IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Addressing Persistent Disparities in Education Through IES Research

Spring 2020 has been a season of upheaval for students and educational institutions across the country. Just when the conditions around the COVID-19 pandemic began to improve, the longstanding symptoms of a different wave of distress resurfaced. We are seeing and experiencing the fear, distrust, and confusion that are the result of systemic racism and bigotry. For education stakeholders, both the COVID-19 pandemic and the civil unrest unfolding across the country accentuate the systemic inequities in access, opportunities, resources, and outcomes that continue to exist in education.

IES acknowledges these inequities and is supporting rigorous research that is helping to identify, measure, and address persistent disparities in education.

In January (back when large gatherings were a thing), IES hosted its Annual Principal Investigator’s (PI) Meeting with the theme of Closing the Gaps for All Learners. The theme underscored IES's objective of supporting research that improves equity in education access and outcomes. Presentations from IES-funded projects focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion were included throughout the meeting and can be found here. In addition, below are highlights of several IES-funded studies that are exploring, developing, or evaluating programs, practices, and policies that education stakeholders can implement to help reduce bias and inequities in schools.

 

 

 

  • The Men of Color College Achievement (MoCCA) Project - This project addresses the problem of low completion rates for men of color at community colleges through an intervention that provides incoming male students of color with a culturally relevant student success course and adult mentors. In partnership with the Community College of Baltimore County, the team is engaged in program development, qualitative data collections to understand student perspectives, and an evaluation of the success course/mentorship intervention. This project is part of the College Completion Network and posts resources for supporting men of color here.

 

  • Identifying Discrete and Malleable Indicators of Culturally Responsive Instruction and Discipline—The purpose of this project is to use the culturally responsive practices (CRP) framework from a promising intervention, Double Check, to define and specify discrete indicators of CRPs; confirm and refine teacher and student surveys and classroom direct observation tools to measure these discrete indicators; and develop, refine, and evaluate a theory of change linking these indicators of CRPs with student academic and behavioral outcomes.

 

 

  • The Early Learning Network (Supporting Early Learning From Preschool Through Early Elementary School Grades Network)—The purpose of this research network is to examine why many children—especially children from low-income households or other disadvantaged backgrounds—experience academic and social difficulties as they begin elementary school. Network members are identifying factors (such as state and local policies, instructional practices, and parental support) that are associated with early learning and achievement from preschool through the early elementary school grades.
    • At the January 2020 IES PI Meeting, Early Learning Network researchers presented on the achievement gaps for early learners. Watch the video here. Presentations, newsletters, and other resources are available on the Early Learning Network website.

 

  • Reducing Achievement Gaps at Scale Through a Brief Self-Affirmation Intervention—In this study, researchers will test the effectiveness at scale of a low-cost, self-affirmation mindset intervention on the achievement, behavior, and attitudes of 7th grade students, focusing primarily on Black and Hispanic students. These minority student groups are susceptible to the threat of conforming to or being judged by negative stereotypes about the general underperformance of their racial/ethnic group ("stereotype threat"). A prior evaluation of this intervention has been reviewed by the What Works Clearinghouse and met standards without reservations.

 

 

IES seeks to work with education stakeholders at every level (for example, students, parents, educators, researchers, funders, and policy makers) to improve education access, equity, and outcomes for all learners, especially those who have been impacted by systemic bias. Together, we can do more.

This fall, IES will be hosting a technical working group on increasing the participation of researchers and institutions that have been historically underutilized in federal education research activities. If you have suggestions for how IES can better support research to improve equity in education, please contact us: NCER.Commissioner@ed.gov.  


Written by Christina Chhin (Christina.Chhin@ed.gov), National Center for Education Research (NCER).  

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts that stems from the 2020 Annual Principal Investigators Meeting. The theme of the meeting was Closing the Gaps for All Learners and focused on IES’s objective to support research that improves equity in access to education and education outcomes. Other posts in this series include Why I Want to Become an Education Researcher, Diversify Education Sciences? Yes, We Can!, and Closing the Opportunity Gap Through Instructional Alternatives to Exclusionary Discipline.

