Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

IES-supported Technology to be Used in Hundreds of Schools

A technology-based instructional tool—developed and evaluated through IES funding—will now be put it to use in hundreds of schools across the country with the goal of improving students’ literacy outcomes. The United2Read Project was recently awarded a five-year Education Innovation and Research (EIR) expansion grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The EIR grants provide funding to develop, expand, and evaluate innovative, evidence-based programs designed to improve student achievement.

A2i (pictured right) includes a series of assessments to measure component literacy skills of students and provide information that teachers can use to individualize literacy instruction in Kindergarten through Grade 3.  The assessments cover a wide range of literacy skills, including vocabulary, decoding, word reading, spelling, sentence and paragraph writing, comprehension, and inferencing.

A2i assessments are given throughout the school year to monitor student progress, and A2i’s algorithms are updated in real-time to provide teachers with recommendations for instruction for each student and changes to grouping.

This project demonstrates the critical role IES plays in supporting research to develop innovative teaching and learning products and test those products for efficacy.  Over the past 13 years, A2i was developed, evaluated, and scaled with a progression of awards from IES, as well as the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NIH/NICHD).

  • With a 2004 IES research grant, researchers at the University of Michigan and Florida State University conducted basic research to understand how the effects of different types of literacy instruction (e.g., phonics vs. meaning focused) depend on children’s constellation of language, phonological awareness, decoding and encoding, and comprehension skills. The team then used the findings from this initial work to build and test an initial version of A2i with first-grade students. The research demonstrated that instruction tailored to students’ skills and learning needs, and adjusted over time, is more effective than one-size-fits-all approaches.
  • With a 2007 IES research grant, the researchers expanded A2i into second- and third-grade classrooms. They also tested the effects of implementing the system with second-grade students who had received A2i-informed instruction in Grade 1, as well as those who had not.
  • With a 2013 IES research grant and grant support from NIH/NICHD, researchers at Florida State and Arizona State conducted seven randomized controlled studies examining the impact of A2i on student reading. The results suggest that individualizing literacy instruction with A2i recommendations led to stronger literacy gains for K-3 students. On average, students who used A2i across multiple years ended third grade reading at a grade 5 level. The research included students who qualified for the National School Lunch Program and who received special education services.
  • With a 2013 IES research grant to Arizona State University (which was later transferred in 2016 to University of California, Irvine) and a 2014 award from the ED/IES Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program to Learning Ovations, an education technology development firm, the researchers upgraded the underlying data architecture of A2i to enable scale and implementation in classrooms across the nation. Research results demonstrated that the more teachers viewed student test scores, the greater the students’ literacy skill gains.
     

(Findings from all publications on the A2i software and related professional development are posted on Learning Ovations website.) 

The new EIR expansion grant was awarded to a consortium of researchers and developers, including researchers at UC Irvine, Learning Ovations, Digital Promise (a non-profit), and MDRC, a national evaluation firm. At least 300 schools and 100,000 students will be served through the grant, which will also support a large-scale effectiveness trial to measure the impact of the project on student reading achievement.

Ed Metz is a Research Scientist at IES, where he leads the SBIR and the Education Technology Research Grants programs.

Erin Higgins is an Education Research Analyst at IES, where she leads the Cognition and Student Learning Research Grants program.

Using Game-Based Technologies for Civic Education

It is clear that civic education is a priority in the United States. All U.S. states require students to take a civics or government course and many provide opportunities for students to perform community service or service learning to practice active citizenship.

Screenshot of ECO

However, reports illustrate that many young people are not being adequately prepared as citizens. For example, in the most recent National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) in Civics only one-quarter of students reached “proficient” in knowledge of key facts on the U.S. Constitution or the functions of government.

Amid calls to strengthen civic education, IES has funded several interventions that are leveraging technological innovation and game design to engage students. These projects are mainly funded through two IES programs—the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program and Education Research Grants in Education Technology.

