IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Teach a Researcher to Fish: Training to Build Capacity for IES Data Analysis

The Institute of Education Sciences is pleased to announce upcoming training opportunities to help researchers study the state of adult skills and competencies. Training Researchers to Use PIAAC to Further Multidisciplinary Research is a hands-on, interactive training to build the field’s capacity for conducting research using data from the OECD Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).

Picture of students participating in trainingThe training, conducted by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), aims to teach researchers how to use IES data and data tools for further, independent research beyond the training so that they can meet the emerging needs of policymakers and practitioners needs for years to come.

This program is an example of the various ways that IES is building the evidence base in education. The training is supported by a Methods Research Training grant from the National Center for Education Research. It uses PIAAC data, which in the U.S. were collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The training also uses data tools that are available through NCES.

Beginning this August, ETS is holding 3-day and 1-day PIAAC trainings in cities throughout the U.S. These trainings will bring together researchers from various organizations and institutions to learn not only about the data and tools but also about how to use them to address important questions about policy-related research from a wide host of fields including education, gerontology, sociology, public health, economics, workforce development, and criminal justice and corrections education. These trainings will culminate with an IES/ETS-sponsored conference in Washington, D.C. in December 2018, during which participants will have an opportunity to present their research.

Who is Eligible?

Researchers from universities, research firms, or other organizations (e.g., advocacy groups, local governments) and who have a doctoral degree or are graduate students in a doctoral programs, experience with statistical packages (e.g., SAS, SPSS) and with secondary data analysis, and an interest in adult learning, skills, and competencies.

What Does it Cost?

The training itself is free for participants, and participants who are U.S. citizens or U.S. permanent residents will receive assistance to cover housing and per diem during the training. Visit the training website for more information about possible finical assistance.

When is the Training? How do I Apply?

The training will take place several times in the coming months:

  • August 30-Sept. 1, 2017 in Chicago;
  • October 2-4, 2017 in Atlanta; 
  • December 4-6, 2017 in Houston;
  • April 13, 2018 in New York City (at the AERA Annual Conference)
  • Culminating Conference: December 1-3, 2018, in Washington, DC

Visit the ETS training website for more information about the program and the most up-to-date schedule. Registration is open and can be completed online.

Written by Meredith Larson, Program Officer, National Center for Education Research


Building CASL: Improving Education through Cognitive Science Research

(Updated on Oct. 20, 2017)

In its 15 years, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) has helped build the evidence base in many areas of education. One of the key areas where IES has focused in that time has been on Cognition and Student Learning – or CASL. 

The CASL program was established with the purpose of bringing what we know from laboratory-based cognitive science research to the classroom. In 2002, IES funded eight CASL grants—an investment of about $4.9 million. A lot has changed over 15 years. First, the CASL program has increased significantly in size. To date, CASL has funded 165 projects, representing a total investment of over $200 million. 

Second, the CASL program has expanded its research to cover a wider range of cognitive science topics. In the 2000s, many of the cognitive principles studied in education research came from what we know about how the memory system works. This makes sense, as cognitive scientists who study memory have always been thinking about the kinds of issues that are important in a classroom, such as how students encode, retain and successfully recall information.

More recently, the CASL program has supported research across a range of cognitive science topics, even those that do not seem on the surface to be directly relevant to education practice. For example, cognitive scientists who study attention and perception have made contributions to our understanding of how those processes affect learning and retention. These findings have provided the foundational knowledge necessary to design better textbooks, develop education technologies, and even inform how teachers should decorate their classroom walls.

Through CASL, researchers have developed and fine-tuned the process of working in school settings on complex problems of education practice and have developed effective models for moving back and forth between the laboratory and the classroom to advance both theory and practice. Through the CASL program, we now have many different examples of how cognitive science can improve teaching and learning:

  • Want to see how to use cognitive science principles to transform a curriculum? See the National Research & Development Center on Cognition & Mathematics Instruction’s work on the Connected Math Project (CMP) curriculum;
  • Want to see how small changes to instructional materials can make a big impact on student learning? See Nicole McNeil’s research on how best to teach the meaning of the equals sign, as one of many examples; and
  • Want to think about a completely different model for improving students’ STEM outcomes? See Holly Taylor’s project, where her team is further developing and pilot testing Think 3d!, an origami and pop-up paper engineering curriculum designed to teach spatial skills to students.

