IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Exploring Gender Integration in Classrooms

As part of the IES 20th Anniversary celebration, we are continuing to highlight projects that exemplify research conducted through an equity lens. For this blog, we asked Carol Martin (Arizona State University) to discuss her IES-funded project focused on exploring associations between gender integration in classrooms and student academic engagement and performance in elementary school grades.    

What motivated your team to study the relation between gender integration in classrooms and academic outcomes?

Think about the last time you watched children playing with their peers. Did you notice how the children formed groups, with boys hanging out and talking to other boys, and girls doing the same with other girls? This is a common pattern: Children (and adults) tend to seek out others like themselves. Classic research from the 1970s demonstrated that this used to be common in classrooms, but in over 50 years, there has been almost no research confirming that this pattern might still be happening in contemporary U.S. classrooms.

Our IES-funded team set off to see if it was still occurring, and if so, whether this pattern might limit academic success. We hypothesized that if a student does not feel a sense of belonging or comfort with most students in their class, the school environment is unlikely to be conducive for learning and engagement. In contrast, when students feel comfortable and accepted by most of their peers in the classroom, learning and motivation at school should be enhanced.

What are your research findings?

In our research involving 3rd- to 5th-grade students in the Phoenix metro area in Arizona, we began with questions about how to best measure what we are calling gender integration (GI).  We acknowledge that gender is fluid and not a binary of women/girls and men/boys; however, most children in elementary school have stereotypes about these two groups, so it made sense to us to focus on these groups.

In one study, to measure GI, we asked every student how often they interacted with every other student in class. When we looked at these scores by classroom, we found that gender segregation is strong even today. Out of the 26 classrooms included in the study, 24 showed higher levels of interactions among same-gender peers in working groups as compared to what was seen in mixed-gender groups. In addition, we found that feeling included by other-gender peers early in the school year contributed to later improved feelings about school, and this mattered more than did feeling included by same-gender peers.

We recently finished a study in which we examined whether GI is related to academic outcomes such as math and science self-concepts and STEM achievement. We found that GI measured in the fall semester was related to STEM achievement, measured in the spring semester, through improved STEM academic beliefs. We thought it might be the case that this pattern would be found for girls but not boys because of the stereotyped nature of STEM; however, both girls and boys showed this pattern.

Based on your preliminary research findings, what advice would you give to teachers or school leaders?

First off, it is clear that gender segregation is still very strong today. As such, it is important for teachers (and other adults) to be mindful of the need to encourage students to develop relationships with diverse classmates. Teachers can intentionally shape interactions within their classes in a variety of ways. One is by student seating arrangements, and another is in choices of how students are grouped to work together. Teachers can also ensure that students recognize the value of having diverse peer experiences by letting students know that interacting with others who differ from themselves is useful and beneficial. Also, there are relatively simple strategies such as “buddy up” in which teachers mindfully pair students for classwork, which has been shown to help students to mingle more widely with others and to learn from them.

How does your research contribute to a better understanding of the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in education?

Every aspect of our work is related to the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in education. We study the importance of having diverse classrooms (mixed-gender in our case) and breaking down barriers that separate people from each other but stress that this diversity matters only when it is perceived as inclusive and fosters a sense of belonging. For some students, additional supports might be needed to feel included, and we hope to identify which students may need these additional supports and what types of support they need to promote equity in classrooms around issues of social belongingness. When these pieces come together, students are supported, and the learning environment is greatly enhanced.

What are the next steps for your research team?

We are interested in expanding our work to consider other individual characteristics of students and how those relate to GI and academic success. For instance, once all our data are amassed, we intend to examine race and ethnic differences in GI. Furthermore, we are interested in assessing how gender beliefs and identity of students relate to their academic success. In future work, we are interested in exploring in-depth how interventions such as buddying strategies work in classrooms, and how to promote more diverse interactions and classroom experiences that promote optimal academic and social competence.