Among the projects IES has funded:

  • ECO (pictured above) is a game-based virtual environment where students collaboratively build a shared civilization and, in the process, apply democratic skills such as making rules and laws, analyzing data, and deliberation (watch video);
  • Discussion Maker is a role-playing game where students debate a civic issue, such as freedom of speech. The technology assigns each student a role, facilitates analysis and using evidence to make an argument, and organizes face-to-face debates and deliberation (watch video);
  • GlobalED2 is a role-playing game addressing a simulated global crisis (e.g., major oil spill or water scarcity) where students act as representatives of different countries governments. Students analyze the issue from the perspective of their country and negotiate with other countries to create a solution (watch video);
  • EcoMUVE is a 3D multi-user virtual pond or forest environment where students apply inquiry-based practices to understand causal patterns in ecological science (watch video); andScreenshot of Up from the Dust
  • Mission US’s Up from the Dust (pictured right) is a historical fiction adventure style game where students take on the role wheat farmers during the Great Depression in Texas 1929, and in doing so guide decisions by learning about the interaction of agriculture, the environment, and how government policies affect the economy (watch video).

Specific design elements of these games offer new ways to stimulate young people’s civic knowledge, skills, and engagement. For example:

All of these interventions employ game-based learning to motivate and engage students in new ways. For example, ECO is an unscripted “sandbox” where students create unique and personalized worlds, while Up from the Dust follows an adventure-based historical story. GlobalED2 and Discussion Maker employ role-playing and EcoMUVE guides inquiry-based virtual and real-world exploration.

Additionally, these programs all seek to build citizenship skills with cross-disciplinary content. For example, ECO, EcoMUVE, and GlobalED2 focus building citizen-science skills such as inquiry and analysis; Discussion Maker can apply content from almost any course within democratic debate; and Up from the Dust immerses students in a storyline with history, economics, and government concepts.

At the same time, these interventions also promote collaborative civic learning by simulating democratic processes for a whole class of students, both virtually and face-to-face. In ECO, students collaborate to create their own government with which they need to maintain through rules and laws. Discussion Maker and GlobalED2 use analysis, deliberation, and debates for individuals and groups of students. In EcoMUVE, students can conduct inquiry-based learning within the virtual environment. In Up from the Dust students engage in group discussions after gameplay to assess how specific decisions influenced results.

Several of these games also allow for feasible classroom implementation of what would otherwise be complex interventions. For example, some of the interventions provide real-time cues to students as they progress through the game, allowing a teacher to focus on facilitating overall instruction rather than coordinating every step of the game for every student.

To learn more about these projects, and to learn more about upcoming funding opportunities for the research and development and evaluation of technologies that support civic learning, visit the IES website or follow IES on Facebook and Twitter @IESResearch

Ed Metz is a Research Scientist at IES, where he leads the SBIR and the Education Technology Research Grants programs. 

Recognizing Our Outstanding IES Fellows

Each year, the Institute of Education Sciences recognizes some of its fellows for their academic accomplishments and contributions to education research. This year, IES has selected Rachel Baker as the 2016 Outstanding Fellow from its Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Programs in the Education Sciences.

Dr. Baker (pictured right) received her doctorate in Higher Education Policy and the Economics of Education from the Stanford Graduate School of Education. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Educational Policy at the University of California, Irvine, where she studies inequalities in postsecondary access and success using behavioral economic models of decision making and quasi-experimental and experimental methods. Dr. Baker will receive her award and present her research at the annual IES Principal Investigators meeting in Washington, D.C. in January 2018.

For the first time this year, IES is also recognizing two finalists for the outstanding fellow award, Dr. Elizabeth Tighe and Dr. Karrie E. Godwin.

Dr. Tighe received her doctorate in Cognitive Psychology from Florida State University. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Educational Psychology at Georgia State University where she focuses on advancing our understanding of the literacy skills and instructional needs of struggling adult readers who attend Adult Basic and Secondary Education programs.

Dr. Godwin received her doctorate in Developmental Psychology from Carnegie Mellon University. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Educational Psychology in the School of Lifespan Development and Educational Sciences at Kent State University. Her research examines how cognitive and environmental factors shape children’s development and learning in the laboratory and in the classroom.

We asked all three awardees how participating in an IES predoctoral training program helped their development as researchers.  For more information about the IES predoctoral training program, visit our website.