Sharing the Research

In 2007, findings from CASL research were included in a set of recommendations for educators to use in the classroom. Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning was one of the first Educator’s Practice Guides published by the What Works Clearinghouse (another IES program) and was one of the first attempts to synthesize research from cognitive science in ways that would be useful for practitioners. The guide identified a set of effective learning principles, including:

  • spacing learning over time;
  • interleaving worked examples;
  • combining verbal and visual descriptions of concepts;
  • connecting abstract and concrete representations of concepts;
  • using quizzing to promote learning;
  • helping students allocate study time efficiently; and
  • asking deep, explanatory questions.

While the practice guide was successful in its goal of reaching a broader audience, many policymakers, practitioners, and even education researchers from other fields were still unaware of these principles. However, we have recently seen an uptick in the production of summaries of effective learning principles based in cognitive science for various stakeholders, like teachers, parents, and policymakers. Importantly, these summaries appear to be reaching people outside of the cognitive science and learning sciences communities.

Perhaps most well-known among these is Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, by Peter Brown, Mark McDaniel, and Henry Roediger, a popular book published by Harvard University Press (pictured). The book includes findings from research Roediger and McDaniel conducted through three IES-funded CASL grants. CASL research also informed other publications, including The Science of Learning by Deans for Impact and Learning about Learning by the National Council on Teacher Quality.

CASL has come a long way in 15 years, but there are still many gaps in our understanding of how people learn and in how that knowledge can be applied effectively in the classroom to improve learning outcomes for all students. We look forward to sharing more about what IES-funded researchers are learning over the next 15 years and beyond.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This blog post was updated to reflect the FY 2017 awards , increasing the number of CASL grants to 165. 

Written by Erin Higgins, Program Officer for the Cognition and Student Learning program, National Center for Education Research



The 2017 Condition of Education Report

By Peggy Carr, Acting Commissioner of NCES

I am pleased to announce the release of the 2017 Condition of Education, a Congressionally-mandated annual report summarizing the latest data on education in the United States. This report is designed to help policymakers and the public monitor educational progress. This year’s report includes 50 indicators on topics ranging from prekindergarten through postsecondary education, as well as labor force outcomes and international comparisons. 

The Condition includes an At a Glance section, which allows readers to quickly make comparisons within and across indicators, and a Highlights section, which captures a key finding or set of findings from each indicator. The report contains a Reader’s GuideGlossary, and a Guide to Data Sources that provide additional information to help place the indicators in context. In addition, each indicator references the data tables that were used to produce the indicator, most of which are on the Digest of Education Statistics website.

In addition to the regularly-updated annual indicators, this year’s report highlights innovative data collections and analyses from across the Center with a series of spotlight indicators. Selected findings include:

  • Student risk factors (poverty and low parent educational attainment) at kindergarten entry are associated with lower academic achievement in kindergarten through grade 3;
  • 2.5 percent of students in U.S. public elementary and secondary schools were reported as homeless in 2014-15. The percentage of students reported as homeless ranged from 2.0 percent in suburban school districts to 2.4 percent in rural districts, 2.6 percent in town districts, and 3.7 percent in city districts;
  • Among first-time college students in 2011-12, the percentage of students who were still enrolled or had graduated after 3 years was higher for students who began at 4-year institutions (80 percent) than for those who began at 2-year institutions (57 percent); and
  • 16 percent of 25- to 64-year-olds who had not completed high school had one or more disabilities in 2015, compared to 4 percent of those who had completed a bachelor’s degree and 3 percent of those who had completed a master’s or higher degree. Adults with disabilities were far less likely to be employed and far more likely to not be in the labor force compared to their peers without disabilities. Among those who had obtained higher levels of education, the differences between adults with and without disabilities were smaller.

In addition, two indicators provide insights from the Center’s recent work on technology in education. The first previews key findings from the Center’s upcoming report, Student Access to Digital Learning Resources Outside of the Classroom. For example, the percent of students who use the Internet at home varied by parental education level in 2015, ranging from 42 percent for children whose parents had not completed high school to 71 percent for those whose parents had completed a bachelor’s or higher degree.  The second shows that in 2014 female students scored higher than male students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s 8th-grade Technology and Engineering Literacy assessment.

