IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

A2i: From Research to Practice at Scale in Education

This blog post is part of an interview series with education researchers who have successfully scaled their interventions.

Assessment-to-Instruction (A2i) is an online Teacher Professional Support System that guides teachers in providing Kindergarten to Grade 3 students individualized literacy instruction and assessments. Students complete the assessments independently online without the teacher taking time away from instruction. A2i generates instantaneous teacher reports with precise recommendations for each student and group recommendations. See a video demo here. Between 2003 and 2017, researchers at Florida State University (FSU) and Arizona State University (ASU), led by Carol Connor, developed and evaluated A2i with the support of a series of awards from IES and the National Institutes of Health. Findings from all publications on the A2i are posted here.

While results across seven controlled studies demonstrated the effectiveness of A2i, feedback from practitioners in the field demonstrated that implementation often required substantial amounts of researcher support and local district adaptation, and that the cost was not sustainable for most school district budgets. In 2014, the development firm Learning Ovations, led by Jay Connor, received an award from the Department of Education (ED) and IES’s Small Business Innovation Research program (ED/IES SBIR) to develop an technologically upgraded and commercially viable version of A2i to be ready to be used at scale in classrooms around the country. In 2018, with the support of a five-year Education Innovation and Research (EIR) expansion grant from ED totaling $14.65 million, A2i is now used in more than 110 schools across the country, with plans for further expansion. 

 

Interview with Carol Connor (CC) and Jay Connor (JC)

From the start of the research in the early 2000s, was it always the goal to develop a reading intervention that would one day be used on a wide scale?
CC: Yes and no. First, we had to answer the question as to whether individualization was effective in achieving student literacy outcomes. Once the research established that, we knew that this work would have wide-scale application.

When did you start thinking about a plan for distribution
CC: Before embarking on the cumulative results studies, in 2008, Jay said that we needed to know who the “customer” was… i.e., how purchasing decisions were made at scale.  His 2008 Phase I ED/IES SBIR was critical in shifting our research focus from individual classrooms to school districts as the key scaling point. 

Did you work with a technology transfer office at the university?
CC: Only to the extent of contractually clarifying intellectual property (IP) ownership and licensing. 

Who provided the support on the business side?
CC: Jay, who has an MBA/JD and has been a senior officer in two Fortune 100 companies was very instrumental in guiding our thinking of this evolution from important research to practical application. 


 Do you have any agreement about the IP with the university? What were the biggest challenges in this area?

JC: Yes, Learning Ovations has a 60-year renewable exclusive licensing agreement with FSU Foundation. FSU couldn’t have been better to work with.  Though there were expected back-and-forth elements of the original negotiations, it was clear that we shared the central vision of transforming literacy outcomes.  They continue to be a meaningful partner.

When and why was Learning Ovations first launched?
JC: In order to pursue SBIR funding we needed to be a for-profit company.  At first, I used my consulting business – Rubicon Partners LLP – as the legal entity for a 2008 Phase I award from ED/IES SBIR.  When we considered applying (and eventually won) a Fast Track Phase I & II award from SBIR in 2014, it was clear that we needed to create a full C – Corp that could expand with the scaling of the business, thus Learning Ovations was formed.

Who has provided you great guidance on the business side over the year? What did they say and do? 
JC: Having run large corporate entities and worked with small business start-ups in conjunction with Arizona State University (Skysong) and the University of California, Irvine (Applied Innovation at The Cove) and having taught entrepreneurship at The Paul Merage School of Business at UC Irvine, I had the experience or network to connect to whatever business guidance we needed.  Further, having attended a number of reading research conferences with Carol, I was quite conversant in the literacy language both from the research side and from the district decision maker’s side.

How do you describe the experience of commercializing the A2i? What were the biggest achievements and challenges in terms of preparing for commercialization?

JC: Having coached scores of entrepreneurs at various stages, I can safely say that there is no harder commercialization than one that must stay faithful to the underlying research.  A key strategy for most new businesses: being able to pivot as you find a better (easier) solution.  It is often circumscribed by the “active ingredients” of the underlying research.  Knowing this, we imbued Learning Ovations with a very strong outcomes mission – all children reading at, or above, grade level by 3rd grade.  This commitment to outcomes certainty is only assured by staying faithful to the research.  Thus, a possible constraint, became our uncontroverted strength.

