IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Recognizing Our Outstanding Predoctoral Fellows

Each year, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) recognizes an outstanding fellow from its Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Programs in the Education Sciences for academic accomplishments and contributions to education research. For the first time, IES has selected joint recipients for the 2015 award: Meghan McCormick and Eric Taylor. They will receive their awards and present their research at the annual IES Principal Investigators meeting in Washington, D.C. in December 2016.

Meghan completed her Ph.D. in Applied Psychology at New York University and wrote her dissertation on the efficacy of INSIGHTS, a social emotional learning intervention aimed at improving low-income urban students’ academic achievement. She is currently a research associate at MDRC. Eric completed his PhD in the Economics of Education from Stanford University and wrote his dissertation on the contributions of the quality and quantity of classroom instruction to student learning. Eric is currently an assistant professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

We asked Meghan and Eric how participating in an IES predoctoral training program helped their development as researchers.  For more information about the IES predoctoral training program, visit our website.

Meghan McCormick

Having the opportunity to be part of the IES Predoctoral Training Program helped me to develop a set of theoretical, quantitative, and practical skills that I would not have had the opportunity to develop otherwise. 

I was drawn to attend NYU (New York University) for my doctoral studies specifically because the school of education at NYU offered the (IES) predoctoral training program, in addition to hosting a core set of faculty with research interests very much aligned with my own. In my first year of graduate school, I quickly became aware that being a part of the IES program allowed me the freedom to study with an interdisciplinary set of scholars who could support multiple components of my training through a diverse set of experiences.

For example, in my work with Elise Cappella, Erin O’Connor, and Sandee McClowry, I was able to learn about the logistics of implementing a cluster-randomized trial across a broad set of schools, and conducting impact analyses to evaluate the efficacy of one social-emotional learning program called INSIGHTS. My experience working with Jim Kemple and Lori Nathanson at the Research Alliance for New York City schools showed me how to use research in a way that was responsive to the needs and goals of education policy makers. Quantitative coursework with Jennifer Hill and Sharon Weinberg helped me to apply rigorous quantitative methods to the data that were collected in schools, and to think concretely about the implications of research design for my future work. Coursework with developmental psychologists conducting policy-relevant research, such as Pamela Morris and Larry Aber, helped me to apply comprehensive theoretical framing when examining research questions of interest, and interpreting results. In addition, I have always been primarily interested in conducting interdisciplinary research that is responsive to policy and practice. My dissertation research grew out of my interest in learning about interdisciplinary methods for causal inference and applying them to research questions I had about how, for whom, and under what circumstances the social-emotional learning program I helped to evaluate effected outcomes for low-income students.

Most importantly, perhaps, having been part of the IES program’s collaborative and interdisciplinary community helped me to identify the type of research I wanted to do after finishing graduate school. Primarily, I knew that I wanted to conduct policy-relevant research, using the most rigorous quantitative methods available, with a team of researchers coming from different backgrounds. This realization led me to work at MDRC, where I have been working with JoAnn Hsueh and other colleagues to apply my skills from the predoctoral training program in new research design work that is responsive to critical policy questions in early education policy and practice right now. I feel prepared for this new work given the opportunities that the IES program afforded me across the last five years. 

Eric Taylor

I would emphasize two benefits. First, the IES program at Stanford helped me create and strengthen professional relationships with other education researchers and practitioners. Those relationships provided important opportunities to learn skills in ways that could not happen in the classroom but also complemented the excellent classroom instruction. The new relationships were diverse: other graduate students in different disciplines, Stanford faculty and faculty at other institutions, and, critically, practitioners and policy makers. For example, supported by my fellowship, I joined faculty at (the University of) Michigan and Columbia (University) working with the DC Public Schools to improve teacher applicant screening and hiring.

Second, those relationships combined with the financial support of the fellowship made it possible to work on new and timely research projects. During my time as an IES predoc, with collaborators at Brown, we started a researcher-practitioner partnership with colleges at the Tennessee Department of Education. The resulting work has taught me much about the day-to-day realities of school policy making and management, and how research can and cannot help. The partnership with Tennessee also grew into a five-year grant from IES, which began last year, to study state policy and teacher development through evaluation.

In short, I am certain my career is much further along today than it would have been without the IES predoc fellowship.

