IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

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.

Interventions for Autism Spectrum Disorder in Early Childhood: Preliminary and Long-Term Impacts

The prevalence of children identified as having autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has increased steadily in the last 20 years. Early identification and intervention is important, a point that is underscored by the CDC’s campaign Learn the Signs. Act Early. To recognize April’s Autism Awareness Month, NCSER is highlighting two projects supporting the capacity of parents and educators to intervene in children’s early development.

Assisting Early Interventionists in Facilitating Parent Mediation of Learning

Photo of Hannah SchertzPhoto of Kathleen Baggett

Researchers Hannah Schertz (left, Indiana University) and Kathleen Baggett (right, Georgia State University) have developed a framework to improve the social communication skills of toddlers showing signs of ASD with a system that guides early interventionists (EIs) to support parents. The program, Supporting Early Interventionists of Toddlers with Autism to Build Family Capacity (SEITA), aims to help EIs to work with parents as they integrate interventions into natural interactions with their children. EIs learn to guide parents in understanding when their child is engaging in social communication and in implementing learning strategies to enhance these competencies during parent-child interactions. More specifically, EIs guide parents in applying four mediated strategies to promote engagement in learning: focusing, giving meaning, encouraging, and expanding. For example, one strategy they use is to facilitate guided reflection on a just-recorded video of parent-child interactions.

As the researchers test the promise of the intervention, they report that EIs have conducted the intervention with fidelity in both home-based and telehealth contexts. They have found that parents in the study demonstrated clear improvements in their use of at least two mediated learning strategies and have been able to implement intervention practices with fidelity when working with their children. The researchers also track the children’s progress on social reciprocity, joint attention, positive social behavior, and social play, and results will be analyzed when data collection is complete.

Investigating the Long-Term Benefits of an Elementary Intervention

Photo of James P. Donnelly, Marcus L. Thomeer, Christopher Lopata, and Jonathan D. Rodgers
The IAR team (from left to right): James P. Donnelly, Marcus L. Thomeer, Christopher Lopata, and Jonathan D. Rodgers

As children age into elementary grades, their primary site of intervention becomes the school. In 2008, NCSER funded the development of the comprehensive school-based intervention (CSBI) to support the social competencies of children with high functioning autism spectrum disorder (HFASD). This multi-prong approach includes interactive computer instruction to teach children to recognize emotions, social skills groups, therapeutic peer group activities to practice social skills, daily behavioral notes, and monthly parent training. A 2013 NCSER-funded randomized controlled trial of CSBI found that students with HFASD who participated in CSBI improved significantly in measures of social cognition, social-communication skills, and ASD symptoms compared to students with HFASD who received typical instruction.

To assess the intervention’s ability to impact long-term student development, Christopher Lopata and his colleagues James Donnelly, Marcus Thomeer, and Jonathan Rodgers (Canisius College) are following up on the initial efficacy trial to study the middle and high school students who participated in CSBI in elementary school. They are measuring student social cognition, social communication skills, ASD symptoms, and academic achievement at the beginning and end of two consecutive school years to examine lasting impacts of the CSBI program. Although data are still being analyzed from this project, it is notable that because data collection occurred as the COVID-19 pandemic caused school shutdowns, the PIs were able to examine the potential effects of stay-at-home restrictions on these students. There have been widespread concerns that disruptions to routines, curtailed social opportunities, and removal of support services associated with shutdowns could have deleterious effects on children with ASD. However, Lopata and colleagues found no significant differences between data collected before stay-at-home restrictions and data collected 4 months after the restrictions on ASD symptoms, adaptive behaviors, or social communication.

NCSER will continue to share the final results of these studies, as well as additional research focused on supporting children with ASD, in the future.

Written by Julianne Kasper, Virtual Student Federal Service Intern at IES and graduate student in Education Policy & Leadership at American University, and by Emily Weaver (Emily.Weaver@ed.gov), NCSER program officer who oversees ASD grants.

The 2022 IES PI Meeting: Advancing Equity & Inclusion in the Education Sciences

On January 25-27, 2022, NCER and NCSER hosted  our first Principal Investigators (PI) Meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world as we know it. Even though we were hopeful and eager to connect with our grantees in person, given the continuing uncertainties due to COVID-19, we opted for our very first fully virtual PI meeting, and we are pleased to say it was a success on many fronts!

Our co-chairs, Brian Boyd (University of Kansas), and Doré LaForett (Child Trends and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) were instrumental in the success of this meeting. They helped identify the meeting theme: Advancing Equity & Inclusion in the Education Sciences, suggested sessions (including the plenaries) that addressed the theme,  recommended strategies to encourage networking and engagement, and participated in two great sessions focused on Engaging in Anti-racist, Culturally Responsive Research Practices and the Importance of Identifying English Learners in Education Research Studies.

Here are a few highlights:

The meeting kicked off with a welcome from the Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, followed by IES Director Mark Schneider’s opening remarks. Secretary Cardona reaffirmed the importance and need for high-quality education research to identify, measure, and address disparities in education opportunities and outcomes. Director Schneider spoke about improving the infrastructure of the education sciences and ways that IES will continue to encourage investigators to incorporate the SEER principles going forward. He also revealed a ninth SEER principle focused on equity, calling on researchers to “address inequities in societal resources and outcomes.” See a recap of his talk here.

This year’s theme was threaded throughout the meeting, emphasizing the importance and complexity of advancing equity and inclusion in the education sciences. The opening plenary speakers began the meeting with advice on how to center equity and inclusion in education research; the Commissioners provided updates on how NCER and NCSER are working to address diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility; sessions focused on challenges and potential solutions for doing research with an equity lens; and the closing plenary discussed how to plan for diversity in education research.   

Deep conversations occurred around meaningful and relevant topic areas. Over three days, we had nearly 900 attendees going in and out of virtual rooms (with very few technology glitches—no small feat!) participating in discussions around four main topic areas:

  • Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA)—Sessions included discussions of centering equity in education research
  • COVID-19 Pandemic—Sessions included lessons learned from COVID-19 research pivots and considerations for research during COVID-19 and recovery
  • Methods & Measurement—Sessions included information on innovations in statistical methods, data collection tools, and scaling evidence-based practices
  • Results from IES Research—Sessions included highlights of findings from several IES-funded grants and Research and Development centers

See the agenda for a complete list of this year’s sessions.

Finally, although we weren’t able to be in the same physical room, one of the real benefits of this virtual meeting was the ability to record the sessions. IES continues to encourage the dissemination of IES-supported research to a wider audience, and we want to do our part by making the recordings from the sessions publicly available. We hope you enjoy watching the incredibly valuable and thought-provoking presentations and discussions and share widely with your networks.

 

 

Thanks to our attendees for their participation. Your engagement made this year’s meeting a true success. We are already looking forward to next year’s meeting!

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for how to continue the conversation around DEIA, please do not hesitate to contact NCER Commissioner Liz Albro (Elizabeth.Albro@ed.gov) or NCSER Commissioner Joan McLaughlin (Joan.McLauglin@ed.gov). We look forward to hearing from you.

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.