How to Seek Funding to Support CTE Research Partnerships

Over the past six months, Advance CTE and IES have worked together to highlight the power of CTE research partnerships in improving quality and equity in CTE. In Michigan, years of close collaboration between the Department of Education and the University of Michigan has enabled state leaders to address critical policy questions like choosing a secondary CTE program quality performance indicator. South Dakota leveraged relationships in the research community to improve data quality and foster a data-driven culture at the state level. And in Massachusetts, state leaders are working alongside long-time research partners to identify critical access and opportunity gaps and build solutions that enable equitable access to high-quality CTE.

Partnerships like these provide measurable benefits by allowing state policymakers to make informed decisions that impact learner success and bolster state talent pipelines – but they do come at a cost. The partnerships highlighted in this series were supported via a combination of state, federal, and foundation funds. Research grant funds are most often used to cover personnel time for work on the research project, both at the university or research organization and at the partner education agency. As many of our state agency interviewees mentioned, it is difficult to carve time out of their regular responsibilities to work on a research project. By securing dedicated funding to cover part or all of a person’s salary, a state agency can afford to spend time on a research project. In addition, research grant funds can be used to provide incentives for students, teachers, and schools to participate in a research study, for the development and administration of surveys or classroom observation tools (to complement information available in administrative data systems), and for software and hardware to analyze and house the data.

With growing public support for CTE, fueled by urgent needs for skilled labor, CTE programs will be called upon to do even more. States should be prepared with a research and evaluation strategy to determine whether and which strategies are most effective (and cost-effective). So how should states go about establishing and funding new CTE research partnerships?  

Options for Financing State CTE Research Partnerships

There are a number of avenues states can take to finance CTE research. Federal sources of funding for CTE-related research include the Department of Education, the Department of Labor, and the National Science Foundation. Education research funding may also be available at other agencies, such as the Department of Agriculture. Private funding for CTE research projects is also available from foundations such as the ECMC Foundation1, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.

The National Center for Education Research (NCER) at IES launched a special CTE topic in its Education Research Grants program in 2017 to encourage researchers to study CTE. Funded grants under this topic have examined CTE-related issues such as industry certifications, applied-STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) CTE pathways and work-based learning. IES also funds CTE research under other programs and maintains a CTE Statistics webpage. In 2018, in partnership with the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE), IES formed a CTE Research Network to increase the amount and quality of causal research in CTE. CTE Research Network members have been studying the impact of various CTE programs and delivery models on student high school, postsecondary and labor market outcomes. The National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) began funding CTE research for students with disabilities in 2019.

New Opportunity to Apply for Federal Funding to Study CTE!

There is good news for state leaders and researchers interested in initiating CTE research partnerships. NCER has just released its Fiscal Year 2021 Request for Applications (RFA) for its Education Research Grants Program (CFDA 84.305A). This grants program, one of several in NCER, was established in 2002 to produce research that is scientifically rigorous and relevant to the needs of education practitioners and decisionmakers. NCER welcomes CTE-related research proposals under the CTE topic or under other topics (such as STEM, Improving Education Systems, and Postsecondary and Adult Education). NCSER has a separate RFA for its special education research grants program (CFDA 84.324A) and welcomes applications to study CTE for students with disabilities.

Research grant applications are due at midnight (Eastern time) on August 20, 2020. Letters of intent (not required but encouraged) are due on June 11, 2020. Each of the open RFAs, as well as archived webinars for applicants about the IES grant process, are available on the IES funding opportunities page.

Applicants should start early to make sure they have everything they need. In addition to viewing on-demand webinars, applicants should be sure to read the RFA closely and pay attention not only to the application requirements but also to the IES recommendations for a strong application. For example, applicants should describe their theory of change and any prior research on the issue; align their research methods to the research questions; describe measures and data source; and make sure the sample size offers adequate statistical power. This grants program is very competitive, and peer reviewers will be paying attention to whether applicants follow the recommendations. Everyone involved in the submission process should also familiarize themselves with the IES submission guide, which details the steps necessary to successfully submit an application online.

We are eager to hear any and all ideas! Corinne Alfeld (Corinne.alfeld@ed.gov) and Austin Estes (aestes@careertech.org) would be happy to discuss them, and Corinne can also provide technical assistance in writing a research grant application to IES. She can be reached by email to set up a phone call to discuss project ideas.


This final blog post wraps up our series aimed at increasing state Career Technical Education (CTE) research partnerships by highlighting ways to seek research funding. Corinne Alfeld, Research Analyst at the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and Austin Estes, Manager of Data & Research at Advance CTE, collaborated to create this blog series in the hopes that more state agencies would partner with researchers to examine research questions related to CTE using state data.

 

1The ECMC Foundation is a funder of Advance CTE’s work.

 

Real-World Responses in Real Time: Helping Rural Schools Navigate Rising Mental Health Needs due to COVID-19

The United States has observed Mental Health Awareness Month every May since 1949 to raise awareness and educate the public about mental illnesses, including strategies and resources for supporting mental health and wellness. Mental health needs prior to the coronavirus pandemic were already enormous with 1 in 6 school age youth needing mental health support but unlikely to receive it. In fact, a recent study found that half of the estimated 7.7 million U.S. children with a treatable mental health disorder did not receive the necessary treatment from mental health professionals. This service gap is even greater in rural areas. How can rural schools support students, families, and staff during a global pandemic that has shut down school buildings and increased demand for mental health supports?

The IES-funded National Center for Rural School Mental Health is supporting partnerships with rural school districts in three states (Missouri, Virginia, and Montana) to develop and test ways to support the mental health needs of their students. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the center has compiled a set of resources for families, schools, teachers, and youth on a wide range of pandemic-related challenges.

Visit https://www.ruralsmh.org/covid19/ for information ranging from how to navigate online learning to resources for suicide prevention and protecting children exposed to drug abuse at home. Among the many resources you can find here are tips for parents to encourage cooperative behavior at home, stress management tools for educators, and telehealth tips for youth and teens. For more information about mental health needs in rural settings and how Dr. Wendy Reinke, the Center’s director, and her colleagues are working on approaches to support the mental health needs of their students, please see this previous blog post.  


Written by Emily Doolittle (Emily.Doolittle@ed.gov), National Center for Education Research (NCER) Team Lead for Social Behavioral Research

 

Developing and Piloting the Special Education Research Accelerator

The traditional approach to research involves individual researchers or small teams independently conducting a large number of relatively small studies. Crowdsourcing research provides an alternative approach that combines resources across researchers to conduct studies that could not be done individually. As such, it has the power to address some challenges with the traditional research approach, including limited diversity of research participants as well as researchers, small sample sizes, and lack of resources. In 2019, the National Center for Special Education Research funded a grant to the University of Virginia to develop a platform for conducting crowdsourced research with students with or at risk for disabilities—the Special Education Research Accelerator (SERA).

Below, the Principal Investigators of this grant – Bryan Cook, Bill Therrien, and Vivian Wong – tell us more about the problems they intend to address through SERA, its potential, and the activities involved in its development and testing.

What’s the purpose of SERA?

SERA is a platform for conducting research in special education with large and representative study samples across multiple research sites and researchers. We are developing SERA to address some common concerns in education research, such as (a) studies with small, underpowered, and non-representative samples; (b) lack of resources for individual investigators to engage in the high-quality research that they have the skills to conduct; and (c) scarce replication studies. The issue of small, underpowered, and non-representative samples is especially acute in research with students with low-incidence disabilities, with whom few randomized controlled trials have been conducted. SERA seeks to leverage crowdsourcing to flip “research planning from ‘what is the best we can do with the resources we have to investigate our question,’ to ‘what is the best way to investigate our question, so that we can decide what resources to recruit’” (Uhlmann et al., 2019, p. 713). Conducting multiple, concurrent replication studies will allow us to not only examine average effects across research sites, but also to examine variability between sites.

How do you plan to develop and test SERA?

To pilot SERA, we are currently developing the infrastructure (project website, training materials, etc.) and procedures—including for data management—to be applied in a study that will be conducted in the 2020/21 academic year. In that study, we will conceptually replicate Scruggs, Mastropieri, and Sullivan (1994) by examining the effects of direct and indirect teaching methods on the acquisition and retention of science facts among elementary-age students with high-functioning autism. Students will be randomly assigned to one of three conditions: (a) control, in which students are told 14 science facts (as an example, frog eggs sink to the bottom of the water); (b) interventionist-provided explanations, in which students are told 14 science facts with explanations from the interventionist (frog eggs sink to the bottom to avoid predators at the top of the water); and (c) student-generated explanations, in which the interventionist provides scaffolds to the student to generate their own explanation of each science fact (frog eggs sink to the bottom – why do you think they do?; what is at the top of the water that could harm the eggs?). Acquisition of facts and explanations will be assessed immediately after the intervention, and retention will be assessed after approximately 10 days. Twenty-three research partners, representing each of the nine U.S. Census districts, have agreed to conduct the intervention with a minimum of five students.