By Katina Stapleton, Education Research Analyst, National Center for Education Research 

 

A Conversation about Reading for Understanding

There is a lot of discussion these days about the importance of bringing many voices to the table when designing, implementing, and interpreting research studies. The usefulness of educational research is only enhanced when teachers, policmakers, and researchers work together to design studies and understand the findings.

The Educational Testing Service and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) sponsored such an opportunity on May 18 and 19 by bringing together over 150 researchers, practitioners, instructional specialists, federal staff, and policy makers to reflect on the efforts of the of the Reading for Understanding Research Initiative (RfU).

Researchers from the six RfU teams shared what they learned about how to work together to design and implement new approaches and improve reading for understanding from PreK through high school. They also discussed what needs to be done to build on this effort.  (Check out this recent blog post to learn how some researchers are building on the work of the RfU Initiative.)

Sessions at the meeting were designed to promote discussion among attendees in order to take advantage of different viewpoints and  better understand the implications of the RfU findings and the relevance for practice and policy. The meeting culminated with two panels tasked with summarizing key points from these discussions. One panel focused on implications for research, and the other on policy implications. The presence of practitioners from the field, researchers, and policymakers led to a well-rounded conversation about how we can build upon the research of RfU and put it into action in the classroom.

The agenda, presentation slides, and webcasts of the closing panels are now available for viewing on the meeting website.  

Written by Karen Douglas, Education Research Analyst, NCER

What’s Next for the Reading for Understanding Research Initiative?

After years of intense collaboration and research, the Reading for Understanding (RfU) Research Initiative is coming to an end. But the initiative’s work continues through recently announced IES-funded grants.

Over six years, research teams in the RfU network designed and tested new interventions that aim to improve reading comprehension in students in all grade levels and developed new measures of reading comprehension and component skills that support it. The initiative led to several new and important findings. In the coming years, several teams will build on that work through new research projects funded by IES’ National Center for Education Research (NCER) and National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER).  

During the RfU initiative, the Promoting Adolescents’ Comprehension of Text (PACT) team found positive effects in improving the content-area reading comprehension of middle school students. The PACT intervention uses social studies content to engage students and teach them to build coherent representations of the ideas in texts. Through a new grant from NCER, the PACT team will be testing the effectiveness of the intervention in middle school social studies classrooms in eight states.

Another group of researchers from the PACT team are starting a new project with funding from NCSER to design and test a technology-based intervention aimed at improving how middle school students with reading disabilities make inferences while reading.  

The RfU assessment team is also launching a new NCER-funded project to develop a digital assessment appropriate for adults, in particular those reading between the 3rd- to 8th-grade levels. Building on the Global, Integrated Scenario-Based Assessment (GISA) developed in RfU, the team intends for this new assessment to help determine an adult reader's strengths and weaknesses, inform instruction, and improve programs and institutional accountability. In addition, this team is using assessment items developed with RfU funding to explore the relationship between high school students' background knowledge and their reading comprehension.  

Finally, the Florida State University RfU team is continuing to explore which combination of interventions will improve the early language skills that are foundational to mastery of reading. In this new project, the researchers will examine the relative efficacy and sustained impacts of a language and vocabulary intervention for prekindergarten and kindergarten students, with variations on when and how long the intervention is used.

Written by Elizabeth Albro, Associate Commissioner, NCER

Making Contributions: IES-funded Research in Mathematics

From 2002 to 2013, the Institute of Education Sciences has funded scores of research grants with a focus on improving mathematics education. Many of the outcomes of that research have been captured in a new publication, Synthesis of IES-funded Research on Mathematics.  

This Synthesis was co-authored by Bethany Rittle-Johnson, of Vanderbilt University, and Nancy C. Jordan, of University of Delaware, two nationally recognized experts in the area of mathematics education research. The co-authors reviewed published research and organized the synthesis for the public to answer the overarching question—What have we learned? The short answer: A lot!

Here’s a look at the new Synthesis by the numbers:

 

200

Between 2002 and 2013, IES has funded almost 200 grants on mathematics learning and teaching through its two research centers—the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER).

 

69

The co-authors synthesized what was learned from 69 IES-funded grants that had peer-reviewed publications published between January 1, 2002, and June 30, 2014. Grants that did not have peer-reviewed publications during that time frame were not included in this synthesis.

 

28

The Synthesis summarizes 28 contributions that IES grants have made in furthering our understanding of mathematics teaching and learning for students in kindergarten through high school. A summary of research findings is provided for each contribution, along with citations to the publications that will allow practitioners, policymakers, and researchers to access more information about the findings if they are interested.

