Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Teaching 21st Century Skills to Community College Students: An Innovative Approach Under Development in California

As part of our series recognizing Career and Technical Education (CTE) month, we interviewed Mary Visher, Senior Associate at MDRC, about her recently funded study, Teaching and Learning 21st Century Skills in Community Colleges: A Study of the New World of Work Program (NWoW). This project is developing and testing an innovative program aimed at teaching 21st century skills to community college students in CTE courses. Researchers, policymakers, and practitioners are working closely together to improve upon NWoW, which is already in use in several community colleges in California.

What are 21st century skills, and why are they important?

There is growing consensus among researchers, practitioners, and employers that 21st century skills–e.g., adaptability, analytic mindset, collaboration, and communication–are essential for success in both school and in the modern workplace. We believe that postsecondary programs need to incorporate strategies to ensure that students graduate with these skills.

Why are you (personally) excited about this work?

About two years ago, I was interviewing community college students in California about their experiences when a young man walked into the room. The first thing I noticed were his tattoos, which covered every inch of his exposed skin. The next thing I noticed was how he strode over to me, stretched out his hand to shake mine with a firm grip, looked me in the eye, smiled warmly and introduced himself. Having interviewed hundreds of community college students for other research projects, I had rarely – if ever – encountered this level of self-assurance, respectful courtesy, and ability to immediately adapt and respond to an unfamiliar person with an unfamiliar purpose.

The young man told me that he had been incarcerated as a teen for gang involvement, and, after being discharged from prison, he couldn’t find work. With few other options, he enrolled in the diesel technology program at his local community college, but this was not an ordinary CTE program. It included NWoW.

Through NWoW, he learned 21st century skills in the context of learning diesel technology skills and had worksite experiences to practice both. He told me that this part of his education “changed his life.” He did so well in a job interview at a food processing equipment manufacturer that he was not only hired, but quickly promoted to a management position. At the time we met, he was to receive company training and another promotion, but he still planned on earning his certificate. After that, he planned on applying to a state university to pursue a BA or a master’s degree.

The young man credited his professional success to NWoW, where he learned behaviors and skills no one else had taught him. It is exciting to be a part of developing and testing a program that may affect the lives of adult students in such ways.

How did NWoW come into being?

In 2015, faculty at a community college in California noticed the deficiencies in students’ soft skills and developed a 21st century skills curriculum to use in their classes. They added a work-based learning and an assessment component a short time later. Soon thereafter, the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office noticed their work and gave them support to further develop the program and take it to more colleges. 

What are the core components of the NWoW program?

NWoW is designed to promote growth in 10 skills and has 3 core components, all 3 of which will undergo an iterative development process in the next 2 years:

  1. A curriculum designed to be embedded in CTE community college courses;
  2. A work-based learning component to allow students practice the skills in an authentic work setting; and
  3. An assessment/credentialing component allowing students to earn a “digital badge” in each of the 10 skills.

What is your research goal?

Our goal is to work with instructors (including the original program designers), employers, and other partners to further refine and enhance this program. Moreover, we hope to address important questions in the field about whether or how such skills can be taught and learned in the classroom, how to measure them, and how to signal competency to employers and others. 

Who else is involved?

MDRC is working with the NWoW team and its partners, including the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, the Foundation for California Community Colleges, LinkedIn, and badgr. The development work is ongoing with three community colleges, and we will then test the improved version in a new set of colleges.

By Mary Visher, Senior Associate at MDR​C, interviewed by Meredith Larson, NCER

 

NCSER Grantees Recognized by Council for Exceptional Children

Two NCSER-funded researchers were recently recognized for their contributions to the field of special education by the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC). They were honored at the CEC Convention and Expo earlier this month.

Headshot of Diane Browder

Diane Browder received the 2018 CEC Special Education Research Award, which recognizes an individual whose research has significantly advanced the education of children and youth with exceptionalities. Browder, Distinguished Professor of Special Education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, has served as Principal Investigator on multiple NCSER-funded grants. Through Project RAISE (Reading and Accommodations Interventions for Students with Emergent Literacy), she formed a partnership with local schools and community services to evaluate interventions designed to teach reading to students with moderate and severe mental retardation in Grades K – 3. Browder and her colleagues found that their Early Literacy Skills Builder intervention improves phonological awareness and phonics skills and that comprehensive reading instruction produces better reading outcomes when compared to instruction that provides sight words alone for students with intellectual disabilities in special education classrooms. Browder also developed math and science instruction for students with significant cognitive disabilities in Grades 3 – 10 who participate in alternate achievement assessments as well as instructional materials for teaching mathematical problem solving to students with moderate and severe intellectual disabilities in Grades 4 – 8. This research has shown that students with moderate and severe intellectual disabilities are capable of learning grade-level content in math and science, challenging long held assumptions about the academic potential of these populations.

