IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Activities for Students and Families Stuck at Home due to COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

As I write this blog post, my 4-year-old is spraying me with a water sprayer while I am desperately protecting my computer from a direct hit. Earlier, while I was listening in on a meeting, she yelled out “hi!” anytime I took myself off mute. Balancing work and raising kids in this bizarre situation we find ourselves in is an overwhelming experience. When schools started closing, some parents resorted to posting suggested schedules for kids to keep up a routine and deliver academic content during the day. These were wonderful suggestions. As someone whose dissertation focused on how people learn, I should be applauding such posts, but instead, they filled me with a sense of anxiety and guilt. How am I supposed to balance getting my work done while also designing a rigorous curriculum of reading, writing, and math instruction for a kid whose attention span lasts about 10-20 minutes and who needs guidance and adult interaction to learn effectively? Let’s take a step back and recognize that this situation is not normal. We adults are filled with anxiety for the future. We are trying to manage an ever-growing list of things—do we have enough food? Do we need to restock medications? What deadlines do we need to hit at work?

So here is my message to you, parents, who are managing so much and trying desperately to keep your kids happy, healthy, and engaged: recognize that learning experiences exist in even the simplest of interactions between you and your kids. For example—

  • When doing laundry, have your child help! Have them sort the laundry into categories, find the matching socks, name colors. Create patterns with colors or clothing types (for example, red sock, then blue, then red, which comes next?).
  • Find patterns in your environment, in language (for example, nursery rhymes), and when playing with blocks or Legos. Researchers have shown that patterning is strongly related to early math skills.
  • Talk about numbers when baking. I did this with my daughter yesterday morning. We made muffins and had a blast talking about measuring cups, the number of eggs in the recipe, and even turning the dial on the oven to the correct numbers. Older kids might be interested in learning the science behind baking.
  • Take a walk down your street (practicing good social distancing of course!) and look for different things in your environment to count or talk about.
  • Bring out the scissors and paper and learn to make origami along with your kids, both for its benefits for spatial thinking and as a fun, relaxing activity! In this project, researchers developed and pilot tested Think 3d!, an origami and pop-up paper engineering curriculum designed to teach spatial skills to students. The program showed promise in improving spatial thinking skills.
  • If you choose to use screen time, choose apps that promote active, engaged, meaningful, socially interactive learning.
  • If you choose to use television programs, there is evidence showing that high quality educational programs can improve students’ vocabulary knowledge.

Hopefully these examples show that you can turn even the most mundane tasks into fun learning experiences and interactions with your kids. They may not become experts in calculus at the end of all of this, but maybe they will look back fondly on this period of their life as a time when they were able to spend more time with their parents. At the end of the day, having positive experiences with our kids is going to be valuable for us and for them. If you have time to infuse some formal learning into this time, great, but if that feels like an overwhelmingly hard thing to do, be kind to yourself and recognize the value of even the most simple, positive interaction with your kids.

Written by Erin Higgins, PhD, who oversees the National Center for Education Research (NCER)'s Cognition and Student Learning portfolio.

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.

SELweb: From Research to Practice at Scale in Education

With a 2011 IES development grant, researchers at Rush University Medical Center, led by Clark McKown, created SELweb, a web-based system to assess the social-emotional skills in children in Kindergarten to Grade 3. The system (watch the video demo) includes illustrated and narrated modules that gauge children’s social acceptance with peers and assess their ability to understand others’ emotions and perspectives, solve social problems, and self-regulate. The system generates teacher reports with norm-referenced scores and classroom social network maps. Field trials with 8,881 children in seven states demonstrate that system produces reliable and valid measures of social-emotional skills. Findings from all publications on SELweb are posted here.

In 2016, with support from the university, McKown launched a company called xSEL Labs, to further develop and ready SELweb for use at scale and to facilitate the launch SELweb into the school marketplace. SELweb is currently used in 21 school districts in 16 states by over 90,000 students per year.

Interview with Clark McKown of Rush University Medical Center and xSEL Labs

 

From the start of the project, was it always a goal for SELweb to one day be ready to be used widely in schools?

CM: When we started our aspiration was to build a usable, feasible, scientifically sound assessment and it could be done. When the end of the grant got closer, we knew that unless we figured out another way to support the work, this would be yet another good idea that would wither on the vine after showing evidence of promise. In the last year and a half of the grant, I started thinking about how to get this into the hands of educators to support teaching and learning, and how to do it in a large-scale way.

 

By the conclusion of your IES grant to develop SELweb, how close were you to the version that is being used now in schools? How much more time and money was it going to take?