As new data are released, indicators will be updated and made available on the Condition of Education website. In addition, the Center produces a wide range of reports and datasets designed to help inform policymakers and the public. For more information on our latest activities and releases, please visit us online or follow us on Twitter and Facebook. You can also watch the video below for more information on the Condition of Education report.

IES Grantees Recognized by Council for Exceptional Children

Several IES-funded researchers were recently recognized for their contributions to the field of special education by the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) Division of Research. They were honored at the CEC Convention and Expo in April.

Kathleen Lane is the 2017 recipient of CEC’s Kauffman-Hallahan-Pullen Distinguished Research Award, which recognizes individuals or research teams who have made outstanding scientific contributions in basic or applied research in special education over the course of their careers.

Dr. Lane (pictured, right), Professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Kansas’ School of Education, received a 2006 National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) grant through which she refined and pilot tested Project WRITE, a writing intervention focused on students in elementary school with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD). She is currently the PI of a researcher-practitioner partnership project with Lawrence Public Schools in Kansas, examining the implementation of the Comprehensive, Integrated, Three-tiered (CI3T) Model of Prevention, which blends principles of Response-to-Intervention and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports. In addition, she served as one of the co-chairs of the 2016 IES Principal Investigators’ Meeting and is currently serving as a primary mentor to another award recipient, Robin Parks Ennis (see below).

Erin Barton and Christopher Lemons are the recipients of the 2017 Distinguished Early Career Research Award, an honor that recognizes individuals with outstanding scientific contributions in special education research within the first 10 years after receiving a doctoral degree. They are both Assistant Professors of Special Education at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development.

Dr. Barton (pictured, far left) is currently developing and pilot testing the Family Behavior Support App, an intervention aimed at supporting parents of young children with disabilities and challenging behaviors. Dr. Lemons (pictured, near left) served as Principal Investigator (with Cynthia Puranik) on two IES-funded projects – a NCSER-funded project focused on developing an intervention to improve reading instruction for children with Down Syndrome as well as a project funded by the National Center for Education Research that focused on developing an intervention to help kindergarten children learn to write. He was also a recipient of a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) in 2016.

Robin Parks Ennis (pictured, right) is the recipient of the 2017 Distinguished Early Career Publication Award, which recognizes an outstanding research publication by an individual within the five years of receiving a doctoral degree.

Dr. Ennis, an Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, is recognized for her paper, “Classwide Teacher Implementation of Self-Regulated Strategy Development in Writing with Student with E/BD in a Residential Facility,” published in the Journal of Behavioral Education. She is currently the PI of a NCSER-funded Early Career Development and Mentoring grant in which she is developing a professional development model for teachers to implement a classroom-based, low-intensity strategy called Instructional Choice for students with and at risk for Emotional Disturbance.

Last year’s CEC Distinguished Early Career Research Award recipient and NCSER-funded researcher, Brian Boyd (pictured, left), gave an invited presentation at this year’s convention on Advancing Social-Communication and Play (ASAP). This is an intervention targeting the social-communication and play skills of preschoolers with autism. Dr. Boyd is an Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina’s School of Medicine.

Congratulations to all the CEC Division of Research Award Winners!

Written by Wendy Wei, Program Assistant, and Amy Sussman, Program Officer, NCSER








How financially literate are U.S. 15-year-olds?

By Lauren Musu-Gillette

Individuals are required to make a large number of financial decisions throughout the course of their lifetime, and financial literacy is an important skill for tasks ranging from setting a budget to saving money for retirement. A good foundation in financial literacy can help adolescents enter higher education and the workforce with a better understanding of how to make informed decisions.

The United States participated in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) financial literacy assessment in order to assess the financial literacy of a nationally representative sample of U.S. 15-year-olds. Students from 14 other education systems around the world also participated. Results are also available for Massachusetts and North Carolina. A recent NCES Data Point shows how U.S. students compare to their peers in other countries.

In 2015, The U.S. average score on the PISA financial literacy assessment was not measurably different from the average of the 10 participating Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. The U.S. average was lower than the average in six education systems, higher than the average in six, and not measurably different from the average in two education systems. The U.S. average score did not change measurably from 2012–the last time the assessment was conducted–to 2015.

