IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Closing the Opportunity Gap Through Instructional Alternatives to Exclusionary Discipline

According to the most recent GAO analysis of the U.S. Department of Education Civil Rights Data Collection, Black students, boys, and students with disabilities are disproportionately suspended or expelled in K-12 public schools. The reasons for these disparities may not always be clear, but the consequences are stark—suspended or expelled students miss out on opportunities to learn. What can be done to minimize this opportunity gap?

In 2018, researchers at the University of Oregon received a grant to develop an alternative to exclusionary discipline for middle schools. The Inclusive Skill Building Learning Approach (ISLA) will function as a Tier I universal intervention in middle schools that use Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). ISLA systems and practices will give teachers other options for dealing with misbehaving students along with strategies to support students when they return to the classroom following a trip to the principal’s office. I recently spoke with Dr. Rhonda Nese, the principal investigator for Project ISLA, about how she became interested in this work and how she and her colleagues are tackling this challenge of narrowing the opportunity gap in middle school classrooms.

How did you become interested in the issue of disproportionate discipline?

I had been deeply interested in the school-to-prison pipeline research for many years, but the light switch went on for me when I was spending time in a middle school through my work on another project. I started noticing a pattern of students, mostly boys and students of color, sitting in the office every time I walked into this school. And I’m talking about lots of students! This office would be flooded with kids; not learning, not speaking with anyone, just sitting and looking downcast. And it was disturbing.

When I asked the assistant principal what the students were doing in the office, she shared that, for whatever reason, the students were sent out of class and needed to meet with an administrator. So, I became curious. On average how much class time were they missing? I was floored to learn that the average was three days of missed instruction, which is the equivalent of over 1200 minutes of learning. And the deeper I dug the more I realized how pervasive the problem was. In addition to the racial disparities I saw in the kids being excluded, it was also clear that the students who were missing instruction were those who needed to be in class the most: students living in poverty, students struggling academically, and students receiving special education services. And the process of sitting and waiting was doing the students a tremendous disservice academically, behaviorally, and emotionally. I saw firsthand the issues I needed to begin addressing immediately, and I knew I found my passion.

How does Project ISLA extend or build on your earlier research?

I started developing ISLA during my postdoc years when I was deep in the PBIS literature, examining predictors of sustained implementation of evidence-based practices, and beginning to explore interventions to address implicit biases in discipline disproportionality. So, I was able to combine what I was learning from practitioners and from scientific findings to craft an intervention that was rooted in behavioral theory, embedded in preventative practices, and incorporated teacher and student voice.

I also became clearer with myself and others that ISLA is not about “fixing” kids: it is about changing adult behavior to improve student outcomes and relationships. Now through our iterative development process, our team is learning so much about what it takes to support school staff with making this work their own, how we get buy-in from the school community, and how we braid the ISLA work with other preventative practices they already have in place.

What are the core components of the ISLA intervention? What are its essential practices? What have you learned so far about what it takes to implement ISLA in middle schools?

One of our greatest goals is to help educators make this philosophical shift where they view sending a student out of class as a really big deal, and thus, should be reserved for situations in which the teachers and students need support with problem solving, skill building, and making amends. In order to accomplish this, we begin with spending a lot of time with our educators developing and revisiting preventative practices to improve the classroom environment, and in turn, reduce the need for exclusion. This includes working with educators to develop and implement universal relationship-building strategies, graduated discipline practices within the classroom, neutralizing routines to reduce the impact of implicit biases on their decision making, and mechanisms for supporting students in effective and respectful ways. We then layer on a systematized process for students and teachers to request breaks, and then on top of this we have our processes that are provided to students in the event that they are sent out to help them get back to class faster and with the skills to make amends with their teacher. This includes a debrief, skills coaching, and reconnection supports with a front office staff member and a process for their teacher to listen reflectively and agree on how they will problem solve with the student if there’s an issue in the future.  

