Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Basic Science of Learning and Development Within Education: The IES Investment

I came to the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) in 2002 to build connections between education and the basic science of learning and development. The weak links between these two fields were surprising to me, given how foundational such science is to the very purpose of education.

IES had just launched the Cognition and Student Learning program[1], and researchers were invited to submit applications to examine whether principles of learning established in basic science were robust when examined in education settings.  Six years later, we launched the Social and Behavioral Context to Support Academic Learning to understand the ways in which the social environment of classrooms and school affected learning. Together, IES has invested over $445M, an investment that has contributed substantially to our foundational knowledge of teaching and learning.

I was surprised by this recent blog by Bob Pianta and Tara Hofkens. While they acknowledge the research that IES has supported to transform education practice, they did not seem to realize our substantial, ongoing investments in the basic science of teaching and learning—both in and out of classrooms.

In part, this may reflect their perception of what types of work we support under our Exploration goal – which is not limited to “scouring databases” but instead involves all types of research, including small-scale experiments and longitudinal studies. These projects generate foundational knowledge about what factors are associated with learning outcomes and can potentially be changed through education. In fact, the questions that Pianta and Hofkens want answered by the basic science of education are the same questions that some IES grantees have been examining over the course of the last 15 years. 

Here are just a few examples.

  1. What factors regulate children's attention in a classroom setting? Anna Fisher and her team found that cluttered classroom walls in kindergarten led to greater distraction and less learning – a finding that captured the imagination of the nation and the nation’s educators.
  2. What roles do the capabilities of peers play in advancing children's cognitive capabilities? A new study led by Adrienne Nishina is examining how student’s ability to think about situations from different perspectives is related to their day-to-day interactions with peers from diverse backgrounds.
  3. What factors promote or inhibit teachers' responses to children's perceived misbehavior? Teachers’ expertise and teachers’ emotional competencies are two factors that IES-funded researchers have found to relate to their responses to children’s behavior.
  4. What role do social and emotional experiences and affective processes play in fostering learning? Shannon Suldo and her team find that the coping strategies that high school students choose to manage their responses to stressors are linked to learning outcomes.
  5. What are the components of school climate that matter the most for different forms of student success? Two recent projects, one in Cleveland, and one in Virginia, are using survey data to explore the relationship between school climate, social behavioral competencies and academic outcomes. The teams are also exploring how those relationships vary within student subgroups.

Funding the basic science of teaching and learning—in and out of classrooms—has been and will continue to be a cornerstone of the work that IES funds. The IES investment in this area is broad, and is shared in books such as Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells us About Raising Successful Children, and Educator Stress: An Occupational Health Perspective

Importantly, IES is not the only funder in this area. The National Science Foundation invests substantially in their Science of Learning portfolio, the McDonnell Foundation’s Understanding Human Cognition portfolio includes an explicit request for projects at the intersection of cognition and education, and the Child Development and Behavior Branch of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) supports a variety of relevant research programs.  I agree that we need systematic investment in the basic science of teaching and learning. But we must build on what we have already learned.  

We are grateful that Pianta and Hofkens recognize the importance of investing in this area. Perhaps the fact that they did not acknowledge the substantial investments and contributions IES has made in exploring the important questions they pose is an IES problem. While we have invested heavily in the science of learning, we have skimped on brand development and self-promoting. If someone as central to the field such as Pianta, who has received several IES grants, including research training grants, doesn’t know what IES has done, that is a red flag that we will need to attend to.

In the meantime, we hope that this brief glimpse into our investment to date has illustrated some of the questions that the basic science of teaching and learning within education can answer. More importantly here’s where you can seek funding for this type of work.

Elizabeth Albro

Commissioner, National Center for Education Research

 

[1] IES was authorized in November 2002. The Cognition and Student Learning research program was launched by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, the office from which IES was created.

IES Celebrates National STEM Day

November 8th, 2018 is National STEM Day! Today is a great day to talk to learners of all ages and abilities about Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) has some great resources for exploring STEM learning - visit our new STEM Topic page to learn more. Through research grants from the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER), and innovations developed as part of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, IES has supported the development and testing of many programs, practices, and policies to improve student outcomes in STEM. 

