IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Middle Level Education Month: Celebrating the Early Adolescent Years

March is Middle Level Education Month, a month in which we recognize the important early adolescent years for learning and growth. For young adolescents, particularly adolescents with or at risk for disabilities, these can be important years to further develop executive functioning and self-regulation skills as opportunities for independence expand and the academic and behavioral expectations increase. For middle school teachers of students with or at risk for disabilities, classroom management and effective behavior supports may be particularly important. Many middle school teachers experience student disengagement and disruptive behavior. To support middle school teachers and students, several researchers are exploring ways to promote appropriate behavior, support executive functioning and self-regulation skills, and enhance academic engagement in middle schoolers with or at risk for disabilities through grants from the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER).

Two NCSER-funded researchers are currently developing interventions to improve learning and behavior for middle school students. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dr. Andrew Garbacz has an Early Career Development and Mentoring grant to iteratively adapt and test the Conjoint Behavioral Consultation (CBC) service model for middle school students with or at risk for serious emotional disturbance. CBC (also known as Teachers and Parents as Partners) is an indirect service delivery model, previously tested with younger students, that partners parents, educators, and other key stakeholders in data-driven, collaborative problem-solving and implementation of evidence-based interventions to address challenging behavior. At the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Dr. Leanne Tamm is adapting and testing the Teaching Academic Skills to Kids—School-based intervention. This intervention was originally developed for individuals with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and is currently being adapted to focus on the specific needs of middle schoolers with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder. The adapted intervention will target executive functioning skills, academic behaviors (such as homework completion), and academic outcomes.

In addition to this work on developing interventions, three NCSER-funded researchers are testing the efficacy of existing interventions that aim to improve the behavior, engagement, school adjustment, and academic outcomes of middle school students with or at risk for emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD). At the University of Florida, Dr. Stephen Smith is examining the efficacy of I Control, an intervention for middle school students with EBD that targets executive functioning skills. At the Oregon Social Learning Center, Dr. Rohanna Buchanan is evaluating the efficacy of the Students with Involved Families and Teachers (SWIFT) program, which is intended to improve school adjustment for students with EBD who are transitioning between school placements or who are at risk of being placed in a more restrictive setting (such as a residential facility). The goal of SWIFT is to promote successful student transitions and to increase parental involvement in schools. At the University of Kansas, Dr. Howard Wills is evaluating the efficacy of Class-Wide Function-Based Intervention Teams Middle School (CW-FIT MS). CW-FIT MS aims to improve engagement, academic outcomes, and socially appropriate behaviors of middle school students with or at risk for EBD while improving teacher classroom management practices.

IES is committed to improving learning opportunities and outcomes for middle school students with and without disabilities, and we look forward to seeing how these projects will help support this goal.

This blog was authored by Alice Bravo (University of Washington), IES intern through the Virtual Student Federal Service.

NCSER Principal Investigators Receive 2021 CEC Awards

This week, the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) is holding its annual Convention and Expo virtually. Several scholars are being presented with awards during the event to recognize their research contributions to the field. IES-funded investigators Linda Mason, Nicholas Gage, and Patricia Snyder are among those recognized.

Photo of Dr. Linda Mason

Dr. Linda Mason, Endowed Director of the Kellar Institute for Human disAbilities at George Mason University, received the CEC Special Education Research Award. This award is given to an individual or team whose research has made significant contributions to the education of children and youth with exceptionalities. Dr. Mason’s research focuses on content reading comprehension and writing interventions to support students with learning disabilities in inclusive classrooms. She has been the Principal Investigator (PI) on two National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) grants. For one, she developed a writing intervention for middle schoolers with behavior disorders. Currently, Dr. Mason is the PI for a project that is exploring the relationships among teacher use of evidence-based practices, teacher experience with and attitudes about adapting instruction for students with disabilities, and student writing outcomes.

Photo of Dr. Nicholas Gage

Dr. Nicholas Gage, Associate Professor at the School of Special Education, School Psychology, and Early Childhood Studies at the University of Florida, received the CEC Division for Research Martin J. Kauffman Distinguished Early Career Research Award. This award is given to an individual in recognition of outstanding scientific contributions in special education research within the first 10 years after receiving doctoral degree. Dr. Gage’s research focuses on identification of policies and practices to support the academic, social, and behavioral needs of students with or at risk for emotional or behavioral disorders. A former IES post-doctoral fellow, he has also served as the PI on a NCSER grant that developed a technology-based intervention to support students with visual impairments in locating key information in math word problems that include graphics. Currently, Dr. Gage serves as a mentor for an early career grant.

