IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Conducting Education Research During Covid-19

Since the start of the pandemic, we have all heard about the unprecedented changes to schooling in the U.S. and the ways that educators, students, and families have been adapting to the new reality.

Education researchers have also been adapting their work due to school closings, canceled testing, and different school reopening plans in the 2020-21 school year.

How have education researchers handled the new reality?

Some researchers have been busy compiling and disseminating research findings to support districts and schools to continue instruction during the pandemic. For example, evidence-based recommendations were made available to help parents and schools pivot to a virtual environment (from very young children up to the postsecondary level), maintain engagement, address mental health (including in rural areas), protect against learning loss, and decide how to prioritize needs when considering re-opening. And many education technology researchers and developers have provided online resources to schools.

Other researchers have been working hard to understand the overall disruption to schooling due to COVID-19 and the ramifications on student learning around the world.  For example, there have been efforts to keep track of school closures, document what is happening in schools across the country (including in rural districts), study the switch to online learning and attend to unequal access to technology for remote learning, forecast funding scenarios, and examine changes in teacher recruitment.

In addition, education researchers are thinking about new ways to conduct research in light of the changes to schooling. They are looking at alternatives to standardized testing, new approaches to teaching and learning to strengthen schools moving forward, and ways to rebuild our education systems after the pandemic. Indeed, there are myriad ways that education researchers can and are using their skills to continue to support education during this unprecedented time.

How has COVID-19 impacted IES-funded education research studies?

IES realizes that the pandemic has changed things in ways that may complicate education research – both how it is conducted and how it is interpreted. So, we are actively working with grantees to help ensure the integrity of their work and to respond to the needs, interests, and concerns of the schools and colleges they are working with and the communities they are trying to help. In a follow-up to an IES-funded study on students in foster care, a researcher-practitioner partnership in Colorado is examining the implications of challenging circumstances such as COVID-19 on the postsecondary education of vulnerable youth.

Many IES-funded researchers have had to alter their research plans to accommodate the needs of their partner schools and overcome the challenges posed by the abrupt transition to virtual learning. Because of continued uncertainty, they may need to change plans again. Program officers at IES have been working with grantees on a case-by-case basis to adapt their timelines and, in some cases, their research designs.

IES’s priority is to help researchers maintain scientific rigor while holding a realistic view of what can and cannot be done this year. As we work with our grantees, we take into consideration where the project is in its overall timeline. For example, if the project has collected all of its data and is in the final analysis stage, the remaining work may not be affected. Or, if a project has not yet started to begin an intervention in schools, it can pause during the 2020-2021 academic school year and resume in 2021-2022. Still, other projects may find themselves unable to either continue or pause. These projects may not be able to achieve their initial purpose and may need to end.

Despite some of the challenges, the pandemic offers a unique natural experiment for learning and instruction, as well as opportunities for innovation that can ultimately benefit education. IES, our funded researchers, and the communities that rely on research evidence continue to pull in the same direction: building strong evidence to inform policy and practice. Through collaboration and dialog, we will work together to ensure that data and results are meaningful, valid, and as timely as possible. IES will continue to focus on high-quality education research to improve student learning and achievement both now and in the future.

Stay tuned for future blog posts on what our researchers are doing to address some of the challenges that face educators, families, and policymakers during this unprecedented time!


Written by Corinne Alfeld (Corinne.Alfeld@ed.gov), National Center for Education Research.  

Back to School During COVID19: Developers and Researchers Continue to Respond to Support In-Class and Remote Teaching and Learning

Many programs across the Federal government, such as the ED/IES Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and the IES Research Grants programs, fund projects to develop and evaluate new forms of education technology and interventions that can be implemented to support instruction and learning at schools and for remote learning. More than 150 of these technologies were demoed in January 2020 at the ED Games Expo, a showcase for learning games and technologies developed with support from IES and more than 30 other Federal programs.

Since the global outbreak of COVID19 and the closure of schools across the United States and the world, a group of government-supported developers and researchers responded to provide resources to educators, students, and families to facilitate remote learning. More than 50 developers and researchers offered 88 learning games and technologies at no cost through the end of the school year for use in distance learning settings with internet access (see this blog for the list). In addition, many of the developers and researchers provided technical assistance directly to individual teachers to support implementation at a distance, and many created new materials and worked to refine and adapt their products to optimize usability and feasibility for fully remote use. More than a million students and thousands of educators used these learning technologies during the spring.

In April and May 2020, more than 70 developers and researchers partnered to produce and participate in a series of free day-long virtual events, which were called “unconferences.” The events featured presentations on innovative models and approaches to teaching and learning remotely and provided an in-depth look at the learning games and technologies created by the presenters. More than 25,000 educators attended these virtual events in real-time, hundreds asked questions and made comments through chats during the events, and many thousands more have accessed these videos after the events. See this blog for the list of archived videos.