CM: Let me answer that in two ways. First is how close I thought we were to a scalable version. I thought we were pretty close. Then let me answer how close we really were. Not very close. We had built SELweb in a Flash based application that was perfectly suited to small-scale data collection and was economical to build. But for a number of reasons, there was no way that it would work at scale. So we needed capital, time, and a new platform. We found an outstanding technology partner, the 3C Institute, who have a terrific ed tech platform well-suited to our needs, robust, and scalable. And we received funding from the Wallace Foundation to migrate the assessment from the original platform to 3C’s. The other thing I have learned is that technology is not one and done. It requires continued investment, upkeep, and improvement.

What experiences led you to start a company? How were you able to do this as an academic researcher?

CM: I could tell you that I ran a children’s center, had a lot of program development experience, had raised funds, and all that would be true, and some of the skills I developed in those roles have transferred. But starting a company is really different than anything I’d done before. It’s exciting and terrifying. It requires constant effort, a willingness to change course, rapid decision-making, collaboration, and a different kind of creativity than the academy. Turns out I really like it. I probably wouldn’t have made the leap except that the research led me to something that I felt required the marketplace to develop further and to realize its potential. There was really only so far I could take SELweb in the academic context. And universities recognize the limitations of doing business through the university—that’s why they have offices of technology transfer—to spin off good ideas from the academy to the market. And it’s a feather in their cap when they help a faculty member commercialize an invention. So really, it was about finding out how to use the resources at my disposal to migrate to an ecosystem suited to continuing to improve SELweb and to get it into the hands of educators.

How did xSEL Labs pay for the full development of the version of SELweb ready for use at scale?

CM: Just as we were getting off the ground, we developed

 a partnership with a research funder (the Wallace Foundation) who was interested in using SELweb as an outcome measure in a large-scale field trial of an SEL initiative. They really liked SELweb, but it was clear that in its original form, it simply wouldn’t work at the scale they required. So we worked out a contract that included financial support for improving the system in exchange for discounted fees in the out years of the project.

What agreement did you make with the university in order to start your company and commercial SELweb?

CM: I negotiated a license for the intellectual property from Rush University with the university getting a royalty and a small equity stake in the company.

Did anyone provide you guidance on the business side?

CM: Yes. I lucked into a group of in-laws who happen to be entrepreneurs, some in the education space. And my wife has a sharp business mind. They were helpful. I also sought and found advisors with relevant expertise to help me think through the initial licensing terms, and then pricing, marketing, sales, product development, and the like. One of the nice things about business is that you aren’t expected to know everything. You do need to know how and when to reach out to others for guidance, and how to frame the issues so that guidance is relevant and helpful.

How do you describe the experience of commercializing SELWeb?

CM: Commercialization is, in my experience, an exercise in experimentation and successive approximations. How will you find time and money to test the waters? Commercialization is an exciting and challenging leap from the lab to the marketplace. In my experience, you can’t do it alone, and even with great partners, competitive forces and chance factors make success scale hard to accomplish. Knowing what you don’t know, and finding partners who can help, is critical.

I forgot who described a startup as a temporary organization designed to test whether a business idea is replicable and sustainable. That really rings true. The experience has been about leaving the safe confines of the university and entering the dynamic and endlessly interesting bazaar beyond the ivory tower to see if what I have to offer can solve a problem of practice.

In one sentence (or two!), what would say is most needed for gaining traction in the marketplace?

CM: Figure out who the customer is, what the customer needs, and how what you have to offer addresses those needs. Until you get that down, all the evidence in the world won’t lead to scale.

Do you have advice for university researchers seeking to move their laboratory research into wide-spread practice?

CM: It’s not really practical for most university researchers to shift gears and become an entrepreneur. So I don’t advise doing what I did, although I’m so glad I did. For most university researchers, they should continue doing great science, and when they recognize a scalable idea, consider commercialization as an important option for bringing the idea to scale. My impression is that academic culture often finds commerce to be alien and somewhat grubby, which can get in the way. The truth is, there are whip-smart people in business who have tremendous expertise. The biggest hurdle for many university researchers will be to recognize that they lack expertise in bringing ideas to market, they will need to find that expertise, respect it, and let go of some control as the idea, program, or product is shaped by market forces. It’s also a hard truth for researchers, but most of the world doesn’t care very much about evidence of efficacy. They have much more pressing problems of practice to attend to. Don’t get me wrong—evidence of efficacy is crucial. But for an efficacious idea to go to scale, usability and feasibility are the biggest considerations.

For academics, getting the product into the marketplace requires a new set of considerations, such as: Universities and granting mechanisms reward solo stars; the marketplace rewards partnerships. That is a big shift in mindset, and not easily accomplished. Think partnerships, not empires; listening more than talking.

Any final words of wisdom in moving your intervention from research to practice?

