Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Mental Health Awareness Month

The past year and a half have brought new meaning to May’s National Mental Health Awareness Month. As students, families, and school staff navigate virtual, hybrid, and new routines surrounding in-person learning, promoting mental wellbeing has been a large topic of discussion for supporting students and educators.

The National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) funds projects that include an emphasis on the mental health of students with or at risk for disabilities and their educators. Below are examples of such projects, which focus on supporting students who have internalizing disorders or experienced trauma and preventing and reducing burnout in special education teachers.

Internalizing Disorders

At the University of Connecticut Health Center, Dr. Golda Ginsburg tested the efficacy of a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) intervention for youth ages 7-17 in special education with an anxiety disorder as part of the School-based Treatment of Anxiety Research Study (STARS) program. This intervention was designed to be implemented by a school-based mental health clinician and contains seven core modules to help students understand, manage, and cope with anxiety. STARS also includes similarly focused parent training modules. Results demonstrated that parent-reported level of child anxiety decreased after participating in the program. They also suggested that older youth, those with social phobia, and those with more severe anxiety at the start of the study were more likely to benefit from participating in the STARS program.

Dr. Ginsburg has been developing another intervention for anxiety, Teacher Anxiety Program for Elementary Students (TAPES). This is a professional development program that enhances teacher knowledge and skills for identifying and reducing anxiety in students with or without disabilities who have elevated anxiety symptoms. TAPES contains materials informed by CBT to be used class-wide and during teacher-parent-student meetings. The research team will soon be conducting a pilot test of this program.

Additionally, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dr. Stephen Kilgus and colleagues are currently developing the Resilience Education Program (REP), a tier 2 intervention for elementary students at risk for internalizing behaviors. REP consists of three components: A cognitive behavioral instructional curriculum to promote acquisition of social-emotional skills, use of the Check In/Check Out (CICO) system (an existing intervention for promoting the maintenance of acquired skills), and parent skills training that promotes CICO implementation and facilitates positive parent-child relations.

Trauma

At SRI International, Dr. Carl Sumi and colleagues tested the efficacy of the Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS), a school-based, structured, symptom-focused therapy program for middle school students who have experienced significant trauma and are experiencing related emotional or behavioral challenges. CBITS consists of 10 group therapy sessions and one individual session with a school-based mental health clinician with training on relaxation techniques, cognitive therapy, exposure, and social problem solving. The study found positive impacts of the intervention overall on social-emotional and academic outcomes, but the outcomes varied depending on level of behavioral concerns prior to beginning treatment. Specifically, for youth with more significant externalizing behavior problems (such as aggression), those who experienced CBITS had greater reductions in post-traumatic stress and other emotional and behavioral problems, as well as improved scores on a standardized literacy assessment. In addition, for students with internalizing behavior problems (such as anxiety), participation in CBITS led to better performance on standardized math tests 1 year later.

Teacher Burnout

At Ball State University, Dr. Lisa Ruble and colleagues are adapting an existing manualized intervention for mental health workers, Burnout Reduction: Enhanced Awareness, Tools, handouts, and Education (BREATHE), to be used with special education teachers to reduce burnout. BREATHE is both a prevention and intervention strategy, as it aims to prevent burnout from occurring and reduces burnout when present. Sessions cover CBT stress reduction techniques, meditation and relaxation practices, and social skills training to increase coping skills and the ability to manage stressful job demands.

This blog was written by Alice Bravo, virtual intern for IES and doctoral candidate in special education at the University of Washington, and Jackie Buckley, program officer for NCSER’s Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Competence program. Katie Taylor is the program officer for NCSER’s Educators and School-Based Service Providers program.

Copy, Paste, Transpose: Math Anxiety Is More Common than You Think

This blog is part of our “What Does This Mean for Me” series and was written by Yuri Lin, a virtual intern for NCER.

 

As an undergraduate student who just completed my required math courses, my days of struggling with math are still fresh in my mind. I know the feelings of shame and anxiety when I struggle to solve math problems, and I know I am far from the only person who has experienced this. I have friends who have blanked on exams and tutored middle schoolers who have experienced the same brand of math anxiety, just a handful of years removed, transposed into different classes.

Math anxiety has been defined as discomfort or nervousness that arises when thinking about doing math or while doing math. In some cases, math anxiety could interfere with one's ability to do math and could lead to lower mathematics achievement. This phenomenon occurs broadly across all age and grade levels, including teachers and adults, and has been estimated to peak in middle and high school. To learn more, I asked four IES-funded researchers to share their discoveries about math anxiety and their advice for students, parents, and math educators.

