IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Understanding NCER and NCSER’s Investments in Research Training

Since 2004, NCER has invested over $270 million dollars in education research training programs through solicited and unsolicited grants. NCSER has invested over $32 million in special education research training programs through solicited and unsolicited grants since 2008.

This investment has supported the training and professional development of thousands of undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and early- and mid-career researchers. But what guides NCER’s and NCSER’s investments? What roles do NCER and NCSER play in research training in the education sciences, and how can the centers determine whether these investments are successful?

In June 2022, IES awarded a joint-center contract to WestEd to document the background and rationale for these training programs and help articulate the theoretical models for each of the programs, including assumptions, inputs, activities, and outputs. WestEd will then work with IES to identify metrics and potential data sources to better understand the successes and impacts of the current and possible future programs.

 

The commissioners for the centers, Drs. Elizabeth Albro and Joan McLaughlin, are excited about the opportunity to delve into the training programs that they believe have transformed the education sciences:

We see the benefits of these trainings every day, including the quality of the applications that we receive, ability of the research teams to conduct thoughtful and rigorous studies even when confronted with the practical challenges of working in schools, the number of early career applicants taking on important research, and the growing diversity of the research teams. 

 The commissioners see the contract as an exciting opportunity:

WestEd is supporting us as we take stock of our various research trainings and help us identify metrics for measuring success both within and across our training programs.  We want to make sure our research training programs stay current and address the needs and evolving challenges of the field and are looking forward to working with the WestEd team on this project. 

 

Dr. Nick Gage, a former NCSER postdoctoral fellow and current mentor on an NCSER Early Career grant leads the WestEd team and notes –  

I believe deeply in the capacity of IES to impact change through the training programs and am passionate about working with IES to find the connections among the programs and to develop a plan for measuring success across the training programs. I believe thinking broadly while also attending to the unique features of the training programs when developing models and a unified conceptual framework will be an on-going challenge, but one my team is excited to tackle. 

By understanding the connections between what is being done during these programs and the impacts on grantees, trainees, institutions, and the education sciences in the short and long term, we can develop new approaches for measuring and understanding success resulting from training program implementation. 

To build the models and identify metrics, WestEd is talking with IES staff, reviewing public and internal documents, leveraging natural language processing and other data analytic approaches, and soliciting input from former training program grantees and participants. Dr. Gage’s goal is to incorporate the voices of all those involved in training programs to help bring together multiple perspectives and ideas in this effort.

 

For more information about the research activities or to provide input, contact Dr. Nick Gage ngage@wested.org.

 

NCER Research Training Programs 

  • Early Career Mentoring Program for Faculty at Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs)  
  • Methods Training for Education Research 
  • Pathways to the Education Sciences 
  • Postdoctoral Research Training 
  • Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training 
  • Training in Education Use and Practice 

  

NCSER Research Training Programs 

  • Early Career Development and Mentoring in Special Education 
  • Methods Training for Special Education Research 
  • Postdoctoral Research Training Program in Special Education and Early Intervention 

 


This blog was written by Dr. Meredith Larson (Meredith.Larson@ed.gov), an NCER Postdoctoral Training program officer and current coordinator for the NCER/NCSER Training Program team. She is also the contracting officer representative for the NCER/NCSER Education Research Training Program Support contract. 

Meet NCSER and NCER Summer 2022 Interns

IES is proud to introduce the summer 2022 cohort of interns. These three interns come to us through the U.S. Department of Education’s Student Volunteer Trainee Program and are helping the Centers translate and understand the work we do. We asked this year’s interns to tell us about themselves, why they are interested in an internship, what they are learning, and a fun fact to share. Here’s what they said.

Kaitlynn Fraze is pursuing a PhD in special education and research methods at George Mason University.

