IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

The 2016 PI Meeting: Making it Matter

Hundreds of researchers, practitioners, and education scientists gathered in Washington D.C. for the 2016 IES Principal Investigators (PI) Meeting on December 15 & 16. 

The annual meeting provided an opportunity for attendees to share the latest findings from their IES-funded work, learn from one another, and discuss IES and U.S. Department of Education priorities and programs.

The theme of this year’s annual meeting was Making it Matter: Rigorous Research from Design to Dissemination and the agenda included scores of session that highlighted findings, products, methodological approaches, new projects, and dissemination and communication strategies. The meeting was organized by the two IES research centers—the National Center for Education Research and the National Center for Special Education Research—in collaboration with the three meeting co-chairs: Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, of the University of Delaware; Kathleen Lynne Lane, of the University of Kansas; and Grace Wardhana, CEO of Kiko Labs.

Attendees were active on Twitter, using the hashtag #IESPImtg. Several attendees took the opportunity to highlight why their research matters using a sign and a selfie stick. Below are some Twitter highlights of the 2016 PI meeting.  


Research Update: Effective Post-school Transition Practices for Students with Disabilities

The special education research community has increasingly focused on how best to support students with disabilities in the transition from high school to postsecondary education or adult life. 

Transition supports provided in schools for these youth can differ and, as a result, the outcomes for these students during and after high school can vary a great deal.[1] The National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) has funded several grants on the topic.

Some of these NCSER-funded studies have incorporated and evaluated new approaches to provide educators with concrete information about effective practices to promote positive transition outcomes during and after high school.  Here is a brief update on a few promising programs and practices.

Picture (clockwise from top left) - David Test, Mary Wagner, Erik Carter, Sarah Gennen. Photos from university websites.

David Test, Tiana Povenmire-Kirk, Claudia Flowers, and their colleagues at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte recently completed a four-year study of the effects of a transition-planning service delivery system model on transition outcomes for students with disabilities. Communicating Interagency Relationships and Collaborative Linkages for Exceptional Students (CIRCLES) is a three-tier model of interagency collaboration among community, school, and IEP teams (see graphic).[2] The effect of CIRCLES was studied using a group-randomized controlled trial, the first rigorous evaluation of such an intervention. Results indicated many positive impacts of the program including increased collaboration among teams, and increased rates of self-determination, IEP participation, and academic performance for CIRCLE students as compared to students in the control group receiving business-as-usual supports for transition.[3] One year after exiting high school, No differences in post-school outcomes were observed for those in CIRCLES as compared to those in the control group. However, these data were obtained for fewer than half of the original sample. More research is to be done to determine the true impact of CIRCLES on post-school outcomes.   

Mary Wagner and her team addressed questions about the impact of interventions for high school students with autism spectrum disorders using a quasi-experimental design and longitudinal data from several national datasets. Her team found that 2- or 4-year college enrollment rates were significantly higher among youth with autism who participated in transition planning and those who had a primary transition goal of college enrollment.[4] In addition, the results indicated that these enrollment rates were significantly higher among students with autism who were included in secondary school general education English, math, science, or social studies classes than their peers with ASDs who were not included in these classes.[5]

Erik Carter at Vanderbilt University and his research team undertook a four-year study to examine the effect of peer support and peer network strategies as alternatives to traditional paraprofessional-delivered support to assist adolescents with severe disabilities in the classroom. The research team examined the impact of these interventions and found significant increases in participating students’ progress on individual goals, peer interactions and social relationships, social and academic engagement, and community participation compared to those receiving traditional paraprofessional support.[6] Previous research on transition interventions of this kind helped to identify evidence-based practices but this study was the first to rigorously evaluate them. Peers in the classroom can play a unique and valuable role in the welfare of adolescents with severe disabilities, and paraprofessionals and special educators can serve in a different role as facilitators of the peer support provided in these interventions.

Sarah Geenen, Laurie Powers, and their team at Portland State University conducted a longitudinal, experimental study to assess the efficacy of a supplemental transition program designed for youth in high school who are in both special education and foster care. Foster care students, they note, are disproportionately more likely to receive special education services than non-foster care students. The results were compelling, with meaningful and positive effects on youth participants, with lower rates of involvement in the juvenile justice system and increased independent living preparation and skills as compared to non-participants.[7]

Learn more about NCSER-funded work in the Transition Outcomes for Secondary Students with Disabilities topics on the Institute of Education Sciences website or contact Kim Sprague at

Written by Diane Mechner, University of Virginia, and Kim Sprague, Program Officer for Transition. Ms. Mechner, a student, was a 2016 IES summer intern.

[2] Povenmire-Kirk, T., Diegelmann, K., Crump, K., Schnorr, C., Test, D.W., Flowers, C., & Aspel, N. (2015). Implementing CIRCLES: A new model for interagency collaboration in transition planning. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 42, 51-65.

