IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Congratulations Dr. Roddy Theobald on Winning the 2022 AEFP Early Career Award!

Headshot of Roddy TheobaldEach year, the Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP) recognizes one outstanding early career scholar whose research makes a significant contribution to the field of education finance and policy. In 2022, Dr. Roddy Theobald was the recipient of the Early Career award from AEFP. Congratulations to Dr. Theobald!

Dr. Theobald is a principal researcher in the Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). CALDER, a collaboration among researchers at AIR and several universities around the United States, uses longitudinal data to explore a wide range of policy-relevant topics in education. Dr. Theobald’s research focuses on the teacher pipeline and its implications for student outcomes. Over the years, he has been involved in multiple IES-funded projects. These projects reflect a clear commitment to improving the teacher workforce and promoting positive outcomes for students. Dr. Theobald became interested in education policy research and studying the teacher workforce as a result of his experience as a 7th grade math teacher in the Oakland Unified School District. He is particularly interested in better understanding teacher shortage areas and what schools and districts can do to address them. 

As principal investigator (PI) on a recently completed researcher-practitioner partnership project, Dr. Theobald and his team worked in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to investigate the predictive validity of the state’s pre-service teacher evaluation systems and later in-service teaching outcomes and student outcomes. Key findings showed that teacher candidate performance on the Massachusetts Candidate Assessment of Performance, a practice-based assessment of student teaching, was predictive of their in-service summative performance ratings a year later. In examining the predictive validity of the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure, results indicated that pre-service teacher scores were positively and significantly related to in-service performance ratings and value-added modeling of student test scores.

Dr. Theobald is currently the PI of a research grant that examines associations between pre-service teacher experiences (coursework, student teaching placements, and the match between student teaching experiences and early career experiences), special education teacher workforce entry and retention, and student academic outcomes. Using data on graduates of special education teacher education programs in Washington state, he found that the rate of special educator attrition is between 20-30%, which includes teachers that left public schools as well as those who moved to general education classrooms. Interestingly, the research team found that while dual endorsement in special and general education is positively associated with retention in the teaching workforce, it is negatively associated with retention in special education classrooms specifically. In terms of factors that promote retention, the research team found that better coherence between teacher preparation and early career experiences is associated with greater retention and that being supervised by a cooperating teacher endorsed in special education as part of student teaching is associated with a higher likelihood of becoming a special education teacher. The research team also found a link between preservice teacher experiences and student outcomes: students demonstrate larger reading gains when their district and the program from which their teacher graduated emphasized evidence-based literacy decoding practices and when a more experienced cooperating teacher supervised their teacher’s student teaching placement.

When we asked Dr. Theobald about the direction in which this line of research is heading, he explained, “immediate next steps in this line of work include looking at the employment outcomes of individuals trained to be special education teachers who never enter public school teaching or leave the teacher workforce, as well as better understanding the paraeducator workforce in public schools. It is also essential to understand how the special educator workforce has changed in response to the COVID pandemic, and we hope to study these changes in the years to come!”

This blog was authored by Kaitlynn Fraze, doctoral student at George Mason University and IES intern, and Katie Taylor (Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov), program officer at the National Center for Special Education Research.

Understanding the Co-Development of Language and Behavior Disorders in the Context of an Early Career Grant

The Early Career Development and Mentoring Program in Special Education provides support for investigators in the early stages of their academic careers to conduct an integrated research and career development plan focused on learners with or at risk for disabilities. Dr. Jason Chow is an assistant professor of special education at the University of Maryland, College Park and principal investigator of a current Early Career grant funded by NCSER. Dr. Chow’s research focuses on the comorbidity of language and behavior disorders in school-age children as well as teacher and related service provider training in behavior management. We recently caught up with Dr. Chow to learn more about his career, the experiences that have shaped it, and the lessons he’s learned from the Early Career grant. This is what he shared with us.

How did your experiences shape your interest in a career in special education?

Photo of Jason Chow

I first became interested in education when I started substituting for paraprofessionals in special education programs over winter and summer breaks in college, which I really enjoyed. That experience, along with a class I took in my senior year on disability in the media and popular culture, got me interested in the field of special education. After I graduated, I ended up applying for a full-time position as a paraprofessional in a program supporting high schoolers with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD).