Do you have advice for university researchers seeking to move their laboratory research in education into wide-spread practice? 
JC:  Start with the end in mind.  As soon as you envision wide-scale usage, learn as much as you can about the present pain and needs of your future users and frame your research questions to speak to this.  Implementation should not be an after-the-fact consideration; build it into how you frame your research questions. On one level you are asking simultaneously “will this work with my treatment group” AND “will this help me understand/deliver to my end-user group.”  I can’t imagine effective research being graphed onto a business after the fact.  One key risk that we see a number of researchers make is thinking in very small fragments whereas application (i.e., the ability to go to scale) is usually much more systemic and holistic.

In one sentence, what would say is most needed for gaining traction in the marketplace?
JC: If not you, as a researcher, someone on your team of advisors needs to know the target marketplace as well as you know the treatment protocols in your RCT.

____________

Carol Connor is a Chancellor’s Professor in the UC Irvine School of Education. Prior she was a professor of Psychology and a Senior Learning Scientist at the Learning Sciences Institute at ASU. Carol’s research focuses on teaching and learning in preschool through fifth grade classrooms – with a particular emphasis on reading comprehension, executive functioning, and behavioral regulation development, especially for low-income children.

Joseph “Jay” Connor, JD/MBA, is the Founder/CEO of Learning Ovations, Inc, the developer of the platform that has enabled the A2i intervention to scale.  Jay has 20+ years of experience in senior business management at the multi-billion dollar corporate level, and has experience in the nonprofit and public policy arenas.

This interview was produced by Edward Metz of the Institute of Education Sciences.

New International Comparisons of Reading, Mathematics, and Science Literacy Assessments

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a study of 15-year-old students’ performance in reading, mathematics, and science literacy that is conducted every 3 years. The PISA 2018 results provide us with a global view of U.S. students’ performance compared with their peers in nearly 80 countries and education systems. In PISA 2018, the major domain was reading literacy, although mathematics and science literacy were also assessed.

In 2018, the U.S. average score of 15-year-olds in reading literacy (505) was higher than the average score of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries (487). Compared with the 76 other education systems with PISA 2018 reading literacy data, including both OECD and non-OECD countries, the U.S. average reading literacy score was lower than in 8 education systems, higher than in 57 education systems, and not measurably different in 11 education systems. The U.S. percentage of top performers in reading was larger than in 63 education systems, smaller than in 2 education systems, and not measurably different in 11 education systems. The average reading literacy score in 2018 (505) was not measurably different from the average score in 2000 (504), the first year PISA was administered. Among the 36 education systems that participated in both years, 10 education systems reported higher average reading literacy scores in 2018 compared with 2000, and 11 education systems reported lower scores.

The U.S. average score of 15-year-olds in mathematics literacy in 2018 (478) was lower than the OECD average score (489). Compared with the 77 other education systems with PISA 2018 mathematics literacy data, the U.S. average mathematics literacy score was lower than in 30 education systems, higher than in 39 education systems, and not measurably different in 8 education systems. The average mathematics literacy score in 2018 (478) was not measurably different from the average score in 2003 (483), the earliest year with comparable data. Among the 36 education systems that participated in both years, 10 systems reported higher mathematics literacy scores in 2018 compared with 2003, 13 education systems reported lower scores, and 13 education systems reported no measurable changes in scores.  

The U.S. average score of 15-year-olds in science literacy (502) was higher than the OECD average score (489). Compared with the 77 other education systems with PISA 2018 science literacy data, the U.S. average science literacy score was lower than in 11 education systems, higher than in 55 education systems, and not measurably different in 11 education systems. The average science literacy score in 2018 (502) was higher than the average score in 2006 (489), the earliest year with comparable data. Among the 52 education systems that participated in both years, 7 education systems reported higher average science literacy scores in 2018 compared with 2006, 22 education systems reported lower scores, and 23 education systems reported no measurable changes in scores.

PISA is conducted in the United States by NCES and is coordinated by OECD, an intergovernmental organization of industrialized countries. Further information about PISA can be found in the technical notes, questionnaires, list of participating OECD and non-OECD countries, released assessment items, and FAQs.

