IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Asian Voices in Education Research: Perspectives from Predoctoral Fellows Na Lor and Helen Lee

The IES Predoctoral Training Programs prepare doctoral students to conduct high-quality education research that advances knowledge within the field of education sciences and addresses issues important to education policymakers and practitioners. In recognition of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we asked two predoctoral scholars who are embarking on their careers as education researchers to share their career journeys, perspectives on diversity and equity in education research, and advice for emerging scholars from underrepresented backgrounds who are interested in pursuing careers in education research. Here is what they shared with us.

 

Na Lor (University of Wisconsin-Madison) is currently a PhD candidate in educational leadership and policy analysis where she is studying inequity in higher education from a cultural perspective.

How did you become interested in a career in education research? How have your background experiences shaped your scholarship and career?

I view education institutions as important sites of knowledge transmission with infinite potential for addressing inequity. In addition, my background as a Hmong refugee and a first-generation scholar from a low-income family informs my scholarship and career interests. My positive and negative experiences growing up in predominantly White spaces also shape the way in which I see the world. Meanwhile, my time spent living abroad and working in the non-profit sector further influence my ideals of improving the human condition. With my training through IES, I look forward to conducting education research with a focus on higher education in collaboration with local schools and colleges to better serve students and families from underserved communities.  

In your area of research, what do you see as the most critical areas of need to address diversity and equity and improve the relevance of education research for diverse communities of students and families?

I see ethnic studies, culturally sustaining pedagogies, and experiential learning in postsecondary education as core areas in need of improvement to provide relevant education for an ever-diverse student body. Likewise, I see community college transfer pathways as crucial for addressing and advancing equity. 

What advice would you give to emerging scholars from underrepresented, minoritized groups who are pursuing a career in education research?

Chase your burning questions relentlessly and continuously strengthen your methodological toolkit. Embrace who you are and rely on your lived experience and ways of knowing as fundamental assets that contribute to knowledge formation and the research process. 

 

Helen Lee (University of Chicago) is currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Comparative Human Development where she is studying the impact of racial dialogue and ethnic community engagement on the identity and agency development of Asian American youth.

How did you become interested in a career in education research? How have your background and experiences shaped your scholarship and career?

I first considered a career in education research while completing my Master’s in educational leadership and policy at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. I had entered my program in need of a break after working as a classroom teacher, organizer, and community educator in Detroit for five years. During my program, I had the opportunity to reflect on and contextualize my experiences in and around public education. It was also during my program that I first came across scholarship that aligned to my values and spoke to my experiences as a teacher in under-resourced communities and as a first-generation college graduate.

Taking classes with Dr. Carla O’Connor and Dr. Alford Young, working with Dr. Camille Wilson, and engaging with scholarship that counters deficit notions of people of color was a critical turning point for me. The work of these scholars motivated me to pursue a path in education research. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to meet other scholars who conduct community-based and action-oriented research in service of social justice movements. These interactions, along with the opportunities to collaborate with and learn from youth and educators over the years, has sustained my interest in education research and strengthened my commitment to conducting research that promotes more equitable educational policies and practice.

In your area of research, what do you see as the most critical areas of need to address diversity and equity and improve the relevance of education research for diverse communities of students and families?

My current research examines the racial socialization experiences of Asian American youth in relation to their sociopolitical development. This work is motivated by my own experiences as an Asian American, my work with Chinese and Asian American-serving community organizations, and a recognition that Asian American communities are often overlooked in conversations about racism due to pervasive stereotypes.

Education research must be better attuned to the history and current manifestations of racism. That is, research should not only consider the consequences of systemic racism on the educational experiences and outcomes of marginalized communities but also challenge and change these conditions. I believe there is a critical need for scholarship that reimagines and transforms the education system into a more just and humanizing one.

What advice would you give to emerging scholars from underrepresented, minoritized groups who are pursuing a career in education research?