This blog was produced by Christina Chhin, NCER (

Innovative Approaches to High Quality Assessment of SEL Skills

In celebration of IES’s 20th anniversary and SEL Day, we are highlighting NCER’s investments in field-initiated research. In this blog, program officer Dr. Emily Doolittle discusses a persistent barrier to supporting social and emotional learning (SEL) in schools—the lack of high quality, reliable, and valid SEL assessments—and the innovative research supported by IES to tackle this challenge.

High quality measurement is critical for education research and practice. Researchers need valid and reliable assessments to answer questions about what works for whom and why. Schools use assessments to guide instruction, determine student response to intervention, and for high-stakes decision-making such as provision of special education services.

For social and emotional learning (SEL), assessment can be particularly challenging due to lack of precision in defining core SEL competencies. One consequence of this imprecision is that measures and intervention targets are often misaligned. SEL assessment also tends to rely on student, teacher, and parent reports despite the lack of agreement among reporters and the potential for biased responding. Through NCER, IES is supporting the development and validation of SEL measures using new technologies and approaches to address some of these challenges. Here are some examples of this innovative measurement work.

  • SELweb is a web-based direct assessment of four specific SEL skills - emotion recognition, social perspective taking, social problem solving, and self-control. It is available for use with elementary school students in grades K-3 and 4-6 with a middle school version currently under development. The SEL Quest Digital Platform will support school-based implementation of SELweb and other SEL assessments with an instrument library and a reporting dashboard for educators.
  • vSchool uses a virtual reality (VR) environment to assess prosocial skills. Students in 4th to 6th grades build their own avatar to interact with other characters in school settings using menu-driven choices for prosocial (helping, encouraging, sharing) and non-prosocial (aggressive, bullying, teasing) behaviors.
  • VESIP (Virtual Environment for Social Information Processing) also uses a VR school environment with customizable avatars to assess 3rd through 7th grade students’ social information processing in both English and Spanish.

Other assessments take a different approach to the challenges of SEL measurement by looking for ways to improve self, teacher, and parent reports.

  • In Project MIDAS, the research team is creating a system to integrate the different information provided by students, teachers, and parents to see if combining these reports will lead to more accurate identification of middle school students with SEL needs.
  • In Project EASS-E, the researchers are creating a teacher-report measure that will incorporate information about a child’s environment (e.g., neighborhood and community context) to better support elementary school students’ needs.

Please check out IES’s search tool to learn more about the wide variety of measurement research we fund to develop and validate high quality assessments for use in education research and practice.

Written by Emily Doolittle (, NCER Team Lead for Social Behavioral Research


Intervention Strategies on Dropout Prevention and College and Career Readiness for Students with Disabilities: An Interview with Dr. Kern

In honor of Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month, we asked principal investigator Dr. Lee Kern how her intervention research reduces dropouts and prepares students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) for college and career readiness (CCR). The purpose of her current IES project is to develop and pilot test an intervention, Supported College and Career Readiness (SCCR), that augments typical school-based college and career readiness activities for students at or at risk for EBD.

What motivated you to conduct this research?

Headshot of Lee Kern

Given the high dropout rate among students with EBD, I am interested in strategies that keep them in school. Because post-graduation experiences serve as important indicators of positive educational outcomes, I want to establish a stronger connection between school and life after school to ensure that students are fully prepared. My co-PIs, Jennifer Freeman and Chris Liang, were motivated to collaborate on the current research project as well because of their unique focus on different aspects of CCR, allowing us to address multiple dimensions in the development of our intervention.

Can you provide us with an update on the project? What work have you completed to date on the development of the SCCR program?

We recognized and addressed a gap in the college and career readiness literature with this group of students. During the first 2 years of the project, we completed two literature reviews and two conceptual papers, which are in press, and we are in the process of completing a third literature review. Our completed literature reviews indicated (a) limited attention to CCR for individuals with emotional and behavioral problems, (b) lack of defined components of CCR interventions, (c) the need to evaluate the effectiveness of CCR interventions with students of color, and (d) aspects of CCR interventions that might be important for individuals with diverse sexual identities. These papers helped us develop our multi-component CCR intervention for students with or at risk for EBD.