Below, we provide links to a few projects and activities for instructors and learners to explore on National STEM Day, but remember, STEM Day can be every day!

  • NumberShire is a mobile and desktop game-based mathematics intervention funded with several grants from NCSER and SBIR that  builds understanding of whole number concepts among early elementary students with or at risk for learning disabilities (video demonstration).
  • Improving Children's Understanding of Equivalence (ICUE) supplements teachers’ existing mathematics instruction and helps students develop understanding of mathematical equivalence. Developed with support from NCER, ICUE is currently being evaluated in second grade classrooms. ICUE includes teacher manuals, student workbooks, manipulatives, assessment items, and a 2-hour professional development workshop to provide teachers with information about how to implement the intervention (video demonstration).
  • Two innovative education technology products developed with funding from the SBIR program are intended to transform chemistry instruction and learning. Happy Atoms is a physical hand-held magnetic molecular modeling set with a companion digital app that can recognize student created models and provide feedback and information to enrich learning.  HoloLab Champions uses an immersive virtual reality (VR) game environment within which high school students perform chemistry experiments.
  • Combined Cognitive and Motivational Supports for STEM Learning is a supplemental Blackboard module for postsecondary introductory biology courses developed with support from NCER. This module leverages short cognitive and motivational interventions that show promise for engaging students and improving outcomes, and is available from IDEALS.

Christina Chhin is the program officer for the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education research topic within the National Center for Education Research, Sarah Braisel is the program officer for the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education research topic within the National Center for Special Education Research, and Ed Metz is the program officer for both our Small Business Innovation Research program as well as our Education Technology research topic within the National Center for Education Research.

Celebrating the Launch of the Registry of Efficacy and Effectiveness Studies (REES)

The Registry of Efficacy and Effectiveness Studies (REES) is now ready for use! REES is a registry of causal impact studies in education developed with a grant from the National Center for Education Research (NCER). REES will increase transparency, improve the replicability of studies, and provide easy access to information about completed and ongoing studies.

The release of REES aligns with recent IES efforts to promote study registration. In the FY 2019 Requests for Applications (RFAs) for the Education Research and Special Education Research Grants Programs, IES recommended that applicants describe a plan for pre-registering their studies in both the project narrative (as part of the research) as well as the data management plan. IES is also developing the Standards for Excellence in Education Research (SEER) and has identified study registration as an important dimension of high value education research.

We asked the REES team to tell us more about how the registry works.

How can researchers access REES? REES can be accessed through the SREE website at www.sreereg.org. Over the next year, REES will transition to a permanent home at the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) at the University of Michigan, but it will still be accessible through the SREE link.

Screenshot of REESWhat kinds of studies can be registered? REES is a registry of causal impact studies. It accommodates a range of study designs including randomized controlled trials, quasi-experimental designs, regression discontinuity designs, and single case designs.

What information should be included in a study entry? A REES entry includes basic study information and a pre-analysis plan. The checklist of required information for a registry entry provides detailed information for each of the different design options. All of the information for a REES entry should be easily found in a grant application.

How long does it take to register a study? For a study with a complete grant application, completing a REES entry should be straightforward and take approximately one hour.

What if a study entry needs to be changed? Principal investigators (PI) or other authorized research team members should update a REES entry as changes occur. All updates to an entry will be time-stamped. Original entries and updated entries will be publically available.

Are registered studies searchable by the public? Yes! When a PI or authorized research team member is ready to make the study available in the public domain, they click on the publish option. This will time stamp the entry and make it publically available. REES entries that are published are available on the search page. A pdf of individual entries can be downloaded from the search page or an Excel file of multiple entries can be exported.

What will happen to studies that were entered in the pilot phase of REES? A REES entry that was started and/or completed during the pilot phase is a part of the REES database. To make the study publically available and a part of the searchable database, the PI or other authorized research team member needs to click on the publish option for the entry.

Over the next two years, the REES team will be working to ensure the sustainability and visibility of REES with a grant from the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER). To do this, the team will transfer REES to its permanent location on the ICPSR website and disseminate information about REES within the education research community, as well as with funders, publishers, and users of education research, through meetings, conferences, websites, social media, and targeted outreach.