 

Sian Beilock, PhD (@sianbeilock), is a cognitive scientist and the eighth President of Barnard College at Columbia University. Her research focuses on brain and body factors that affect performance anxiety.

An Exploration of Malleable Social and Cognitive Factors Associated with Early Elementary School Students' Mathematics Achievement

Key Finding: Math anxiety starts early. We focused specifically on children at the start of formal schooling and found that some reported fear and apprehension around math. 

Advice for Parents: For parents, I would stress that it is important not to paint a picture of "some people are good at math and others aren't." We can all get better at math. When parents say things to their children like, "It’s okay; I am not a math person either," even though they are trying to comfort their kids, it sends a very strong signal that some people can do math, and some can't. The result is that kids who are anxious about math avoid it, and an unwanted anxiety-achievement cycle is created.

 

Jeremy Jamieson, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Rochester. His research focuses on the physiological and psychological impacts of stress, as well as how to manage stress responses to promote resilience.

Exploring Stress Responses in the Classroom and Reappraising Stress to Facilitate Academic Performance

Key Finding: Math anxiety is not just a psychological problem but also has important consequences for biological functioning. Community college students who reported higher levels of math anxiety also had unhealthy perceptions of stress and lower levels of testosterone (a performance-enhancing hormone) on days when they had to take a math test.

Advice for Students: Feeling stressed and anxious about math shows that you care, and those feelings of stress and anxiety do not mean one is “not good” at math. In fact, you can even use the stress you feel about math to help meet difficult challenges. Your body evolved stress responses to mobilize resources and help you perform. When you believe stress is a tool to help achieve difficult goals, your body will respond with a challenge response (which is like excitement) to assist you in reaching new heights.

 

Leigh McLean, PhD, is an Assistant Research Professor at Arizona State University. Her research focuses on teacher-student interactions in classroom environments and how these interactions affect teacher and student outcomes.

Exploring Elementary Teachers' Feelings, Beliefs, and Effectiveness across Mathematics, Science, and Literacy

Key Finding: When teachers are more math-anxious, so are their students. Importantly, when teachers enjoy teaching math and feel more efficacious in their math teaching, student math anxiety decreases and engagement increases. When teachers and parents have math anxiety, children can pick up on this anxiety, and it can impact both how children feel about math themselves and how they perform in math.

Advice for Math Educators: We would advise anyone who is in a role where they are teaching children math to be aware of their own math-related feelings, especially anxiety. Kids will not only pick up on the content adults teach them but also on the emotional signals adults give off. If a caregiver or teacher is experiencing math anxiety, they could try to find ways to increase their own math enjoyment and confidence, and this would likely benefit children’s learning.

 

Lindsey Richland, PhD (@lerichland), is an Associate Professor at the University of California, Irvine. Her research focuses on children’s development of mathematics thinking and cognitive skills, as well as teacher best practices to support this development.

Drawing Connections to Close Achievement Gaps in Mathematics

Key Finding: State math anxiety, which describes how much anxiety a student feels in a particular situation, changes a lot as students learn to solve problems that require higher order thinking. This suggests that it is not always helpful to make generalizations about trait anxiety, which is believed to be a fairly stable characteristic in individuals.  Instead, it may be more effective to develop specific interventions or learn more about problem types that can affect math anxiety.

Advice for Math Educators and Students: When you’re feeling anxious, you may have worries running through your mind that can distract your attention. One of the best ways to make sure you don’t lose out on learning is to use visual cues to help access information you need. When doing a math problem, write down all your work, rather than trying to do steps in your head. Use prior worked examples to help solve new problems. Teachers can do the same–make sure students have a visual record of classroom instruction that they can return to if their mind wanders or provide worked examples to help students learn new problem-solving techniques. 

 


Written by Yuri Lin, intern for the Institute of Education Sciences’ National Center for Education Research and a Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics major at UCLA.

Educating English Learner Students During the Pandemic: Remote and In-Person Instruction and Assessment

The IES-funded R&D Center, the Center for the Success of English Learners (C-SEL), is undertaking a focused program of research aimed at improving access and outcomes for English Learners. One of C-SEL’s recent activities has been to develop resources to aid policymakers and practitioners working with middle school and secondary English learners. The research team at the Center, including Drs Diane August and Coleen Carlson, along with Maria Yolanda Cieslak and Kenneth Michael Nieser, recently released a brief on Educating English Learner Students During the Pandemic: Remote & In-person Instruction & Assessment-Recommendations and Resources for State and Districts. In this guest blog, the researchers provide an overview of the brief.