Getting folks to move away from exclusionary discipline practices takes a lot of time and a lot of patience, because suspensions and other forms of exclusion are deeply tied to systems of oppression that have been prevalent in the United States. And especially in middle school, there’s this pervasive myth that students should know how to behave by this point, and so anything to the contrary is seen as willful defiance as opposed to a skill gap. Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix, and ISLA is certainly not a silver bullet. In fact, we call ISLA Tier I+ because it starts with universal preventative practices and then adds supports for students and teachers who need more. Because of all the myth busting and support layering we’re doing, working with a team of educators in each school has been critical for buy-in and implementation. They help guide our iterative changes, give us strategies to consider, and are the voice to their colleagues. They are invested in the work because they are helping to develop it for their schools. And our work is so much more meaningful because of them.

 

Dr. Nese and her team are mid-way through their project. Now that they have completed the iterative development process they are testing the usability and feasibility of ISLA in new middle schools this year. In their pilot study of promise next year, they will see if ISLA increases instructional time for students and improves student-teacher relationships and school climate. In addition to creating ISLA user guides and materials, the team plans to develop technical reports, video tutorials, trainings, and webinars that will be available through the Office for Special Education Programs (OSEP) Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports website.


Written by Emily Doolittle, National Center for Education Research Team Lead for Social Behavioral Research. This is the third 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 and Diversify Education Sciences? Yes, We Can!

 

Seeking Summer Interns

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

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

Applicant qualifications:

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

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

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

IES-Funded Researchers Receive Awards from the Council for Exceptional Children

In February, the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) held its annual Convention and Expo, during which scholars were recognized for their research contributions to the field. Several investigators funded through IES were among those honored by the CEC.

 

Nancy Jordan (University of Delaware) received the 2020 Kauffman-Hallahan Distinguished Researcher Award. This honor, awarded by the CEC Division for Research, recognizes individuals or research teams who have made outstanding scientific contributions in special education over the course of their careers, leading to better education or services for exceptional individuals. Dr. Jordan has been the Principal Investigator (PI) on a number of IES awards. With support from the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER), she is currently developing and testing a fraction sense intervention for middle school students with or at risk for mathematics difficulties. She also served as PI for the large-scale National Research and Development Center on Improving Mathematics Instruction for Students with Mathematics Difficulties, which conducted exploratory research on fractions and related cognitive process as well as developed interventions for fraction understanding among students with mathematics difficulties. In addition, Dr. Jordan has received funding from the National Center for Education Research (NCER), including a grant to refine and validate a number sense screener for students from prekindergarten through Grade 1 and to train postdoctoral fellows to apply cognitive science principals to crucial issues in education such as mathematics, language development, and early learning. She also co-authored a synthesis of IES-funded research focusing on mathematics learning and teaching from kindergarten through secondary school and has served as an expert panelist for the What Works Clearinghouse practice guides in mathematics.

 

Tim Lewis (University of Missouri) received the CEC J.E. Wallace Wallin Lifetime Achievement Award, which recognizes an individual who has made continued and sustained contributions to the education of children and youth with exceptionalities. Dr. Lewis is currently the PI on a NCSER-funded grant to evaluate the efficacy of Check-in/Check-out for improving social, emotional, and academic behavior of elementary school students at risk for emotional and behavioral disorders, as well as co-PI on a project to further develop and refine the Resilience Education Program, a tier 2 intervention for elementary students at risk for internalizing problems. He also served as co-PI on the large-scale National Research and Development Center on Serious Behavior Disorders at the Secondary Level, focused on developing and evaluating the efficacy of a package of intervention strategies designed to reduce the significant behavioral and academic challenges experienced by high school students with behavior disorders.

 

Sara McDaniel (University of Alabama) received the 2020 Distinguished Early Career Research Award from CEC’s Division for Research. This award recognizes individuals who have made outstanding scientific contributions in basic and/or applied special education research within the first 10 years after receiving a doctoral degree. Dr. McDaniel is a co-Investigator on a NCSER supported grant to develop and test Racial equity Assessment of data, Cultural adaptation, and Training (ReACT), a professional development intervention aimed at reducing racial/ethnic disproportionality in school discipline and special education referrals.

 

Congratulations to the winners!

