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Institute of Education Sciences

Spotlight on American Education Week, Part 1: Celebrating U.S. Public Education with the National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS)

In 1921, the National Education Association (NEA) sponsored the first American Education Week to express gratitude for U.S. public school educators who work hard every day to ensure all students receive a quality education. To celebrate education professionals working in the more than 98,000 U.S. public schools during this year’s American Education Week, NCES will share facts and figures from the National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS) in two blogs (read part 2 here).

The NTPS is a great resource for educators looking to better understand the characteristics and experiences of their professional communities both nationally and by state (using the NTPS State Dashboard). The NTPS collects information about school conditions and the demographics of public and private school teachers and principals, providing data that policymakers and researchers use to inform funding and other decisions.

In honor of American Education Week, here are some selected facts and figures about U.S. public schools from the NTPS (note that these data were collected prior to the coronavirus pandemic).

AEW Day 1: U.S. Public Schools (2017–18 NTPS)

  • The majority of elementary teachers teach in self-contained classrooms (i.e., they instruct the same group of students all or most of the day), while the majority of middle and high school teachers teach in departmentalized classrooms (i.e., they teach several classes of different students all or most of the day in different subjects).[1]
    • The average class size for teachers in self-contained classrooms in primary schools was 21 students (figure 1).
    • The average class size for teachers in departmentalized classrooms in middle schools was 25 students, which was higher than the average class size for teachers in departmentalized classrooms in high schools (23 students).

Figure 1. Average class size in U.S. public schools, by class type and school level: 2017–18

NOTE: Self-contained classes are defined as instruction to the same group of students all or most of the day in multiple subjects. Departmentalized instruction is defined as instruction to several classes of different students most or all of the day in one or more subjects. Among all public school teachers, 25 percent teach self-contained classes in primary schools, 1 percent do so in middle schools, and 1 percent do so in high schools; 8 percent teach departmentalized classes in primary schools, 14 percent do so in middle schools, and 24 do so percent in high schools; and 15 percent teach other types of classes, such as elementary subject specialist classes, team-taught classes, and "pull-out" or "push-in" classes in primary schools, 3 percent do so in middle schools, and 3 percent do so in high schools.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), "Public School Teacher Data File," 2017–18.


AEW Day 2: Parent Involvement in U.S. Public Schools (2017–18 NTPS)

The National Parent Teacher Association reports that “the most accurate predictors of student achievement in school are not family income or social status, but the extent to which the family . . . becomes involved in the child’s education at school.”[2]

  • Most U.S. public schools offered at least one opportunity for parents and/or guardians to participate in an event or activity at their child’s school, such as parent-teacher conferences and back-to-school nights.
  • Among principals in schools that offered various opportunities for parent participation, the percentages of primary school principals who reported that 76–100 percent of parents attended an engagement opportunity were higher than the percentages of middle and high school principals for most opportunities (figure 2).
    • More parents of primary school students than parents of middle and high school students attended open house or back-to-school night events, parent-teacher conferences, subject-area events,[3] and parent education workshop courses; volunteered in the school; and signed a school-parent compact.[4]

Figure 2. Percentage of principals in schools that offered various opportunities for parent participation who reported that 76–100 percent of parents participated in different opportunities, by opportunity type and school level: 2017–18

! Interpret data with caution. The coefficient of variation (CV) for this estimate is between 30 and 50 percent.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), "Public School Teacher Data File," 2017–18.


AEW Day 3: Education Support Professionals in U.S. Public Schools (2015–16 NTPS)

Education support professionals are nonteaching staff, including nurses, librarians, and student support services professionals (such as school counselors, psychologists, social workers) whose contributions keep schools organized and help students stay safe, healthy, and ready to learn.

  • Ninety-four percent of all public schools had at least one full- or part-time counselor, psychologist, or social worker; the percentage of schools that had at least one full- or part-time counselor (81 percent) was greater than the percentages that had at least one full- or part-time psychologist (67 percent) and social worker (42 percent). Six percent had neither a counselor, psychologist, nor social worker on staff.
    • High poverty schools—schools where 75 percent or more of students were approved for the free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL) program—had fewer education support professionals on staff than did schools with lower FRPL participation rates (0–34 percent, 35–49 percent, and 50–74 percent).
      • Eight percent of high-poverty schools had neither a counselor, psychologist, nor social worker on staff, compared with 3 percent of schools with 0–34 percent or with 35–49 percent FRPL participation.

Next, in part 2 of the NTPS blog series for American Education Week, we will share facts and findings about educators.

 

In honor of American Education Week, NCES would like to thank every parent and/or guardian, education support professional, educator, and principal who makes public education possible for students every day!

The data in this blog would not be possible without the participation of teachers, principals, and school staff in the NTPS. We are currently conducting the 2020–21 NTPS to learn more about teaching experiences during the pandemic. If you were contacted about participating in the 2020–21 NTPS and have questions, please email ntps@census.gov or call 1-888-595-1338.