As part of the PISA financial literacy assessment, students were tested on their knowledge and understanding of fundamental elements of the financial world, including financial concepts, products, and risks, and their ability to apply what they know to real-life situations involving financial issues and decisions. More information about the assessment, including sample questions, is available here.

Sample Financial Literacy Assessment Question

SOURCE: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) Financial Literacy Assessment, 2012.

Ten percent of U.S. 15-year-olds scored at the top proficiency level on financial literacy in 2015. Students reaching level 5 on the PISA assessment of financial literacy demonstrate that they can apply their understanding of a wide range of financial terms and concepts to contexts that may only become relevant to their lives in the long term.[1] The percentage of students in the United States who scored at this level was lower than the OECD average and lower than the average in five education systems. It was higher than the average score in eight education systems and not measurably different from one country (Russian Federation).

Percentage of 15-year-old students performing at PISA financial literacy proficiency level below level 2 and at level 5, by education system: 2015

*p<.05. Percentage is significantly different than the U.S. percentage at the .05 level of statistical significance.
NOTE: Education systems are ordered by 2015 percentages of 15-year-olds at level 5. The OECD average shown here is the average of the national percentages of the 10 OECD member countries that participated in the financial literacy assessment, with each education system weighted equally. B-S-J-G (China) refers to the four PISA participating China provinces: Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Guangdong. Canadian provinces refers to the seven provinces that participated in the financial literacy assessment: British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Prince Edward Island. Italics indicate non-OECD countries and education systems. Results for Massachusetts and North Carolina are for public school students only. The score point ranges for the proficiency levels are shown in exhibit 1 and the standard errors of the estimates are shown in table FL3b available at
SOURCE: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for International Student Assessment (PISA),2015.


The percentage of U.S. 15-year-old students scoring below level 2, which is considered a baseline level of proficiency by the OECD, was 22 percent.[2] The U.S. percentage of low performers in 2015 was higher than four education systems and lower than five. The U.S. percentage did not differ significantly from that of the Netherlands, Australia, Poland, Italy, Spain, and the OECD average.

There was no measurable difference in the average financial literacy assessment scores for males and females in the United States in 2015. Females scored higher than males, on average, in five countries and lower than males in one country.

Difference in average scores of 15-year-old male and female students on the PISA financial literacy scale, by education system: 2015

# Rounds to zero.
NOTE: Education systems are ordered by absolute male-female difference in 2015 average score. Differences were computed using unrounded numbers. Scores are reported on a scale from 0 to 1,000. The OECD average is the average of the national average score differences of the 10 OECD member countries, with each system weighted equally. Standard error is noted by s.e. Italics indicate non-OECD countries and education systems. B-S-J-G (China) refers to the four PISA participating China provinces: Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Guangdong. Canadian provinces refers to the seven provinces that participated in the financial literacy assessment: British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Prince Edward Island. Results for Massachusetts and North Carolina are for public school students only. The average scores and standard errors are shown in table FL7.
SOURCE: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), 2015.

For more information on the results of the PISA 2015 literacy assessment, see our recently released Data Point, or explore additional data tables on our website.


[1] Students scoring at this level can analyze complex financial products and can take into account features of financial documents that are significant but unstated or not immediately evident, such as transaction costs. They can work with a high level of accuracy and solve non-routine financial problems, and they can describe the potential outcomes of financial decisions, showing an understanding of the wider financial landscape, such as income tax.

[2] Students scoring at level 2 begin to apply their knowledge of common financial products and commonly used financial terms and concepts. They can use given information to make financial decisions in contexts that are immediately relevant to them. They can recognize the value of a simple budget and can interpret prominent features of everyday financial documents. They can apply single basic numerical operations, including division, to answer financial questions. They show an understanding of the relationships between different financial elements, such as the amount of use and the costs incurred. Students scoring at level 1 can identify common financial products and terms and interpret information relating to basic financial concepts. They can recognize the difference between needs and wants and can make simple decisions on everyday spending. They can recognize the purpose of everyday financial documents such as an invoice and apply single and basic numerical operations (addition, subtraction or multiplication) in financial contexts that they are likely to have experienced personally.