IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Pinning Down the Use of Research in Education

There are plenty of great ideas to be found on Pinterest: recipes for no-bake, allergen-friendly cookies; tips for taking better photos; and suggestions for great vacation spots in Greece. Lots of teachers use Pinterest as a way to share classroom ideas and engaging lessons. But where do teachers, education leaders and decision makers turn when they need evidence-based instructional practices that may work to help struggling readers, or want to use research to address other educational challenges?

Since 2014, the National Center for Education Research (NCER) has funded two National Research and Development Centers on Knowledge Utilization in an effort to find out. They are well on their way to answering questions about how and why teachers and schools use—or do not use—research in their decision making. They are also exploring ways the research community can increase interest in and actual use of research-based practices.

We are beginning to see the first results of their efforts to answer two key questions. First, are educators and schools using education research in their decision making, and if they aren’t, why not? The second question is: If educators are not using evidence as a part of their work, what can the research community do to make it more likely they will?

The National Center for Research in Policy and Practice (NCRPP) was awarded to the University of Colorado Boulder and is led by Principal Investigator Bill Penuel (University of Colorado Boulder), and Co-Principal Investigators Derek Briggs (University of Colorado Boulder), Jon Fullerton (Harvard University), Heather Hill (Harvard University), Cynthia Coburn (Northwestern University), and Jim Spillane (Northwestern University).

NCRPP has recently released their first technical report which covers the descriptive results from their nationally-representative survey of school and district leaders. Results from the report show that school and district leaders do use research evidence for activities such as designing professional development, expanding their understanding of specific issues, or convincing others to agree with a particular point of view on an education issue. Instrumental uses of research, when district leaders apply research to guide or inform a specific decision, were most commonly reported. Overall, school and district leaders were positive about the relevance and value of research for practice. When asked to report what specific piece of research was most useful, school and district leaders named books, policy reports, and peer-reviewed journal articles. You can get more information on the center's website, http://ncrpp.org. They are also very active on Twitter.

The Center for Research Use in Education (CRUE) was awarded to the University of Delaware and is led by Principal Investigator Henry May (University of Delaware), and Co-Principal Investigator Liz Farley-Ripple (University of Delaware). This team is currently working on drafting their measures of research use, which will include a set of surveys for researchers and another set for practitioners. They are especially interested in understanding which factors contribute to deep engagement with research evidence, and how gaps in perceptions and values between researchers and practitioners may be associated with frequency of deep research use. You can learn more about the work of CRUE on their website, http://www.research4schools.org/ and follow them on Twitter

While the Centers were tasked with tapping into use of research evidence specifically, both are interested in understanding all sources of evidence that practitioners use, whether it’s from peer-reviewed research articles, the What Works Clearinghouse, a friend at another school, or even Pinterest. There is certainly a wealth of research evidence to support specific instructional practices and programs, and these two Centers will begin to provide answers to questions about how teachers and leaders are using this research.

So, it’s possible that, down the road, Pinterest will become a great place for homemade, toxic-free finger paint and evidence-based practices for improving education.

Written by Becky McGill-Wilkinson, NCER Program Officer for the Knowledge Utilization Research and Development Centers

Recognizing Our Outstanding Predoctoral Fellows

Each year, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) recognizes an outstanding fellow from its Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Programs in the Education Sciences for academic accomplishments and contributions to education research. For the first time, IES has selected joint recipients for the 2015 award: Meghan McCormick and Eric Taylor. They will receive their awards and present their research at the annual IES Principal Investigators meeting in Washington, D.C. in December 2016.

Meghan completed her Ph.D. in Applied Psychology at New York University and wrote her dissertation on the efficacy of INSIGHTS, a social emotional learning intervention aimed at improving low-income urban students’ academic achievement. She is currently a research associate at MDRC. Eric completed his PhD in the Economics of Education from Stanford University and wrote his dissertation on the contributions of the quality and quantity of classroom instruction to student learning. Eric is currently an assistant professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

We asked Meghan and Eric how participating in an IES predoctoral training program helped their development as researchers.  For more information about the IES predoctoral training program, visit our website.

Meghan McCormick

Having the opportunity to be part of the IES Predoctoral Training Program helped me to develop a set of theoretical, quantitative, and practical skills that I would not have had the opportunity to develop otherwise. 