I would provide the following advice:

  • Clarify what your purpose isthe reason why you are engaged in this work. This will help guide the opportunities you pursue or pass on and connect you to the people who can support your development toward these goals. Your purpose will also serve as a beacon to guide you in times of uncertainty.
  • Seek out mentorship from scholars whose work inspires your own. Mentorship may come from other students as well as from those outside of academia. It may stem from collaborations in which you participate or simply through one-time interactions.
  • Be attuned to your strengths and your areas of growth and nurture both accordingly. In retrospect, I could have done a better job of recognizing my own assets and engaging in diverse writing opportunities to strengthen my ability to communicate research across audiences.
  • Continuously put your ideas and research in conversation with the ideas and research of others. This enables growth in important ways—it can open you up to new perspectives and questions as well as strengthen your inquiry and understanding of your findings.
  • Engage in exercises that nurture your creativity and imagination and participate in spaces that sustain your passion for education research. A more just and humanizing education system requires us to think beyond our current realities and to engage in long-term efforts.      

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of blogs showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. For Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage month blog series, we are focusing on AAPI researchers and fellows, as well as researchers that focus on the education of AAPI students.

Produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council and training program officer for the National Center for 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.

Promoting Equitable and Sustainable Behavioral Interventions in Early Childhood

The Postdoctoral Research Training Program in Special Education and Early Intervention is designed to prepare scientists to conduct rigorous, practice-relevant research to advance the fields of special education and early intervention. Dr. Jun Ai recently completed an IES postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Kansas and is currently an assistant research professor at the University of Northern Iowa. Her research focuses on the implementation of early childhood behavioral interventions, particularly for young learners with disabilities and those from minoritized communities. We recently caught up with Dr. Ai to learn more about her career, the experiences that have shaped it, and how her work addresses equity and inclusion in early intervention. This is what she shared with us.

How did you begin your career journey as an education researcher?

My research focuses on the equitable and sustainable implementation of early childhood positive behavioral interventions and supports (EC-PBIS) to promote the social-emotional and behavioral health of all children, especially those with disabilities and/or from minoritized groups. Before starting my PhD program, I was a special education teacher working with students with autism spectrum disorders in China. That’s when I learned about applied behavioral science and PBIS. I decided to become a board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA) during my doctoral studies at the University of Kansas. Through my BCBA practicum, I worked with young children with disabilities and challenging behaviors in self-contained settings.

Meanwhile, I was also supervising pre-service teachers and behavioral analysts working in inclusive early care and education settings where behavior issues were addressed through multi-tiered EC-PBIS. These experiences deepened my interest in EC-PBIS and led me to research how to prepare professionals to use multi-tiered EC-PBIS to promote foundational social-emotional competence and prevent challenging behaviors for all children, regardless of their abilities or forms of diversity. Most importantly, I study how equitable and sustainable implementation of EC-PBIS can reduce racial disciplinary disparities to eventually eliminate suspension and expulsion in early care and education. Through my dissertation and NCSER-funded postdoctoral fellowship at Juniper Gardens Children’s Project at the University of Kansas, I led multiple independent research projects in these areas. With the support from my mentors, Judith Carta, Kathryn Bigelow, and Jay Buzhardt, I also had the opportunity to work on several NCSER-funded projects that address issues in EC-PBIS and the implementation of evidence-based practices.

What is the most rewarding part of your research?

Currently, I serve on the Iowa state leadership team of EC-PBIS and continue to expand my scholarship on EC-PBIS implementation through my research and teaching capacities. The most rewarding part of my work has been gaining expertise in a variety of research methodologies, especially mixed-methods research. Mixed-methods research allows me to carry out rigorous quantitative intervention and test hypotheses while also hearing the voices of participants and various stakeholders using trustworthy qualitative methodology, with data from each method informing the other. As a result, I can tackle complex issues related to implementing interventions in real-world settings and improve the design of interventions.

In your area of research, what do you see as the most critical areas of need to address diversity and equity and improve the relevance of education research for diverse communities of students and families?