Rachel Baker, Fellow in Stanford University Predoctoral Training Program in Quantitative Education Policy Analysis

With full acknowledgement that it is impossible to know for certain how my development as a researcher has been shaped by participating in the IES pre-doctoral fellowship (where’s the counterfactual?), I can point to three factors that I think have been critical:  (1) the community of Stanford’s IES pre-doctoral fellows and  associated faculty, (2) the tightly structured curriculum and frequent opportunities to engage with high quality research, and (3) the freedom, within this structure, to engage with my own research questions.

From my first day at the Center for Education Policy Analysis (CEPA) at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, I was exposed to a pervasive culture of intellectual rigor and the pursuit of high-quality research. But this culture of exactitude was paired with diversity of thought, a true investment in the ideas and work of students, and a sense of collegiality and collaboration. Every day, I felt both challenged and supported by the Stanford IES group. This professional network has been essential to my growth.

CEPA’s core curriculum prepared me well to conduct high-quality, policy-focused research. In particular, the classes on designing and implementing quasi-experimental studies has influenced my work tremendously – from the large, obvious ways, such as how I conceptualize and design research, to the small details of implementation that can make or break a study. The series of required classes was complemented by frequent, less formal engagement with the practice of research in the form of weekly seminars in which students presented work in progress and an unparalleled seminar series with speakers from other institutions.

But within this tight community and academic structure, a real benefit of the IES fellowship was my ability to engage with the research questions that I was most interested in. The financial security of the fellowship meant that I could work on projects, directed by faculty or of my own design, that I thought were timely, important, and interesting. In my five years, I worked closely with four CEPA faculty members, each of whom influenced the way I ask and answer questions in essential and unique ways.

I am grateful to the IES pre-doctoral fellowship, and especially the Stanford IES group, for the five years of opportunities, resources, and professional community.

Elizabeth Tighe, Fellow in Florida State University Program to Increase Research Capacity in Educational Science

The IES predoctoral training fellowship provided multiple avenues for me to work with interdisciplinary research teams and take courses that developed my quantitative skills within the realm of education research. Three benefits in particular were integral in shaping my development as a researcher: rigorous quantitative training; generous financial support for designing and implementing my own studies as well as providing networking opportunities at conferences; and the interdisciplinary and collaborative nature of the coursework and research.

For my graduate studies, I chose Florida State University for the innovative and interdisciplinary research conducted through the Florida Center for Reading Research. By assisting on various projects, I honed my quantitative skills and learned new theoretical perspectives from multiple disciplines. For example, I gained experience with eye-tracking equipment, assessment and measurement of reading-related constructs, and evaluation of classroom curricular materials. The flexibility of the fellowship allowed me to develop my own program of research, which focused on struggling adult readers enrolled in adult literacy programs. In addition, I utilized my quantitative skills on large-scale, existing datasets of students enrolled in K-12 education. These experiences provided ample opportunities to bridge my interests in adult literacy and quantitative methodology and to publish and present at different outlets.    

The financial support for conferences afforded me extensive networking opportunities with colleagues. This helped me to establish grant-writing collaborations, provide statistical consulting for projects, participate in cross-university symposia, and form professional friendships from which I continue to reap benefits today. I attended practitioner-oriented conferences in adult education and a training workshop for using a large-scale dataset on adults’ literacy, numeracy, and digital problem-solving skills. In conjunction with a colleague at the University of Iowa, my current lab received a grant to use this large-scale dataset to examine the literacy skills of United States inmates. 

My accrued training, experiences, and interdisciplinary collaborations are directly applicable to my current role as an Assistant Professor of Psychology and Assistant Director of the Adult Literacy Research Center (ALRC) at Georgia State University. I work alongside an interdisciplinary team of scholars within the Language and Literacy Initiative, which affords me the opportunity to work with professors and to mentor graduate students in multiple departments. My lab is currently is working with the ALRC and Applied Linguistics Department to investigate the comprehension monitoring skills of struggling adult readers using eye-tracking equipment. As a result of my IES training, it was imperative for me to find a position that supported my multidisciplinary research interests.

