IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Every Transition Counts for Students in Foster Care

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Institute of Education Science funds and supports Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships (RPP) that seek to address significant challenges in education. In this guest blog post, Elysia Clemens (pictured left), of the University of Northern Colorado, and Judith Martinez (pictured right), of the Colorado Department of Education, describe the work that their IES-funded RPP is doing to better understand and improve outcomes for students in foster care.

May is Foster Care Awareness Month and 2017 is an important year for raising awareness of the educational outcomes and educational stability of students in foster care.

With passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA), provisions are now in place for states to report on the academic performance and status of students in foster care. ESSA also requires collaboration between child welfare and education agencies to ensure the educational stability (PDF) of students while they are in foster care. This includes reducing the number of school changes to those that are in a student’s best interest and ensuring smooth transitions when changing schools is necessary.

To address the need for baseline data on how students in foster care are faring academically, the University of Northern Colorado, the Colorado Department of Education, and the Colorado Department of Human Services formed a researcher-practitioner partnership in 2014. This IES-funded partnership is currently researching the connection between child welfare placement changes and school changes and how that relates to the academic success of students.

Our goals are to raise awareness of gaps in academic achievement and educational attainment, inform the application of educational stability research findings to the implementation of ESSA’s foster care provisions, and develop and maintain high-quality data that can be easily accessed and used.

Achievement and educational attainment

Until recently, Colorado students in foster care were not identified in education data sets, and child welfare agencies did not always know how the youth in their care were faring in school. The Colorado partnership linked child welfare and education data from 2008 forward and found that across school years, grade levels, and subject areas, there is an academic achievement gap of at least 20 percentage points between students in foster care and their peers (see chart from the partnership website below).

The most critical subject area was mathematics, where the proportion of students scoring in the lowest proficiency category increased with each grade level. The data also revealed that less than one in three Colorado students who experience foster care graduate with their class.


Source: The Colorado Study of Students in Foster Care (http://www.unco.edu/cebs/foster-care-research/needs-assessment-data/academic-achievement/)


Like many states, Colorado has a long way to go toward closing academic achievement gaps for students in foster care, but with the availability of better data, there is a growing interest in the educational success of these students statewide.  

Educational Stability

Educational stability provisions, such as the ones in ESSA, are designed to reduce barriers to students’ progress, such as unnecessary school moves, gaps in enrollment, and delays in the transfer of records. To estimate how much implementation of these provisions might help improve educational stability for students in foster care, we used child welfare placement dates and school move dates to determine the proportion of school moves associated with changes in child welfare placements. A five-year analysis of school moves before, during, and after foster care placements revealed that the educational stability provisions in the ESSA would apply to two-thirds of the school moves Colorado students experienced.

To fully realize this policy opportunity, we began by generating heat maps on where foster student transfers occur (an example is pictured to the right). These geographical data are being used by Colorado Department of Education and Colorado Department of Human Services to prioritize relationship-building among specific local education agencies and child welfare agencies. Regional meetings are being held to strengthen local collaboration in implementing ESSA’s mandates regarding educational stability and transportation plans.

We also summarized the frequency of school moves by the type of child welfare placement change (e.g., entry into care, transitions among different types of out-of-home placements). We found that nearly one-third of Colorado students who enter foster care also move schools at the same time. This finding can help child welfare and education agencies anticipate the need for short-term transportation solutions and develop procedures for quickly convening stakeholders to determine if a school move is in a child’s best interest.

Accessible and Usable Data

A key communication strategy of the Colorado partnership is to make the descriptive data and research findings accessible and actionable on our project website. The data and findings are organized with different audiences in mind, so that advocates, practitioners, grant writers, and policy makers can use this information for their own distinct purposes. 

The website includes infographics that provide an overview of the data and recommendations on how to close gaps; dynamic visualizations that allow users to explore the data in-depth; and reports that inform conversations and decisions about how to best serve students in foster care.

In our final year of this IES RPP grant, we will continue to identify opportunities to apply our research to inform the development of quality transportation plans and local agreements. We also will study how the interplay between the child welfare placement changes relates to academic progress and academic growth.

 

A New Research Spotlight on Educating Highly Mobile Students

Across America, schools struggle with addressing the academic and social needs of students who are homeless, in foster care, from migrant backgrounds, or military-dependent. These students typically change residences and/or schools frequently (often multiple times within a given school year) making it difficult for them to succeed academically.  

This year, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is shining a research spotlight on improving the education outcomes of highly mobile K-12 students through a new special topic within its Education Research grants program. The new Systemic Approaches to Educating Highly Mobile Students special topic invites research on:

  • support services that reduce barriers that highly mobile students typically face;
  • policies that allow highly mobile students to receive credit for full or partial coursework completed while attending their previous schools;
  • policies that facilitate the transfer of student records across jurisdictions, and help highly mobile students navigate standards, course, and graduation requirements that change from state to state;
  • policies and programs that address the academic, physical, psychological, and social needs of highly mobile students who may have experienced deprivation or trauma; and
  • state and local implementation of services for highly mobile students that are required by federal law or are provided through federally funded programs or interstate agreements.  

Through this special topic, IES also encourages studies that create or utilize shared/integrated data systems (such as records exchanges) to identify and track highly mobile students and pinpoint factors that could potentially be used to improve these students' outcomes. 

(Dr. Jill Biden, pictured above, mentioned this new special topic area in her remarks at the American Educational Research Association's annual conference as part of her focus on military families.)

