Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

The Institute of Education Sciences at AERA

The American Educational Research Association (AERA) will hold its annual meeting April 8 through April 12 in Washington, D.C.—the largest educational research gathering in the nation. This will be a special meeting for AERA, as it is celebrating 100 years of advocating for the development and use of research in education. The program includes hundreds of sessions, including opportunities to learn about cutting edge education research and opportunities to broaden and deepen the field. 

About 30 sessions will feature staff from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) discussing IES-funded research, evaluation, and statistics, as well as training and funding opportunities.

On Saturday, April 9, at 10:35 a.m., attendees will have a chance to meet the Institute’s leadership and hear about the areas of work that IES will be focusing on in the coming year. Speakers include Ruth Curran Neild, IES’ delegated director, and the leaders of the four centers in IES: Thomas Brock, commissioner of the National Center for Education Research (NCER); Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES); Joy Lesnick, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), and Joan McLaughlin, commissioner of the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER).

On Monday, April 11, at 9:45 a.m., attendees can speak to one of several IES staffers who will be available at the Research Funding Opportunities—Meet Your Program Officers session. Program officers from NCER, NCSER, and NCEE will be on hand to answer questions about programs and grant funding opportunities. Several IES representatives will also be on hand Monday afternoon, at 4:15 p.m. for the Federally Funded Data Resources: Opportunities for Research session to discuss the myriad datasets and resources that are available to researchers.

NCES staff will lead sessions and present on a variety of topics, from The Role of School Finance in the Pursuit of Equity (Saturday, 12:25 p.m.) to Understanding Federal Education Policies and Data about English Learners (Sunday, April 10, 8:15 a.m.) and what we can learn from the results of PIAAC, a survey of adult skills (also Sunday, 8:15 a.m.). Dr. Carr will be a part of several sessions, including one on Sunday morning (10:35 a.m.) about future directions for NCES longitudinal studies and another on Monday morning (10 a.m.) entitled Issues and Challenges in the Fair and Valid Assessment of Diverse Populations in the 21st Century

On Monday, at 11:45 a.m., you can also learn about an IES-supported tool, called RCT-YES, that is designed to reduce barriers to rigorous impact studies by simplifying estimation and reporting of study results (Dr. Lesnick will be among those presenting). And a team from the IES research centers (NCER/NCSER) will present Sunday morning (10:35 a.m.) on communication strategies for disseminating education research (which includes this blog!).

IES staff will also participate in a number of other roundtables and poster sessions. For instance, on Tuesday, April 12, at 8:15 a.m., grab a cup of coffee and attend the structured poster session with the Institute’s 10 Regional Educational Laboratories (RELs). This session will focus on building partnerships to improve data use in education.  REL work will also be featured at several other AERA sessions.  

Did you know that the National Library of Education (NLE) is a component of IES? On Friday and Monday afternoon, attendees will have a unique opportunity to go on a site visit to the library. You’ll learn about the library’s current and historical resources – including its collection of more than 20,000 textbooks dating from the mid-19th century. The Library offers information, statistical, and referral services to the Department of Education and other government agencies and institutions, and to the public.

If you are going to AERA, follow us on Twitter to learn more about our sessions and our work.  And if you are tweeting during one of our sessions, please include @IESResearch in your tweet. 

By Dana Tofig, Communications Director, IES

C-SAIL: Studying the Impact of College- and Career-Readiness Standards

The nationwide effort to implement college- and career-ready standards is designed to better prepare students for success after high school, whether that means attending a postsecondary institution, entering the work force, or some combination of both. But there is little understanding about how these standards have been implemented across the country or the full impact they are having on student outcomes.  

To fill that void, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) funded a new five-year research center, the Center on Standards, Alignment, Instruction, and Learning (C-SAIL). The center is studying the implementation of college- and career-ready standards and assessing how the standards are related to student outcomes. The center is also developing and testing an intervention that supports standards-aligned instruction.

Andy Porter (pictured right), of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, is the director of C-SAIL and recently spoke with James Benson, the IES project officer for the center. Here is an edited version of that conversation.

You have been studying education standards for over 30 years. What motivated you to assemble a team of researchers and state partners to college- and career-readiness standards?

Standards-based reform is in a new and promising place with standards that might be rigorous enough to close achievement gaps that advocates have been fighting to narrow for the last 30 years. And with so many states implementing new standards, researchers have an unprecedented opportunity to learn about how standards-based reform is best done. We hypothesize that the only modest effects of standards-based reform thus far are largely due to the fact that those reforms stalled at the classroom door, so a focus of the Center will be how implementation is achieved and supported among teachers.