One of the greatest needs is around diversifying the researcher leadership workforce. Higher education institutions need to prioritize recruitment, retention, and tailored support for educational researchers from historically and currently marginalized groups based on their race, ethnicity, language, sexual orientation, disabilities, and more.

Equally important is the need to increase funding resources for minority researchers whose scholarship aims to dismantle systemic racism and racial inequities in our educational systems. Researchers of color need more seats at the table to disturb the power imbalance within the research community, advocate for students and families in their own communities, and improve the relevance of education research for diverse groups.

Last but not least, the education research community at large needs to question the status quo of how to conduct research for, with, and by diverse communities.

What advice would you give to emerging scholars from underrepresented, minoritized groups that are pursuing a career in education research?

Find the research topic that gives you goosebumps. It might be hard at the beginning when research interests are highly directed by the existing research agenda of advisors or funding sources. But don’t let that feeling of butterflies go. Try to start small. It might mean stepping out of your normal circle to find mentors, allies, or funding agencies that are also excited about your mission and your research interests.

Remember that you need to be so good that nobody can ignore you. Researchers of color, especially minoritized early career scholars, still need to work multiple times harder to be seen and heard. Unfortunately, this will still be true in the foreseeable future. Find and join minority education researcher communities through professional organizations or organize your own. You are not in this alone.

While continuing to hone your craft, speak up for yourself and your community when you can. Recognize your own burdens and privileges and stand with the most oppressed. Learn about and practice how to have a voice at the table even though your culture or your lived experience told you otherwise. The work you care about can change students' and families’ lives. Your work matters. Your voice matters.

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see herehere, and here) showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice.

This blog was produced by Bennett Lunn (Bennett.Lunn@ed.gov), Truman-Albright Fellow, and Katie Taylor (Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov), postdoctoral training program officer at the National Center for Special Education Research.

Improving the Reading Skills of Middle School Students with and at Risk for Disabilities

Two girls work together to write in notebooks.

NCSER celebrates Middle Level Education Month this year by highlighting some of our current research projects aimed at supporting the literacy skills of middle school students with and at risk for disabilities. Data from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) indicate that in 2019, 68% of eight graders with disabilities scored “Below NAEP Basic” in reading compared to 22% of students without disabilities, a gap that had grown larger over the previous decade. The urgent need to improve the reading skills of middle school students with disabilities has led to some important NCSER-funded research projects.  

Sharon Vaughn and Leticia Martinez at the University of Texas, Austin and Jeanne Wanzek at Vanderbilt University, along with their colleagues, are testing the efficacy of Promoting Adolescents' Comprehension of Text (PACT), a fully developed reading comprehension intervention for middle school students with evidence of efficacy for students without disabilities. The current study will be the first efficacy trial of PACT that focuses specifically on students with disabilities. PACT is a text- and inquiry-based reading comprehension intervention with instructional supports for teachers and material for students in general education classrooms. In this large-scale, multi-site study, the team is using a randomized controlled trial in approximately 80 eighth-grade social studies classrooms, each with at least two students with disabilities. The team will examine the intervention’s impact on student reading and social studies outcomes, whether the impact differs depending on level of teacher fidelity or by student characteristic, and the intervention’s cost-effectiveness over the typical expenditures.

PACT is also being used as the evidence-based literacy intervention in a project designed to support middle school teachers’ knowledge and practices and improve reading and content area knowledge among students with disabilities. Jade Wexler at University of Maryland, College Park and Elizabeth Swanson at the University of Texas, Austin, along with their colleagues, are developing and testing a model for instructional leaders to provide ongoing support to content-area middle school teachers as they implement PACT. More specifically, the team will be developing an intervention package that includes a multi-stage, adaptive intervention coaching model to systematically tailor support to teachers as they implement Tier 1 literacy practices (in this case, the PACT intervention) in their content areas (English language arts, social studies, and science) to improve reading outcomes for students with disabilities. The package will also include a professional development program to train instructional leaders on how to implement the coaching model with teachers effectively.