[3] Flowers, C., Test, D. W., Povenmire-Kirk, T., Kemp-Inman, A., Diegelmann, K. M., & Bunch-Crump, K. (in press). A cluster randomized controlled trial of a multi-level model of interagency collaboration. Exceptional Children.

[4] Wei, X., Wagner, M., Yu, J. W., Hudson, L., & Javitz, H. (2016). The effect of transition planning and goal-setting on college enrollment among youth with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Remedial and Special Education, 37(1), 3-14, doi:10.1177/0741932515581495.

[5] Wei, X., Wagner, M., Yu, J. W., & Javitz, H. (in press). The effect of general education inclusion on college enrollment rates among youth with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Autism.

[6] Carter, E. W., Asmus, J., Moss, C. K., Biggs, E. E., Bolt, D. M., Born, T., Brock, M. E., Cattey, G. N., Chen, R,, Cooney, M., Fesperman, E., Hochman, J. M., Huber, H. B., Lequia, J. L., Lyons, G., Moyseenko, K. A., Riesch, L. M., Shalev, R. A., Vincent, L. B., & Weir, K. (2016). Randomized evaluation of peer support arrangements to support the inclusion of high school students with severe disabilities. Exceptional Children, 82(2), 209-233, doi:0014402915598780.

[7] Powers, L. E., Geenen, S., Powers, J., Pommier-Satya, S., Turner, A., Dalton, L. D., Drummond, D., & Swank, P. (2012). My life: Effects of a longitudinal, randomized study of self-determination enhancement on the transition outcomes of youth in foster care and special education. Children and Youth Services Review, 34, 2179–2187, doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2012.07.018.


Gathering Input on Language and Communication Research and Development

Human interaction in society depends upon language and communication and the Institute of Education Sciences is one of several federal agencies that supports research and development (R&D) activities to further our knowledge in this area. 

High school students sitting in a circle talking.

However, so far, there has been no systematic accounting or description of the range of language and communication R & D that the Federal Government supports.To address this gap, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) convened the Federal Government’s Interagency Working Group on Language and Communication. Led by co-chairs from the Department of Education and the Department of Defense, representatives from 13 different federal agencies developed a report of current and recent federal investments in language and communication R & D activities.

This investment is discussed across four broad areas:

  • Knowledge and Processes Underlying Language and Communication;
  • Language and Communication Abilities and Skills;
  • Using Language and Communication; and
  • Language and Communication Technologies.

In addition, the report describes the types of current R & D activities in these areas, and provides programmatic recommendations for key areas of investment and collaboration in language and communication research going forward. 

On behalf of the working group, IES is gathering information from a wide community interested in language and communication R & D through a recently released request for information (RFI).  The purpose of this RFI is to assist the working group in its efforts to further improve coordination and collaboration of R & D agendas related to language and communication across the Federal Government. If you are interested in submitting a response to the RFI, please do so by the deadline of December 30, 2016.

Written by Elizabeth Albro, Associate Commissioner of Teaching and Learning, National Center for Education Research

NCSER Investigators Receive Awards from the CEC’s Division of Early Childhood

In October, the Council for Exceptional Children’s Division for Early Childhood (DEC) honored recipients of the DEC Awards at their Annual International Conference on Young Children with Special Needs and Their Families. These awards are conferred upon individuals who are making a difference in the lives of young children with disabilities and their families. A number of NCSER-funded Principal Investigators (PIs) were among those honored by the DEC.

Kathleen Hebbeler (left) was one of two recipients of the Mary McEvoy Service to the Field Award, which recognizes an individual who has made significant national or international contributions to the field of early childhood special education. Dr. Hebbeler, of SRI International, has served as the PI on two NCSER-funded awards. She explored participation in and characteristics of early intervention services that predict child outcomes in kindergarten using data from the National Early Intervention Longitudinal Study. She also examined the reliability and validity of the Child Outcomes Summary Form, a tool used by many states in reporting annual child progress for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) preschool programs.

Karin Lifter (center) was the recipient of the Merle B. Karnes Award for Service to the Division for Early Childhood. This award recognizes an individual who has made a significant contribution to DEC in areas of leadership, service, research, advocacy, or publications. With NCSER funding, Dr. Lifter, of Northeastern University, has been validating the Developmental Play Assessment, an instrument designed to generate a profile of a child’s skills in play for progress monitoring and instructional planning. 

Michaelene M. Ostrosky (right) was awarded the DEC Award for Mentoring, an honor that recognizes an individual who has provided significant guidance to the development of students and/or new practitioners in the field. This award highlights the importance of training and guiding the next generation of leaders in the field. Dr. Ostrosky, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, served as PI on a project to evaluate the efficacy of Special Friends, a class-wide kindergarten program designed to improve the social outcomes of children with disabilities. She is currently serving as co-PI on a project that is developing a class-wide motor skills intervention for preschool children with developmental disabilities, called CHildren in Action: Motor Program for PreschoolerS (CHAMPPS).