 

2

The research contributions listed in the Synthesis are divided into two sections

  1. Improving Mathematics Learning in two areas: Whole numbers, operations, and word problem solving in elementary school, and fractions and algebra in the middle grades; and
  2. Development and Evaluation of Teacher Professional Development Approaches.

 

65%

The Synthesis cites research that shows that annual income is 65 percent higher among adults who have taken calculus in high school than among adults who have completed only basic mathematics. It is our hope that this Synthesis will spark efforts to improve American students’ math proficiency and increase their interest in taking higher level math.

 

So, where do we go from here? IES will continue to make significant contributions to mathematics education research and practice. In particular, the co-authors of the Synthesis recommend the following future directions for IES-funded research in mathematics:

  • Replication: Studies of promise or ones that demonstrate positive results must be replicated and extended to ensure that the findings can be reproduced in different educational settings, improve student achievement on measures used by teachers and schools, and lead to improvements that can be sustained over time;
  • Innovation: Future work should continue to innovate and test new strategies for improving mathematics achievement. Research should examine the features of interventions that most effectively build concepts and skills in mathematics topics and address whether observed gains can be transferred to other areas of mathematics learning; and
  • Context: Future research must continue to address what works for whom and under what conditions.

Although the Synthesis provides a broad overview of the contributions IES-funded research has made in mathematics education, it is not exhaustive. There are many more IES-funded studies that did not have published results by June 30, 2014. These studies are likely to produce additional findings on mathematics learning on these topics, as well as on topics not addressed in the Synthesis, such as mathematics learning in high school. Also, it should be noted that other centers and programs within IES conduct research and evaluation on mathematics that can be helpful to researchers, practitioners, and policymakers.

For more information, visit our website, or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

When It’s Good to Talk in Class

Most people remember being told not to talk in class or risk a trip to the principal’s office or a note sent home. But researchers in the Reading for Understanding Research Initiative (RfU) want students to talk in class as a way to improve reading comprehension.

Five research teams in the RfU network have designed and tested new interventions intended to provide a strong foundation for reading comprehension in students from pre-kindergarten through high school. And promoting high quality language use and talk among students is a central feature of many of these interventions. The goal is to improve reading outcomes by building students’ understanding of rich syntax and academic language to express and evaluate complex ideas.

RfU researchers have conducted studies in 29 states and interventions developed by the RfU network have been tested for efficacy with over 30,000 students (see the chart to the right for more information on the grantees and the map below to see where they conducted research).

While findings from these studies are still forthcoming, some interventions already show promise toward improving reading for understanding and/or supporting skills. New assessments have been field-tested with over 300,000 students across the country and have documented their capacity to collect valid and useful information for teachers, schools, and researchers.

Support for informative and instructional talk by students was provided in a variety of ways across different academic areas, including social studies, science, and English language arts classes. Some teams developed new classroom activities to structure whole class discussion through student debate on current topics of interest. Using a program like 

Word Generation, students discuss a focal question to stimulate various opinions on current topics, such as ‘Should students be required to wear school uniforms?’ or ‘Are green technologies worth the investment?’  In other interventions, such as PACT, students spend time talking in pairs or small groups to reinforce a new concept or idea.

Teachers are understandably concerned about how to manage a classroom in which students are talking. As part of RfU, curricula and materials were created to help teachers to improve their skills in managing constructive student talk, and several teams also provided extensive professional development for teachers.

Attention to the importance of student talk was also evident in a computer-based assessment called GISA developed by ETS which uses a scenario-based approach. Rather than talking with their peers during the assessments, students interact with avatars on a task that simulates a realistic classroom-based task.

Using student talk to improve reading comprehension is just one of many supports that have been explored by the RfU teams in their extensive body of work over the past six years. The RfU teams provided an update on their research during an event in May. You can watch a webcast of the event until July 31, 2016.

Visit the IES website to see a detailed agenda for the May event and to learn more about the work of the Reading for Understanding Research Initiative. In addition to providing an overview of the work, the abstracts include links to RfU team websites and many of these have examples of their materials. Materials for the Word Generation and PACT interventions are available for free on their websites, and several other RfU grantees will be making their materials freely available in the coming year.

Written by Karen Douglas, project lead, Reading for Understanding Research Initiative, National Center for Education Research