Karrie E. Godwin, Assistant Professor, Kent State University, Fellow in Carnegie Mellon Program in Interdisciplinary Education Research (PIER)

My participation as an IES predoctoral fellow in the PIER program at Carnegie Mellon University was seminal in guiding my development as a researcher. For me, there are three aspects of the program which were especially formative.

First, I was fortunate to be surrounded by thoughtful, caring, and passionate mentors who embody the goals of the PIER program. I am especially grateful to Anna Fisher, David Klahr, and Sharon Carver, who provided incredible guidance, advanced my critical thinking skills, taught me the importance of good experimental design and research hygiene, and how to effectively disseminate my work—not only to other scientists, but also to practitioners and stakeholders.

Second, PIER is committed to training scholars in rigorous research methodology that bridges theory and practice. My training has enabled me to conduct disciplined research in which I examine children’s cognitive development and the underlying mechanisms of change which inform educational practices by identifying causal and malleable factors that can be leveraged to promote better learning outcomes for children.

Lastly, PIER exposed me to a diverse set of scholars affording unique and dynamic opportunities for interdisciplinary research collaborations that would have been highly improbable in more traditional and siloed environments. For example, in addition to working with other psychologists, I formed productive collaborations with colleagues in robotics, human computer interaction, and statistics. This was a unique and powerful component of the program. Additionally, this feature of the program encouraged and developed my communication skills to groups and communities outside of my specific domain where traditional jargon is typically ineffective. This skill has been incredibly important in helping to communicate my research to other scientists from different disciplines but also to practitioners and the media.

In my new role as an assistant professor at Kent State University, I am drawing upon my experience in PIER and using the skills I gained during my fellowship to build my program of research. I am continuing to investigate children’s cognitive development in order to create more optimal learning environments and instructional materials that aim to enhance children’s learning outcomes. In addition, my new position allows me to help train students to become producers of high-quality research and to help future educational practitioners be thoughtful consumers of research. I am certain the skills I gained as an IES fellow at Carnegie Mellon will enable me to fulfill my commitment to improve children's learning outcomes through disciplined research.

Compiled by Katina Stapleton, National Center for Education Research

 

 

IES Funds New Research in Career and Technical Education

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) funds research in a broad array of education topics. In fact, the Education Research Grants Program alone funds research in 11 specific topics, such as early learning, reading and writing, STEM, postsecondary and adult education, English learners, social behavioral contexts for learning and others.

In 2017, the National Center for Education Research (NCER) introduced a twelfth area, Special Topics, to address important areas in education that are of high interest to policy makers and practitioners where there is a research gap.

As we noted in a previous blog, Career and Technical Education (CTE) is one such area. Across the country, CTE programs and policies are growing, creating a greater need for high-quality, independent research in this area. The Career and Technical Education (CTE) special topic seeks to fill this research gap by funding projects that study the implementation of CTE programs and policies and how they impact student outcomes in K-12 education. In 2017, IES has funded its first three special topic research grants on CTE:

  • New York University will study the impact of New York City's Career Technical Education programs on students' career and work-related learning experiences, social and behavioral competencies, high school completion, and transitions to college and the work place;
  • The Education Development Center will lead a study that compares three different ways that CTE is delivered in California—career academies, career pathways, and elective CTE courses. The researchers will examine relationships between CTE delivery mode and student outcomes; and
  • A study of Florida’s CTE certification program will be conducted by Research Triangle Institute (RTI). The study will identify which high school certifications are associated with a higher likelihood of passing certification exams and whether obtaining a certification leads to better attendance, graduation rates, and postsecondary enrollment and persistence.

For its 2018 grant competition, IES is again accepting applications for CTE research grants, as well as two other special topics.

The Arts in Education special topic funds research to better understand how arts programs and policies are implemented and the impact they have on student outcomes. The research coming out of this program can help inform policy debates regarding the benefits of arts programming in schools. (Read a recent blog post on this topic.)

The Systemic Approaches to Educating Highly Mobile Students special topic seeks to fund research aimed at improving the education and outcomes for students who frequently move schools because of changes in residence and/or unstable living arrangements. This includes students who are homeless, in foster care, from migrant backgrounds or are a part of military families. (Read a recent blog post on this topic.)