 

Headshot of Sarah Powell

Sarah Powell received the 2018 Distinguished Early Career Research Award from CEC’s Division of Research, which recognizes individuals who have made outstanding scientific contributions to research in special education within the first 10 years after receiving their doctoral degrees. Powell is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Special Education at University of Texas at Austin.She is currently the Principal Investigator of a NCSER-funded grant evaluating the efficacy of equation-solving instruction, within the context of tutoring, for improving word-problem solving outcomes for students in Grade 3 with mathematics difficulties.

 

These NCSER-supported researchers have been contributing to the advancement of the field by investigating instruction in a variety of subjects for students with disabilities. Congratulations to the CEC award recipients!

 

By Amy Sussman, NCSER Program Officer

Career and Technical Education at IES

Welcome to Career and Technical Education (CTE) month!

Over the course of the next few weeks, we will be blogging about IES projects and resources relevant to CTE. We will be highlighting grant competitions, including our newest competition, Expanding the Evidence Base for Career and Technical Education, which aims to increase research on the impact of CTE programs and policies on student outcomes and support training of new CTE researchers. And we will showcase work conducted by IES and our grantees.

For this first blog, we wanted to share our working definition of CTE, along with links to information and resources.

CTE aims to help students enter into and succeed in specific occupational fields such as health science, information technology, and business administration. Students in secondary, postsecondary, and adult education may pursue CTE activities as part of their other education requirements (e.g., courses for high school graduation, classes to prepare for General Equivalency Development or General Equivalency Diploma (GED) test) or as a program to earn an occupational certificate at the subbaccalaureate level.

Over the past decade, interest has been growing in CTE and career pathway models across public and private arenas. For example, at the federal level, interest in CTE is reflected in the legislations that authorize these education and training activities, namely the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006  and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014.

At IES, our goal is to identify the needs of CTE students and expand our understanding of effective CTE practices. For example, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) assists in monitoring the status of CTE by providing national information on student participation in CTE at the secondary and postsecondary levels and on adults’ preparation for work. This information is available on the CTE Statistics website.

The National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE) also supports work on CTE. For example, NCEE’s Regional Education Laboratory Programs work with policymakers and practitioners on career and college readiness issues, including CTE. Some regions have groups that focus on CTE directly, such as REL Appalachia's West Virginia Workforce Readiness Partnership and REL Mid-Atlantic's Readiness for Career Entry and Success Research Alliance.

The two grant-awarding centers, the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) support field-initiated research in CTE primarily through the Career and Technical Education, Postsecondary and Adult Education, and Transition Outcomes for Secondary Students with Disabilities topic areas. In September 2017, NCER and NCSER sponsored a technical working group meeting to gain insights from CTE practitioners and researchers. On January 22, NCER released the request for applications for the new research network mentioned above, Expanding the Evidence Base for Career and Technical Education.

We look forward to sharing more information about our CTE research and statistics. Come back throughout the month to hear from IES staff and grantees about this work!

By Meredith Larson (NCER)

 

Resolve to Study Effectively in 2018

Students of all ages want to study more effectively and efficiently, while teachers want to improve their students’ understanding and retention of important concepts. The Institute’s Cognition and Student Learning (CASL) program has invested in several research projects that test the effectiveness of different strategies for improving learning and provide resources for teachers who want to implement these strategies in their classrooms.  Two strategies that are easy for teachers and students to implement and do not require a lot of time or money are retrieval practice and interleaving.

 

Retrieval practice (also known as test-enhanced learning) involves recalling information that has been previously learned. Research has shown that when students actively retrieve information from memory (e.g., through low-stakes quizzes), their ability to retain that information in the future improves when compared to other common study strategies like re-reading and highlighting key concepts while reading class texts.