A New Resource: Guides to Education Technologies that are Ready Now

As schools begin re-opening for the new school year, a group of 70 developers and researchers have collaborated to produce a new series of Guides to Education Technologies. The guides present information on government-supported education technology products that are ready now for in-class and remote learning. All the resources are web-based and can be used on either computers, tablets, or personal devices. The resources in the guides include a mix of no-cost products as well as ones that are fee-based.  

With awards from government programs, all of the resources were developed through an iterative process with feedback from teachers and students, and most were evaluated through small pilot studies to measure the promise of the technologies to support improvements in student learning and relevant educational outcomes. All the products were used and demonstrated to be feasible for use in remote settings in the spring after the onset of the pandemic.

The guides present resources appropriate for young children through postsecondary students in education and special education, for English learners, and for teachers in education and special education across a wide range of educational topics. Many of the technologies personalize learning by adjusting content to students as they go and present information to educators to inform instruction.

The Guides focus on the following areas and can be accessed below:

 

Stay tuned to the Inside IES Blog for more information and resources about the response to the COVID-19 in education.


Edward Metz (Edward.Metz@ed.gov) 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.

 

Addressing Mental Health Needs in Schools PreK to 12: An Update

As the month of May draws to a close in this unprecedented time of COVID-19, recognizing May as National Mental Health Awareness Month has taken on new significance. Organizations such as the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) have long advocated for school-based mental health services to address the lack of access to mental health treatment in the United States for children and youth. In a 2016 blog, we provided a snapshot of the PreK to 12 school-based mental health research that the National Center for Education Research (NCER) had supported up to that point. With schools closed and uncertainty about when they will open, we are keeping an eye on these and more recent projects to see how IES-funded researchers and their school partners have addressed or are addressing mental health needs.

Preschool

  • Jason Downer (University of Virginia) developed the Learning to Objectively Observe Kids (LOOK) protocol to help prekindergarten teachers identify and understand children’s engagement in preschool and choose appropriate techniques to support children’s self-regulation skills.

Elementary School

  • Golda Ginsburg (University of Connecticut) and Kelly Drake (Johns Hopkins University) developed the CALM (Child Anxiety Learning Modules) protocol for elementary school nurses to work with children who have excessive anxiety.
  • Desiree Murray (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) is testing the Incredible Years Dina Dinosaur Treatment Program (IY-child) for helping early elementary school students with social-emotional and behavioral difficulties. This study is nearly complete, and findings will be available soon.
  • Gregory Fabiano (SUNY-Buffalo) adapted the Coaching Our Acting Out Children: Heightening Essential Skills (COACHES) program for implementation in schools. This is a clinic-based program to help fathers of children with or at risk for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) get more involved and engaged in their child's school performance. 
  • Aaron Thompson (University of Missouri) is testing the Self-Monitoring Training and Regulation Strategy (STARS) intervention to see if it can improve behavior, social emotional learning skills, and academic performance for fifth grade students who engage in disruptive or otherwise challenging classroom behaviors. The pilot study of promise is currently in progress.
  • Karen Bierman (Pennsylvania State University) is testing whether an intensive, individualized social skills training program, the Friendship Connections Program (FCP), can remediate the serious and chronic peer difficulties that 10–15 percent of elementary school students experience. Most of these students have or are at risk for emotional or behavioral disorders and exhibit social skill deficits (for example, poor communication skills, inability to resolve conflict) that alienate peers. This study is almost complete, and findings should be available soon.
  • Linda Pfiffner (UC San Francisco) is completing development of a web-based professional development program for school mental health providers to gain the skills needed to implement evidence-based practices (EBPs) for student attention and behavior problems.

Middle School

  • Joshua Langberg (Virginia Commonwealth University) refined the HOPS (Homework, Organization, and Planning Skills) program for middle school counselors and psychologists to support students with ADHD who need help with organization and time management. Dr. Langberg recently completed an efficacy trial of HOPS. In 2019, an independent research team at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia received a grant to test the effectiveness of HOPS.
  • William Pelham (Florida International University) and colleagues at SUNY Buffalo are testing the efficacy of adaptive, evidence-based classroom interventions (such as Tier 1 and Tier 2 interventions delivered through a Response to Intervention framework) for children with ADHD in a Sequential Multiple Assignment Randomized Trial (SMART) design framework.
  • Thomas Power (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) is testing the efficacy of a school-based organizational skills training program (OST-S) for students in 3rd through 5th grade with deficits in organization, time management, and planning (OTMP), key executive function skills that support success in school.
  • Desiree Murray (UNC Chapel Hill) is completing the development of a self-regulation intervention for middle school students. The intervention will adapt and integrate strategies from existing evidence-based practices that intentionally target self-regulatory processes that develop during early adolescence.
  • Catherine Bradshaw (University of Virginia) is adapting the Early Adolescent Coping Power (EACP) to the rural school context. The Rural-EACP will address the cultural and contextual challenges of providing appropriate supports to help youth with aggressive behavior challenges in rural settings.   