Deborah Reed at the University of Iowa and her colleagues are also focusing on integrating literacy instruction with content-area instruction, but this team is focused on the Tier 2 level. They are developing and testing an intervention for middle school students with or at risk for reading disabilities who need support in literacy and text-based content in science and social studies. Pairs of students will alternate reading science and social studies texts, with specific academic vocabulary language, on a digital platform. This platform will provide scaffolded support and allow opportunities for individual work in building related reading and writing skills. Passages on each science or social studies topic repeat 85% or more of the unique words but in different contexts to support students’ ability to recognize and read the academic vocabulary. The overall aim of the intervention is to improve student literacy as well as science and social studies performance.

Marcia Barnes and her team at Vanderbilt University are testing the efficacy of a reading comprehension intervention, Connecting Text by Inference and Technology (Connect-IT), with middle school students with or at risk for reading disabilities. Connect-IT, developed with a prior IES grant, was designed to improve inference-making and reading comprehension in this population. In the current study, the research team will examine the impact of the intervention on students in grades 6-8 who did not pass their state English Language Arts test and who have demonstrated difficulties in reading comprehension. They will compare the efficacy of the intervention as implemented in small groups by a teacher, individual implementation of the intervention through computer software with project interventionist supervision, and the school’s business-as-usual classes. The study aims to determine the effect of each version of the intervention on student inference-making abilities and reading comprehension, as well as whether various student skills (such as vocabulary, word reading, attention, and anxiety) may moderate the impact of the interventions. The interventions’ cost-effectiveness will also be evaluated.

Focused on more intensive intervention for middle school students with or at risk for reading  disabilities, Mary Beth Calhoon at the University of Miami is testing the efficacy of a 2-year implementation of the Adolescent Multi-Component Intensive Training Program (AMP-IT-UP), which was previously tested after 1 year of implementation through an IES-funded grant. The intervention uses direct, systematic, explicit instruction (in phonological decoding with comprehension, spelling, and fluency) and cognitive strategy instruction (including use of cues and anchors), combined with reciprocal peer-mediated instruction. Dr. Calhoon’s research team is conducting a randomized controlled trial with middle school students with or at risk for reading disabilities who are still reading at the third-grade level or below. They will examine the impact after 2 years of intervention as well as 1 year after intervention has ended to determine its effect on student word recognition, spelling, fluency, and comprehension skills.

We look forward to reporting on the results of these studies as these teams complete their work in the years to come.

The blog was authored by Amy Sussman (Amy.Sussman@ed.gov), Sarah Brasiel (Sarah.Brasiel@ed.gov), and Katie Taylor (Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov), program officers for NCSER.

Career and Technical Education in STEM for Students with Learning Disabilities: Research Updates and Implications

Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month® is celebrated every February to raise awareness about the role that CTE has in preparing students for college and career success and the achievements of CTE programs across the country. In recognition of this year’s CTE Month®, we caught up with Dr. Michael Gottfried, University of Pennsylvania, to discuss his CTE research.

Through NCSER’s Career and Technical Education for Students with Disabilities special topic area, Dr. Gottfried was awarded a grant to examine whether participating in STEM CTE courses in high school is related to pursuing and persisting in STEM majors and/or careers for students with learning disabilities (SWLDs), a project featured initially in a March 2020 blog. During our recent conversation, he shared updates with us about his CTE project as well as the policy and practice implications of his research.

When we discussed this project in 2020, you shared your research goals and what you had learned so far. Could you provide us with an update?

Since the last time that we chatted, we have made some great progress on this project. We have had several papers accepted for publication. In some of our work, we were interested in the STEM CTE coursetaking patterns of SWLDs in high school. We found that SWLDs are more likely to participate in CTE courses compared to students without disabilities. Yet, when looking at the specific category of STEM CTE courses, there is no evidence that SWLDs are more likely to participate in high school STEM CTE courses compared to students without disabilities.