Before pursuing my PhD, I taught in a variety of special education teaching positions. I started as a special education teacher at an elementary school serving students with high-incidence disabilities, then transitioned to teaching high school and post-graduate classes for students with severe disabilities and complex medical and communication needs. While teaching, I took master’s degree classes in autism and severe intellectual disabilities. My experiences in the public school system and in academia inspired me to learn more about how I could use research to inform policy and advocacy efforts.

I found my way to NCSER after completing a summer internship with the Department’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) in 2021. The experience I gained at OSEP with programs aimed at bridging the research-to-practice gap influenced my drive and direction. While policy and advocacy for inclusion continue to be passions of mine, my graduate focus shifted to reading research for students with moderate to severe disabilities to help improve instruction for those students who were not previously held to the same high educational standards as their peers. I sought out an internship with NCSER because I want to use research to improve practice for ALL students and have exposure to federal special education grants management.

While interning at NCSER, I learned about the different IES-funded research programs and gained experience writing about impactful researchers and their research programs. The internship expanded my professional network to include even more people who share the same passion for education research for students with disabilities. Paired with the knowledge gained from my PhD program, the internship has strengthened my readiness to enter the field.

Fun Fact:

I love cooking! I enjoy making dinner for my family. The entire process of planning, organizing, and preparing the food is calming and therapeutic for me. I use it as a time to bond with my son, develop his functional life skills, and make huge messes.

Manvi Harde is a rising 2nd year Jefferson & Echols Scholar, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Global Development Studies and Economics at the University of Virginia.

Growing up in a vibrant and diverse area attending one of the biggest public schools in Arizona, I had an incredible opportunity to expand my perspective and learn from my peers. I always loved education, in whichever form it manifested, including advocating for CTE education and raising awareness for the education of refugees. Through these various passions, I realized that I had a deep-rooted interest in education policy. 

At the University of Virginia, I immersed myself even more in the world of education and diversity by taking classes, such as Poverty and Education Policy and Race and Ethnic Relations to Macroeconomics, tutoring local refugee children, and interacting with undergraduate and faculty groups to compile data on racial justice and anti-racism education. I also was a fellow for Teach for America this past semester, through which I worked with changemakers and policy educators to tutor children from low-income families throughout the country.

Through my internship at IES, I am challenging myself and delving into the nuances of the world of education policy and research, with an eager hope to enter this field in the future. I strive to apply the knowledge I’ve learned through my work on disseminating and translating research for different stakeholders to uplift communities through research and policy and to find bright spots within those areas.

Fun Fact:

Throughout quarantine, my family and I fostered 5 dogs, each of which has a special place in my heart. I love pets, and though we didn’t adopt any of them, it was a wonderful experience to provide love and a home to these dogs for as long as needed.

Nadiyah Williams is a rising senior, majoring in information science at the University of Maryland, College Park.

I have been taking several classes to help me prepare for a profession in either data science or cybersecurity. This summer, I worked as a data science intern at IES, focusing on a project that leveraged data from the Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE) at ED. We used these data to determine which institutions were classified as minority-serving institutions (MSIs) during a particular time period.

While interning this summer, I learned a lot about all the different types of colleges that are eligible to become MSIs and what makes them eligible. The work I did this summer supports IES in determining whether the research Centers are getting applications from or awarding grants to MSIs. This work will continue to be important as IES identifies areas to expand the grant applicant pool.

I am grateful for my internship this summer. IES has taught me so many skills, especially in Excel, while leveraging previous coursework in Python and SQL. I hope to use the skills I have learned while cleaning data in my future college courses and my future job.

Fun Fact:

I enjoy traveling and have been to several cool countries such as Ghana and Qatar.

Congratulations Dr. Roddy Theobald on Winning the 2022 AEFP Early Career Award!

Headshot of Roddy TheobaldEach year, the Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP) recognizes one outstanding early career scholar whose research makes a significant contribution to the field of education finance and policy. In 2022, Dr. Roddy Theobald was the recipient of the Early Career award from AEFP. Congratulations to Dr. Theobald!