Photo of Dr. Patricia Snyder

Dr. Patricia Snyder, a Distinguished Professor and Director of the Anita Zucker Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies at the University of Florida, received the CEC Division for Research Kauffman-Hallahan-Pullen Distinguished Researcher Award. This award is given to an individual in recognition of research resulting in more effective services or education for exceptional individuals. Dr. Snyder’s research focuses on developing, validating, and evaluating interventions for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers with or at risk for disabilities or experiencing social and behavioral challenges. Dr. Snyder has been the Principal Investigator number of NCSER-funded research grants. She and her colleagues designed a professional development program, Tools for Teachers, to support teachers in using embedded instruction with preschool children with disabilities. Following up on the initial grant, she and her colleagues recently completed an efficacy trial of Tools for Teachers to examine the impact of the professional development intervention on teacher practices and child outcomes and she is serving as a co-PI for a grant developing Tools for Families, a program for teachers to engage families in embedded instruction for learning across school and home. Dr. Snyder has also been a co-PI for a study examining the efficacy of the Pyramid Model, a class-wide model aimed at promoting social-emotional development and positive behavior for preschool children; a project that developed Embedded Practices and Intervention with Caregivers, an early intervention program aimed at coaching caregivers of infants and toddlers to embed learning opportunities in every day routines; and a current project developing a professional development intervention focused on teaching vocabulary to children at risk for communication difficulties. Finally, she has been actively involved in training the next generation of researchers, serving as PI on a postdoctoral training grant focused on preparing postdoctoral fellows to conduct research on improving outcomes for young children with or at risk for disabilities and serving as a mentor for an Early Career program grant.

Congratulations to the award recipients!

This blog was authored by Alice Bravo (University of Washington), IES intern through the Virtual Student Federal Service, and Amy Sussman, Program Officer at NCSER.

Career and Technical Education Month®: Improving Outcomes for Secondary Students with Disabilities

February marks Career and Technical Education Month®, a public awareness campaign that highlights and celebrates career and technical education (CTE). CTE programs emphasize career preparation, skill trades, applied sciences, and modern technologies. CTE coursework integrates academic knowledge with post-secondary pathways and careers by directly preparing middle and high school students with coursework related to high-demand industries.

To encourage research to improve career readiness skills and transition outcomes for students with or at risk for disabilities, the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) competed a special topic on Career and Technical Education for Students with Disabilities in FY 2019 and FY 2020. A previous blog post focused on the FY 2019 grant. In FY 2020, NCSER awarded two new research grants through this special topic:

CTE Teachers and Long-Term Outcomes for Students with Disabilities

The purpose of this exploratory project is to assess CTE teacher effectiveness for students with disabilities. Principal Investigator Dan Goldhaber at the University of Washington and his colleagues (co-PIs Kristian Holden and Roddy Theobold) will estimate CTE teacher effectiveness using high school attendance, GPA, persistence, and graduation probability as outcomes. They will also consider longer-term outcomes including college enrollment and employment, as well as whether CTE teacher effectiveness varies according to teacher licensure, pathway into teaching, and prior work experiences.

Supported College and Career Readiness for Secondary Students with Emotional and Behavioral Problems

In this study, Principal Investigator Lee Kern at Lehigh University and her colleagues (co-PIs Chris Liang and Jennifer Freeman) will develop and pilot test a multi-component program, Supported College and Career Readiness, that augments typical school-based college and career readiness activities (such as those associated with CTE). The research team aims to further support high school age students with or at risk for emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD), whom research suggests are insufficiently benefiting from college and career readiness activities. As a result, students with or at risk for EBD are frequently unprepared for career or postsecondary education pathways.

We asked each Principal Investigator to share the motivation for studying this research topic and what makes their study unique and impactful.

What inspired you to study this research topic?