My experiences as a paraprofessional definitely shaped my career path. As a substitute paraprofessional in college, I was surprised that my job was to support students with the most intensive needs even though I had the least amount of classroom training. That made me recognize the need for research-based training and supports for related service providers and got me interested in different factors that contribute to decision making in school systems. Another memorable experience occurred when I was working in the support program for students with EBD. All our students had the accommodation to be able to come to our room at any time of the day as needed for a check in or a break. I was alarmed by how often students needed a break because of things teachers said or did to upset them or make them feel singled out. I was also coaching several sports at the time and saw first-hand how a strong, positive relationships with the players were vital. These experiences got me interested in teacher-student relationships, how important positive interactions and experiences can be, and the need for general education teachers to receive training on working with students with disabilities. Ultimately, my work as a paraprofessional supporting kids with EBD also helped shape my interest in determining how language and communication can facilitate prosocial development, which led to my Early Career grant.

What are the goals of your NCSER Early Career grant?

My project focuses on better understanding the co-development of language and behavior in children at risk for language disorders, behavior disorders, or both in early elementary school. Many studies have examined the concurrent and developmental relations between language and behavior, but they are typically done using extant datasets. The goal of this project was to conduct a prospective study aimed at measuring both constructs in several different ways (such as direct observations, interviews, and teacher report) to provide a more robust analysis of how each of these constructs and assessment types are related over time. This type of research could inform the types of interventions provided to children with EBD and, more specifically, the need to address language impairments alongside behavior to improve academic outcomes for these learners.

How has the Early Career grant helped your development as a researcher?

This project has taught me a lot about the realities of doing school-based research and managing a grant. First, I have learned a great deal about budgeting. For example, I proposed to recruit a sample based on a power analysis I conducted for the grant application. But in my original budget, I did not consider that I would need to screen about triple the number of children I estimated in order to enroll my planned sample. I have also learned a lot about hiring, human resources, procurement, and university policies that are directly and indirectly involved in process of conducting research. Also, like many others, my project was impacted by pandemic-related school closures, and I have learned how to be flexible under unpredictable circumstances. More specifically, we had intended to determine how developmental trajectories of language and behavior were associated with academic outcomes, but we lost our outcome assessment timepoint due to the pandemic. Fortunately, we are working collaboratively with our partner schools to use district-level data to approximate some of these intended analyses. I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to learn and develop my skills in the context of a training grant.

What advice would you give to other early career researchers, including those who may be interested in applying for an Early Career grant?

Reach out to other early career grantees and ask for their proposals. (I am happy to share mine!) Just be aware that the RFA has changed over time—including a substantial increase in funds—so the more recent proposals the better. Also, in terms of setting up a strong mentorship team for your career development plan, reach out to the people whom you see as the best to support your career development (no matter how busy you think they are or if you think they are too senior). In talking with other folks, I’ve learned that generally people are very willing to support the next generation of researchers!

This interview blog is part of a larger IES blog series on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) in the education sciences. It was produced by Katie Taylor (Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov), program officer for the Early Career Development and Mentoring program at the National Center for Special Education Research.

New IES Grantee Focuses on Improving Adult Literacy

In her first IES grant, Dr. Elizabeth Tighe (Georgia State University) is taking expertise honed in both an NCER predoctoral fellowship and PIAAC methods training program to help further adult literacy research. Her earlier work includes developing assessments for adults with low literacy, leveraging statistical approaches to understand these adults’ abilities and difficulties, and using eye-tracking paradigms to explore their ability to self-monitor during reading. 

Program officer, Meredith Larson, interviewed Dr. Tighe about her previous work and new grant.

What is your general area of research, and why is it important?

I focus on adult struggling readers, which comprises roughly 36 million (1 in 6) adults in the U.S. Only a fraction of these adults enroll in adult education programs, which are plagued by insufficient funding, high teacher turnover rates, and a lack of research-based instructional practices and curricula. By better understanding these adults’ strengths and deficits and how best to measure their skills, I aim to inform and improve adult education programs.

What could people do with your research?

My research could directly inform how we help adults become stronger readers, and this can improve educational outcomes, such as GED attainment. I am working towards building better assessments for adult education practitioner and researcher use. My longer-term goal is to design a curriculum to teach morphology (e.g., prefixes and suffixes) and use this to improve adults’ vocabulary and reading comprehension.

What are you trying to learn through your new IES project?

For this grant, I’m using the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), a large-scale, international assessment of adult literacy, numeracy, and digital problem-solving skills, to create risk profiles of adults with low literacy skills. This sort of information could move us closer to being able to individualize instruction in adult education programs to match the needs of specific learners.

We will use PIAAC data to explore how demographic characteristics (age, race/ethnicity, educational background, employment status) and malleable factors (enjoyment of learning, frequency of computer use, reading and writing behaviors at home and at work) influence low literacy performance.

Further, we are examining whether risk factors differ by whether someone has a high school diploma and whether someone has participated in education or training recently. We will also explore whether reading components and literacy skills are predictive of low-skilled adults’ numeracy skills.