Written by Amy Sussman, program officer, NCSER and Wendy Wei, program assistant, NCSER/NCER

The Scoop on Replication Research in Special Education

Replication research may not grab the headlines, but reproducing findings from previous studies is critical for advancing scientific knowledge. Some have raised concerns about whether we conduct a sufficient number of replication studies. This concern has drawn increased attention from scholars in a variety of fields, including special education.

Photo array, top left going clockwise: Therrien, Lemons, Cook, and Coyne

Several special education researchers explored this issue in a recent Special Series on Replication Research in Special Education in the journal, Remedial and Special Education. The articles describe replication concepts and issues, systematically review the state of replication research in special education, and provide recommendations for the field. One finding is that there may be more replication studies than it seems—but authors don’t call them replications.

Contributors to the special issue include Bryan Cook from the University of Hawaii, Michael Coyne from the University of Connecticut, and Bill Therrien from the University of Virginia, who served as guest editors, and Chris Lemons, from Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. They shared more about the special issue and their collective insights into replications in special education research.

(In photo array, top left going clockwise: Therrien, Lemons, Coyne, and Cook)

How did you become interested in replication work?

Replication is a core component of the scientific method. Despite this basic fact that we all learned in Research 101, it is pretty apparent that in practice, replication is often ignored. We noticed how much attention the lack of replication was starting to get in other fields and in the press and were particularly alarmed by recent work showing that replications often fail to reproduce original findings. This made us curious about the state and nature of replication in the field of special education.

What is the state of replication research in special education?

It depends on how you define replication and how you search for replication articles. When a narrow definition is used and you require the term “replication” to be in the article, the rate of replication doesn’t look too good. Using this method, Lemons et al. (2016) and Makel et al. (2016) reported that the rate of replication in special education is between 0.4 to 0.5%, meaning that out of all the articles published in our field, less than 1% are replications. We suspected that—for a number of reasons (e.g., perceptions that replications are difficult to publish, are less prestigious than novel studies, and are hostile attempts to disprove a colleague’s work)—researchers might be conducting replication studies but not referring to them as such. And, indeed it’s a different story when you use a broad definition and you do not require the term replication to be in the article. Cook et al. (2016) found that out of 83 intervention studies published in six non-categorical special education journals from 2013-2014, there were 26 (31%) that could be considered replications, though few authors described their studies that way. Therrien et al. (2016) selected eight intervention studies from 1999-2001 and determined whether subsequently published studies that cited the original investigations had replicated them. They found that six of the eight original studies had been replicated by a total of 39 different studies (though few of the replications identified themselves as such).

What were some other key findings across the review articles?

Additional findings indicated that: (a) most replications conducted in special education are conceptual (i.e., some aspects are the same as the original study, but some are different) as opposed to direct (i.e., as similar to the original study as possible), (b) the findings of the majority of replications in special education agreed with the findings of the original studies, and (c) most replications in the field are conducted by one or more authors involved in the original studies. In three of the four reviews, we found it was more likely for a replication to produce the same outcome if there was author overlap between the original and replication studies. This may be due to the challenges of replicating a study with the somewhat limited information provided in a manuscript. It also emphasizes the importance of having more than one research team independently replicate study findings.  

What are your recommendations for the field around replicating special education interventions?

The article by Coyne et al. (2016) describes initial recommendations for how to conceptualize and carry out replication research in a way that contributes to the evidence about effective practices for students with disabilities and the conditions under which they are more or less effective:

  • Many studies evaluate an approach that has previously been studied under different conditions. In this case, researchers should specify which aspects replicate previous research;
  • Conceptualize and report intervention research within a framework of systematic replications, or a continuum of conceptual replications ranging from those that are more closely aligned to the original study to those that are less aligned;
  • Design and conduct closely aligned replications that duplicate, as faithfully as possible, the features of previous studies.
  • Design and conduct less closely aligned replications that intentionally vary essential components of earlier studies (e.g., participants, setting, intervention features, outcome measures, and analyses); and
  • Interpret findings using a variety of methods, including statistical significance, directions of effects, and effect sizes. We also encourage the use of meta-analytic aggregation of effects across studies.

One example of a high-quality replication study is by Doabler et al. The authors conducted a closely aligned replication study of a Tier 2 kindergarten math intervention. In the design of their IES-funded project, the authors planned a priori to conduct a replication study that would vary on several dimensions, including geographical location, participant characteristics, and instructional context. We believe this is a nice model of designing, conducting, and reporting a replication study.

Ultimately, we need to conduct more replication studies, we need to call them replications, we need to better describe how they are alike and different from the original study, and we need to strive for replication by researchers not involved in the original study. It is this type of work that may increase the impact research has on practice, because it strengthens our understanding of whether, when, and where an intervention works.

By Katie Taylor, Program Officer, National Center for Special Education Research