High School

Policy

  • Sandra Chafouleas (University of Connecticut) identified current policies and national practice related to school-based behavioral assessment to determine whether current practice follows recommended best practice, and to develop policy recommendations for behavioral screening in schools. 

Written by Emily Doolittle (Emilly.Doolittle@ed.gov), Team Lead for Social and Behavioral Research at IES, National Center for Education Research

 

Real-World Responses in Real Time: Helping Rural Schools Navigate Rising Mental Health Needs due to COVID-19

Photo of a mother consoling her daughter on a sofa

The United States has observed Mental Health Awareness Month every May since 1949 to raise awareness and educate the public about mental illnesses, including strategies and resources for supporting mental health and wellness. Mental health needs prior to the coronavirus pandemic were already enormous with 1 in 6 school age youth needing mental health support but unlikely to receive it. In fact, a recent study found that half of the estimated 7.7 million U.S. children with a treatable mental health disorder did not receive the necessary treatment from mental health professionals. This service gap is even greater in rural areas. How can rural schools support students, families, and staff during a global pandemic that has shut down school buildings and increased demand for mental health supports?

The IES-funded National Center for Rural School Mental Health is supporting partnerships with rural school districts in three states (Missouri, Virginia, and Montana) to develop and test ways to support the mental health needs of their students. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the center has compiled a set of resources for families, schools, teachers, and youth on a wide range of pandemic-related challenges.

Visit https://www.ruralsmh.org/covid19/ for information ranging from how to navigate online learning to resources for suicide prevention and protecting children exposed to drug abuse at home. Among the many resources you can find here are tips for parents to encourage cooperative behavior at home, stress management tools for educators, and telehealth tips for youth and teens. For more information about mental health needs in rural settings and how Dr. Wendy Reinke, the Center’s director, and her colleagues are working on approaches to support the mental health needs of their students, please see this previous blog post.  


Written by Emily Doolittle (Emily.Doolittle@ed.gov), National Center for Education Research (NCER) Team Lead for Social Behavioral Research

 

Real-World Responses in Real Time: Social Inequality in Access to COVID-19 Information

Whether you are a trained healthcare provider, a grocery store clerk, or a retired professor, you are probably seeking information about COVID-19 and how best to take care of yourself and others. However, your age, level of education, and other factors may influence how you seek information and how likely you are to benefit from it.

IES researchers Dr. Taka Yamashita (University of Maryland, Baltimore County) and Dr. Phyllis Cummins (Miami University) have been exploring the intersection of education, age, health, and problem solving (grant R305A170183). Program officer, Dr. Meredith Larson, spoke with them about their work and its implications during the current pandemic.

 

What has the COVID-19 epidemic brought to your attention?

For us, the COVID-19 epidemic has highlighted health information disparities by education and basic skills. In combination with other risk factors, like older age and lower income, some sub-populations are particularly vulnerable in the public health crisis. It is our sincere hope that our research underlines the urgent needs to promote education, literacy, and numeracy throughout the life course, not only to protect vulnerable populations but also to promote disaster preparedness and the well-being of our society.

What does your research suggest are important factors for predicting health information seeking behavior?

In general, we often seek health information only when we need it due to poor health. What is interesting is that, when we need health information, some sociodemographic characteristics and basic skills (for example, reading and numeracy skills) lead to differences. For example, in our analysis of PIAAC data, older age is related to lower usage of online health information sources while greater literacy skills are related to use of more online health information sources. Also, people with greater educational attainment and higher literacy skills are more likely to seek disease prevention and health promotion information from online sources and books. Overall, age, education, and literacy skills are closely and consistently related to what kind of health information sources people use and how much they do it.

How might these factors affect what people find or whether they benefit from it?

Age, education, and literacy skills differentiate how and where people seek health information. We believe that the Internet is one of the best information sources in terms of timeliness and amount of available information. However, some sub-populations, such as younger adults, those with higher education, and those with higher literacy skills, tend to take advantage of and benefit from the online health information more than their counterparts. As such, older adults, those with lower education, and those with lower literacy skills tend not only to miss online health information sources but also to under-utilize and/or mis-use health information.

What could information providers do to better reach different audiences?

Information providers could consider how and where they publish their information. For example, older adults, those with lower education, and those with lower literacy skills tend not to use online sources. Therefore, it is critical to provide accessible health information to offline sources such as newspapers and healthcare professionals (for example, face-to-face with a physician or nurse). Also, paying attention to the “at-risk” populations’ needs is important. There are simple things like using a large font, plain English and multiple languages (for example, English and Spanish) that can immediately enhance the quality of health communication.

Where can people go to learn more about this line of research?

More information about our studies on education and literacy can be found on our IES grant page. Also, one of our recent articles on literacy skills, language use, and online health information seeking among Hispanic adults in the United States has been featured in the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) health communications science digest.


Written by Meredith Larson. This is the second in a series of blog posts that explores how researchers respond to various education-related issues and challenges. The first blog post can be found here.