Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

IES Grantees Receive Prestigious Presidential Award

President Obama has named two Institute of Education Sciences (IES) grantees as recipients of the prestigious Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). The PECASE awards are the highest honor given by the U.S. Government to science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

Daphna Bassok and Shayne Piasta, IES grantees who received presidential award

Daphna Bassok (left in picture), of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, and Shayne Piasta (right in picture), of the College of Education and Human Ecology at The Ohio State University, were nominated for the award by the leadership of IES. They are two of 102 award recipients announced by the White House on January 9, 2017.

The awards, established by President Clinton in 1996, are coordinated by the Office of Science and Technology Policy within the Executive Office of the President. The White House said: “the awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service as demonstrated through scientific leadership, public education, or community outreach.”

Bassok and Piasta have both served as principal investigators, and as co-principal investigators on projects funded through IES’ National Center for Education Research (NCER). Both are committed to understanding and improving early childhood education, and work closely with state systems to answer critical questions as the states roll out systemic changes to the provision of early childhood education.

Dr. Bassok is an associate professor of education and public policy at the University of Virginia and is also the associate director of EdPolicyWorks a joint collaboration between the Curry School of Education and the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. Her research addresses early childhood education policy, with a particular focus on the impacts of policy interventions on the well-being of low-income children. Dr. Bassok is currently the principal investigator of Building State-wide Quality Rating Strategies for Early Childhood System Reform: Lessons From the Development of Louisiana's Kindergarten Readiness System, and was co-principal investigator for a project which examined links between policy and availability of early childhood care and education in the United States.

Dr. Piasta is an associate professor of reading and literature in early and middle childhood in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Ohio State. She also is a faculty associate for the Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy. Her research focuses on early literacy development and how it is best supported during preschool and elementary years. Dr. Piasta is the principal investigator of the Evaluation of the Effectiveness of the Ohio Department of Education's Literacy Core Curriculum for Early Childhood Educators. She has also been co-principal investigator on several other IES-funded projects, including The Language Bases of Reading Comprehension, one of the six Reading for Understanding Research Initiative projects. Dr. Piasta received her doctoral training as an IES Predoctoral Fellow at Florida State University.

Written by Elizabeth Albro, Associate Commissioner for Teaching and Learning, NCER

Pictures courtesy of grantees

Improving Research on the Forgotten ‘R’

Writing is often labeled as the “forgotten ‘R,’” because the other R’s—reading and ‘rithmetic—seem to garner so much attention from educators, policymakers, and researchers. Yet, we know writing is a critical skill for communication and for success in school and in career. Writing in middle and high school can be especially important, because secondary grades are where students are expected to have mastered foundational skills like handwriting and move on to the application of these skills to more complex compositions.

IES has been funding research on writing since its inception in 2002, but compared to research on reading, not much work has been done in this critical area, especially writing in middle and high schools. In an effort to learn more about the state of the field of writing in secondary schools and the areas of needed research, IES brought together 13 experts on secondary writing for a Technical Working Group (TWG) meeting in September. During the full-day meeting, TWG participants shared their thoughts and expertise on a variety of topics including: argumentative writing, methods of engaging adolescents in writing, how best to help struggling writers including English learners and students with or at risk for disabilities, and assessment and feedback on writing.

Argumentative writing requires students to explore a topic, collect and evaluate evidence, establish a position on a topic, and consider alternative positions. In middle and high schools, argumentative writing often occurs in content area classrooms like science and history. TWG participants discussed the importance of research to understand how argumentative writing develops over time and how teachers contribute to this development.

Teaching writing to students with or at risk for disabilities and English learners can be challenging when the focus of secondary schools is often on content acquisition and not on improving writing skills. English learners are typically grouped together and receive the same instruction, but little is known about how writing instruction may need to be differentiated for students from different language backgrounds. Additionally, the TWG participants discussed the need to investigate the potential for technology to help with instruction of students who struggle with writing, and the importance to addressing the negative experiences these students have with writing that may discourage them from writing in the future.

It is also important to make sure all students are engaged and motivated to write. Some middle and high school students  may not want to participate in writing or may have internalized beliefs that they are not good at it. TWG participants discussed the need to consider teaching students that writing abilities can be changed, and that introducing new audiences or purposes for writing may motivate students to write. Finally, the group talked about the importance of allowing middle and high school students to write about topics of their own choosing.

Assessing the writing quality of middle and high school students is difficult, because what counts as good writing is often subjective. Technology may offer some solutions, but TWG participants emphasized that it is unlikely that computers will be able to do this task well entirely on their own. Regardless, the TWG participants were in agreement that there is a need for the development of quality writing measures for use both by teachers and by researchers.  Teachers may feel pressure to provide detailed feedback on students’ writing, which can be time-consuming. TWG participants argued that self-assessment and peer feedback could relieve some of the pressure on teachers, but research is needed to understand what kind of feedback is best for improving writing and how to teach students to provide useful feedback.