So, what are you waiting for? Go check it out!

If you have questions about REES, please email contact@sreereg.org.

 

 

Recognizing Our Outstanding IES Predoctoral Fellows

Each year, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) recognizes an outstanding fellow from our Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Programs in the Education Sciences for academic accomplishments and contributions to education research. This year, IES has selected joint recipients for the 2017 award: Rachel Abenavoli and Callie Little. They will receive their awards and present their research at the annual IES Principal Investigators meeting in Washington, D.C. in January 2019.

Dr. Abenavoli received her doctorate in Human Development and Family Studies from Pennsylvania State University (Penn State). She is currently a postdoctoral research scientist at New York University’s Steinhardt’s Institute of Human Development and Social Change, and is working in the area of early learning and social-emotional development.  Dr. Little received her doctorate in Developmental Psychology from Florida State University (FSU). She is currently a research fellow in the School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences at the University of New England in Australia, where she specializes in understanding the development of cognitive and academic skills for individuals from early childhood through college.

We asked our Outstanding Fellows how participating in an IES-funded predoctoral training program helped their development as researchers.

Rachel Abenavoli

The IES-funded predoctoral training program at Penn State provided me with the resources, opportunities, and skills needed to begin building my own program of education research. I began my graduate program with broad interests in young childrenRachel Abenavoli’s social-emotional functioning. The fellowship helped me shape and narrow the focus of my research. By participating in regular seminars, attending talks, and meeting with external invited speakers, I began applying my developmental lens and focus on early social-emotional skills to the study of educational contexts and educationally-relevant outcomes. With generous fellowship funding that gave me the freedom and flexibility to pursue my own research questions, I was able to focus my work in graduate school on the interplay between children’s social-emotional and academic skills as they make the transition to school.

The IES fellowship also provided me with opportunities to learn, practice, and hone my methodological skills. Courses and seminars in program evaluation, causal inference, and multilevel modeling were particularly critical in building my capacity for conducting rigorous school-based research. Invited speakers complemented these core learning experiences by highlighting best practices and innovative approaches in education science. I came away from this training equipped with a range of analytic and methodological tools that are necessary to address the diversity and complexity of education research questions, settings, and designs.

Being an IES fellow has also connected me to a network of established and early career education researchers. Regular meetings with faculty mentors and other IES fellows from different home departments provided a space to discuss new ideas, experiences in the field, and possible collaborations. Conference funding enabled me to attend education research conferences and expand my professional network beyond Penn State. Engaging with this community solidified for me the value of a collaborative and interdisciplinary approach to understanding children’s learning and development in context.

My work is more rigorous and more relevant to education practice and policy because of the IES predoctoral fellowship, and I’m so grateful for the experiences, mentors, and other fellows who are critical to the success of the program at Penn State.

Callie Little

First and foremost, the support and training I received through the IES pre-doctoral fellowship at FSU provided me with an intense and philosophical appreciation of construct validity: whether an investigation can accurately measure what it was designeCallie Littled to measure. This appreciation will continue to guide how I develop and implement research studies.

The rigorous statistical courses included in FSU’s core curriculum provided a solid foundation for building my quantitative skills. Additionally, the combined focus on study-design and methodological training supplied me with a comprehensive knowledge base and the skills to investigate the complex associations among reading skills, and between reading skills and behavioral outcomes. The exposure to multiple advanced statistical methods coupled with the opportunity to directly apply these methods to relevant data so early in my career prepared me for my current projects which use large-scale twin data to conduct high-quality research on individual differences in the development of cognitive and academic skills.

The multidisciplinary environment at FSU, with its rich and diverse range of research programs and faculty, exposed me to a series of analytic techniques and content-area expertise that helped to shape an open-minded and creative approach to formulating research questions. This unique environment was one of the greatest advantages to the IES fellowship, providing the opportunity for strong mentorship, collaboration, and feedback. Most importantly, I used this opportunity to develop ongoing projects with colleagues where we innovatively combine evidence-based methods from several fields.