Photo of Dan GoldhaberDr. Goldhaber: At CALDER, we have contributed to a large body of research on the impacts of math and ELA teachers on students. This body of evidence suggests that the quality of the teacher workforce is the most important schooling factor influencing students test and non-test outcomes. But we were surprised to find that, despite growing interest in CTE, there is a surprising lack of empirical research on CTE teacher contributions to student learning. We think this is a particularly important issue for students with disabilities for two reasons. First, CTE teachers have different pathways to teaching than academic teachers, and these pathways may provide less pedagogical preparation for the unique needs of students with disabilities. And second, students with disabilities are significantly more likely to be enrolled in these courses relative to students without disabilities. As such, this project lies at the intersection of our prior work on academic teachers, and our recent work on CTE participation for students with disabilities.

Photo of Lee Kern

Dr. Kern: Spending time with high school age students with emotional and behavioral problems brought me to truly understand how little they consider their futures. And, even when they have goals and dreams, they see scarce connections between what they are being asked to do in high school and realizing their goals. It occurred to me that finding ways to strengthen this connection might be an avenue not only to better prepare students for post-high school life, but also to reduce dropout. Indeed, the need to better prepare youth for life after high school has been increasingly embraced, especially in the last decade, evidenced in part by the adoption of career and college readiness (CCR) standards in almost every U.S. state. I witnessed many impressive CCR efforts and programs in high schools, yet it appeared that students with emotional and behavioral problems were failing to access these school-based CCR supports, some of which did not seem well aligned with their needs. With support from a Lehigh University faculty grant, I began to research exactly how this subset of students regarded, accessed, and benefitted from CCR activities and supports. This research underscored the need to supplement important components of CCR to better align with the needs of students with emotional and behavioral problems. Our goal in the current project is to develop and evaluate an intervention package that supplements high school CCR activities to better prepare students with emotional and behavioral problems for community, college, and/or career.

What makes your project unique and exciting? 

Dr. Goldhaber: This project will use unique data from Washington state that allows us to track students with disabilities in high school, postsecondary education, and employment. Access to long-term outcomes is both unique and important given that test scores are not likely to be a very good measure of the contributions that CTE teachers make toward student education. Our project is also closely focused on CTE workforce issues. The staffing of CTE courses is quite challenging—in Washington state, for instance, over half of all CTE teachers have not completed the state’s teacher licensure requirements and hold limited CTE licenses. Thus, we believe the work will garner a lot of attention from policymakers.

Dr. Kern: I am especially enthusiastic about this project because it targets areas in which empirical research tells us that students with emotional and behavioral problems have insufficient CCR skills, perceptions, and knowledge. I am also fortunate to work with my co-PIs, Drs. Freeman and Liang, who bring diverse and unique expertise in the areas of CCR assessment, CCR counseling, racial/ethnic identity development, and more. I am also optimistic about the feasibility of this project because it capitalizes on existing school resources in the form of school-based CCR programs. So, rather than adding programs or interventions, it adapts and expands existing CCR components.

Tell us how your research results could possibly shape CTE-related policy.

Dr. Goldhaber: In broad terms, we do not know much about the impact of CTE teacher quality, so our study has the potential to inform broadly the myriad ways we think about the heterogeneity of CTE teacher effects. But, more specifically and narrowly, we will be looking at the connections between CTE effects and CTE teacher pathways, which should inform policies and practices around CTE preparation and licensure.

Dr. Kern: We hope that our efforts will shape future CCR policy. Our aim is to build the evidence-base in the area of CCR supports that address the needs of students at risk for emotional and behavioral problems. Ultimately, we would like to see federal policies that guarantee at-risk students in all high schools in the U.S. receive comprehensive, evidence-based CCR interventions and supports that fully prepare them for life after high school.

For more information on CTE and students with disabilities, the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) and the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT) provide useful resources. In addition, ACTE, NTACT, and Penn State University’s Workforce Education program hosted a five-part webinar series in 2019 about programs, practices, and partnerships that support students with disabilities in CTE. This series can be viewed here.

This blog was authored by Alice Bravo (University of Washington), IES intern through the Virtual Student Federal Service, and Akilah Nelson, Program Officer at NCSER. For more information about the Career and Technical Education for Students with Disabilities topic area, contact Akilah Nelson.

The views expressed by the investigators do not necessarily reflect those of IES.