What are the main projects within the Center, and what are a few of the key questions that they are currently addressing?

We have four main projects. The first, an implementation study, asks, “How are state, district, and school-level educators making sense of the new standards, and what kinds of guidance and support is available to them?” We’re comparing and contrasting implementation approaches in four states—Kentucky, Massachusetts, Ohio and Texas. In addition to reviewing state policy documents, we’re surveying approximately 280 district administrators, 1,120 principals, and 6,720 teachers across (the same) four states, giving special attention to the experiences of English language learners and students with disabilities.

The second project is a longitudinal study that asks, “How are college- and career-readiness standards impacting student outcomes across all 50 states?” and “How are English language learners and students with disabilities affected by the new standards?” We’re analyzing data from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) and other sources to estimate the effects of college- and career-readiness standards on student achievement, high school completion, and college enrollment. Specifically, we’re examining whether implementing challenging state academic standards led to larger improvements in student outcomes in states with lower prior standards than in states with higher prior standards.

The third project is the Feedback on Alignment and Support for Teachers (FAST) intervention study, in which we are building an original intervention designed to assist teachers in providing instruction aligned to their state’s standards. FAST features real-time, online, personalized feedback for teachers, an off-site coach to assist teachers in understanding and applying aligned materials, and school-level collaborative academic study teams in each school.

The fourth project is a measurement study to determine the extent to which instruction aligns with college- and career-readiness standards. C-SAIL is developing new tools to assess alignment between teachers' instruction and state standards in English language arts and math.

How do you envision working with your partner states in the next few years? How do you plan to communicate with states beyond those partnering with the Center?

We’ve already collaborated with our partner states–Kentucky, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Texas–on our research agenda, and the chief state school officer from each state, plus a designee of their choice, sits on our advisory board. Additionally, we’re currently working with our partner states on our implementation study and plan to make our first findings this summer on effective implementation strategies immediately available to them.

All states, however, will be able to follow our research progress and access our findings in myriad ways, including through our website (pictured left). Our Fact Center features downloadable information sheets and the C-SAIL blog offers insights from our researchers and network of experts. We also invite practitioners, policymakers, parents and teachers to stay up-to-date on C-SAIL activities by subscribing to our newsletter, following us on Twitter, or liking us on Facebook.

Looking five years into the future, when the Center is finishing its work, what do you hope to understand about college- and career-readiness standards that we do not know now?

Through our implementation study, we will have documented how states are implementing new, challenging state academic standards; how the standards affect teacher instruction; what supports are most valuable for states, districts, and schools; and, how the new standards impact English language learners and students with disabilities.

Through our longitudinal study, we will have combined 50-state NAEP data with high school graduation rates, and college enrollment in order to understand how new standards impact student learning and college- and career-readiness.

Through our FAST Intervention, we will have created and made available new tools for teachers to monitor in real-time how well-aligned the content of their enacted curriculum is to their states’ college- and career-readiness standards in ELA and math.

Finally, but not least, we will have led policymakers, practitioners and researchers in a national discussion of our findings and their implications for realizing the full effects of standards-based reform. 

 

Building a Better RFA

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is committed to continuous improvement and that includes the process by which people apply for and access grants.

Since its authorization in 2002, IES’ research centers—the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER)—have  been making efforts to improve the Requests for Applications (RFAs) we put out each year. In this spirit, we have conducted surveys of applicants the past few years and used that feedback to improve the current RFAs.

In Fiscal Years (FY) 2014 and 2015, all Principal Investigators (PIs) who submitted an application to the Education Research Grants Program RFA (CFDA # 84.305A) or the Partnerships and Collaborations Focused on Problems of Practice or Policy Program RFA (CFDA # 84.305H) were contacted via e-mail and asked to participate in the web-based survey. In FY 2015, applicants to the Special Education Research Grants Program (CFDA #324A) were included in the survey request.  The response rates were good for all surveys:

Grant Program FY 2014 FY 2015
Education Research Grants Program 62% 66%
Partnerships and Collaborations Program 59% 73%
Special Education Research Grants n/a 55%

 

Survey respondents generally provided positive feedback in both years. Most respondents indicated they felt the RFAs were clear and helpful, though there were some areas that generated some confusion and criticism.  For example, in FY 2014:

  • Applicants to the Education Research Grants program thought it was inconvenient to have to refer to two separate documents, the RFA and the Application Submission Guide, in order to complete their application.
  • Applicants to the Partnerships and Collaborations program reported some confusion about the distinction between partnership activities and research activities.