I was drawn to attend NYU (New York University) for my doctoral studies specifically because the school of education at NYU offered the (IES) predoctoral training program, in addition to hosting a core set of faculty with research interests very much aligned with my own. In my first year of graduate school, I quickly became aware that being a part of the IES program allowed me the freedom to study with an interdisciplinary set of scholars who could support multiple components of my training through a diverse set of experiences.

For example, in my work with Elise Cappella, Erin O’Connor, and Sandee McClowry, I was able to learn about the logistics of implementing a cluster-randomized trial across a broad set of schools, and conducting impact analyses to evaluate the efficacy of one social-emotional learning program called INSIGHTS. My experience working with Jim Kemple and Lori Nathanson at the Research Alliance for New York City schools showed me how to use research in a way that was responsive to the needs and goals of education policy makers. Quantitative coursework with Jennifer Hill and Sharon Weinberg helped me to apply rigorous quantitative methods to the data that were collected in schools, and to think concretely about the implications of research design for my future work. Coursework with developmental psychologists conducting policy-relevant research, such as Pamela Morris and Larry Aber, helped me to apply comprehensive theoretical framing when examining research questions of interest, and interpreting results. In addition, I have always been primarily interested in conducting interdisciplinary research that is responsive to policy and practice. My dissertation research grew out of my interest in learning about interdisciplinary methods for causal inference and applying them to research questions I had about how, for whom, and under what circumstances the social-emotional learning program I helped to evaluate effected outcomes for low-income students.

Most importantly, perhaps, having been part of the IES program’s collaborative and interdisciplinary community helped me to identify the type of research I wanted to do after finishing graduate school. Primarily, I knew that I wanted to conduct policy-relevant research, using the most rigorous quantitative methods available, with a team of researchers coming from different backgrounds. This realization led me to work at MDRC, where I have been working with JoAnn Hsueh and other colleagues to apply my skills from the predoctoral training program in new research design work that is responsive to critical policy questions in early education policy and practice right now. I feel prepared for this new work given the opportunities that the IES program afforded me across the last five years. 

Eric Taylor

I would emphasize two benefits. First, the IES program at Stanford helped me create and strengthen professional relationships with other education researchers and practitioners. Those relationships provided important opportunities to learn skills in ways that could not happen in the classroom but also complemented the excellent classroom instruction. The new relationships were diverse: other graduate students in different disciplines, Stanford faculty and faculty at other institutions, and, critically, practitioners and policy makers. For example, supported by my fellowship, I joined faculty at (the University of) Michigan and Columbia (University) working with the DC Public Schools to improve teacher applicant screening and hiring.

Second, those relationships combined with the financial support of the fellowship made it possible to work on new and timely research projects. During my time as an IES predoc, with collaborators at Brown, we started a researcher-practitioner partnership with colleges at the Tennessee Department of Education. The resulting work has taught me much about the day-to-day realities of school policy making and management, and how research can and cannot help. The partnership with Tennessee also grew into a five-year grant from IES, which began last year, to study state policy and teacher development through evaluation.

In short, I am certain my career is much further along today than it would have been without the IES predoc fellowship.

By Katina Stapleton, Education Research Analyst, National Center for Education Research 

 

A Conversation about Reading for Understanding

There is a lot of discussion these days about the importance of bringing many voices to the table when designing, implementing, and interpreting research studies. The usefulness of educational research is only enhanced when teachers, policmakers, and researchers work together to design studies and understand the findings.

The Educational Testing Service and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) sponsored such an opportunity on May 18 and 19 by bringing together over 150 researchers, practitioners, instructional specialists, federal staff, and policy makers to reflect on the efforts of the of the Reading for Understanding Research Initiative (RfU).

Researchers from the six RfU teams shared what they learned about how to work together to design and implement new approaches and improve reading for understanding from PreK through high school. They also discussed what needs to be done to build on this effort.  (Check out this recent blog post to learn how some researchers are building on the work of the RfU Initiative.)

Sessions at the meeting were designed to promote discussion among attendees in order to take advantage of different viewpoints and  better understand the implications of the RfU findings and the relevance for practice and policy. The meeting culminated with two panels tasked with summarizing key points from these discussions. One panel focused on implications for research, and the other on policy implications. The presence of practitioners from the field, researchers, and policymakers led to a well-rounded conversation about how we can build upon the research of RfU and put it into action in the classroom.

The agenda, presentation slides, and webcasts of the closing panels are now available for viewing on the meeting website.  