For more information about the National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), please visit https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/ntps/. More findings and details are available in the NTPS school, teacher, and principal reports.

 

By Julia Merlin, NCES


[1] There may be meaningful differences within the student body at middle and high schools that offer self-contained classrooms that differ from the characteristics of those students in self-contained classrooms at primary schools.
[2] National PTA. 2000. Building Successful Partnerships: A Guide for Developing Parent and Family Involvement Programs. Bloomington, Indiana: National Education Service, 11–12.
[3] Special subject-area events include events such as science fairs and concerts.
[4] A school-parent compact is an agreement between school community members (e.g., parents, principals, teachers, students) that acknowledges the shared responsibility for students learning and/or the school's policies.

Recent Report Identifies Possible Categories of Adult Struggling Readers (and How to Help Them)

Nearly one in five U.S. adults aged 16 and over may struggle with basic literacy. These adults may struggle with any of the core components of reading, such as decoding, vocabulary, and comprehension. They may struggle for many different reasons—English is not their first language, possible cognitive declines from aging, or a lack of formal education. To identify the right instructional tools and curricula, we need to understand the varying needs of this heterogeneous group of adult struggling readers and design appropriate solutions.

In a recent report, IES-funded researchers conducted a latent class analysis of 542 adults (age 16- to 71-years old) enrolled in adult education programs whose reading scores indicate a reading level between the 3rd- and 8th-grade level. The analysis identified four possible subgroup categories of adult struggling readers based on their performance on lower-level competencies (phonological awareness, decoding, vocabulary) and higher-level competencies (comprehension, inferencing, background knowledge):

 

  • Globally Impaired Readers: adults who show difficulties in all competencies
  • Globally Better Readers: adults who are relatively strong in all competencies
  • Weak Decoders: readers who are relatively weaker in lower-level competencies but strong in higher-level competencies
  • Weak Language Comprehenders: readers who are strong in lower-level competencies but relatively weaker in higher-level competencies

 

On average, Weak Decoders were older than other categories, though Globally Impaired Readers were on average older than Globally Better Readers or Weak Language Comprehenders. Globally Better Readers and Weak Decoders included a larger proportion of native English speakers than the other two categories. Thus, both age and English proficiency may predict the pattern of strengths and weaknesses. However, having a high school diploma did not predict performance patterns.

Although Globally Better Readers tended to perform better on reading assessment than other categories, even this group of readers performed at the 6th-grade level on average. Thus, all groups of readers would benefit from additional instruction. The researchers suggest different approaches for addressing the needs of learners in the different categories. For example, Weak Language Comprehenders may benefit from technology-based solutions that help build their oral language competencies, whereas Globally Impaired Readers and Weak Decoders may benefit from direct instruction on decoding skills.

 


This research was conducted as part of the Center for the Study of Adult Literacy (CSAL): Developing Instructional Approaches Suited to the Cognitive and Motivational Needs for Struggling Adults funded in 2012 through NCER.

The abstract for the publication discussed above is available on ERIC; Identifying Profiles of Struggling Adult Readers: Relative Strengths and Weaknesses in Lower-Level and Higher-Level Competencies (Talwar, Amani; Greenberg, Daphne; Li, Hongli).

Dr. Meredith Larson, program officer for postsecondary and adult education, wrote this blog. Contact her at Meredith.Larson@ed.gov for additional information about CSAL and adult education research.

CALM - Child Anxiety Learning Modules: From Research to Practice at Scale in Education

Many elementary school students experience anxiety that interferes with learning and achievement, but few receive services. To expand the network of support for these young students, IES-funded researchers have turned to school nurses as a potential front-line resource. The Child Anxiety Learning Modules (CALM) intervention incorporates cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and other evidence-based strategies for school nurses to use when a child has vague somatic complaints that often signal underlying anxiety.

 

 

In 2014, IES funded a Development and Innovation grant to support the development of CALM to enhance the capacity of elementary school nurses to help children with anxiety. Based on promising findings of feasibility and reduced anxiety and fewer school absences, the development team is launching an initial efficacy trial this fall to investigate the scale up potential of the CALM intervention.

 

We asked the developers of CALM—Golda Ginsburg (University of Connecticut School of Medicine) and Kelly Drake (Founder/Director of the Anxiety Treatment Center of Maryland; Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine)—to answer a few questions for our blog. Here’s what they answered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Can you describe how the CALM intervention was developed? What led you to develop an intervention for school nurses to implement?

