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.

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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.

Resolve to Study Effectively in 2018

Students of all ages want to study more effectively and efficiently, while teachers want to improve their students’ understanding and retention of important concepts. The Institute’s Cognition and Student Learning (CASL) program has invested in several research projects that test the effectiveness of different strategies for improving learning and provide resources for teachers who want to implement these strategies in their classrooms.  Two strategies that are easy for teachers and students to implement and do not require a lot of time or money are retrieval practice and interleaving.

 

Retrieval practice (also known as test-enhanced learning) involves recalling information that has been previously learned. Research has shown that when students actively retrieve information from memory (e.g., through low-stakes quizzes), their ability to retain that information in the future improves when compared to other common study strategies like re-reading and highlighting key concepts while reading class texts.

Interleaving is the process of mixing up different types of problems during practice. Unlike blocking, where a student practices the same type of problem over and over again, interleaved practice involves multiple types of problems that require different strategies to solve. In mathematics, where interleaving and blocking have been studied most, blocking is frequently employed at the end of each chapter in a textbook. With interleaved practice, students must choose a strategy to solve the problem and apply that strategy successfully. Research has shown that students learn more when engaged in interleaved practice relative to blocked practice.

For decades, research has shown the benefits of both retrieval practice and interleaving for learning; however, until this point, there were no easily accessible resources that practitioners could turn to for concrete details and suggestions for how to implement these strategies in their classrooms. Two of the IES CASL research projects that have focused on these study strategies (Developing a Manual for Test-Enhanced Learning in the Classroom, PI: Henry Roediger and Interleaved Mathematics Practice, PI: Douglas Rohrer) resulted in guides for teachers that provide information on how to implement these strategies in their classrooms. These guides are freely available through the website www.retrievalpractice.org (download the Retrieval Practice Guide here and the Interleaving Guide here). With these guides, teachers can learn more about how to use retrieval practice and interleaving to improve their students’ understanding and retention of the concepts they are learning. Happy studying!

By Erin Higgins, NCER Program Officer, Cognition and Student Learning

Rural Education Research: Current Investments and Future Directions

By Emily Doolittle, NCER Program Officer

In school year 2010-11, over half of all operating regular school districts and about one-third of all public schools were in rural areas, while about one-quarter of all public school students were enrolled in rural schools.(The Status of Rural Education)

 

About 12 million students are educated in rural settings in the United States. Teaching and learning in these settings generates unique challenges, both for the schools operating in rural areas and for the researchers who want to learn more about rural schools and their needs. Recognizing this, NCER has made targeted investments in rural education research through two of its National Education Research and Development (R&D) Centers.

The National Research Center on Rural Education Support focused on the educational challenges created by limited resources in rural settings, such as attracting and retaining appropriately and highly qualified teachers and providing them with high-quality professional development. Specific projects included:

  • The Targeted Reading Intervention (TRI) program, which seeks to help rural teachers, who often work in isolation, turn struggling early readers (kindergarten and 1st grade) into fluent ones. Using a laptop and a webcam, a TRI Consultant supports the classroom teacher as they provide diagnostically-driven instruction in one-on-one sessions.
  • The Rural Early Adolescent Learning Program (REAL) professional development model, which helps teachers consider the academic, behavioral, and social difficulties that together contribute to school failure and dropout for adolescent students. Accordingly, REAL is designed to provide teachers with strategies to help students make a successful transition into middle school.
  • The Rural Distance Learning and Technology Program, which examined the role of distance in advanced level courses for students and professional development for teachers; and
  • The Rural High School Aspirations Study (RHSA), which examined rural high school students’ postsecondary aspirations and preparatory planning.

The National Center foResearch on Rural Education (R2Ed) examined ways to design and deliver teacher professional development to improve instruction and support student achievement in reading and science in rural schools through three projects:

  • The Teachers Speak Survey Study investigated (1) variations in existing rural professional development (PD) experiences; (2) differences in PD practices between rural and non-rural settings; and (3) the potential influence of PD characteristics on teacher knowledge, perceptions, and practices in one of four instructional content areas: reading, mathematics, science inquiry, or using data-based decision making to inform reading instruction/intervention.
  • Project READERS evaluated the impact of distance-provided coaching on (1) teachers' use of differentiated reading instruction following a response-to-intervention (RTI) model and (2) their students' acquisition of reading skills in early elementary school.
  • Coaching Science Inquiry (CSI) evaluated the impact of professional development with distance-provided coaching for teaching science using explicit instruction with guided inquiry and scaffolding on teacher instructional practice and science achievement in middle and high school.

R2Ed also conducted two related sets of studies.

  • The first set explored ecological influences and supports that may augment educational interventions and outcomes in rural schools. The goal of this work is to understand contextual influences of rurality and how they interact to influence parent engagement in education and child cognitive and social-behavioral outcomes.  
  • The second set explored methodological and statistical solutions to challenges associated with the conduct of rigorous experimental research in rural schools.

As R2Ed completes its work, NCER is considering how to support rural education research going forward. As a first step, we hosted a technical working group meeting in December 2014 to identify research objectives of importance to rural schools and to reflect on the success of the R&D Center model to advance our understanding of rural education. A summary of the meeting is available here on the IES website.  The ideas shared during this meeting will help guide future IES investments in rural education research.  

Please send any comments or questions to IESResearch@ed.gov.