning prototype assessment called RAPID, the Reading Assessment for Prescriptive Instructional Data. A body of research demonstrates its validity and utility. In 2014, to ready the prototype for use in schools and to disseminate on a wide-scale basis, FSU entered into licensing agreements with the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) to use the prototype assessment royalty-free as the Florida Assessment for Instruction in Reading—Florida Standards (FAIR-FS), and with Lexia Learning Systems LLC, a Rosetta Stone company (Lexia), to create its commercial solution: Lexia® RAPID™ Assessment program.  Today, RAPID (watch video) consists of adaptive screening and diagnostic tests for students as they progress in areas such as word recognition, vocabulary knowledge, syntactic knowledge and reading comprehension. Students use RAPID up to three times per year in sessions of 45 minutes or less, with teachers receiving results immediately to inform instruction.

RAPID is currently used by thousands of educators and students across the U.S. RAPID has been recommended in Massachusetts as a primary screening tool for students ages 5 and older, is on both the Ohio Department of Education List of Approved Screening Assessments and the Michigan Lists of Initial and Extensive Literacy Assessments.

Interview with Barbara Foorman (BF) of Florida State University and Liz Brooke (LB) of Lexia Learning  

Photograph of Barbara Foorman, PhD

From the start of the project, was it always a goal for the assessment to one day be ready to be used widely in schools?

BF: Yes!

How was the connection made with the Florida Department of Education?   

BF: FSU authors (Yaacov Petscher, Chris Schatschneider, and I) gave the assessment royalty-free in perpetuity to the FLDOE, with the caveat that they had to host and maintain it. The FLDOE continues to host and maintain the Grade 3 to 12 system but never completed the programming on the K to 2 system prototype. The assessment we provided to the FLDOE is called the Florida Assessment for Instruction in Reading (FAIR—FS).  We also went to FSU’s Office of Commercialization to create royalty and commercialization agreements.

How was the connection made with Lexia? 

BF: Dr. Liz (Crawford) Brooke, Chief Learning Officer of Lexia/Rosetta Stone, and Dr. Alison Mitchell, Director of Assessment at Lexia, had both previously worked at the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR). Liz served as the Director of Interventions, as well as a doctoral student under me, and Alison was a postdoctoral assistant in research. Both Liz and Alison had worked on previous versions of the assessment.

Photograph of Liz Brooke, PhD

LB: Also, both Yaacov and Chris had done some previous work with me on the Assessment Without Testing® technology, which was embedded in our K to 5 literacy curriculum solution, the Lexia® Core5 Reading® program.

Did Lexia have to do additional R&D to develop the FSU assessment into RAPID as a commercial offering for larger scale use? Were resources provided?  

LB: To build and scale the FSU prototype assessment into a commercial platform, our team of developers worked closely with the developers at FSU to reprogram certain software application and databases. We’ve also spent the last several years at Lexia working to translate the valuable results that RAPID generates into meaningful, dynamic and usable data and tools for schools and educators.  This meant designing customized teacher and administrator reports for our myLexia® administrator dashboard, creating a library of offline instructional materials for teachers, as well as developing both online and in-person training materials specifically designed to support our RAPID solution.

BF: They also hired a psychometrician to submit RAPID to the National Center for Intensive Intervention, and had their programmers develop capabilities to support access to RAPID via iPads as well as through the web-based application.

What kind of licensing agreement did you (or FSU) work out?  

BF: The prototype assessment method, algorithms, and logic model that were used to develop RAPID are licensed to Lexia by FSU. Some of these may also be available for FSU to license to other interested companies.  Details of FSU’s licensing agreement terms to Lexia are confidential, however, royalties received by FSU through its licensing arrangements are shared between authors, academic units, and the FSU Research Foundation, according to FSU policies. (Read here for more about commercialization of FSU technologies and innovations.)

Does FSU receive royalties from the sale of RAPID?

BF: Yes. The revenue flows through FSU’s royalty stream—percentages to the three authors and the colleges and departments that we three authors are housed in.

What factors did Lexia consider when determining to partner with FSU to develop RAPID?

LB: We considered the needs of our customers and the fact that we wanted to develop and offer a commercial assessment solution that would provide a great balance between efficiency from the adaptive technology, but also insight based on an emphasis on reading and language skills. At Lexia, we are laser-focused on literacy and supporting the skills students need to be proficient readers. The value of the research foundation of the assessment was a natural fit for that reason. RAPID emphasizes Academic Language skills in a way that many other screening tools miss - often you’d need a specialized assessment given by a speech language pathologist to assess the skills that RAPID captures in a relatively short period of time for a whole classroom of students.