In response to the FY 2014 RFA survey results, the Institute made a number of changes. For the FY 2015 Education Research Grants and Special Education Research Grants, changes included combining the RFA and the Application Submission Guide into one document to provide all the necessary information in one place. According to responses from the FY 2015 RFA survey, this change was positively received. The majority of the respondents to the Education Research Grants and Special Education Research Grants surveys (n=398; 83%) reported that combining the RFA and Application Submission Guide was much better or somewhat better than having two separate documents. Overall, a majority of respondents (n = 161, 56%) felt the FY 2015 RFA was much better or somewhat better than in previous years, while another 43 percent felt that it was not better or worse.

For the Partnerships and Collaborations RFA, a number of changes were made to the FY 2015 RFA in response to the surveys. For example, the requirements for the research activities were disentangled from the requirements for the partnership in order to reduce redundancy within the application. Most respondents to the FY 2015 RFA survey (n = 53; 73%) felt this change made the RFA much better or somewhat better.

Respondents to the FY 2015 RFA survey also had some criticisms, and the Institute addressed those concerns in the FY 2016 RFAs. Specifically, in the Education Research Grants and Special Education Research Grants RFAs, more detail was added to the requirements for the dissemination plan and for the cost analysis plan.  For the Education Research Grants RFA, the language around research gaps was expanded to clarify that these are not priorities. Changes made in the Special Education Research Grant RFA in response to the feedback from the survey included streamlining application requirements related to student disability, age range or grade level, outcomes, and settings across its 11 research topics.  More details were added about the partnership tracking strategy (an area of confusion for many applicants) in the Partnerships and Collaborations FY 2016 RFA.

IES continues to strive toward improving RFAs and welcomes comments and suggestions for improvement. More information on the RFA results is available here: https://ies.ed.gov/ncer/projects/.

New FY 2017 RFAs are being posted on the IES Funding Opportunities page. If you have comments, please write to us at IESresearch@ed.gov.

By Christina Chhin (NCER), Rebecca McGill-Wilkinson (NCER), Phill Gagné (NCER) and Kristen Rhoads (NCSER)*

* Since this blog post was written, Dr. Rhoads has taken a position with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. 

Improving Transitions: How NCSER-supported Work is Helping Prepare Students for Success

Talk of “transition” on Capitol Hill frequently focuses on political issues, such as the transition from one administration to the next. But on March 4, the conversation was about a very different type of transition—promoting positive outcomes for students with disabilities after high school.

For students with disabilities, post-high school goals are often similar to their non-disabled peers, but preparing them for success requires planning, support, and targeted interventions.

Over the past several years, the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) in the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) has funded research to innovate and develop as well as rigorously assess interventions that help students make successful transitions after high school.

A briefing on Capitol Hill was held this month to share recent research on transition for these students conducted by experts in the field. These experts have all received funding support from NCSER to help us better understand the transition challenges facing students with disabilities and to develop research-based programs and supports to increase the chances of success for students with disabilities.

"Young people with disabilities want the very same things as anyone else. A satisfying job, close relationships, a comfortable and safe place to live, a college degree, involvement in their community, friends they can count on, a chance to give something back, and an opportunity to be part of caring communities."

– Dr. Erik Carter, Vanderbilt University

Mary Wagner, of SRI International, began the briefing by talking about the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (known as the NLTS2), the more recent longitudinal study of the experiences of youth with disabilities as they transitioned from secondary school into postsecondary life over a 10-year period. Dr. Wagner presented findings that show that there has been progress in preparing students for, and engaging them in, postsecondary education. Additional academic courses, a paid job, and participation in transition planning and goal setting in high school were associated with increases in postsecondary education enrollment for these students after high school. However, the improvements have been uneven for some groups of students with disabilities and many challenges remain. For example, the rates of employment over time have not increased. 

David W. Test, of University of North Carolina-Charlotte, presented information about the innovative program “Communicating Interagency Relationships and Collaborative Linkages for Exceptional Students” or CIRCLES. This program involves three levels of interagency collaboration to promote positive outcomes for students with disabilities in secondary schools. The program connects students to more information and resources as well as provides mentoring support and partnerships. Ongoing research indicates the CIRCLES program is having a positive impact on student outcomes as compared to students receiving school services typically provided to support transition. In addition, participating students overwhelmingly agreed with the statement that they were “prepared for life after school” and their parents strongly agreed that they had “a better understanding of their child’s needs” and reported playing an active role in transition preparation.