The development phase was vital to creating our multi-component program. Schools practice different approaches to college and career preparation, so we needed to create a flexible program that could fit the many permutations in course scheduling, career interest assessments, career exposure activities, and other factors. Receiving teacher and student feedback on the program during the second year of the project was helpful and appreciated as we refined SCCR. We initiated a randomized controlled trial and ran the study in four schools this academic year. We will expand the research into four additional schools in the 2023-24 academic year.

What other types of research are needed to move forward in the field of CTE for students with or at risk for EBD?

Although we know that students, especially those with or at risk for EBD, need more preparedness for college or their future careers, research must specify intervention components that result in improved outcomes in these areas. Also, it must determine whether the interventions are effective across diverse groups of students and ascertain adaptations that address the needs of all students. Existing and ongoing research must be conducted to better assess student skills. Identifying assessments directly linked to critical and effective interventions that practitioners can implement will be important for future progress.

NCSER looks forward to learning the results of the pilot study to better understand the promise of the SCCR program for improving the college and career readiness of students with or at risk for EBD. For more highlights on the CTE-related work that IES is supporting, please check out our IES CTE page

Dr. Kern is a professor and the director of the Center for Promoting Research to Practice at Lehigh University. She has more than 30 years of experience in special education, mental health, and behavior intervention for students with EBD.

This CTE blog post was produced by Alysa Conway, NCSER student volunteer and University of Maryland, College Park graduate student. Akilah Nelson is the program officer for NCSER’s Career and Technical Education grants.



Self-Affirmation as Resistance to Negative Stereotypes of Black and Latino Students

As part of our 20th anniversary celebration and in recognition of Black History Month, we asked Dr. Jason Snipes, Director of Applied Research for REL-West at WestEd, to discuss his inspiration for his IES-funded replication study. The purpose of the study is to test the potential of self-affirmation interventions to counteract the harmful effects of negative racial stereotypes on the academic, disciplinary, and psychosocial outcomes of 7th grade Black and Latino students.

Head shot of Dr. Jason SnipeWhat motivates your research on the effects of self-affirmation interventions on Black and Latino student outcomes?

My mother was a civil rights activist, and I was raised with a clear sense of my history as a Black person and the importance of making a contribution worthy of those that preceded me. Her example inspired me to pursue a career in research on education and youth development and to focus on finding, testing, and understanding strategies for improving outcomes for the Black, Latino, and other students systematically underserved by our education system.

My specific interest in stereotype threat and self-affirmation research stems in part from my own education experiences. I still remember how—despite being in the gifted and talented program at my elementary school—every mistake I made, every question I asked, every idea I expressed was greeted with the snickers and whispers of my peers crudely expressing their doubts about my intelligence. I remember my success slipping away, and before I knew it, being in 8th grade remedial math—failing. My father essentially saved my life. He somehow taught me to truly believe that I could accomplish anything I wanted to. This is not a solution to systemic racism. Still, his support for changing my beliefs about myself, combined with going to a new high school, completely changed my academic trajectory.

I again felt the weight and pressure of low expectations in graduate school, in the subtle and not-so-subtle ways my White professors expressed their doubts about my ability to succeed in a rigorous PhD program.

So, later in my career, when I learned about stereotype threat and self-affirmation, I saw a bit of myself and my life experiences. I saw something else that I found unusual: an intervention with significant effects, even when tested in rigorous randomized trials. I wanted to know more about where, how, and under what circumstances it could be effectively used support Black and Brown children.

What is stereotype threat and how might it impact Black students?