Describe how RAPID is marketed and distributed to schools?

LB: The Lexia RAPID Assessment was designed and is offered as a K-12 universal screening tool that schools can use up to three times per year. We currently offer RAPID as a software as a service -based subscription on an annual cost per license basis that can be either purchased per student or per school.  We also encourage schools that utilize RAPID to participate in a yearlong Lexia Implementation Support Plan that includes professional learning opportunities and data coaching specific to the RAPID solution, to really understand and maximize the value of the data and instructional resources that they receive as part of using RAPID.

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

BF: Start working with your university’s office of commercialization sooner than later to help identify market trends and create Non-Disclosure Agreements. In the case of educational curricula and assessments, researchers need to be (a) knowledgeable about competing products, (b) able to articulate what’s unique and more evidence-based than the competitors’ products, and (c) know that educators will find their product useful.

LB: As Barbara noted, it is critical to identify the specific, real-world need that your work is addressing and to be able to speak to how that’s different than other solutions out there.  It’s also really important to make sure that the research you’ve done has really validated that it does meet the need you are stating, as this will be the foundation of your claims in the market.

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Barbara Foorman, Ph.D., is the Frances Eppes Professor of Education, Director Emeritus of FCRR, and Director of the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast at FSU. Barbara is an internationally known expert in reading with over 150 peer reviewed publications. Barbara was co-editor of the Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness and is a co-founder and on the board of the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness

Liz Brooke, Ph.D., CCC-SLP is the Chief Learning Officer for Rosetta Stone/Lexia Learning. Dr. Liz Brooke is responsible for setting the educational vision for the company's Language and Literacy products, including the Adaptive Blended Learning (ABL) strategy that serves as the foundation for Rosetta Stone’s products and services. Liz has been working in the education sector for over 25 years and has been published in several scholarly journals. Liz joined Lexia in 2010. Prior to that, she worked as the Director of Interventions at the FCRR and she has also served as a speech-language pathologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and in the public school setting. Liz began her career in the classroom as a first-grade teacher.

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

Why I Want to Become an Education Researcher

In 2015, IES launched the Pathways to the Education Sciences research training program in order to help diversify the pipeline of education researchers. Pathways programs provide year-long training to diverse undergraduate, post-baccalaureate, and masters students. Pathways fellows receive an introduction to education research and scientific methods, meaningful opportunities to participate in education research studies, and professional development and mentoring. Currently, almost 200 students have participated in Pathways and 91 have completed training. Sixty-three percent of completed fellows are currently enrolled in graduate school (26% doctoral, 35% masters). We reached out to 6 Pathways graduates to ask them what inspired them to become education researchers. Here is what they shared with us.

Photograph of Sydnee Garcia

Sydnee Garcia

Pathways Program, University of Texas, San Antonio

Student Affairs masters student, University of Maryland, College Park

I never thought that I would end up in education. Initially, I saw myself helping others through occupational therapy. It was when I reached the University of Texas at San Antonio, my undergraduate institution, that I gained an understanding of the doors that open when someone receives a formal education. My experiences as a UTSA IES Educational Pathways Fellow also strengthened my belief that co-curricular learning is imperative for modern-day students and that all students should have access to this learning. As a current graduate student at the University of Maryland, my hope for the future is to research inequities in higher education and find effective practices to provide opportunities for students from marginalized backgrounds to find space and growth in a system that wasn't built for them. 

Photograph of James A. Hernández

James A. Hernández

PURPOSE Program, Florida State University/Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University

Education Psychology doctoral student, Florida State University

As a 5th grade teacher, I was inspired to learn more about educational research. I was constantly analyzing my students’ learning, and I knew there was a way that I could leverage their data to more effectively educate them. However, I was also aware that I did not have the proper research training to do so nor the confidence to apply to graduate school. So I did the next best thing and became a college advisor. Little did I know my passion for educational research would be further ignited as I employed theories like developmental advising models to support my students. During this experience, I eventually garnered enough courage to apply to an educational research graduate program. Through the support of the IES PURPOSE research training program, I received a research conference poster presentation award and 2nd place in presenting my research in under four minutes. Furthermore, with the IES PURPOSE resources, especially the proseminars and mentorship, I was admitted into a PhD program fully funded by the FEF McKnight fellowship. Upon graduating with my PhD, I intend to bring the educational research skills I have gained from PURPOSE and my doctoral program to the classroom by building a community laboratory school.