The final two speakers discussed programs aimed at helping with transitions for students who face some of the greatest challenges.

Laurie E. Powers, of Portland State University, presented a research-based intervention program, “My Life,” for youth in foster care who also have disabilities. This program combines youth-directed coaching, workshops, and partnerships and mentoring to assist students in identifying goals and provide information and guidance they need to help them to experience success and to understand that they can achieve their goals. Many youth in foster care face extreme challenges in general: higher levels of unemployment, poverty, homelessness, abuse, and other mental health issues, and face incarceration rates of 10 times more than the general population. In addition, about 6 in 10 receive special education services and many also have developmental disabilities.

Research results have been positive. Students in the My Life program were found to be better prepared for postsecondary education and careers, and more were graduating from high school and fewer were homeless. After one year, postsecondary employment rates were up and rates of incarceration were down compared to the students who received services as usual.

Lastly, Erik Carter, of Vanderbilt University, presented research on improving workplace transitions for youth with intellectual disabilities (ID) in high school through a summer job support program. Although a disability does not predict aspirations, it does often predict post-high school experiences. Based on an analysis of data from the NLTS2, most youth with ID have a goal of employment, but only about 15 percent of all adults with ID are employed. A factor positively predicting outcomes for these students were the high expectations of those teaching them.

Project Summer embodies high expectations for these students and involves individual summer-focused transition planning, identification of community resources, and opportunities for youth to connect to community support and employment opportunities. Research indicates that the youth involved in Project Summer were much more likely to obtain employment or volunteer experiences in their community (66%) than their peers (19%) and all were paid above the minimum wage. This research also demonstrated that schools and communities have the capacity to support and promote the employment of youth with severe disabilities.

The briefing was sponsored by Senator Lamar Alexander, of Tennessee, Representative Suzanna Bonamici, of Oregon, and Representative Michael Honda, of California and was arranged by the Friends of IES, a group that advocates for education research. Certainly, there is much more work to be done to help students with disabilities successfully transition from high school and help them achieve their goals. But this month’s briefing demonstrated that progress is being made.

By Kimberley Sprague, Senior Research Scientist/Education Analyst, NCSER, and Dana Tofig, Communications Director, IES

 

Coming Soon to a Research Center Near You!

The summer movie season is still a couple of months away, but the trailers are already popping up on social media and in movie theaters, building anticipation and excitement. The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) has released its own preview, of sorts, this week.

One of the most important roles IES serves is as the engine for rigorous education research across a wide array of important areas. In the spring, IES will put out its Requests for Applications (RFA) for research grants and will begin accepting proposals from researchers and research organizations.

But an entry on the Federal Register, which went live this week, is sort of a preview for the competition. For instance, it includes the competition areas for each IES research center:

  • National Center for Education Research (NCER): Education research, education research training, statistical and research methodology in education, partnerships and collaboration focused on problems of practice or policy, low-cost, short-duration evaluations, and research networks.
  • National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER): Special education research, special education research training, and low-cost, short-duration evaluations.

The Federal Register entry also includes specific topic areas where NCER and NCSER will be accepting applications in each competition area. It’s a long list and some of it will look familiar to the research world. But there are some new areas of focus. For instance, NCER has introduced three special topics in the education research competition – arts in education, career and technical education, and systemic approaches to educating highly mobile students. And NCER will be accepting applications for a new network to that will study science teaching in elementary school classrooms in an effort to improve practices and student outcomes. This is similar in structure to the Early Learning Network that was announced earlier this year.  

NCSER applicants should note that in FY 2017, only applications that focus on teachers and other instructional personnel will be considered in the special education research competition.

Other information available on Federal Register includes the approximate range of funding in each competition area, information about the process, and the expected timeline for submitting applications. In the coming weeks, IES will be updating its funding opportunities website with the full RFA information and the research centers will be hosting webinars on a variety of topics related to RFAs. You can view previous webinars on the IES website.

To be notified of important dates in the RFA process and new webinars, sign up to receive IES newsflashes or follow IES on Twitter.

This grant competition may not be as funny as the Ghostbusters reboot, as exciting as the next Captain America movie, or as thrilling as latest chapter in the Jason Bourne series. But in the research world, it’s going to be a blockbuster! 

By Dana Tofig, Communications Director, IES