National Mentoring Month: Celebrating Mentors in Special Education Research

Photo of a man and woman looking at a laptop computer together

January marks the 20th annual National Mentoring Month, a campaign that was formally established by former President George W. Bush in 2002. National Mentoring Month recognizes mentorship opportunities for young individuals across the United States, with the goal of improving academic, social, and economic opportunities to strengthen communities. In honor of National Mentoring Month, we are showcasing two programs from the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) that promote mentorship in special education research – the Early Career Development and Mentoring program and the Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) Network from the Research Networks Focused on Critical Problems of Policy and Practice in Special Education program.

Early Career Development and Mentoring

The Early Career Development and Mentoring (Early Career) program, part of NCSER’s Research Training in Special Education, supports projects that prepare early career researchers to conduct independent, rigorous, and relevant early intervention and special education research. NCSER established this training program to support investigators in the early stages of their faculty or research scientist positions at academic institutions. This program prepares early career researchers to develop and evaluate instructional approaches, design and validate assessments, and address applied research problems using advanced methods and statistical analyses. As part of an integrated research and career development plan, investigators with Early Career grants identify one or more mentors with relevant expertise with whom they meet regularly in order to accomplish their grant goals. They receive feedback and guidance on research methods, data analysis and interpretation, dissemination, and grant writing. The ultimate goal of this program is to help launch the independent research careers for scientists interested in focusing on children with or at risk for disabilities, leading to an increased capacity of the field to conduct rigorous research.

Research Networks Focused on Critical Problems of Policy and Practice in Special Education: MTSS Network

The Research Networks Focused on Critical Problems of Policy and Practice in Special Education program establishes a structure for researchers working on high-priority issues in special education to share ideas, build new knowledge, and strengthen research and dissemination capacity. An important part of this network structure is the cross-team training of early career researchers. The MTSS Network was established as the first network under this program, conducting research examining integrated academic and behavioral MTSS in elementary schools. The MTSS Network, which consists of four research teams and one network lead, has established an Early Career Scholars program. Brandi Simonsen (Co-Principal Investigator on both the network lead and a research team) recently shared some information about this program. “The IES Research Network on Integrated Multi-Tiered Systems of Support engages two cohorts of Early Career Scholars in a range of mentoring activities to develop competency in conducting rigorous and relevant research on MTSS.” For example, mentorship activities for Early Career Scholars have included large group meetings to discuss Integrated Multi-Tiered Systems of Support: Blending RTI and PBIS by McIntosh and Goodman (Goodman is a member of the MTSS Network), which have provided opportunities for scholars to review and learn about integrated MTSS while engaging in discussion of ideas with network members. Scholars also meet in small groups with MTSS Network investigators to discuss specific research projects. For example, the early career scholars on the University of Connecticut research team meet with the investigators weekly to discuss on-going supports for participating schools, refine plans for research studies, and continue other grant-related activities.

For more information about NCSER’s programs of research, please see here.

This blog was authored by Alice Bravo (University of Washington), IES intern through the Virtual Student Federal Service. For more information about the Early Career Development and Mentoring program, contact Dr. Katie Taylor. For more information on the Research Networks program, contact Dr. Amy Sussman.

Catching Up with Former NCSER Fellows: Experiences and Advice for Early Career Researchers

Since 2008, the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) has supported postdoctoral training programs to prepare fellows in conducting early intervention and special education research that addresses issues that are important to infants, toddlers, children, and youth with or at risk for disabilities, their families, practitioners, and policymakers. As part of our Spotlight on IES Training Programs series, we reached out to a few former NCSER fellows who are now principal investigators (PIs) on IES grants to ask about their current research projects, how the NCSER fellowship prepared them for those projects, roadblocks they faced in applying for research funding, and advice for early career researchers interested in applying for IES funding. Below is what they had to say.