You can learn more about these and other funding opportunities on the IES website, and on Facebook and Twitter

Written by Dana Tofig, Communications Director, IES

Understanding Outcomes for English Learners: The Importance of the ‘Ever EL' Category

The Institute of Education Science funds and supports Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships (RPP) that address significant challenges in education. In this guest blog post, Karen D. Thompson, of Oregon State University and Josh Rew, Martha Martinez, and Chelsea Clinton, of the Oregon Department of Education, describe the work their RPP is doing to better understand and improve the performance English learners in Oregon. Click here to learn more about RPP grants. This research will be part of a Regional Educational Laboratory webinar on June 21.


According to the most recent data, about 10 percent of K-12 students in U.S. public schools were classified as English learners (EL). But that only tells part of the story: a large proportion of students in U.S. schools are former ELs, who have attained proficiency in English and “exited” EL services. Currently, in most states and the nation, we do not know the size of the former EL group because states have only been required to monitor this group of students for a limited amount of time.

Education agencies and the media routinely report the achievement gap between current EL students and their non-EL peers. However, analyzing outcomes only for current EL students does not provide a complete picture of how well schools are serving the full group of students who entered school not yet proficient in English. We refer to this full group, which includes both current and former ELs, as Ever English Learners (Ever ELs).

Through our IES-funded partnership, the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) and Oregon State University (OSU) has identified the full group of both current and former ELs in Oregon public K-12 schools. Using 2015-16 Oregon data, we looked at the proportion of Ever ELs who are current and former ELs at each grade level. As seen in Figure 1 below, former ELs outnumber current ELs in grades 6 and above, with the relative size of the former EL population increasing at each grade level.


Figure 1


Starting with the 2012-13 school year, ODE began annually reporting to the public the outcomes of Ever ELs (e.g., achievement and growth, chronic absenteeism, rates of freshmen on-track, and graduation rates). These annual reports include school and district report cards, the statewide report card, and technical reports corresponding to specific state initiatives, such as graduation rates, chronic absenteeism, assessment participation, and district EL accountability. 

In the past, states have typically reported achievement outcomes for students currently classified as ELs and compared these to outcomes for all students not currently classified as ELs. Under this reporting scheme, the non-EL subgroup consists of students never classified as ELs and former ELs.  With this grouping (Figure 2), graduation rates for ELs appear much lower than graduation rates for non-ELs (52.9 percent for ELs compared to 75.8 percent for non-ELs).           

  

However, it may be more appropriate in some situations to instead analyze outcomes for the full group of students who entered school as ELs (Figure 3). Under this alternative reporting scheme, if we combine outcomes for both current and former ELs to create the Ever EL group, we see that graduation rates for Ever ELs are much closer to graduation rates for students never classified as ELs (71.1 percent for Ever ELs compared to 75.6 percent for Never ELs).

While the low graduation rates for current ELs are certainly concerning, it is also important to know that former ELs are graduating at rates slightly higher than students never classified as ELs (77.9 percent vs. 75.6 percent, respectively), as shown in Figure 4.

This is particularly noteworthy since former ELs represent a larger proportion of the student population than current ELs at the secondary level.

In addition to annual reporting, the ODE began using data for Ever ELs in 2015-16 to identify districts in need of support, assistance, and improvement, as required by state law.  The state’s accountability system identifies the districts with the highest needs and lowest outcomes as measured by demographic indicators (such as economically disadvantage, migrant or homeless status) and outcome data (e.g., growth, graduation, and post-secondary enrollment) for Ever ELs. Identified districts conduct a needs assessment, identify evidence-based and culturally responsive technical assistance, develop a technical assistance implementation plan, monitor progress, and review outcomes and make necessary adjustments. Along with its applications for reporting and accountability, we have used the Ever EL framework to analyze special education disproportionality, documenting implications for research, policy, and practice.

To learn more about how education agencies are using the Ever EL category, join us and colleagues from New York City for a June 21 webinar, sponsored by Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast and Islands.