We have also looked at specific outcomes for SWLDs in STEM CTE courses. For instance, we examined computer science STEM CTE coursetaking for SWLDs. Participation was associated with growth in STEM self-efficacy and STEM utility (usefulness of what is learned for practical application) for SWLDs, whereas it related to positive development of STEM self-efficacy and STEM identity, but not STEM utility, for students without learning disabilities.

After we discovered that little was known about the association between STEM CTE coursetaking and college STEM persistence for SWLDs, we wanted to explore this area. So far, we have found that SWLDs who earned more units of STEM CTE in high school were more likely to seriously consider and ultimately declare STEM majors in college that are related to high school STEM CTE courses, such as information technology or engineering technology.

You and your colleagues recently published a paper in Education Research based on your NCSER-funded research. Could you summarize the findings in this paper and the implications for policy and practice?  

In our paper, we set out to identify whether there were any observable changes in CTE participation over time. The unique aspect of this study was that it combined national data from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 and the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 with administrative data from the state of Washington. Key findings indicated that CTE participation declined nationally between the graduating class of 2004 and the graduating class of 2009 except in the area of applied science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medical/health (STEMM) CTE, which includes courses in information technology, engineering technology, and health sciences. Data from Washington tended to be less varied in nature compared to national data, with fewer discernible trends, though in general STEM CTE did appear to have an upward trend for all students.

Our work also has direct relevance to policy. Recent changes in the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act emphasized the need to focus on increasing access and participation in STEM-related CTE coursework. While there does appear to be an upward trend in participation in these STEM fields, the tradeoff may be coming at the expense of other CTE areas of study. Combined with the increasing pressure for students to complete more and more academic coursework in a push for college readiness, this decrease in non-STEM CTE participation is particularly noteworthy. Finally, our work helps highlight the importance of examining CTE trends at the state and national levels. Different states have different needs and different graduation requirements that may or may not include CTE participation. As such, given the overall call to increase CTE participation for SWLDs, we encourage future research that explores the implications of these trends for this population.

What do you hope that school leaders, CTE teachers, and students will learn from all the research you are conducting?

The research has numerous implications for policy and practice. First, the results will be important for policymakers as they consider new or revised educational policies to support the pursuance and persistence of SWLDs into STEM fields. Education policymakers in particular need to understand the effects of STEM CTE coursetaking for SWLDs at multiple time points (transition into college, during college, and post-college). Understanding these issues more completely will make for well-informed policy decisions that promote short- and long-term success in STEM for SWLDs. This, in turn, has larger social policy implications with respect to upward mobility and lifelong success.

This project also has important implications for practice. By sharing these results, we hope to support education practitioners in making the adjustments necessary to improve the use of educational resources to ensure that SWLDs are prepared for and engaged in fields with high growth potential. For instance, many states have begun to accept STEM CTE courses for graduation requirements, which increases the likelihood students will take these courses. As STEM CTE courses prove important for SWLDs across the pipeline, then states and districts might consider how to best encourage students to take and succeed in these courses.

What additional research is needed to improve CTE policy and practice?

The current work can inform the future development of an intervention, assessment, or decision to evaluate an intervention. Evidence that STEM CTE coursetaking is associated with higher likelihood of college enrollment and the pursuit of STEM pathways for SWLDs supports the need to study interventions that encourage STEM CTE coursetaking for these students. For example, a randomly selected set of SWLDs who do not take traditional STEM could be counseled into taking STEM CTE courses or placement tests could be used to assign students to STEM CTE or traditional STEM courses. In both cases, students could then be followed into college and beyond to compare education and career outcomes using rigorous research designs. The results could provide additional, strong evidence for the value of STEM CTE coursetaking on postsecondary STEM outcomes.

This blog was authored by Akilah Nelson (akilah.nelson@ed.gov), Program Officer at NCSER, and Michael Gottfried (mgottfr2@upenn.edu), Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania.