Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Culturally Responsive Language and Literacy Enrichment for Native American Children

As part of our recognition of Native American Heritage Month, we asked Diane Loeb to discuss her IES-funded research on culturally responsive language and literacy enrichment for Native American children.

Development of language and exposure to early literacy is critical to a child’s academic success. Speaking and listening skills are necessary to navigate learning at every level of school. According to NCES, American Indians/Alaska Native populations have the highest percentage of students who receive services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. There continues to be a significant need for Native American speech-language pathologists and audiologists, culturally sensitive assessment tools, and intervention approaches.

In 2006, I had the privilege to work with ten Native American college students who were recruited to the University of Kansas for the speech-language pathology and audiology master’s program. The students were from tribes across the country and varied greatly in their undergraduate preparation and world experiences. One thing that they had in common is that they wanted to make a difference in the lives of others—in particular, those who needed help with their speech, language, hearing skills, and related difficulties. As a result of working with these amazing students, I learned about their families, their customs, and their dreams. I also became painfully aware of the historical trauma Native Americans experience as a result of genocide, colonialism, and racism. In the twentieth century, Native Americans were sent to boarding schools and deprived of their language, culture, and their family.

As the students advanced in their academic studies and clinical work, it became clear to me that there were very few resources for identifying and intervening with language delay and language disorder. Under- and over-identification for special education services were highly possible due to our lack of understanding of Native American history, level of family assimilation, and inter-tribal differences. Although there were a handful of articles related to conducting assessments, very few studies addressed culturally sensitive and responsive intervention, where children’s cultural values and beliefs, experiences, and how they learn guide the assessment and intervention. The lack of culturally responsive tools for Native Americans propelled me to write an IES-funded grant proposal designed to implement culturally authentic intervention designed to be meaningful, sensitive, and respectful of Native American culture.

As a result of the IES grant we received, we developed a culturally based language and vocabulary intervention for Native American kindergarten children at risk for speech and language impairment, as well as a training program for teachers and speech-language pathologists. Language and literacy lessons were based on positive stories about Native Americans in storybooks and storytelling was taught through the venue of shared reading. Native American adults from the Native American school we were working with examined our materials to ensure that our activities were in line with the values and beliefs of the participating children. Pilot testing suggested that students made gains in literacy and language skills following intervention. 

My colleague, Grace McConnell, and I recently published an in-depth analysis of the narratives produced by the children in our initial studies. We found distinct trends in narrative structure and evaluative comments depending on student age and whether there were visual supports. What we found highlights the importance of culturally responsive language and literacy interventions for Native American children. There remains a great need for these interventions. From my work, I have learned several important lessons that may be useful to current and future researchers. The three most salient to me are

  • Include members of the tribe with whom you are working as part of the process of developing assessments and interventions for children who are Native American. This helps to ensure that your assessments and interventions are culturally sensitive.
  • Develop authentic materials that are culturally relevant, sensitive, and meaningful. We found several books with positive cultural lessons, such as respecting the earth, working together, and harmony with others and nature.
  • Remember that tribes can differ substantially from one another and that families may differ regarding cultural values and beliefs within a given tribe. When we designed literacy and language units around Native American storybooks, they often were related to specific tribes (such as Navajo or Apache). This gave us the opportunity to discuss different tribes in various parts of the country and for the children to learn about and compare their own customs and beliefs with another tribe. Students also learned about different family practices within their own tribe by sharing their family experiences with other children.

Following my work with Native American students and children, I pursued grant and research opportunities focused on the development of children born preterm of all races/ethnicities. I am working with neonatologists and nurses on studies to improve the developmental outcomes of children born preterm. Approximately 25% of children born preterm are later diagnosed with language delay or language disorder. I am currently designing NICU interventions to facilitate language, cognitive, motor, and social interaction skills that support academic success. A future goal is to focus my intervention work with Native American infants born preterm and their families. Providing facilitation of language and literacy early in development for these at-risk infants may be key for their later academic success.

Diane Loeb at Diane_Loeb@Baylor.edu is the Martin Family Endowed Chair of Communication Sciences and Disorders and Department Chair at Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She is a first-generation college graduate. This research was conducted while she was an Associate Professor at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, KS.

This guest blog was produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council, and Amy Sussman (Amy.Sussman@ed.gov), NCSER Program Officer.

Introducing the IES Listening and Learning Series

Over the last few months, staff from the National Center for Education Research, the National Center for Special Education Research, and the Standards and Review Office have partnered to increase our awareness of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility issues (DEIA) in the IES-grant making process. The goal is to broaden participation of institutions and researchers who apply for and receive IES grants, increase the diversity of IES panel reviewers, and encourage culturally responsive research across our grant competitions.

Based on feedback from our December 2020 technical working group Increasing Diversity and Representation of IES-funded Education Researchers, we are hosting a series of Listening and Learning sessions with researchers and other stakeholder groups. The first session, How Can the Institute of Education Sciences Support HBCU Applicants, was held during HBCU Week in partnership with the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity through Historically Black Colleges and Universities. We discussed lessons learned in our DEIA blog update and used this feedback to develop an HBCU-specific presentation of IES funding opportunities for HBCU Research and Innovation Week.