 

By Thomas Snyder

New 2019 Reading and Mathematics Assessment Data on 4th- and 8th-Grade Students

The average reading score for U.S. 4th- and 8th-grade students decreased between 2017 and 2019. Changes in mathematics scores were mixed during this period, with an increase at grade 4 and a decrease at grade 8. These data are from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—also known as The Nation’s Report Card. NAEP is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what students in the United States know and can do in various subject areas and is frequently referred to as the “gold standard” of student assessments.

In 4th-grade reading, the average scale score in 2019 was 220, one point lower than in 2017 (figure 1). In 8th-grade reading, the average scale score was 263, three points lower than in 2017 (figure 2). Compared with a decade ago in 2009, the 2019 average reading scale scores at each grade were not significantly different, but they were higher than the scale scores in 1992, the first time the reading assessment was administered.

 


Figure 1. Average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scale scores of 4th-grade students: Selected years, 1992–2019

* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2019

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— Accommodations permitted

 

Figure 2. Average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading scale scores of 8th-grade students: Selected years, 1992–2019

* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2019

--- Accommodations not permitted

— Accommodations permitted


 

In 4th-grade mathematics, the average scale score in 2019 was 241, one point higher than in 2017 (figure 3). In 8th-grade mathematics, the average scale score in 2019 was 282, one point lower than in 2017 (figure 4). Like reading, average scale scores for mathematics at both grades in 2019 were not significantly different than in 2009. Mathematics scale scores for both grade were higher in 2019 than in 1990, the first time the mathematics assessments were administered.

 


Figure 3. Average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) mathematics scale scores of 4th-grade students: Selected years, 1990–2019

* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2019

--- Accommodations not permitted

— Accommodations permitted

 

Figure 4. Average National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) mathematics scale scores of 8th-grade students: Selected years, 1990–2019

* Significantly different (p < .05) from 2019

--- Accommodations not permitted

— Accommodations permitted


 

The Nation’s Report Card also presents data by different demographic groups—such as race/ethnicity—gender, school type, and region. White and Black 4th- and 8th-grade students scored lower in reading in 2019 than in 2017. Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Native 8th-grade students also scored lower in reading in 2019 than in 2017. In mathematics, 4th-grade Hispanic students scored higher in 2019 than in 2017, and 8th-grade American Indian/Alaska Native students scored lower in 2019 than in 2017. From 2017 to 2019, males’ scores increased in mathematics at grade 4 but decreased in reading at both grades.

NCES administered the 2019 NAEP mathematics and reading assessments to almost 600,000 4th- and 8th-graders in public and private schools in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Department of Defense schools, and 27 urban districts. Samples of schools and students are drawn from each state and from the District of Columbia and Department of Defense schools.

Visit https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/ to view the report.

New Data Tell the Story of Public and Private Schools and Their Leaders

Which schools would you guess, on average, spend more instructional time on English, reading, and language arts—public schools or private schools? How about on mathematics?

These questions and many others are answered in recently released reports on U.S. public and private schools and principals. The data in these reports are from the 2017–18 National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), which is administered by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). NTPS previously collected data from public schools, principals, and teachers during the 2015–16 school year, but this is the first private school collection since the 2011–12 school year. (The latest NTPS data on public and private school teachers will be released later this year.)

The NTPS collects data about principals’ educational backgrounds and goals, as well as the climate of their schools and other general information about their schools and special programs and services provided. These data serve as a resource for researchers, policymakers, and the general public who are interested in understanding the current experiences and conditions of U.S. public and private schools.

The 2017–18 NTPS featured several new topic areas, such as the following:

  • School instruction time. Overall, schools reported that third-graders spent a weekly average of 500 minutes on instruction in English, reading, and language arts; 350 minutes on instruction in arithmetic or mathematics; and 170 minutes each on instruction in science and social studies or history. Here are some data to answer the questions from the beginning of this post:
    • Public schools reported that third-graders spent a weekly average of 540 minutes on instruction in English, reading, and language arts; 370 minutes on instruction in arithmetic or mathematics; 170 minutes on instruction in science; and 160 minutes on instruction in social studies or history.
    • Private schools reported that third-graders spent a weekly average of 400 minutes on instruction in English, reading, and language arts; 280 minutes on instruction in arithmetic or mathematics; and 170 minutes each on instruction in science and social studies or history.
       