Dr. Theobald is a principal researcher in the Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). CALDER, a collaboration among researchers at AIR and several universities around the United States, uses longitudinal data to explore a wide range of policy-relevant topics in education. Dr. Theobald’s research focuses on the teacher pipeline and its implications for student outcomes. Over the years, he has been involved in multiple IES-funded projects. These projects reflect a clear commitment to improving the teacher workforce and promoting positive outcomes for students. Dr. Theobald became interested in education policy research and studying the teacher workforce as a result of his experience as a 7th grade math teacher in the Oakland Unified School District. He is particularly interested in better understanding teacher shortage areas and what schools and districts can do to address them. 

As principal investigator (PI) on a recently completed researcher-practitioner partnership project, Dr. Theobald and his team worked in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to investigate the predictive validity of the state’s pre-service teacher evaluation systems and later in-service teaching outcomes and student outcomes. Key findings showed that teacher candidate performance on the Massachusetts Candidate Assessment of Performance, a practice-based assessment of student teaching, was predictive of their in-service summative performance ratings a year later. In examining the predictive validity of the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure, results indicated that pre-service teacher scores were positively and significantly related to in-service performance ratings and value-added modeling of student test scores.

Dr. Theobald is currently the PI of a research grant that examines associations between pre-service teacher experiences (coursework, student teaching placements, and the match between student teaching experiences and early career experiences), special education teacher workforce entry and retention, and student academic outcomes. Using data on graduates of special education teacher education programs in Washington state, he found that the rate of special educator attrition is between 20-30%, which includes teachers that left public schools as well as those who moved to general education classrooms. Interestingly, the research team found that while dual endorsement in special and general education is positively associated with retention in the teaching workforce, it is negatively associated with retention in special education classrooms specifically. In terms of factors that promote retention, the research team found that better coherence between teacher preparation and early career experiences is associated with greater retention and that being supervised by a cooperating teacher endorsed in special education as part of student teaching is associated with a higher likelihood of becoming a special education teacher. The research team also found a link between preservice teacher experiences and student outcomes: students demonstrate larger reading gains when their district and the program from which their teacher graduated emphasized evidence-based literacy decoding practices and when a more experienced cooperating teacher supervised their teacher’s student teaching placement.

When we asked Dr. Theobald about the direction in which this line of research is heading, he explained, “immediate next steps in this line of work include looking at the employment outcomes of individuals trained to be special education teachers who never enter public school teaching or leave the teacher workforce, as well as better understanding the paraeducator workforce in public schools. It is also essential to understand how the special educator workforce has changed in response to the COVID pandemic, and we hope to study these changes in the years to come!”

This blog was authored by Kaitlynn Fraze, doctoral student at George Mason University and IES intern, and Katie Taylor (Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov), program officer at the National Center for Special Education Research.

Improving Academic Achievement through Instruction in Self-Regulated Strategy Development: The Science Behind the Practice

Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) is an evidence-based instructional approach characterized by active, discussion-based, scaffolded, and explicit learning of knowledge of the writing process; general and genre-specific knowledge; academic vocabulary; and validated strategies for teaching reading and writing. IES has supported multiple research studies on SRSD for students with learning disabilities in K-12 and postsecondary general education settings. SRSD is used in as many as 10,000 classrooms across the United States and in 12 other countries. In this interview blog, we spoke with Dr. Karen Harris, the developer of SRSD, to learn more about this effective instructional strategy, the IES research behind it, and next steps for further scaling of SRSD so that more students can benefit.

What led you to develop the Self-Regulated Strategy Development model?

Photo of Karen Harris

I began developing what became the SRSD model of instruction in the 1980s, based on my experiences tutoring and teaching. No one theory could address all of what I needed to do as a teacher, or all that my students needed as learners. SRSD instruction pulls together what has been learned from research across theories of learning and teaching. It is a multicomponent instructional model that addresses affective, behavioral, and cognitive aspects of learning. Further, SRSD instruction is intended to take place in inclusive classrooms, is discourse-driven, integrates social-emotional supports, and involves learning in whole class and group settings with peer collaboration. SRSD research started in writing because Steve Graham (my husband and colleague) was deeply interested in writing, and we co-designed the initial studies. Today, SRSD instruction research exists across a wide variety of areas, such as reading comprehension, mathematical problem solving, fractions, social studies, and science.