We have been developing and evaluating psychosocial interventions for youth with anxiety for the last two decades, and we’ve learned a lot about effective, evidence-based strategies. We know that CBT, which consists of coping strategies that target the physical, cognitive, and behavioral manifestations of anxiety, is effective in helping youth manage and reduce anxiety. Unfortunately, we’ve also learned that most youth do not receive these—or any—services to help them. To address this gap in service utilization, our efforts have focused on ways of improving access to these therapeutic strategies by broadening the pool of potential providers. Given that early interventions can reduce the long-term consequences of untreated anxiety AND that youth with anxiety often complain of troublesome physical symptoms at school, we naturally thought of school nurses as a key provider with enormous potential. However, although nurses reported spending a lot of time addressing mental health issues, they received minimal training in doing so. That’s when the idea of the CALM intervention was born. We developed the initial CALM intervention using an iterative process in which versions of the intervention and its implementation procedures were sequentially refined in response to feedback from expert consultants, school nurses, children, parents, and school personnel until it was usable in the school environment by school nurses.

 

Was it part of the original plan to develop an intervention that could one day be used at scale in schools?

Yes—absolutely! Members of the National Association of School Nurses have been on our advisory team throughout to help us plan for how to scale up the intervention if we find it helps students.

 

What was critical to consider during the research to practice process?

A central focus was to minimize burden on school staff and to integrate the intervention within the goals and mission of schools’ interdisciplinary teams. Therefore, using a multidisciplinary support team was critical in taking the intervention from a research idea to an intervention that school nurses could delivered in their real-world practice setting—schools! As clinical psychologists, we also relied on our multidisciplinary team to ensure the intervention was usable by school nurses in terms of content and flexible and feasible for their busy school day. Indeed, school nurses and school nurse organizations provided critical support for the development of CALM with a focus on feasible strategies and methods for nurses to implement. They also provided invaluable feedback regarding perceived barriers to successful implementation of the intervention and adoption by nurses and school systems, and solutions to potential barriers and options for scaling up the intervention. We also relied on experts in school-based mental health programs and those with expertise in designing, evaluating, and implementing evidence-based prevention programs in schools. We also leveraged state-level expertise by consulting with school health experts in the Connecticut State Department of Education and the Connecticut Nurses Association regarding mental health education for nurses.

 

What model are you using for dissemination and sustainability?

A wide variety of methods will be used to disseminate findings from the current study to reach different stakeholders. We will present and publish findings at 1) national scientific and practitioner-oriented conferences, 2) Maryland and Connecticut State Departments of Education and participating school districts, and 3) in relevant peer-reviewed journals. In addition, should the findings reveal a beneficial impact of the intervention, we will have the final empirically supported training and intervention materials available for broad scale implementation. The CALM intervention will be packaged to include a training seminar, training videos, nurse intervention manual, child intervention handouts, consultation/coaching plan, and assessment materials. The research team will offer training seminars with all supporting materials to school nurse organizations at the national, state, and local levels. We will also engage nurse supervisors to identify nurses—or volunteer themselves—to become trainers for newly hired nurses in the future. Finally, our current Advisory Board, which consists of members of the National Association of School Nurses (NASN), school nurses, and researchers with expertise in large scale school-based mental health program implementation and evaluation, will assist in broad dissemination and sustainability efforts.

 


Golda S. Ginsburg, Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry, University of Connecticut School of Medicine and Adjunct Professor at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, has over 25 years of experience developing and evaluating school-based interventions including school-based interventions for anxiety delivered by school clinicians, teachers, and nurses.

Kelly Drake, Ph.D., Founder/Director of the Anxiety Treatment Center of Maryland, Research Consultant with UConn, and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry in the JHU School of Medicine has extensive training and experience in clinical research with anxious youth and training clinicians in delivering CBT for children.

This interview was produced by Emily Doolittle (Emily.doolittle@ed.gov) of the Institute of Education Sciences. This is part of an ongoing interview series with education researchers, developers, and partners who have successfully advanced IES-funded education research from the university laboratory to practice at scale.

NCES Releases First-Ever Response Process Dataset—A Rich New Resource for Researchers

The NCES data file National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Response Process Data From the 2017 Grade 8 Mathematics Assessment (NCES 2020-102; documentation NCES 2020-134) introduces a new type of data—response process data—which was made possible by NAEP’s transition from paper to digitally based assessments in mathematics and reading in 2017. These new datasets allow researchers to go beyond analyzing students’ answers to questions as simply right or wrong; instead, researchers can examine the amount of time students spend on questions, the pathways they take through the assessment sections, and the tools they use while solving problems. 

NAEP reporting has hinted previously at the promise of response process data. With the release of the 2017 mathematics assessment results, NCES included a feature on The Nation’s Report Card website to show the different steps students took while responding to a question that assessed their multiplication skills. The short video below shows that students used a total of 397 different sequences to group four digits into two factors that yield a given product. The most popular correct and incorrect answer paths are shown in the video. Response process data, such as those summarized in this example item, can open new avenues for understanding how students work through math problems and identifying more detailed elements of response processes that could lead to common math errors.