Among Black students, stereotype threat is the fear of confirming negative racial stereotypes about their academic performance and their underlying intelligence. It can be one of the many persistent and pervasive psychological stressors that Black people encounter on a daily basis. Randomized trials show that when prompted to believe a test is an assessment of their intelligence, Black students perform more poorly. The prompt generates physiological and psychological stress responses, reduces available working memory, and results in both fewer questions answered in a given period of time and a lower percentage of correct answers among those given. The same prompt has no effect on White or Asian students. A meta-analysis of 300 studies suggests stereotype threat accounts for a quarter to a third of the Black-White and Latino-White achievement gaps.

How does the self-affirmation intervention you are evaluating address stereotype threat?

The self-affirmation intervention, created by Claude Steele and Joshua Aronson, is designed to respond to stereotype threat. It’s a set of four 15-minute writing exercises administered over the course of a school year. Each exercise provides students with the opportunity to affirm their value by asking them to write about things that are important to them. Experiments with college and middle school students show that self-affirmation improves a variety of academic outcomes for Black students, and that that these effects persist and grow over time.

Our study goes beyond prior research to provide new evidence about the impact of self-affirmation on Black and Latinx students in schools with different demographic compositions and the extent to which its effects generalize across a nationally representative sample of schools. Some studies suggest that self-affirmations effects are smaller in schools with higher concentrations of Black and/or Latino students. We plan to systematically explore this and other questions about moderators. Our findings will have implications for the settings in which self-affirmation ought to be scaled and implemented and how it might be used as a complement to other available supports to bolster the success of Black and Latinx students.

That stereotype threat appears to account for a quarter of observed racial achievement gaps, and that self-affirmation ameliorates this effect makes self-affirmation relevant to larger discussions of educational equity. Self-affirmation, along with other psychosocial interventions, should be investigated as potential tools for reducing racial disparities in education outcomes. That said, it is important to remember that racial inequity is a feature of the education system and the institutions that surround it, not a function of some sort of “flaw” in the attitudes or psychosocial make up of Black and Brown students themselves. While these approaches may help buffer Black and Latino students against the full consequences of racism, bias, and stereotyping, we should never allow ourselves to be confused. The fundamental problem is not Black and Latino students’ ability to cope with these dynamics, but the presence of these dynamics in and of themselves. Furthermore, psychosocial interventions are not a substitute for high quality instruction or solutions to other systemic problems (for example, de facto segregation) that have powerful negative effects on academic outcomes among Black and Latino students.

Self-affirmation is also relevant to discussions of racial equity in education because the intervention reflects a fundamental concept underlying racial equity: personhood. It offers students a chance to affirm their value as human beings, and this may be one of the mechanisms through which it helps disrupts the destructive cycle of stereotype threat. This simple assertion embodies a core idea underlying the civil rights movement: that racial equity requires recognizing and treating Black and Brown people as fully human.   

Your current IES study aims to replicate prior research on self-affirmation. Why is replication important?

Too often, I have seen researchers, policy makers, practitioners, and funders make the mistake of misinterpreting results from a single, even rigorously designed, study as answering the question of whether an intervention or strategy works. Reality is more complex. What we can learn from a single study is usually something closer to the extent to which an approach worked in this place (or places) at this time. Under pressure for answers to pressing policy problems, we may rush to scale approaches or interventions with evidence from one or two well designed studies, only to find out that they don’t work at scale, or in a subsequent implementation, and we don’t know why.

It may be better to ask, “To what extent does an approach generate impacts, under what circumstances does it do so, and why?” Systematically replicating initial causal studies, enables researchers to address these questions more effectively. Rather than guessing at post hoc explanations of the patterns we observe, replication systematically tests hypotheses regarding how implementation, context, and other moderators and mediators affect program impacts. Doing so prior to undertaking massive scaling efforts therefore helps reduce the extent to which money, effort, and, perhaps most importantly, public will, are expended on strategies with fundamental limitations. Replication enables us to more systemically study and understand mechanisms of action, improving the extent to which we implement or scale interventions in contexts and situations in which they are likely to be most effective.

This blog was produced by Katina Stapleton ( and Corinne Alfeld (, NCER Program Officers.