What are some of the key findings about this instructional strategy?

SRSD has been recognized by the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) as an evidence-based practice with  consistently positive effects on writing outcomes.  A 2013 meta-analysis of SRSD for writing found that SRSD was effective across different research teams, different methodologies, differing genres of writing (such as narrative or persuasive), and students with diverse needs including students with learning disabilities and emotional and behavioral disorders. Effect sizes in SRSD research are typically large, exceeding .85 in meta-analyses and commonly ranging from 1.0 to 2.55 across writing and affective outcome measures.

Over the years, IES has supported a number of studies on SRSD, which has led to some key findings that have practical implications for instruction from elementary school through college.

Do you know how many teachers use SRSD in their classrooms?

It is hard to be sure how prevalent SRSD instruction is in practice, but there are two groups dedicated to scaling up SRSD in schools— thinkSRSD and SRSD Online—both of which I voluntarily advise. Together, they have reached over 300,000 students and their teachers in the United States. In addition, I am following or in touch with researchers or teachers in 12 countries across Europe, North America, Australia, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

What’s next for research on SRSD?  

Many students have difficulty writing by the time they get to upper elementary school. Currently, there is an ongoing development project that is adapting and testing SRSD for children in the lower elementary grades to support their oral language skills, transcription, and writing strategy skills. The research team is in the process of conducting a small-scale randomized controlled study and will have findings soon.

Beyond this study, there are many future directions for SRSD research, including further work in different genres of writing, different grades, and involving families in the SRSD process. More work on how to integrate SRSD strategies into instruction across content areas, such as social studies or science is also needed. Despite the evidence base for and interest in SRSD, a major challenge is scaling up SRSD in schools. We and other researchers have identified numerous barriers to this goal. We also need research on working with administrators, schools, and teachers to use writing more effectively as a tool for self-expression, self-advocacy, and social and political engagement. Writing can also be an important and effective means of addressing issues of equity and identity, and little SRSD research has been done in these areas.

Dr. Karen Harris is Regents Professor and the Mary Emily Warner Professor at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Her current research focuses on refining a web-based intelligent tutor to augment SRSD instruction with elementary students in persuasive writing, integrating SRSD with reading to learn and writing to inform, developing a Universal Design for Learning Science Notebook, and developing practice-based professional development for SRSD.

This blog was produced by Julianne Kasper, Virtual Student Federal Service intern at IES and graduate student in education policy & leadership at American University.

Checking Up: School Transition Support for Students at Risk for Behavioral Problems and Their Families

In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, we spoke with Dr. Elizabeth Stormshak (University of Oregon) about her intervention, the Family Check-Up (FCU), which addresses emotional and behavioral challenges during times of transition for students with or at risk for disability. Dr. Stormshak has been testing the efficacy of FCU during different student transitions, from its initial iteration focused on the middle to high school transition, to implementation during the transition to kindergarten, to a “booster” intervention to support in the transition to middle school. The FCU intervention now includes an online version for middle school students, which is especially suited to the transition from virtual to in-person learning.

Let’s start off with the transition for young children. What are some challenges facing children at risk for behavioral problems and their families as children transition into kindergarten?

Photo of Elizabeth Stormshak

Our work has focused on family challenges and contextual stressors that impact the successful transition to schools, such as parent mental health, stress, and parenting skills. Our approach to intervention has focused on providing support to families as they transition with their children to elementary school through brief, strength-based, adaptive interventions to reduce problem behavior and enhance academic outcomes.

How does Family Check-Up address these challenges?