A full summary of the TWG can be found on the IES website. It’s our hope this conversation provides a strong framework for more research on ‘the forgotten R.’

POSTSCRIPT: Our colleagues at the What Works Clearinghouse recently published an Educator’s Practice Guide, “Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively.” It includes three research-based recommendations for improving writing for middle and high school students.

Written by Becky McGill-Wilkinson, National Center for Education Research, and Sarah Brasiel, National Center for Special Education Research

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.  

 

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

See How IES is Supporting Technology-Delivered Assessments

For decades, student assessments have looked the same: multiple-choice or short-answer questions administered with pencil and paper, with all students receiving a common group of questions. Today, innovations in assessment design, greater understanding in the learning sciences, and new technology have all contributed to the way that assessments are administered and taken, and how the resulting information is shared with teachers, students, and families.

Since 2002, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) has made more than 100 awards for the development of new assessments that are driven and delivered through technology.  The awards were made to a mix of academic researchers, entrepreneurial firms, and larger education research organizations. All of the projects included a rigorous research and development process, with studies to validate that assessments are measuring what is intended and pilots to test the promise of the technologies for improving student learning outcomes.

To highlight some of the technology-delivered assessments, IES has created YouTube Playlists that feature 57 videos in seven areas:

The assessments highlighted are delivered via mobile apps or through web-based computers and administered for different purposes. Some are diagnostic assessments used to screen students at the start of a new unit or year to identify areas where students struggle or areas to target with intervention. Many serve as performance assessments to determine how well students analyze information and draw conclusions when engaging in complex scenario-based activities. Others are summative assessments used to measure student performance during and at the end of the school year. Many also include a formative assessment component that adjusts based on the level of performance, and are designed to provide feedback and cues to students to inform the learning process.

A good number of the assessments are administered as simulations, games, scenarios, and puzzles, allowing for complex challenges where students can demonstrate mastery of knowledge and skills. Several enable new opportunities for assessment through the application of technological advances, such as natural language processing and machine-learning, read-aloud stories, fast-paced tasks that require students to respond, and speech recognition programs. Many save classroom time because the assessments are self-administered, and teachers benefit from the automatic grading as students go.  Most of the assessments also provide teachers information to guide practice through data dashboards or generated reports. Several of the assessments are already being used in school around the country.

Below are highlights from each of the playlists. It is important to note that none of assessments highlighted are wide enough in scope or configured to measure the full depth and breadth of State learning standards. Therefore, they are not sufficient to replace statewide summative assessments used for accountability and reporting purposes.  Collectively, however, the examples highlight the promise of technology-delivered assessments to improve and expand on existing approaches for measuring student learning and social and emotional skills, and for informing teacher instruction.  

Mathematics and Science

ASSISTments is web-based mathematics platform that assesses and then provides immediate feedback to students in grades 3-12, and generates teacher reports use to inform instruction. 

SimScientists is a simulation platform that formatively and summatively assesses science inquiry skills and knowledge aligned to middle school Next Generation Science Standards. 

Reading and Writing

RAPID is an adaptive literacy diagnostic and summative assessment system for students in Kindergarten through grade 12. 

Revision Assistant provides automated sentence-level in-line feedback to students during writing tasks aligned to Common Core State Standards. 

Social and Emotional Development

VESIP is a web-based simulated environment that measures the ability of students in grade 3-7 to interpret social cues which research demonstrates are needed to resolve conflicts. 

Early Learning

The School Readiness Curriculum Based Measurement System provides universal screening, benchmarking, and progress monitoring in language, literacy, mathematics, and science, for students in Pre-K and Kindergarten students. 

English Learning

ONPAR assesses the science and mathematics content knowledge and skills of English- and Spanish- speaking students using hyperlinks and animations to make questions accessible to all students. 

Tools for Teacher Practice

CLASS 5.0 automatically analyzes classroom discourse (student and teacher talking during class) and provides reliable profiles to guide and optimize how teachers lead instruction. 

Students With Disabilities or At Risk for Disabilities

NumberShire is a game-based mathematics intervention for students with, or at risk for, disabilities in Kindergarten through Grade 2. The game embeds instructional supports such as providing explicit, systematic, and frequent instruction, goal setting, and allowing students to work at their own pace. 

AnimalWatchVi Suite is an iPad app covering pre-algebra mathematics for middle and high school students with visual impairments. The app includes accommodation tools such as problem narration, audio hints, braille, and tactile graphics to provide accessible assessment. 

Written by Edward Metz, ED/IES SBIR program manager and IES Education Technology topic program officer.