Fellowship funding enabled me to attend conferences and workshops with other IES fellowship teams, and provided me with access to research resources. I gained new insights into science communication, learned new techniques, and broadened my network of collaborators. I was able to recruit participants and purchase standardized assessment materials, and design and implement several of my own studies during my Ph.D. The resulting rich and unique data sets form the foundation of my current independent research.  From my experiences through the IES fellowship at FSU, I stand well-prepared to continue to conduct innovative and high-quality research into the complex mechanisms underlying achievement.

Katina Stapleton is the program officer for the Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Programs in the Education Sciences.

Supporting Military-Connected Students

Through the Systemic Approaches to Educating Highly Mobile Students program, IES supports research to improve the education outcomes of students who face social/behavioral and academic challenges because they frequently move from school to school due to changes in residence and/or unstable living arrangements. This category of students, typically referred to as highly-mobile students, includes students who are homeless, in foster care, from migrant backgrounds, or military-connected. In this guest blog, Timothy Cavell, PhD, University of Arkansas and Renée Spencer, EdD, Boston University discuss their IES-funded research on military-connected students.

Why study military-connected students? Photo of Renée SpencerPhoto of Timothy Cavell

Virtually every school district in the United States educates a child whose parent or guardian is serving in the Armed Forces. Supported by two separate IES awards, our team of researchers is working to understand how schools can better serve military students and their families. Our work focuses specifically on students who have at least one parent/guardian on active (full-time) duty in the U.S. military. We refer to these students as military-connected. Their lives are typified by transition and often entail tremendous sacrifice. For some, the challenges involve a parent deployed into combat or a parent returning from combat. For many others, the challenges are tied to the frequent transitions (e.g., permanent changes of station, temporary duty assignments) required of military families. Our IES-funded research specifically works with military-connected students within the North Thurston Public Schools (NTPS), a school district in Lacey, Washington, about 15 miles southwest of Joint (Army/Air Force) Base Lewis-McChord.

How does your research address the needs of military-connected students?

The Military Student Mentoring (MSM) project which began 4 years ago, is an effort to develop and test the benefits of school-based mentoring for military students. We reasoned that school-based mentoring was a measured response to the needs of students who are often quite resilient but who, at times, might need extra support. A key component of the intervention was developing a mentoring-delivery system anchored by a district-level MSM Coordinator who forged home-school-community (HSC) Action Teams comprised of school staff (e.g., school counselor), military parents, and community leaders. Together, the MSM Coordinator and HSC Action Teams engaged military families, identified military students who might benefit from school-based mentoring, and recruited adult volunteers to serve as mentors. These volunteers were then screened, trained, and supported by a local Big Brothers Big Sisters agency. Preliminary findings from our initial launch and subsequent pilot study support the feasibility and usability of the MSM model and point to expected gains in students’ perceptions of support.  Future steps involve efforts to making MSM more portable and self-sustaining and testing its efficacy more broadly.

Our second project, the Active-Duty Military Families and School Supports (ADMFSS) study, which was funded just this year, explores school supports for highly mobile military students. It is estimated that military students experience 6 to 9 moves during their K-12 years—a mobility rate three times that of non-military children. Most military families and students are resilient and weather these disruptions well, but some are negatively affected by the strain of multiple moves. Growing recognition of these stresses faced by military families has led to calls for schools to offer greater and more targeted support to these students.

We suspect that student mobility is not directly linked to educational outcomes; rather, repeated moves may strain families’ capacity to adjust to new communities and impede students’ ability to connect with yet another learning environment. Therefore, we will be exploring the role that school supports play in fostering military students’ sense of school connectedness. Broadly, the term school connectedness refers to students’ relationship with their school and the extent to which they feel accepted, respected, and supported by others in the school environment. Our basic premise is that high mobility can be harmful to military students’ educational outcomes when it undermines the degree to which they feel connected to school and to students and staff in their school. Supports provided by schools have the potential to buffer military students from the negative effects of high mobility on school connectedness, thereby reducing their risk for poor educational outcomes. Importantly, connectedness is an arena in which schools can take clear and effective action.

Through both of these projects, our ultimate goal is to learn enough to equip and guide other school districts that wish to serve those families who have served our country with courage and distinction.

Katina Stapleton is the program officer for the Systemic Approaches to Educating Highly Mobile Students research program.