Inside IES Special Interview Series: From University Research to Practice at Scale in Education

Over two decades, the National Center for Education Research and the National Center for Special Education Research at IES have built a knowledge base to inform and improve education practice. This work has also spurred the development of evidence-based tools, technological products, training guides, instructional approaches, and assessments. 

While some IES-supported interventions are used on a wide scale (hundreds of schools or more), we acknowledge that a “research to practice gap” hinders the uptake of more evidence-based interventions in education.  The gap refers to the space between the initial research and development in university laboratories and pilot evaluations in schools, and everything else that is needed for the interventions to be adopted as a regular practice outside of a research evaluation.

For many academic researchers, advancing beyond the initial stage of R&D and pilot evaluations is complex and often requires additional time, financing, and specialized expertise and support. For example, interventions often need more R&D to ready interventions for scale—whether to ensure that implementation is turnkey and feasible without any researcher assistance, that interventions work the same across divergent settings and across different populations, or to bolster technology systems to be able to process huge amounts of data across numerous sites at the same time. Advancing from research to practice may also entail commercialization planning to address issues such as intellectual property, licensing, sales, and marketing, to facilitate dissemination of interventions from a university to the education marketplace, and to sustain it over time by generating revenue or securing other means of support.

Special Inside IES Research Interview Series

This winter and spring, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews with the teams of researchers, developers, and partners who successfully advanced IES-funded education research from the university laboratory to practice in schools at scale.  Collectively, the interviews illustrate a variety of models and approaches for scaling evidenced-based interventions and for disseminating and sustaining the interventions over time.

Each interview will address a similar set of questions:

  • Was it part of the original plan to develop an intervention that could one day be used at scale in schools?
  • Describe the initial research and development that occurred. 
  • What role did the university play in facilitating the research to practice process? 
  • What other individuals or organizations provided support during the process?
  • Beyond the original R&D process through IES or ED grants, what additional R&D was needed to ready the intervention for larger scale use?
  • What model was used for dissemination and sustainability?
  • What advice would you provide to researchers who are looking to move their research from the lab to market? What steps should they take? What resources should they look for?

Check this page regularly to read new interviews.

We hope you enjoy the series.

This series is produced by Edward Metz of the Institute of Education Sciences

Building the Evidence Base for BEST in CLASS – Teacher Training to Support Young Learners with the Most Challenging Classroom Behavior

Classroom teachers of young children face a seemingly never-ending challenge – how to manage disruptive behavior while simultaneously teaching effectively and supporting the needs of every student in the classroom. Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Florida have received five IES research grants over the past decade – three through the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) and two from the National Center for Education Research (NCER) – to develop and test a model of training and professional development, including coaching, for early childhood and early elementary school teachers on how best to support children who engage in disruptive and otherwise challenging classroom behaviors.

With their first IES grant in 2008, Drs. Maureen Conroy and Kevin Sutherland developed the original BEST in CLASS model for early childhood teachers. The goal of BEST in CLASS - PK is to increase the quantity and quality of specific instructional practices with young children (ages 3-5 years old) who engage in high rates of challenging behaviors with the ultimate goal of preventing and reducing problem behavior. Professional development consists of a six-hour workshop that uses didactic and interactive learning activities supported by video examples and practice opportunities. Following the workshop, teachers receive a training manual and 14 weeks of practice-based coaching in the classroom. 

The results of this promising development work led to a 2011 IES Efficacy study to test the impact of BEST in CLASS - PK on teacher practices and child outcomes. Based on positive findings from that Efficacy study the team was awarded two additional Development and Innovation grants – one in 2016 to develop a web-based version of BEST in CLASS – PK to increase accessibility and scalability and another in 2015 to adapt BEST in CLASS – PK for early elementary school classrooms (BEST in CLASS – Elementary). Drs. Sutherland and Conroy are currently in the second year of an Efficacy study to test the impact of BEST in CLASS - Elementary to determine if the positive effects of BEST in CLASS in preschool settings are replicated in early elementary classrooms.

Written by Emily Doolittle, NCER Team Lead for Social Behavioral Research, and Jacquelyn Buckley, NCSER Team Lead for Disability Research