Interleaving is the process of mixing up different types of problems during practice. Unlike blocking, where a student practices the same type of problem over and over again, interleaved practice involves multiple types of problems that require different strategies to solve. In mathematics, where interleaving and blocking have been studied most, blocking is frequently employed at the end of each chapter in a textbook. With interleaved practice, students must choose a strategy to solve the problem and apply that strategy successfully. Research has shown that students learn more when engaged in interleaved practice relative to blocked practice.

For decades, research has shown the benefits of both retrieval practice and interleaving for learning; however, until this point, there were no easily accessible resources that practitioners could turn to for concrete details and suggestions for how to implement these strategies in their classrooms. Two of the IES CASL research projects that have focused on these study strategies (Developing a Manual for Test-Enhanced Learning in the Classroom, PI: Henry Roediger and Interleaved Mathematics Practice, PI: Douglas Rohrer) resulted in guides for teachers that provide information on how to implement these strategies in their classrooms. These guides are freely available through the website www.retrievalpractice.org (download the Retrieval Practice Guide here and the Interleaving Guide here). With these guides, teachers can learn more about how to use retrieval practice and interleaving to improve their students’ understanding and retention of the concepts they are learning. Happy studying!

By Erin Higgins, NCER Program Officer, Cognition and Student Learning

Taking Education Research Out of the Lab and Into the Real World

The Institute of Education Sciences is committed to supporting research that develops and tests solutions to the challenges facing education in the United States and working to share the results of that research with a broad audience of policymakers and practitioners. In this blog post, Katherine Pears (pictured right), a principal investigator from the Oregon Social Learning Center, shares how an IES-funded grant supported not only the development and testing of an intervention, but its implementation in classrooms.

Sometimes when I tell people that I am a research scientist, they say "Ok, but what do you do?" What they are really asking is whether the work I am doing is helping students and families in actual schools and community. It’s a good question and the short answer is “Yes!” but moving programs from the research lab to children, families and schools takes time and funding. Here is how it worked with my program.

I wanted to help children at risk for school failure to start kindergarten with skills to help them to do better. I teamed up with Dr. Phil Fisher and others, and we built on years of research and program development at the Oregon Social Learning Center (OSLC) to create a program called Kids in Transition to School (KITS). This is a summer program that continues into the first few weeks of school and focuses not only on letters and numbers, but also on teaching children how to get along with others and how to learn (such as focusing their attention). We also train the KITS teachers to use positive teaching strategies and help parents learn the same techniques to increase the chances that children will succeed.

However, before a school will put a program like KITS in place, they need to have some proof that it will actually work. That is why we sought external funding to evaluate the program.  With funding from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), as well as the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), we were able to test KITS with three different groups of children at high risk for difficulties in school: children in foster care, children with developmental disabilities and behavior problems, and children from low-income neighborhoods. 

Across these studies, KITS led to positive outcomes for children and the parents. Funding from IES helped us show that the KITS Program worked with different groups of children and that it was a good candidate for use in school settings. In many cases, this is where the process of moving programs from research to practice can get bogged down due to a gap between researchers and the people in the education systems that could use the programs. IES is strongly committed to bridging that gap by supporting partnerships between researchers and practitioners. In our IES-funded study, we partnered with two of our local school districts and United Way of Lane County (UWLC). Working with the schools and community agencies helped us to both test KITS and develop plans for how the districts could keep the program going after the funding for the research study ended.

Our partnership with UWLC also enabled us to start a new project to bring KITS to more schools. With funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) Social Innovation Fund, UWLC offered grants to education foundations in Lane County, Oregon to implement KITS in the local school districts. The Social Innovation Fund allows promising programs to be brought to scale (i.e., made available to large numbers of people) by providing funding for community agencies to start and develop plans for sustaining these programs. In 2015, the KITS Program had about 30 educators serving about 120 children and families in 6 school districts in Lane County, Oregon. By summer 2017, two years into the grant, the KITS Program had trained 125 educators to serve approximately 435 children and families in 13 school districts in the county. That’s more than a threefold increase in the number of children and families served, as well as the number of teachers trained in the KITS Program.

We will continue to work with partners to evaluate the effects of the KITS program and make it available to more school districts. However, without the funding from IES and other federal agencies, we would not have been able to both test the program and partner with schools to make KITS a part of their everyday practice.