CM: Proving the concept of an ed tech product gets you to the starting line, not the finish. Going to scale benefits from, probably actually requires, the power of the marketplace. Figuring out how the marketplace works and how to fit your product into it is a big leap for most professors and inventors. Knowing the product is not the same as knowing how to commercialize it.

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Clark McKown is a national expert on social and emotional learning (SEL) assessments. In his role as a university faculty member, Clark has been the lead scientist on several large grants supporting the development and validation of SELweb, Networker, and other assessment systems. Clark is passionate about creating usable, feasible, and scientifically sound tools that help educators and their students.

This interview was produced by Ed Metz of the Institute of Education Sciences. This post is the third in an ongoing series of blog posts examining moving from university research to practice at scale in education.

Seeking Summer Interns

Would you like to leverage your superpowers to help improve education, science, and communication? Have you always wondered what really goes on in a federal research office? If so, we have the perfect summer internship for you!

Each year, the two IES research centers—the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER)—host on-site, summer volunteer interns. These interns help us compile, synthesize, and communicate the research we support through our grant programs. Previous interns have written and been featured in blogs, identified experts for technical working groups, prepared materials for briefings, and reviewed abstracts and reports to identify emerging themes in education research, among other things. And these interns gain knowledge about non-academic pathways for researchers, build writing and communication skills, learn about grant making and federal agencies – all while being able to enjoy everything that Washington, DC has to offer!

Applicant qualifications:

  • Upper-division undergraduate or graduate students
  • Currently enrolled in good standing at a postsecondary institution
  • Have an interest in education research
  • Have experience with software such as the Microsoft Office Suite
  • Be willing to devote at least 20 hours per week
  • Work in the Washington, DC area

If you’re interested, fill in the application on USAJobs (https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/555512800), noting your interest in the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), and submit your materials before April 30, 2020. International students must contact one of the program officers directly: Dr. Meredith Larson (NCER, Meredith.Larson@ed.gov) or Dr. Amy Sussman (NCSER, Amy.Sussman@ed.gov).

We encourage you to contact us for more information about the summer position and possible remote internships during the academic year!

Lexia RAPID Assessment: From Research to Practice at Scale in Education

With a 2010 measurement grant award and a 2010 Reading for Understanding subaward from IES, a team at Florida State University (FSU) led by Barbara Foorman, developed a web-based literacy assessment for Kindergarten to Grade 12 students.

Years of initial research and development of the assessment method, algorithms, and logic model at FSU concluded in 2015 with a fully functioning prototype assessment called RAPID, the Reading Assessment for Prescriptive Instructional Data. A body of research demonstrates its validity and utility. In 2014, to ready the prototype for use in schools and to disseminate on a wide-scale basis, FSU entered into licensing agreements with the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) to use the prototype assessment royalty-free as the Florida Assessment for Instruction in Reading—Florida Standards (FAIR-FS), and with Lexia Learning Systems LLC, a Rosetta Stone company (Lexia), to create its commercial solution: Lexia® RAPID™ Assessment program.  Today, RAPID (watch video) consists of adaptive screening and diagnostic tests for students as they progress in areas such as word recognition, vocabulary knowledge, syntactic knowledge and reading comprehension. Students use RAPID up to three times per year in sessions of 45 minutes or less, with teachers receiving results immediately to inform instruction.

RAPID is currently used by thousands of educators and students across the U.S. RAPID has been recommended in Massachusetts as a primary screening tool for students ages 5 and older, is on both the Ohio Department of Education List of Approved Screening Assessments and the Michigan Lists of Initial and Extensive Literacy Assessments.

Interview with Barbara Foorman (BF) of Florida State University and Liz Brooke (LB) of Lexia Learning  

Photograph of Barbara Foorman, PhD

From the start of the project, was it always a goal for the assessment to one day be ready to be used widely in schools?

BF: Yes!

How was the connection made with the Florida Department of Education?   

BF: FSU authors (Yaacov Petscher, Chris Schatschneider, and I) gave the assessment royalty-free in perpetuity to the FLDOE, with the caveat that they had to host and maintain it. The FLDOE continues to host and maintain the Grade 3 to 12 system but never completed the programming on the K to 2 system prototype. The assessment we provided to the FLDOE is called the Florida Assessment for Instruction in Reading (FAIR—FS).  We also went to FSU’s Office of Commercialization to create royalty and commercialization agreements.

How was the connection made with Lexia? 

BF: Dr. Liz (Crawford) Brooke, Chief Learning Officer of Lexia/Rosetta Stone, and Dr. Alison Mitchell, Director of Assessment at Lexia, had both previously worked at the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR). Liz served as the Director of Interventions, as well as a doctoral student under me, and Alison was a postdoctoral assistant in research. Both Liz and Alison had worked on previous versions of the assessment.