Written by Karen Douglas, Education Research Analyst, NCER

Exploring the Role of Physical Activity, Inactivity, and Sleep in Academic Outcomes

What role do physical activity, inactivity, and sleep habits play in students’ academic outcomes? Some new IES-funded research grants will help us find out.

Three new IES grants funded under the Education Research Grants program will explore how students’ physical activity, sleep habits, and cognitive tempo are associated with their socio-emotional and academic outcomes.  Here is a brief summary of these studies along with their potential contributions to research, practice, and policy. 

Physical activity – While physical activity is generally accepted as a positive thing, its full effect on children's cognitive and academic outcomes remains uncertain and little is known about whether increased opportunities for physical activity are associated with improved academic achievement. In this new grant, Michael Willoughby, of RTI International,  and colleagues will examine whether, and under what conditions, individual differences in child physical activity in preschool settings are associated with enhanced executive functioning and academic achievement. The findings from this project may help inform school policy decisions about the frequency and amount of student physical activity during the school day.

Sleep - Sleep problems are considerably more common in individuals with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in comparison to the general population. Approximately 30% of children and 60% of adults with ADHD exhibit significant sleep problems. Little is known, however, about how sleep problems contribute to the educational functioning of adolescents with ADHD or why prevalence rates are higher among adolescents with ADHD. In this new grant, Joshua Langberg, of Virginia Commonwealth University, will lead a team that will conduct a longitudinal study of students with and without ADHD from Grades 8 to 10. They will assess sleep patterns, academic, and social functioning, and factors that may differentially predict the presence of sleep problems. The findings from this project may lead to recommendations for how and when schools can include sleep assessments as part of psychoeducational evaluations and may help inform policy decisions about school contextual factors that can impact sleep, such as the amount of homework assigned. In addition, the findings from this project can be used to inform the development of a school-based intervention that addresses sleep problems.

Sluggish Cognitive Tempo - Sluggish cognitive tempo (SCT) refers to a specific set of attention symptoms, including excessive daydreaming, mental confusion, seeming to be "in a fog," and slowed thinking or behavior. In this new grant, Stephen Becker, of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and his colleagues will examine the academic and socio-emotional problems experienced by students in grades 2 to 5 with elevated SCT symptoms. They will examine the current patterns of school referrals, educational accommodations, and interventions for children with elevated levels of SCT. The findings from this project can inform the development of interventions to mitigate the long-term consequences of sluggish cognitive tempo on students’ socio-emotional and academic outcomes.

Written by Christina Chhin, Education Research Analyst, National Center for Education Research

What’s Next for the Reading for Understanding Research Initiative?

After years of intense collaboration and research, the Reading for Understanding (RfU) Research Initiative is coming to an end. But the initiative’s work continues through recently announced IES-funded grants.

Over six years, research teams in the RfU network designed and tested new interventions that aim to improve reading comprehension in students in all grade levels and developed new measures of reading comprehension and component skills that support it. The initiative led to several new and important findings. In the coming years, several teams will build on that work through new research projects funded by IES’ National Center for Education Research (NCER) and National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER).  

During the RfU initiative, the Promoting Adolescents’ Comprehension of Text (PACT) team found positive effects in improving the content-area reading comprehension of middle school students. The PACT intervention uses social studies content to engage students and teach them to build coherent representations of the ideas in texts. Through a new grant from NCER, the PACT team will be testing the effectiveness of the intervention in middle school social studies classrooms in eight states.

Another group of researchers from the PACT team are starting a new project with funding from NCSER to design and test a technology-based intervention aimed at improving how middle school students with reading disabilities make inferences while reading.  

The RfU assessment team is also launching a new NCER-funded project to develop a digital assessment appropriate for adults, in particular those reading between the 3rd- to 8th-grade levels. Building on the Global, Integrated Scenario-Based Assessment (GISA) developed in RfU, the team intends for this new assessment to help determine an adult reader's strengths and weaknesses, inform instruction, and improve programs and institutional accountability. In addition, this team is using assessment items developed with RfU funding to explore the relationship between high school students' background knowledge and their reading comprehension.  

Finally, the Florida State University RfU team is continuing to explore which combination of interventions will improve the early language skills that are foundational to mastery of reading. In this new project, the researchers will examine the relative efficacy and sustained impacts of a language and vocabulary intervention for prekindergarten and kindergarten students, with variations on when and how long the intervention is used.

Written by Elizabeth Albro, Associate Commissioner, NCER