IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

An Intern's Perspective on the National Center for Education Research

By Brittney Fraumeni, NCER Intern

Photo of Brittney Fraumeni

 

Each year, the Institute of Education Sciences’ two research centers offer unpaid internships for undergraduate or graduate students interested in learning about the research grant making process and contributing to the work of the centers.  Internships are coordinated through the U.S. Department of Education’s student volunteer office and are available throughout the year.  For application information, please see the ED Student Volunteer Unpaid Internship Program.  

This summer Brittney Fraumeni, a doctoral student in Psychological Science at DePaul University interned with the National Center for Education Research (NCER). At the end of her internship, Brittney reflected on her summer with NCER. 

What brought you to the internship?

As I headed in to the final months of my third year of graduate school, I began to really question what I wanted to do with my degree when I was finished. My PhD program emphasizes training for an academic position, but I had doubts about whether or not that was the best fit for me. So when the opportunity to be a summer intern at NCER presented itself, I seized it, hoping for a learning experience that would help shape my view of my future career.

How did you hear about the internship?

I briefly worked as a freelance researcher on a US Department of Education grant, which was the first time it occurred to me that the government had a research department. I easily found the IES website, and after some exploring on the site, discovered that they had internships available. I applied ASAP.

Why did you want to do the internship?

I really wanted an opportunity to see what a non-academic position could be like. As I mentioned, most of my graduate training has revolved around obtaining an academia related career, and so I had no idea what else was out there.

What were your days like at the internship?

The internship schedule was really flexible, and I was allowed to choose my own days and hours. Additionally, I was in charge of my own time management throughout the day. At the beginning of my six week stay, the main projects I was going to be working on were given to me, meaning that everyday I came in to the office after that, I mostly knew what I would be working on. I had three big projects to work on, so I usually just circulated through tasks for those, and every once in awhile a small project would head my way that I would add to my schedule.

What was beneficial about the internship?

The internship really helped confirm what I was already thinking at the beginning of the summer: I’d like to get a job in a non-academic field upon completing my doctorate. But, more than that, the internship gave me the chance to work with like-minded individuals who were open to letting me pick their brain and providing contact information with people in the education research field. Overall, it was a great learning and networking opportunity.

What did you learn from the internship?

More than just learning more about education research, I learned new skills. Before the internship, I only knew of social media from a personal standpoint. But, as more companies branch out to different social media outlets to promote their work, it’s important to know how to have a professional and effective social media presence. Working on the social media team at IES really boosted my social media skills.

What did you learn about IES/ED from doing the internship?

Before applying for the internship, I thought ED was really only a department focused on policy; I wasn’t even aware that the department was involved in research! However, through actually working here, I learned that not only is there a research department, there are so many more departments than I even could have imagined. IES itself is broken down in to multiple branches that all have different focuses on research elements. By working with the people here and having the opportunity to sit in on different meetings, I was able to learn what each department does and the special role they each play in promoting education research. Furthermore, I learned that not everybody took the same path to get here; IES is made up of employees with all different backgrounds, which makes for a fun and diverse environment to work in.

How did the internship reshape your thinking about education research?

I used to think education research was a relatively small area. Now, after having hands on experience with writing up award summaries, I know that there are many people interested in education research and pursuing it. It never occurred to me how many different companies (not just schools!) had an interest in developing interventions for education purposes. It is so inspiring to now know just how many people out there are trying to promote the best outcomes for students, from pre-k to college.


Questions? Comments? Please send them to IESResearch@ed.gov. 

The ‘Not So Simple’ View of Reading

By Karen Douglas, NCER Program Officer

 

Improving students’ capacity to understand what they read in all subject areas is a primary focus of educators and policymakers. Educators and researchers have been focused on interventions to improve reading for decades, and a great deal of attention has been given to improving word level skills (such as phonemic awareness and decoding). In part, this focus can be traced to the ‘Simple View of Reading,’ a theoretical framework developed by Gough and Tunmer almost 30 years ago.

The Simple View states that readers need to both understand language and decode the symbols on the page in order to comprehend written text. The influential role of decoding on reading outcomes has been well studied, and many interventions have been developed that show good results in improving these skills for many students. But improvement in decoding skills, while necessary, has not generally been sufficient to improve reading comprehension.

In recent years, researchers have begun exploring the other part of the equation -- language. Most often, researchers use vocabulary knowledge as a proxy for language skills and a great deal of research is focused on improving vocabulary skills. Efforts to improve vocabulary generally show that students learn the new words they are taught, but generalized effects on vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension are elusive. It seems likely that in addition to understanding the meanings of individual words, students also need to know how words are constructed (morphology), how they are used in text (syntax and grammar), and how to make inferences from text in order to make sense of the wide variety of materials they must read.