Photograph of Troy Kearse

Troy Kearse

RISE Program, University of Maryland, College Park/Bowie State University

Psychology doctoral student, Howard University

In my career, I am determined to become a psychologist and professor, focused on cognitive-behavioral studies, particularly for underrepresented minorities. My interest began after taking an introductory course in psychology at Prince George’s Community College. After transferring to Bowie State University my interest in the diverse field of Psychology was enhanced. My ongoing study on cognitive functioning in student success allows me to appreciate the importance of education as it relates to research. With a minor in tutoring and mentoring, I had the opportunity to work directly with students in introductory psychology courses in order to expand my experience in teaching. As the vice-president of the psychological society at BSU, I began to develop tutoring sessions for students in the form of interactive “jeopardy” games like Kahoot!, or more recently, an on-campus version of Escape Room Live to tackle this problem. Students participating in these programs have enjoyed the extra help. I believe that Project RISE was beneficial to my career goals as it continued to enhance my interest in research, as well as make a difference in academia.

Photograph of Natalie Larez

Natalie Larez

AWARDSS Program, University of Arizona

School Psychology doctoral student, University of California, Santa Barbara

Children spend most of their time within schools, allowing for much of their development to be shaped by this environment. Working with students is something that has always intrigued me. When I started my undergraduate career at the University of Arizona, I searched for opportunities that allowed me to work with students, from kindergarten to college age, especially from underrepresented backgrounds. Through these varied experiences, I quickly realized that many of these students were brilliant but were constrained by the systemic barriers that affect minority communities. Additionally, many had experienced significant trauma that was inhibiting them from moving forward. When I was presented with the opportunity to join a Pathways program, it seemed like the perfect stepping stone to a future that I could only dream of. With the support of my mentor, I was able to investigate the associations between traumatic stress symptoms, resiliency, and school outcomes and identify possible solutions to addressing the educational impact. As a result, I was admitted into a top program that will allow me to build skills to better support students in their academics, mental health, and future aspirations. The AWARDSS program was monumental for my career in research education. The AWARDSS program supported my growth in confidence, research skills, access to knowledge on how to pursue graduate school, and mentors that I will continue to work with throughout my career.

Photograph of India Simone Lenear

India Simone Lenear

RISE Training Program, North Carolina Central University/University of North Carolina Wilmington

Political Science doctoral student, Purdue University

As a child, I always thought I wanted to be a lawyer and then ultimately become the first Black woman U.S. Supreme Court Justice. I shadowed lawyers and judges, and I participated in mentoring training for future lawyers. I even took debate classes because I thought that was my passion. It was not until I took my first political science class that I realized that I really wanted to be a researcher and professor and that my passion lies in higher education. I wanted to be a professor because I loved the relationship and bond that I developed with some of my professors. I wanted to be a researcher because I wanted to be able to conduct research that would broaden and deepen the scope of research within political science. As I began to understand what my passion really was, I was offered an opportunity to participate in the RISE training program, by way of my extracurricular activities on campus. I immediately knew that I needed to take this opportunity. Over the next year, the RISE program helped to train and mold the way I think critically about issues and topics I want to address, while also being able to navigate the requirements and expectations of being a researcher. The skills that RISE taught me have allowed me to become a great student researcher. I am now happy to say that I am enrolled full-time in a political science doctoral program at Purdue University, where I plan to study American politics in education with a focus on race and ethnic politics, identity politics, and Black feminist theory as it impacts students in college.

Tseng Meng Vang

Pathways Program, California State University, Sacramento

Human Development doctoral student, University of California, Davis

My experience as a Hmong American in the United States inspired me to become an education researcher. I still recall the moment my high school teacher telling our class about the college attainment rate of different ethnic groups and being told that Hmong American’s college attainment rate was one of the lowest of all the ethnic groups. This finding made me question why Hmong Americans were performing poorly compared to the general Asian American classification. Since this issue is so close to home for me, I was inspired to understand protective and risk factors of college attainment.

Compiled by Katina Rae Stapleton, National Center for Education Research. This post is the second in an ongoing series of blog posts on issues of diversity, inclusion, and equity within education research.