Photo of Angel FettigAngel Fettig, University of Washington

My NCSER postdoctoral position at Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill provided the opportunities and resources to prepare me to be the researcher I am today. Through my postdoctoral position, I had the opportunity to work on multiple NCSER-funded projects and got a solid understanding of the day-to-day activities of large research grants. I also received resources and supports to attend trainings and hone my research skills. Most importantly, I was surrounded by a community of researchers and mentors who are committed to promoting the use of rigorous research methodologies to build on evidence-based practices. Since the completion of my postdoctoral position, I have engaged in continuous learning around innovative research methodologies and apply them in my research grant applications. My current research, including the NCSER project I lead, focuses on equipping educators and parents with evidence-based practices to support young children’s social and emotional development and reduce challenging behaviors. I strongly believe that social emotional development is critical in ensuring the success of young children with and at risk for disabilities as they enter schools, and adults who interact with them play a crucial role in fostering this development. My advice for early career researchers is to find good mentors and colleagues who are interested in similar topics, craft an idea that addresses the current needs, design a study with rigorous and innovative research methodologies, and then just apply for funding! You can’t score a goal if you don’t take a shot!

Photo of Paulo GrazianoPaulo Graziano, Florida International University

My NCSER postdoctoral position at Florida International University provided me with specialized training in evidence-based assessments and interventions for children with disruptive behavior disorders. In combination with my background in developmental psychopathology, this training allowed me to find gaps in the research on how to best prepare preschoolers with disruptive behavior disorders for school entry, which led me to apply for additional IES grants. The NCSER project that I was awarded in 2012 entailed iteratively developing and testing a summer treatment program targeting pre-kindergarteners with disruptive behavior. As part of the project, we learned which curriculum, length, and level of parental involvement was needed to optimize children's academic, behavioral, and social-emotional growth during kindergarten. I was fortunate enough to get this award while still finishing up my postdoctoral fellowship, which was tremendously helpful in obtaining a faculty position and continuing my work at the same institution. One roadblock I faced applying for funding was obtaining permission from my university to apply for a grant as the PI while still a postdoc and responding to reviewers who thought that a postdoc should not be a PI. However, I overcame both roadblocks with the support of my postdoc mentor. This initial IES grant and my NCSER postdoc training were essential for launching my career and establishing a translational line of research that integrates developmental and neuroscience research to inform the treatment of disruptive behavior disorders. This integrated line of research has also allowed me to successfully receive funding from other agencies including the National Institutes of Health. I would highly encourage early career researchers to develop solid relationships with their community's school system. Forming a partnership is critical towards submitting a project for funding that will not only be implemented with high fidelity but that will be well received and maintained/adopted by stakeholders once the grant ends.

Photo of Dwight IrvinDwight Irvin, University of Kansas

My NCSER postdoctoral fellowship at Juniper Gardens Children’s Project at the University of Kansas focused on response to intervention in early childhood. With support and guidance from my mentors, Charles Greenwood and Judith Carta, I was afforded an opportunity to assist on multiple IES projects that allowed me to engage in planning, problem-solving, technology design/development, and statistical analysis. Importantly, I learned how an idea becomes a proposal, a funded grant, and is implemented to meet the proposed deliverables. During my postdoc, I formulated my own line of research and collected pilot data for future proposal development. It’s these experiences that I feel were most beneficial in preparing me for my current work and research. In our current NCSER project, we aim to validate a tool, the Classroom Code for Interactive Recording of Children's Learning Environments (CIRCLE) (Version 2.0), to assist preschool teachers in adjusting their instruction for young children at risk of not being ready for kindergarten. CIRCLE is a digital, live classroom observation system that assesses teacher and child behavior within multiple learning contexts. Our goal is to learn under what conditions and for whom intentional instruction is effectively promoting children’s literacy engagement and school readiness outcomes. Applying for research funding is always a formidable task. A big challenge is just being an early career investigator and lacking a reputation that convinces reviewers the work is feasible and worth funding. Another is learning how to write a proposal that is absent of fatal flaws and not viewed as too “ambitious.” My advice for early career researchers is to surround yourself with colleagues who value mentoring and have a history of funding. Find a way to involve yourself in developing a proposal even if it is not your own work and find a role on it even if it is not as an investigator. It is best not to expect success on an initial proposal submission, rather look at getting a panel review as a win. And lastly, find ways to collect and include meaningful pilot data to incorporate into a proposal as evidence that it is worth the investment.

This blog was written by Alice Bravo, virtual intern for IES and doctoral candidate in special education at the University of Washington, and Katie Taylor, program officer for NCSER’s postdoctoral training program.