Figure 1. Average minutes reported by public and private schools that third-grade students spend on selected subjects per week: 2017–18

NOTE: Schools that reported 0 minutes per week for a subject were excluded from the calculations of average minutes per week.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Teacher and Principal Survey (NTPS), “Public School and Private School Documentation Data Files,” 2017–18. Please see Characteristics of Public and Private Elementary and Secondary Schools in the United States: Results From the 2017–18 National Teacher and Principal Survey First Look, table 7.


 

  • ​Principals’ professional development. Overall, 83 percent of all principals reported participating in any professional development activities in the 2016–17 school year. Specifically, 85 percent of public school principals and 77 percent of private school principals reported doing so.
  • Evaluation of principals. Among public school principals, relatively more principals in traditional public schools were evaluated during the last school year than were principals in public charter schools (79 and 69 percent, respectively). Relatively more private school principals in Catholic and nonsectarian schools (63 and 58 percent, respectively) were evaluated during the last school year than were principals in other religious schools (41 percent).

Data files for the 2017–18 school and principal questionnaires will be released later this year. In order to protect the identities of responding schools and principals, researchers must apply for a restricted-use license to access the full restricted-use data files. Data will also be available through NCES’ online data tool, DataLab, where users can create custom tables and regressions without a restricted-use license.

 

By Maura Spiegelman

Fieldnotes: Reflections from an Adult Education Instructor on Research and Practice

Approximately 18 percent of US adults are at the lowest levels of literacy and nearly 30 percent are at the lowest levels of numeracy. The adult education system serves adults with low skills, but many education researchers know little about the students or the setting.  Recently, NCER convened a working group of adult education instructors, administrators, and researchers to discuss adult education’s research and dissemination needs.

Mr. Marcus Hall, an adult education instructor at the Community Learning Center and JEVS Human Services in Philadelphia, participated in this working group. He spoke with Meredith Larson, NCER program officer for adult education, about his experiences and interests in research. A copy of the working group meeting summary is available here.

Please describe your adult education classroom.

I once taught a 7-week course with students ranging from 18 to over 60 years old who had low literacy or math scores. I tried to contextualize instruction around their career interests and differentiate it to their learning needs. For example, some students were proficient readers but needed comprehension and math practice while others struggled with one or more of the basic components of reading. Somehow, I needed to help those learning phonics and those struggling with fluency while also challenging those ready for comprehension work. It’s hard to meet student needs in such a short time without teacher aides or adaptive technologies.

Why is research particularly important for adult education?

The challenges we face are monumental. Despite the large number of adults in need, adult education feels under-funded, under-staffed, and under-appreciated. Our students need complex, comprehensive, and well-rounded intervention, but we often have to make the most out of slightly targeted, inexpensive, and difficult-to-implement solutions. We need researchers to provide practical information and recommendations that we can use today to help adults learn and retain information.

Have you used research into your teaching?

Specifically, for reading instruction, I use techniques and activities built on evidence-based reading interventions. I start with tested diagnostic assessments to determine the needs of my students followed by strategies such as Collaborative Oral Reading or Repeated Reading exercises to support my students.

What topic during the meeting stood out to you?

The discussion about the workforce and professional development resonated with me. Many of our educators are part-time, come out of K-12, close to retirement, and may not have specific training for working with adults. They are asked to teach subjects they may not have any certification in, and their programs may not be able to provide the professional development they need. Just as we need supports for our learners, we need research to develop supports for us educators.

What additional research would you like to see?

Many of my students have had traumatic experiences that, when relived in the classroom, can cause them to disengage or struggle. I feel that understanding triggers and signs of discomfort has greatly enhanced my ability to help my students. Many educators want to leverage mental health approaches, like trauma-informed care, but we could use help learning how to integrate these strategies into instruction.

What do you hope researchers and educators keep in mind regarding one another?

It seems that researchers publish and promote their work to other researchers and then move to the next topic. This may be due to time constraints, publishing demands, or institutional requirements. I hope researchers take the time to come into our settings and observe us in action. I want researchers to work with us to help us understand and accept what is and isn’t working.

As for educators, we need to not try things and then stop using them when something unexpected occurs. At times, we revert back to what we know and are most comfortable with in the classroom. We educators can and must think critically about our norms and be ready and willing to enhance our practice with new information.