One challenge with building an infrastructure platform for conducting replication studies is that the “science” of replication as a method has yet to be fully established. That is, there is not consensus on what replication means, how high-quality replication studies should be conducted in field settings, and appropriate statistical criteria for evaluating replication success. To address these concerns, the research team is collaborating with The University of Virginia’s School of Data Science to create the pilot SERA platform to facilitate distributed data collection across independent research sites. The platform is based on the Causal Replication Framework (Steiner, Wong, & Anglin, 2019; Wong & Steiner, 2018) for designing, conducting, and analyzing high-quality replication studies and utilizes data-science methods for efficiently collecting and processing information. Subsequent phases of SERA will focus on expanding the platform so that it is available for systematic replication research for the broader education research community.

How does SERA align with the IES Standards for Excellence in Education Research (SEER)?

With its focus on systematically conducting multiple replication studies across research sites, SERA aligns closely with and will address the following SEER principles.

  • Pre-register studies: To be implemented with fidelity across multiple research partners and sites, crowdsourced study procedures have to be carefully planned and documented, which will facilitate pre-registration. We will pre-register the SERA pilot study in the Registry of Efficacy and Effectiveness.
  • Make findings, methods, and data open: Because of the data platform being developed to merge study results across more than 20 research sites, data will be in a clean and sharable format upon completion of the study. We are committed to the principles of open science and plan to share our data, as well as freely accessible study materials and research reports, on the Open Science Framework.
  • Document treatment implementation and contrast: Using audio transcripts of sessions and fidelity rubrics, SERA will introduce novel ways for utilizing natural language processing methods to evaluate the fidelity and replicability of treatment conditions across sites. These measures will allow the research team to assess and improve intervention delivery while researchers are in the field, as well as to characterize and evaluate treatment contrast in the analysis phase.
  • Analyze interventions' costs: It will not only be important to examine the costs for implementing SERA as a whole, but also the costs of the intervention implemented by the individual research teams. To this end, we are adapting and distributing easy-to-use tools and resources that will allow our research partners to collect data on ingredients and costs related to implementing a pilot intervention and replicating study results.
  • Facilitate generalization of study findings: Because SERA studies involve large, diverse, and representative samples of research participants; multiple and diverse research locations; and multiple and diverse researchers, results are likely to generalize.
  • Support scaling of promising results: Crowdsourced studies, by their nature, examine scaling by investigating whether and how findings replicate across multiple samples, locations, and researchers.

Conducting research across multiple sites and researchers raises important questions: What types of interventions can be implemented? What is the most efficient and reliable approach to collecting, transferring, and merging data across sites? It will also lead to challenges (such as IRB issues, promoting and assessing fidelity) that we are working to address in our planning and pilot study. Despite these challenges, we believe that crowdsourcing research in education may provide important benefits.

This blog was co-authored by Bryan Cook (bc3qu@virginia.edu), Bill Therrien (wjt2c@virginia.edu), and Vivian Wong (vcw2n@virginia.edu) at the University of Virginia and Katie Taylor (Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov) at IES

 

Meeting the Literacy Needs of Students with Autism: What Do We Know and Where Do We Need to Go?

April is Autism Awareness Month, which celebrates the importance of people with autism, the contributions they make every day to our world, and what we are learning about improving outcomes for the growing number of people with autism. IES supports research in this area, primarily through grants funded by the National Center for Special Education Research. Dr. Emily Solari at the University of Virginia (UVA) was awarded an IES grant in 2018 to lead an autism-focused postdoctoral training program. This program provides postdoctoral fellows with extensive research training in the academic, behavioral, and social development of students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) from pre-K through their transition out of secondary school. Currently, their research focuses on literacy development, including reading comprehension and writing, in children with ASD.