First, the FCU helps parents assess their own strengths and their child’s strengths, building on “what is going well” as they consider ways to focus on areas that need support. This strength-based approach to intervention helps motivate caretakers to consider different ways to manage child behavior and emotional problems in the home, which has implications for the transition to school.

Second, the FCU is a brief intervention that is adapted to the needs of families. No family receives the exact same intervention content because the focus is always derived from an individualized assessment that is norm-referenced and guides intervention delivery.

Why was it important to build the FCU to support the transition to middle school?

Middle school is a difficult time for youth and families. Caretakers tend to “disengage” during this time, which can lead to mental health and behavioral problems for youth. The FCU focuses on “re-engaging” parents during this critical transition. The intervention was originally focused on reducing risk during the transition from middle to high school. Interestingly, the FCU is an ideal intervention for all transitions that a child and family might experience (school entry, middle school, and high school). Therefore, extending FCU to help families with the transition from elementary to middle school seemed like a natural and critical extension of our work using FCU to support school adjustment during the other periods of transition. 

What have you found so far? Has FCU been found to improve student outcomes?

Our work at kindergarten entry has clearly linked the FCU intervention with a variety of important school-based outcomes, including reduced problem behavior and enhanced parenting skills and home–school engagement. In our primary outcome paper from this research, we found that engagement in the intervention led to improvements in parenting skills—including limit setting, parent self-efficacy, and parental warmth—which then led to reductions in child behavior problems from kindergarten to second grade.

Our work supports the FCU model as an effective intervention for children and families during the transition to school. We continue to follow this sample of children and families into the middle school years. Our data collection for this project will end during the 2022-2023 school year. At that time, we will be able to examine the impact of the kindergarten and middle school intervention combined and compare this group of children to a control condition with no FCU as well as groups that received intervention only during kindergarten entry and only during middle school entry.

Your latest project is part of a new competition, Research to Accelerate Pandemic Recovery in Special Education. How has the FCU been adapted to address the needs of students following the disruptions of COVID-19?

I am excited to pursue this work and apply my interest in child and family mental health to the pandemic recovery. My whole career has been focused on the mental and behavioral health of children and families, and I hope to make a difference during this stressful time in society where mental health challenges for youth and their families have escalated.

We are eager to provide the FCU Online to schools in our area (Portland, Oregon) to address the recovery of students and families after the pandemic. Our work on the FCU Online began in 2015, well before the pandemic. Initial results of a randomized trial (supported by postdoctoral fellows funded through a postdoctoral training grant) supported the online approach for reduction of child emotional problems and improvement of parenting skills, especially for at-risk youth and parents. We expanded the model during COVID-19 in multiple ways, including adaptations that make the online model more accessible to families from a variety of backgrounds. The FCU Online can be delivered in both Spanish and English, is available on smartphones, and is easily delivered by schools because it can be supported by a range of providers, such as school counselors or behavioral health specialists.

The FCU Online has also been adapted with new content since the COVID-19 pandemic, including a module on Healthy Behaviors for Stressful Times that provides support to caretakers focused on healthy routines, coping, listening skills with youth, and management of depression and anxiety. We are excited to partner with schools in Oregon to implement this online approach to service delivery.

What are the next steps for your research?

The next steps in our work involve a focus on implementation and dissemination of the FCU Online model in schools. We have conducted focus groups and data collection with school providers over multiple grants and projects and have integrated this feedback into the FCU Online content and process. We look forward to continuing to build on this work in our new grant and to adapt the FCU Online to our changing times. We know that mental health and behavioral problems are going to persist for children and families, and evidence-based solutions that can be disseminated widely are going to be critical for helping us recover from the long-term mental health impacts of the pandemic. 

Dr. Elizabeth Stormshak is the Knight Chair and Professor of Counseling Psychology and Human Services at the College of Education at the University of Oregon, 

This interview was produced and edited by Julianne Kasper, Virtual Student Federal Service Intern at IES and graduate student in Education Policy & Leadership at American University.