The Reading for Understanding Research Initiative (RfU), funded in 2010 by IES, is addressing a broader conception of language in trying to improve reading comprehension. RfU provided funding for six research teams to study the basic processes that undergird reading comprehension, develop and test new curricula and instructional programs to improve it, and develop new assessments to provide a better measure of students’ capacity to read in authentic scenarios. Collectively, RfU researchers are studying the development of reading for understanding from prekindergarten through high school with the goal of creating new knowledge about what matters at each developmental stage in order for students to finish high school with sufficient reading skills for college and career. Each of these six teams has incorporated attention to aspects of language beyond vocabulary knowledge and several teams have published results that provide evidence of the potential of improved language skills for building reading comprehension. Abstracts for studies and publications to date can be found on the IES website.

In a recent article in Educational Psychology Review, my co-author Elizabeth Albro and I describe the purpose of the RfU Research Initiative, the goals of the six teams funded under the initiative, and progress made through 2014. As the work of the RfU Research Initiative comes to completion, the RfU researchers are positioned to make important contributions to what we know about the development of reading for understanding and how we can best improve it for all students. Expanded knowledge about the language skills that support reading for understanding and how to improve them will be a key component of this contribution. Stay tuned to Inside IES Research to learn more about what the teams are finding.

 

The Month in Review: July 2015

By Liz Albro, NCER Associate Commissioner of Teaching and Learning

Summer Conference Season

Many IES-funded researchers have been sharing the findings of their studies at academic conferences this past month.  Want to learn more? Lists of presentations describing IES-funded research at the Society for Text & Discourse and Society for the Scientific Study of Reading annual meetings are available on our conferences page.

A Busy Month for IES Research in the News

Have you visited our IES Research in the News page lately? It’s a great way to learn more about IES-funded research.  Not only can you read more about the new awards that have been recently made, you can learn about findings from recent studies. We do our best to keep up, but if we’re missing something, send us a note at IESResearch@ed.gov.

More Recognition for ED/IES SBIR Products

ED/IES SBIR supported games by Triad Interactive Media (PlatinuMath) and Electric Funstuff won Gold at the Serious Play Conference.  And ED/IES SBIR awardee Fluidity Software won 1st Place in the “Best Performing Office Add-On” category, for their FluidMath app, which teachers and students use to create dynamic math and physics formulas.

Summer Research Training Institute on Cluster-Randomized Trials in Education Sciences

Congratulations to the 29 participants who completed the ninth Summer Research Training Institute on cluster-randomized trials (CRTs) in education sciences!

The purpose of this training is to prepare current education researchers to plan, design, conduct, and interpret cluster-randomized trials. A tenth Institute will be held in summer 2016, so be sure to follow us on Twitter or subscribe to the IES Newsflash to get application information as soon as it is available. 

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

Congratulations Dr. Donald Compton and Colleagues at Vanderbilt University for Winning the Albert J. Harris Award!

By Sammi Plourde, NCSER Intern; Kristen Rhoads, NCSER Program Officer; and Becky McGill-Wilkinson, NCER Program Officer

IES-funded research by Dr. Compton and his colleagues was recently awarded the International Literacy Association’s (ILA) Albert J. Harris Award!  ILA is an advocacy organization that publishes current research on literacy and provides resources for practitioners, students, and leaders involved in facilitating literacy development across the world.  The Albert J. Harris Award is given annually to a recently published journal article or monograph that contributes to better understanding of prevention or measurement of learning disabilities or reading disabilities.

Picture of teacher reading a book to four children

The winning article by Jennifer K. Gilbert, Donald L. Compton, Douglas Fuchs, Lynn S. Fuchs, Bobette Bouton, Laura A. Barquero, and Eunsoo Cho entitled “Efficacy of a First-Grade Responsiveness-to-Intervention Prevention Model for Struggling Readers,” features findings from a NCSER-funded measurement study focused on identifying and intervening with struggling readers as early as first grade.  The article describes effects of intensive intervention within a multi-tiered prevention model. Struggling readers who were randomly assigned to receive an intensive, small-group intervention had better reading gains compared to students who received classroom instruction as usual. However, some students continued to struggle despite receiving the intensive intervention.  Those students were then randomly assigned to receive the intensive intervention in a one-on-one format or to continue in a small-group format. Results indicated that no differences in performance existed between the two formats.  They also found that more than half of the students who participated in the intervention failed to achieve average reading scores by the end of third grade.  These findings suggest that students with persistent reading problems need intervention as early as possible that spans multiple years.  They also suggest that instruction for the students should be tailored to meet individual needs.  

Dr. Compton and his colleagues are continuing this research with IES.  They were funded by NCER to conduct a follow-up research study to identify characteristics of children who begin elementary school with typical reading development but are then later identified as having a reading disability. This work will provide information on how to guide instruction for students who have these characteristics.

Congratulations to Dr. Compton and his colleagues for making such an important contribution to identifying, preventing, and treating reading disabilities!


Questions? Comments? Please send them to IESResearch@ed.gov

 

 

Researching Minority-Serving Institutions

By Katina Stapleton and James Benson, NCER Program Officers

A core problem for research on minority-serving institutions (MSIs) is that they have been defined inconsistently. Through the IES-funded Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment (CAPSEE) at Teachers College, Columbia University, researcher Valerie Lundy-Wagner is leading two research projects that aim to provide the definitional and contextual information necessary for carrying out more comprehensive and rigorous research on MSIs and the ethnic/racial and low-income students they disproportionately serve.