In the newly released data, researchers can access student response process data from two 30-minute blocks of grade 8 mathematics assessment questions (or a total of 29 test items) and a 15-minute survey questionnaire where students responded to questions about their demographic characteristics, opportunities to learn in and outside of school, and educational experiences. Researchers can explore logs of the response process data collected from each student along with a file containing students’ raw responses and scored responses, time stamps, and demographics. In addition, researchers can explore a file that summarizes defined features of students’ interactions with the assessment, such as the number of seconds spent on specific questions or the number of times the calculator was opened across all students.

To explore this response process dataset, interested researchers should apply for a restricted-use license and request access to the files through the NCES website. By providing this dataset to a wide variety of researchers, NCES hopes to encourage and enable a new domain of research on developing best practices for the use and interpretation of student response process data.

 

By Jan Marie Alegre and Robert Finnegan, Educational Testing Service

Small Changes to Textbook Design Can Make a Big Difference for Student Learning

During spring 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of millions of U.S. schools. As schools reopened this fall, conversations have revolved around using this unique situation as a chance to rethink education and how students learn. When we think about innovative ways to improve education, ideas tend to gravitate towards radical changes to the classroom experience, expensive interventions, and costly professional development. Everyone is looking for the next “big” idea, but perhaps part of the solution lies in a more subtle, inexpensive, and less disruptive change that may be as impactful as a completely new education approach: strategic revisions to the materials teachers and students already use in their classrooms (whether in person or virtual).

Textbooks (or ebooks) and supplemental education materials are central to providing students with the content knowledge and practice experiences to support mastery of academic skills. Textbook developers spend significant time and effort to ensure that the content in those textbooks aligns to standards and provides students with the information and examples needed to understand key concepts. However, even with age-appropriate content and high-quality practice exercises, textbooks may not be effective as learning tools if they present and sequence information in a way that is not aligned to what we know about how people learn.

You may be wondering how much room there is for improvement—textbooks seem pretty good at delivering content as is, right? Actually, findings from three IES-funded projects demonstrate that there are multiple ways to improve texts and student understanding of key concepts. Here are a few of those ways:

 

Present a wide range of fraction practice problems. Textbooks focused on fractions learning tend to present more problems with equal denominators for addition and subtraction problems than for multiplication problems. Why does this matter? In IES-funded research, David Braithwaite and Bob Siegler showed that students pick up on this bias. As a result, students are more likely to make errors on equal denominator fractions multiplication problems because they are so used to seeing those problems when practicing fractions arithmetic and subtraction. The recommended minor change is to include a wider range of fractions practice problems, including equal denominator multiplication problems, to ensure that students do not form irrelevant associations between superficial features of a practice problem and the solution strategies they are practicing.

 

Provide students with a mix of practice problems that require different strategies rather than practice problems of the same type. Typical math practice involves solving the same type of problem repeatedly to practice the specific solution strategy a student just learned. However, across numerous IES-funded studies, Douglas Rohrer and his research team have shown that students benefit substantially more from math practice that involves a mix of problems that require different strategies (those learned in previous lessons mixed with those just learned). One of the major benefits of this approach is that students get practice choosing which strategy to use for a particular problem. Rohrer and his team found that across 13,505 practice problems from six popular math textbooks, only 9.7% of those problems were mixed up in this way. The recommended minor change is to simply mix up the problem sets so that students have more experiences encountering different types of problems in a single sitting.

 

Where and how you place visuals on textbook pages matters, especially when you want students to compare them. Textbooks typically use visuals such as diagrams and photos to help reinforce key concepts. In an IES-funded study, Bryan Matlen and colleagues examined anatomy and evolution chapters within three popular middle school science textbooks and found an average of 1.8 visuals per page. Students were expected to make comparisons using about a third of those visuals. Of those they had to compare, about half were positioned in suboptimal ways—that is, the images were not presented in a way that made it easy to identify how the elements of one image compare to the elements of the other. For example, imagine a student is asked to compare two x-ray images of hands to identify a bone that is missing from one of them. This task is much harder if one hand is shown upside down and the other is right-side up or perpendicular to the first image. Consistent with this example, Matlen and colleagues have conducted studies showing that visual comparisons are more effective when the features of the visuals that need to be compared are spatially aligned. The recommended minor change is to be intentional about the placement of visuals that students are supposed to be comparing; make sure they are placed in optimal alignment to each other so that it is easier for students to see how the features of one correspond to those of the other.

 

In sum, transformative, radical ideas about how to improve education are interesting to brainstorm about, but sometimes the key to improvement is identifying small changes that can deliver big results.


Written by Erin Higgins (Erin.Higgins@ed.gov), Program Officer for the Cognition and Student Learning Program, National Center for Education Research.