Below we share a recent conversation with Dr. Solari about the importance of this work and what she and researchers at UVA are learning about literacy development.

What do we know about the needs of students with ASD in the area of literacy?

Children with ASD have a unique constellation of strengths and weaknesses that impacts their academic development. Several studies by our research group and others have shown that children and adolescents with ASD are at risk for difficulties in the area of literacy. Some individuals with ASD show a particular strength in alphabet knowledge, including letter names and sounds, as well as reading words. A strength in word reading ability does not always translate into adequate reading comprehension. Many adolescents with ASD who can successfully read words still demonstrate difficulties with reading comprehension, especially comprehension that requires inferencing. Difficulties may be due, in part, to the highly social content that is embedded in stories. Children with ASD often struggle in the area of social communication and theory of mind (understanding others’ mental states), which may inhibit their ability to comprehend narrative texts. Additionally, we know that vocabulary and oral language are both important for reading comprehension; therefore, difficulties in these areas – often seen in individuals with ASD – may impact reading comprehension as well.

Similarly, the existing data show that children with ASD have a more difficult time with writing-related tasks, such as composition. Our work in this area suggests that these writing difficulties may be due to broader difficulties related to language development and social communication skills. 

What research is being done to address the needs of students at different ages?

While we are beginning to understand developmental trajectories of reading for this population, very little research has been conducted on specific interventions for reading and writing. Our research group has begun to look at early elementary (K-3rd grade) language and reading comprehension interventions for students with ASD. Our initial studies have shown that when we implement highly interactive language and listening comprehension instruction, these students show gains in oral language and listening comprehension. We have found that instructional strategies that use shared book reading, where the teacher reads aloud from a book and asks children targeted questions about the characters in the story, are effective. Our instruction also provides students practice with vocabulary words and opportunities to respond to texts both orally and through writing.

There are also other research groups investigating emergent literacy (prekindergarten years) with this population of students. For example, Jaclyn Dynia at The Ohio State University has engaged in work investigating strengths and weaknesses in emergent literacy skills such as phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge, and print awareness.  Also, in the early childhood years, Dr. Veronica Fleury at Florida State University is engaged in some work in this area, including an IES-funded study aimed at developing and testing the feasibility of an adaptive shared book reading intervention for preschoolers with ASD. 

To address difficulties in reading comprehension with older students, Michael Solis and his team at the University of California, Riverside are using IES funding to develop and test explicit instructional routines and curricular materials for a reading comprehension and behavior intervention for students with ASD in upper elementary and middle school.

In collaboration with our colleagues at the University of California, Davis, we continue to analyze and publish developmental studies examining literacy skills. Additionally, we have become increasingly interested in understanding the transition from prekindergarten to kindergarten and early elementary school and how literacy is developing during this time. At UVA, we have started a longitudinal data collection project to investigate the relations among early reading, oral language, social attention, and cognition variables in young children with higher functioning ASD.

Our group is also starting to think about how we can design interventions that specifically target early reading skills and language development as well as social communication skills. Children’s books often provide very rich opportunities to engage around events and feelings that could be used to teach children with ASD social communication skills. Our next school-based intervention study will combine our previously successful language and listening instruction with targeted social communication instruction.

What recommendations or resources do you have for parents who are supporting children with ASD as they learn from home during the pandemic?

Here are some tips for reading at home with children. Additional resources are below.

  • Friends on the Block was developed through an IES grant as an early literacy curriculum for children with disabilities.  They have provided some free content online for use at home by caregivers.
  • Self-regulated strategy development (SRSD) is an approach that emphasizes direct instruction of writing strategies, knowledge, and self-regulation skills via flexible, recursive instructional stages. SRSD approaches have been shown to be effective for some elementary and middle school children with autism.
  • Book Share Time provides read aloud texts and allows caregivers to filter the books based on specific speech or language goals.

This blog was co-authored by Sarah Brasiel (Sarah.Brasiel@ed.gov), Amy Sussman (Amy.Sussman@ed.gov), Katie Taylor (Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov) at IES and Emily Solari (ejs9ea@virginia.edu), and her IES funded postdoctoral fellows (Alyssa Henry & Matthew Zajic) at UVA.  IES hopes to encourage more research on students with ASD in the coming years in order to increase the evidence base and guide program and policy decisions.