English Learners (ELs) benefit from specialized support to help them acquire second language proficiency and core content knowledge that builds on their cultural and linguistic assets. This specialized support is required by law, and the U.S. Department of Education reminded States that this is the case, even when learning is remote. Based on a review of the existing relevant literature, this brief provides detailed information related to the impact of remote learning on English Learners (ELs) and their teachers during the pandemic and the potential and limitations of using digital learning resources (DLRs) to educate these students. For instance, while DLRs have the potential to support learning and engagement for ELs, districts report barriers to their use, such as lack of home access to DLRs; teachers’ level of expertise and technology skills; and the lack of knowledge around what are the appropriate DLRs for ELs.

The brief also describes current legislation that authorizes funds for a variety of activities that could be used to support ELs and their families when instruction is delivered remotely. Some of these federal resources include:

  • Formula Grant Programs Under the Every Student Succeeds Act
  • CARES Act
  • Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act

In addition, the brief includes information about policies and resources for each of the 50 states in place in December 2020 that support districts and schools in instructing and assessing EL students remotely. It also includes a reading list of recent resources focused on remote learning for ELs, with brief descriptions of each resource and links to the resource.

In March 2021, the Center hosted a webinar to discuss recent recommendations for states and districts. One set of recommendations focuses on methods to enhance the learning and emotional well-being of EL students who have lost ground during the pandemic. Recommendations are also made for assessing ELs when schooling is or has been remote or hybrid. These recommendations can be found in the brief.  

In the upcoming months, C-SEL investigators look forward to preparing future blog posts and research briefs on the research of the Center and the students and teachers we are serving. Next up on the agenda is an overview of the students, highlighting their diversity, and some too often ignored, forgotten, or simply unknown characteristics of this important subgroup. Stay tuned!


Dr. Diane August is Principal at D. August and Associates and a Senior Research Scientist at the Center for Applied Linguistics.

Dr. Coleen Carlson is an Associate Research Professor, and Associate Director at the Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistics (TIMES) at the University of Houston.

Ms. Maria Yolanda Cieslak is a Professional Development Specialist at the Center for Applied Linguistics.

Mr. Kenneth Michael Nieser is a Researcher at the Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistics at the University of Houston.

 

Announcing the 8th Annual ED Games Expo: June 1 to 5, 2021

A Free All-Virtual Showcase of Game-Changing Innovations in EdTech developed through ED and Programs Across Government

The ED Games Expo is an annual showcase of game-changing innovations in education technology (EdTech) developed through programs at the Department of Education (ED) and across the federal government. Since 2013, the Expo has been an in-person event at venues across Washington, D.C. Because of the COVID-19 national emergency, the 2021 ED Games Expo is moving online, from June 1 – 5, for an entirely virtual experience. Hosting virtually provides the unique opportunity to engage a national audience and to present content mindful of the pandemic and useful for educational programming in the summer and going forward.  

 

ED Games Expo: Featured Resources

A new set of YouTube playlists and an accompanying PDF guide will be released on June 1 to present video trailers for more than 150 participating government-supported learning games and technologies. These learning games and technologies are appropriate for children and students in early childhood to post-secondary education and special education, and cover a range of topics across STEM, reading, social studies, civics, healthy development, and others. Nearly all the resources are research-based – meaning studies demonstrate the usability, feasibility, and promise of leading to the intended outcomes. Many of the education technologies at ED Games Expo will be available to students and educators who are learning in-person or remotely at no cost during June 2021. Attendees will also have the opportunity to engage in virtual Q&A with developers during and after the Expo to learn more.

 

ED Games Expo: A Range of Online Events

The 2021 ED Games Expo Agenda presents the lineup for 35 online events to be broadcast during the weeklong Expo. The events are designed for a wide audience across the education technology ecosystem, including educators, students, parents and caregivers, developers, researchers, and other stakeholders.

Events include:

  • Master Classes for Educators: Eight Expo developers present use-case examples and guidance for implementing innovative education technology interventions to support in-person or remote learning across many different topics.
  • How the Learning Game was Made: Five teams of learning game developers inspire and prompt students to think about the many skills and careers involved in creating a learning game.
  • Showcase Events: More than 20 government agencies and offices that invest in education technology are broadcasting events to showcase their projects and initiatives. Just a few highlights from the week include events on: innovations in early learning and special education, learning games to combat disinformation, models to support remote tutoring, a live kick-off for a new NASA national student challenge, an esports competition with students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and forums where government leaders, experts, and practitioners reflect on the role of education technology during the era of COVID-19.
  • A Unique Kick Off Show: This year’s Expo will kick off on June 1, 2021 at 8pm ET with a unique virtual event featuring a few of our favorite children’s TV characters and puppet friends created through ED funded projects.