We spoke with Valerie about her motivation for studying MSIs and the challenges that face MSI researchers.

How did you become interested in studying minority-serving institutions (MSIs)?

Photo: Valerie Lundy-Wagner

My interest in MSIs was brought about by two experiences in graduate school. While in a master’s program at Stanford University, I met ten African American students pursuing doctoral degrees in one of the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. I quickly learned that nearly all had one thing in common—they had attended a historically Black college or university (HBCU) for their undergraduate degree. I was intrigued by this and began to wonder about the extent to which their having attended an HBCU contributed to their undergraduate success and subsequent decision to pursue higher education beyond the baccalaureate.

MSIs also came up during my first year of the doctoral program at the University of Pennsylvania where I was assigned to a qualitative research project focused on the contribution of MSIs to the preparation of African American women in STEM fields, and specifically at Spelman College (Atlanta, Georgia)—one of two all-women’s historically Black colleges. Based my master’s research, I had some ideas on the academic, psychological, financial, and structural reasons why students failed to persist in STEM; yet, until that project, I had not seen the numbers. In preparation for our site visit, I ran the descriptive statistics on HBCUs—in particular, their Black undergraduate enrollment but also the number and percentage of degrees they conferred to African American students each year by gender. The disproportionate contribution these institutions were making was surprising. Since then I’ve been interested in learning more about how these and other MSIs (e.g., Hispanic-serving institutions, tribal colleges and universities, predominately Black institutions, Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institutions) contribute to postsecondary access and completion by minority and low-income students. Now that I am working on this CAPSEE project, I am especially interested in understanding how these institutions might be meaningfully incorporated into higher education research and into policy interventions that will help close postsecondary attainment gaps by ethnicity/race.

How are MSIs important in the postsecondary system and why should researchers and policymakers be interested in research on MSIs?

Based on the extant research, MSIs are a critical part of the postsecondary system. According to some reports, these institutions comprise 20% of all colleges and universities, and on average, 70% of their undergraduate enrollment are ethnic/racial minority students. While poor K-12 preparation and achievement are significant factors in this reality, the fact that many MSIs are open-access institutions makes them an important site for students seeking a chance at increasing proficiency and pursuing higher education credentials. For researchers, we have the opportunity to better understand how these institutions are successfully transitioning underprepared students into high achievers, but also how their lack of resources may be contributing to less-than-ideal outcomes.

What are the greatest challenges in conducting research on MSIs?

There are at least two major challenges in conducting research on MSIs. First, the institutional status or designation of an MSI has not been consistent over time. What many people do not realize about MSIs is that some were established by the federal government to acknowledge and help address historical and ongoing inequality in access to education (e.g., historically Black college and universities) while others were established to address contemporary inequality (e.g., Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institutions). Second, and in a similar vein, MSIs have become a large and growing topic of higher education research, yet this body of work largely discusses institutions eligible for MSI designation and those that are actually funded under a federal program as though they are one and the same. In effect, including institutions simply eligible for MSI status with those that have deliberately made an effort to better support an ethnic/racial minority group by applying for and receiving MSI-specific funds convolutes the contribution of the federal MSI programs. This complicates a researcher’s ability to make relevant comparisons between institutions disproportionately serving minority students but also work seeking to compare MSIs to non-MSIs.

Your current IES-funded research project on MSIs utilizes data from NCES’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). What kind of questions about MSIs can IPEDS help answer?

IPEDS is an important and critical resource for postsecondary education research. In the descriptive analysis of this project, five annual IPEDS surveys are being used to help provide basic aggregate-level information on the characteristics of postsecondary institutions and the students they serve. Some of the questions IPEDs will help answer include, “How does percent Pell receipt among undergraduates vary among institutions eligible for and designated as MSIs? And how does this compare across MSI designations and to non-MSIs?” In effect, these questions seek to identify the extent to which there is a relationship between institutional characteristics and minority student outcomes among MSIs and non-MSIs. IPEDS will also provide me with an opportunity to clarify differences and similarities between MSIs and non-MSIs at the institution-level. This is necessary for subsequently developing more rigorous research on the effect of MSI status or funding on minority student outcomes.

Given the projected increases in postsecondary enrollment of minority students, do you see MSIs becoming more or less important to the postsecondary system in the future?

Yes.  Despite the technical issues associated with identifying which set(s) of institutions are MSIs, the fact of the matter is that there are a growing number of institutions that are disproportionately educating students of color and low-income students. Given the gaps in postsecondary access and attainment by ethnic/racial minority students, stakeholders in research, policy, and postsecondary institutions must better understand the challenges and the mechanisms for success occurring at these institutions, as well as how successful initiatives and reforms supporting similar students at predominately White institutions could be brought to MSIs. 


Interested in learning more about this topic? CAPSEE and the Center for Minority Serving Institutions at the University of Pennsylvania recently published On Their Own Terms: Two-Year Minority Serving Institutions, a report that looks at the role of two-year Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) in improving postsecondary access and degree completion for disadvantaged students in the United States.

Comments or questions for IES? Please send them to IESResearch@ed.gov.