Improving Academic Achievement through Instruction in Self-Regulated Strategy Development: The Science Behind the Practice

Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) is an evidence-based instructional approach characterized by active, discussion-based, scaffolded, and explicit learning of knowledge of the writing process; general and genre-specific knowledge; academic vocabulary; and validated strategies for teaching reading and writing. IES has supported multiple research studies on SRSD for students with learning disabilities in K-12 and postsecondary general education settings. SRSD is used in as many as 10,000 classrooms across the United States and in 12 other countries. In this interview blog, we spoke with Dr. Karen Harris, the developer of SRSD, to learn more about this effective instructional strategy, the IES research behind it, and next steps for further scaling of SRSD so that more students can benefit.

What led you to develop the Self-Regulated Strategy Development model?

Photo of Karen Harris

I began developing what became the SRSD model of instruction in the 1980s, based on my experiences tutoring and teaching. No one theory could address all of what I needed to do as a teacher, or all that my students needed as learners. SRSD instruction pulls together what has been learned from research across theories of learning and teaching. It is a multicomponent instructional model that addresses affective, behavioral, and cognitive aspects of learning. Further, SRSD instruction is intended to take place in inclusive classrooms, is discourse-driven, integrates social-emotional supports, and involves learning in whole class and group settings with peer collaboration. SRSD research started in writing because Steve Graham (my husband and colleague) was deeply interested in writing, and we co-designed the initial studies. Today, SRSD instruction research exists across a wide variety of areas, such as reading comprehension, mathematical problem solving, fractions, social studies, and science.

What are some of the key findings about this instructional strategy?

SRSD has been recognized by the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) as an evidence-based practice with  consistently positive effects on writing outcomes.  A 2013 meta-analysis of SRSD for writing found that SRSD was effective across different research teams, different methodologies, differing genres of writing (such as narrative or persuasive), and students with diverse needs including students with learning disabilities and emotional and behavioral disorders. Effect sizes in SRSD research are typically large, exceeding .85 in meta-analyses and commonly ranging from 1.0 to 2.55 across writing and affective outcome measures.

Over the years, IES has supported a number of studies on SRSD, which has led to some key findings that have practical implications for instruction from elementary school through college.

Do you know how many teachers use SRSD in their classrooms?

It is hard to be sure how prevalent SRSD instruction is in practice, but there are two groups dedicated to scaling up SRSD in schools— thinkSRSD and SRSD Online—both of which I voluntarily advise. Together, they have reached over 300,000 students and their teachers in the United States. In addition, I am following or in touch with researchers or teachers in 12 countries across Europe, North America, Australia, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

What’s next for research on SRSD?  

Many students have difficulty writing by the time they get to upper elementary school. Currently, there is an ongoing development project that is adapting and testing SRSD for children in the lower elementary grades to support their oral language skills, transcription, and writing strategy skills. The research team is in the process of conducting a small-scale randomized controlled study and will have findings soon.

Beyond this study, there are many future directions for SRSD research, including further work in different genres of writing, different grades, and involving families in the SRSD process. More work on how to integrate SRSD strategies into instruction across content areas, such as social studies or science is also needed. Despite the evidence base for and interest in SRSD, a major challenge is scaling up SRSD in schools. We and other researchers have identified numerous barriers to this goal. We also need research on working with administrators, schools, and teachers to use writing more effectively as a tool for self-expression, self-advocacy, and social and political engagement. Writing can also be an important and effective means of addressing issues of equity and identity, and little SRSD research has been done in these areas.

Dr. Karen Harris is Regents Professor and the Mary Emily Warner Professor at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Her current research focuses on refining a web-based intelligent tutor to augment SRSD instruction with elementary students in persuasive writing, integrating SRSD with reading to learn and writing to inform, developing a Universal Design for Learning Science Notebook, and developing practice-based professional development for SRSD.

This blog was produced by Julianne Kasper, Virtual Student Federal Service intern at IES and graduate student in education policy & leadership at American University.