Our findings could have important implications for understanding risk factors and predictors of low literacy as well as low numeracy. As stated previously, 1 in 6 U.S. adults have low literacy skills and nearly 1 in 3 have low numeracy skills. For GED attainment, adults must demonstrate proficiency in both of these areas (along with science, social studies, and writing knowledge). It’s important to have targeted, individualized instruction for these adults because they may have time or resource barriers.

How did this particular research project arise?

I first learned about PIAAC at a summer institute. I was intrigued, in particular, because PIAAC is the first assessment of this size to include a reading component supplement for lower-skilled adults.

I recently attended a 3-day NCER/ETS PIAAC training workshop, which allowed me to work with PIAAC data and network with others. This workshop influenced my decision to apply for an IES grant. I felt that a 2-year grant using extant data would be a great way to combine my interests regarding individual differences in adults’ component skills and get my feet wet with IES as a new investigator. I am excited to bridge my interests and grow as a researcher by learning and working alongside two experts (Drs. Yaacov Petscher and John Sabatini) in the larger reading and education field!

Supporting Early Career Researchers

An important part of the mission at the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is to support the work of scholars who are early in their independent research careers. An example of that commitment can be seen in the latest round of grants from the National Center for Education Research (NCER), which includes eight grants being led by early career scholars.  These principal investigators are all individuals who began their independent research careers within the last five years.

Under the Education Research Grants competition, there are four NCER-funded grants that were awarded to early career scholars.

Abigail Gray, Senior Research Specialist at the University of Pennsylvania, who was an IES predoctoral fellow, is now leading a grant to study the efficacy of Zoology One, an integrated science and literacy intervention for kindergarten students. At the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Assistant Professor Stephen Becker is examining the academic, social, and emotional problems experienced by children with sluggish cognitive tempo—specific attention-related symptoms such as excessive daydreaming, mental confusion, and slowed thinking or behavior. 

       

(From l to r: Abigail Gray, Stephen Becker, Shaun Dougherty, and Sonia Cabell)

Shaun Dougherty, Assistant Professor at the University of Connecticut, is looking at whether attending a high school in the Connecticut Technical High School System has an impact on achievement, high school graduation, and college enrollment. And Sonia Cabell, a Research Scientist from the University of Virginia, is leading a team that will study the efficacy of the Core Knowledge Language Arts Listening and Learning intervention for children in kindergarten through second grade. This program is designed to guide teachers in their reading out loud to their students in classrooms.

NCER awarded another set of Early Career grants through its Statistics and Research Methodology in Education grant program. This year, NCER made three awards under this competition.

      

(From l to r: Chun Wang, James Pustejovsky‚Äč, Nathan VanHoudnos, and Benjamin Castleman)

Finally, Benjamin Castleman, Assistant Professor at the University of Virginia, is leading a team in the Scalable Strategies to Support College Completion Network. Research Networks involve a number of research teams working together to address a critical education problem or issue. Castleman’s team will examine whether text messages that provide personalized information will help students at open- and broad-access enrollment institutions to complete their degrees.

Written by Becky McGill-Wilkinson, Education Research Analyst, NCER

IES Grantees Receive Award for Early Career Scientists and Engineers

By Dana Tofig, Director of Communications, IES

President Obama has named two Institute of Education Sciences (IES) grantees as recipients of the prestigious Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers. This is the highest honor given by the U.S. Government to science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

Christopher Lemons, of Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, and Cynthia Puranik, of Georgia State University, will be honored at a White House ceremony in the spring, along with 103 other recipients of the award. They were nominated for the award by the leadership of IES and the recipients were announced Thursday.

The awards, established by President Clinton in 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. According to a White House statement, “the awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach.”

Lemons and Puranik have both served as principal investigators for IES’ National Center for Education Research and National Center for Special Education Research.  Among the IES-funded research they have conducted together are “Enhancing Reading Instruction for Children with Down Syndrome: A Behavioral Phenotypic Approach” and “Peer Assisted Writing Strategies.”

Dr. Puranik, who was at the University of Pittsburgh when she was nominated, is currently an associate professor of Communications Sciences and Disorders in the College of Education and Human Development at Georgia State University in Atlanta. She is also an affiliate faculty for the Research on the Challenges of Acquiring Language and Literacy Initiative at Georgia State. In addition to the IES-funded research above, Dr. Puranik, was also the Principal Investigator for grant that sought to develop a test of emergent writing skills.

Dr. Lemons is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Special Education at Peabody College of Vanderbilt University and a member of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center in Nashville. He is also co-director of the National Center for Leadership on Intensive Intervention, a senior advisor for the National Center on Intensive Intervention, and serves on the board of a number of scholarly journals, including his work as associate editor for the American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.