Photograph of Liz Brooke, PhD

LB: Also, both Yaacov and Chris had done some previous work with me on the Assessment Without Testing® technology, which was embedded in our K to 5 literacy curriculum solution, the Lexia® Core5 Reading® program.

Did Lexia have to do additional R&D to develop the FSU assessment into RAPID as a commercial offering for larger scale use? Were resources provided?  

LB: To build and scale the FSU prototype assessment into a commercial platform, our team of developers worked closely with the developers at FSU to reprogram certain software application and databases. We’ve also spent the last several years at Lexia working to translate the valuable results that RAPID generates into meaningful, dynamic and usable data and tools for schools and educators.  This meant designing customized teacher and administrator reports for our myLexia® administrator dashboard, creating a library of offline instructional materials for teachers, as well as developing both online and in-person training materials specifically designed to support our RAPID solution.

BF: They also hired a psychometrician to submit RAPID to the National Center for Intensive Intervention, and had their programmers develop capabilities to support access to RAPID via iPads as well as through the web-based application.

What kind of licensing agreement did you (or FSU) work out?  

BF: The prototype assessment method, algorithms, and logic model that were used to develop RAPID are licensed to Lexia by FSU. Some of these may also be available for FSU to license to other interested companies.  Details of FSU’s licensing agreement terms to Lexia are confidential, however, royalties received by FSU through its licensing arrangements are shared between authors, academic units, and the FSU Research Foundation, according to FSU policies. (Read here for more about commercialization of FSU technologies and innovations.)

Does FSU receive royalties from the sale of RAPID?

BF: Yes. The revenue flows through FSU’s royalty stream—percentages to the three authors and the colleges and departments that we three authors are housed in.

What factors did Lexia consider when determining to partner with FSU to develop RAPID?

LB: We considered the needs of our customers and the fact that we wanted to develop and offer a commercial assessment solution that would provide a great balance between efficiency from the adaptive technology, but also insight based on an emphasis on reading and language skills. At Lexia, we are laser-focused on literacy and supporting the skills students need to be proficient readers. The value of the research foundation of the assessment was a natural fit for that reason. RAPID emphasizes Academic Language skills in a way that many other screening tools miss - often you’d need a specialized assessment given by a speech language pathologist to assess the skills that RAPID captures in a relatively short period of time for a whole classroom of students.

Describe how RAPID is marketed and distributed to schools?

LB: The Lexia RAPID Assessment was designed and is offered as a K-12 universal screening tool that schools can use up to three times per year. We currently offer RAPID as a software as a service -based subscription on an annual cost per license basis that can be either purchased per student or per school.  We also encourage schools that utilize RAPID to participate in a yearlong Lexia Implementation Support Plan that includes professional learning opportunities and data coaching specific to the RAPID solution, to really understand and maximize the value of the data and instructional resources that they receive as part of using RAPID.

Do you have advice for university researchers seeking to move their laboratory research into wide-spread practice?

BF: Start working with your university’s office of commercialization sooner than later to help identify market trends and create Non-Disclosure Agreements. In the case of educational curricula and assessments, researchers need to be (a) knowledgeable about competing products, (b) able to articulate what’s unique and more evidence-based than the competitors’ products, and (c) know that educators will find their product useful.

LB: As Barbara noted, it is critical to identify the specific, real-world need that your work is addressing and to be able to speak to how that’s different than other solutions out there.  It’s also really important to make sure that the research you’ve done has really validated that it does meet the need you are stating, as this will be the foundation of your claims in the market.

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Barbara Foorman, Ph.D., is the Frances Eppes Professor of Education, Director Emeritus of FCRR, and Director of the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast at FSU. Barbara is an internationally known expert in reading with over 150 peer reviewed publications. Barbara was co-editor of the Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness and is a co-founder and on the board of the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness

Liz Brooke, Ph.D., CCC-SLP is the Chief Learning Officer for Rosetta Stone/Lexia Learning. Dr. Liz Brooke is responsible for setting the educational vision for the company's Language and Literacy products, including the Adaptive Blended Learning (ABL) strategy that serves as the foundation for Rosetta Stone’s products and services. Liz has been working in the education sector for over 25 years and has been published in several scholarly journals. Liz joined Lexia in 2010. Prior to that, she worked as the Director of Interventions at the FCRR and she has also served as a speech-language pathologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and in the public school setting. Liz began her career in the classroom as a first-grade teacher.

This interview was produced by Edward Metz of the Institute of Education Sciences. This post is the second in an ongoing series of blog posts examining moving from university research to practice at scale in education.