 

All Expo events are free and accessible to the public to watch online. Content from all events will be archived and available to watch on demand via YouTube after the event. Follow the ED Games Expo on social media @USEdGov and by using the #EDGamesExpo hashtag.

 

We hope you will join us in June!


This Inside IES Blog is crossed-posted on Homeroom, the official blog of the U.S. Department of Education.

Edward Metz is the Program Manager for the Small Business Innovation Research Program at the Institute of Education Sciences in the US Department of Education. Contact Edward.Metz@ed.gov for more information or with questions.

Effective Postsecondary Interventions: Early Colleges Combine High School and College to Benefit Students

Across a set of research grant programs, IES generates knowledge of how to increase students’ access to, progress through, and completion of postsecondary credentials and degrees. Funded projects develop and test a range of interventions from state-level policies to classroom practices, with an emphasis on strategies that promote college attainment for students historically underrepresented in postsecondary education. This new blog series called Effective Postsecondary Interventions highlights interventions with evidence of effectiveness generated through IES-funded research.

 

The Early College High School Model

The Early College High School (ECHS) model addresses barriers to college attainment commonly experienced by students historically underrepresented in higher education. Students from low-income families and minoritized racial and ethnic groups often attend high schools that lack rigorous pre-college courses, strong support for college enrollment, and established connections to colleges and universities. For those students, cost is an additional barrier to enrollment and persistence in college. The ECHS model addresses these barriers by combining secondary and postsecondary instruction within the same school, prioritizing college-preparatory high school courses, offering opportunities to enroll in college courses while in high school, and providing comprehensive supports for academic and social-emotional development—all at little or no cost to the students. Although concurrent enrollment in high school and college courses (dual enrollment) is a core component of the model, the ECHS model is more expansive than dual enrollment because it includes a broader set of intervention components and has a clear equity objective.

All early colleges reflect these four design principles:

  • Enrollment of students historically underrepresented in higher education
  • Partnerships including a local education agency, a higher education institution, and the surrounding community
  • An integrated program of secondary and postsecondary education with the goal of all students earning 1 to 2 years of college credit prior to high school graduation
  • A comprehensive support system for students to develop academic skills as well as social and behavioral skills.

 

Attending Early Colleges Increases Postsecondary Attainment

Four IES-funded projects have evaluated impacts of the ECHS model. Prior studies within these projects found that significantly larger percentages of early college students completed a college preparatory course of study during high school and enrolled in postsecondary education within six years of entering high school. The two most recent projects assess postsecondary attainment:

In addition, early college students earned associate degrees at rates that exceeded their counterparts in traditional high schools by 22% and 18%, respectively, while earning bachelor’s degrees at equal or higher rates. These impacts are substantial, and especially noteworthy because both evaluations studied early colleges across a range of settings. Moreover, the impacts are similar for different student subgroups, regardless of gender, race/ethnicity, or family income.

 

Why have early colleges been so effective?

Early colleges set high expectations, provide high-quality interactions between staff and students, and encourage college access and success for all students. Several studies confirm that early colleges substantially improve high school experiences and outcomes. Students in North Carolina early colleges reported higher expectations, more rigorous and relevant instruction, stronger academic and social supports, and better relationships with teachers than their counterparts in other high schools. Early college students in AIR’s five-state sample reported significantly higher levels of college-going culture and instructor support than their counterparts in traditional high schools. The combination of high expectations and supportive relationships promotes better outcomes for early college students beginning in ninth grade (compared with students in other high schools). For instance, early college students are more likely to persist in college-preparatory math courses, attain a significant number of college credits during high school, and graduate from high school. Importantly, these positive results hold for students from all racial and ethnic groups, including students who enter high school at low levels of math proficiency.


For more information about the studies, the SERVE Center at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro has posted a brief of impact findings from their evaluation of North Carolina early colleges. The American Institutes of Research has posted a brief of impact findings from their five-state evaluation of early colleges.  

Written by James Benson (James.Benson@ed.gov), a Program Officer for Postsecondary Education within NCER’s Policy and Systems Division.