Additional Opportunities for Research on Highly Mobile Students

Researchers who are interested in studying highly mobile pre-K students are invited to apply through to the Early Learning Programs and Policies topic. Similarly, researchers who are interested increasing highly mobile students’ access to, persistence in, progress through, and completion of postsecondary education are invited to apply through the Postsecondary and Adult Education Research topic. 

IES also encourages researchers to partner with local school districts or state education agencies to carry out initial research on highly mobile students and develop a plan for future research. This can be done through the Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships in Education Research topic.

For more information about funding opportunities for research on highly mobile students, please visit the IES website or contact Katina Stapleton.

For examples of previously funded research on highly mobile students, see  Promoting Executive Function to Enhance Learning in Homeless/Highly Mobile Children, Developing a Model for Delivering School-Based Mentoring to Students in Military Families, and Students in Foster Care: The Relationship between Mobility and Educational Outcomes.

Written by Katina Stapleton, Education Research Analyst, NCER; Program Officer, Systemic Approaches to Educating Highly Mobile Students

Photo of Dr. Biden courtesy of AERA

Improving Transitions: How NCSER-supported Work is Helping Prepare Students for Success

Talk of “transition” on Capitol Hill frequently focuses on political issues, such as the transition from one administration to the next. But on March 4, the conversation was about a very different type of transition—promoting positive outcomes for students with disabilities after high school.

For students with disabilities, post-high school goals are often similar to their non-disabled peers, but preparing them for success requires planning, support, and targeted interventions.

Over the past several years, the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) in the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) has funded research to innovate and develop as well as rigorously assess interventions that help students make successful transitions after high school.

A briefing on Capitol Hill was held this month to share recent research on transition for these students conducted by experts in the field. These experts have all received funding support from NCSER to help us better understand the transition challenges facing students with disabilities and to develop research-based programs and supports to increase the chances of success for students with disabilities.

"Young people with disabilities want the very same things as anyone else. A satisfying job, close relationships, a comfortable and safe place to live, a college degree, involvement in their community, friends they can count on, a chance to give something back, and an opportunity to be part of caring communities."

– Dr. Erik Carter, Vanderbilt University

Mary Wagner, of SRI International, began the briefing by talking about the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (known as the NLTS2), the more recent longitudinal study of the experiences of youth with disabilities as they transitioned from secondary school into postsecondary life over a 10-year period. Dr. Wagner presented findings that show that there has been progress in preparing students for, and engaging them in, postsecondary education. Additional academic courses, a paid job, and participation in transition planning and goal setting in high school were associated with increases in postsecondary education enrollment for these students after high school. However, the improvements have been uneven for some groups of students with disabilities and many challenges remain. For example, the rates of employment over time have not increased. 

David W. Test, of University of North Carolina-Charlotte, presented information about the innovative program “Communicating Interagency Relationships and Collaborative Linkages for Exceptional Students” or CIRCLES. This program involves three levels of interagency collaboration to promote positive outcomes for students with disabilities in secondary schools. The program connects students to more information and resources as well as provides mentoring support and partnerships. Ongoing research indicates the CIRCLES program is having a positive impact on student outcomes as compared to students receiving school services typically provided to support transition. In addition, participating students overwhelmingly agreed with the statement that they were “prepared for life after school” and their parents strongly agreed that they had “a better understanding of their child’s needs” and reported playing an active role in transition preparation.

The final two speakers discussed programs aimed at helping with transitions for students who face some of the greatest challenges.

Laurie E. Powers, of Portland State University, presented a research-based intervention program, “My Life,” for youth in foster care who also have disabilities. This program combines youth-directed coaching, workshops, and partnerships and mentoring to assist students in identifying goals and provide information and guidance they need to help them to experience success and to understand that they can achieve their goals. Many youth in foster care face extreme challenges in general: higher levels of unemployment, poverty, homelessness, abuse, and other mental health issues, and face incarceration rates of 10 times more than the general population. In addition, about 6 in 10 receive special education services and many also have developmental disabilities.

Research results have been positive. Students in the My Life program were found to be better prepared for postsecondary education and careers, and more were graduating from high school and fewer were homeless. After one year, postsecondary employment rates were up and rates of incarceration were down compared to the students who received services as usual.

Lastly, Erik Carter, of Vanderbilt University, presented research on improving workplace transitions for youth with intellectual disabilities (ID) in high school through a summer job support program. Although a disability does not predict aspirations, it does often predict post-high school experiences. Based on an analysis of data from the NLTS2, most youth with ID have a goal of employment, but only about 15 percent of all adults with ID are employed. A factor positively predicting outcomes for these students were the high expectations of those teaching them.

Project Summer embodies high expectations for these students and involves individual summer-focused transition planning, identification of community resources, and opportunities for youth to connect to community support and employment opportunities. Research indicates that the youth involved in Project Summer were much more likely to obtain employment or volunteer experiences in their community (66%) than their peers (19%) and all were paid above the minimum wage. This research also demonstrated that schools and communities have the capacity to support and promote the employment of youth with severe disabilities.

The briefing was sponsored by Senator Lamar Alexander, of Tennessee, Representative Suzanna Bonamici, of Oregon, and Representative Michael Honda, of California and was arranged by the Friends of IES, a group that advocates for education research. Certainly, there is much more work to be done to help students with disabilities successfully transition from high school and help them achieve their goals. But this month’s briefing demonstrated that progress is being made.

By Kimberley Sprague, Senior Research Scientist/Education Analyst, NCSER, and Dana Tofig, Communications Director, IES