Over the next few months, IES will hold additional virtual Listening and Learning sessions, including Leveraging the Voices of Persons with Disabilities in Education Research. Unless specified, these sessions will be open to the public and will require registration. More information about the sessions and registration links will be available on the IES website. If you have questions about the events or would like to schedule one specific to your community, please contact IESVirtualTA@ed.gov.

Listening and Learning Sessions:

  • Leveraging Hispanic Voices in Education Research – December 6, 2021 at 1 pm ET. Hosted jointly with the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence and Economic Opportunity for Hispanics.
  • Leveraging Black Voices in Education Research – December 9, 2021 at 2 pm ET. Hosted jointly with the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Black Americans.
  • Leveraging Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Voices in Education Research – January 18, 2022 at 2:30pm ET. Hosted jointly with the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.
  • Leveraging Native American and Alaska Native Voices in Education Research – Date to be determined. Hosted jointly with the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity for Native Americans and Strengthening Tribal Colleges and Universities.
  • Leveraging the Voices of Persons with Disabilities in Education Research – Date to be determined.

 

National Special Education Day: Looking Back to Move Forward

Two students wearing masks and writing in notebooks in a classroom.

Today is National Special Education Day and marks nearly 50 years since the signing of the Individuals with Disabilities Act. Recognizing the tremendous hardship that the entire special education community has experienced during the pandemic, the staff at NCSER are celebrating the educators and students who strive for an accessible, high-quality system of special education.

The difficulty of the last two years cannot be understated. They have been filled with anxiety, isolation, and grief for so many. Few communities have been as directly impacted by school closures, reduced socialization, and the many limitations of the pandemic as students with disabilities. Many lost access to the schools and staff they rely upon, hindering identification efforts and preventing service delivery. Students with disabilities experienced more absenteeism and struggled more academically than their peers. And while there are few quantitative estimates of the impacts of remote learning on students with disabilities, the previous achievement gap students with disabilities experienced will likely grow worse as a result of lost instruction and services.

Despite these challenges, schools, parents, service providers, and students across the country have fought to adapt swiftly, exploring new technologies and other innovations. Several states have taken legislative action to provide additional support for students with disabilities, and greater attention has been placed on the obstacles that students with disabilities have faced before and during the pandemic, such as under-identification, discipline disparities, and inadequate support services. While the expected impacts on student achievement are deeply concerning, we are hopeful that our experiences during this time will bring into focus the importance of serving students with disabilities and spur on innovation towards that end. At NCSER, we remain committed to research that leads to actionable evidence to support the practitioner community as it adapts to and strives for a new, better normal.

Since NCSER was established in 2004, our mission has been to provide timely, relevant evidence to inform practice and improve educational outcomes for students with disabilities. We funded over 500 grants, allocating nearly $1 billion to support quality research on topics imperative to improving the educational opportunities for students with disabilities from birth through the transition to postsecondary education and career. NCSER funding has supported the development and testing of important interventions in a variety of domains. For example, Kids in Transition to School is an intensive school readiness intervention that has demonstrated positive impacts in literacy, self-regulation, and parent involvement for young children with co-occurring developmental disabilities and behavior problems. Numerous NCSER-funded interventions have demonstrated similarly positive outcomes in domains such as student behavior (CW-Fit), math achievement (Numbershire), and literacy (Early Literacy Skills Builder).

In addition to interventions, NCSER funding has supported the development and validation of assessments, including the Transition Assessment and Goal Generator for measuring non-academic skills associated with postsecondary education and employment and the Individual Growth and Development Indicators for screening and progress monitoring in infants and toddlers across various developmental domains. NCSER-funded research has also advanced our understanding of factors that support positive student outcomes, with a number of studies analyzing existing data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 to identify factors associated with positive transition outcomes for students with disabilities. This funding has also supported large-scale research and leadership initiatives, including Research Networks and Research and Development Centers designed to tackle complex issues requiring more in-depth study. For example, the Multi-Tiered Systems of Support Network is studying the integration of academic and behavioral support systems in elementary schools using diverse methods. Others include the Center for Improving the Learning of Fractions, National Center on Assessment and Accountability for Special Education, and Center for Literacy and Deafness.

These projects have made significant contributions to the field of special education research, yet they often reflect the iterative nature of education research. It can take a long time to produce programs and interventions supported by quality research. As the pandemic continues to impact students with disabilities across the country, it is clear that we must adapt, harnessing new innovations to build greater resilience into our system of public education. NCSER will use American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to provide more timely and relevant evidence for supporting students with disabilities through the Research to Accelerate Pandemic Recovery (324X) grant program, which requires researchers to address a pandemic-related problem, issue, or intervention important to education agencies and has the potential to significantly and rapidly improve outcomes for students with or at risk for disabilities. We look forward to announcing the awards in the future and sharing the insights they will provide as the field moves forward.

Most recently, IES has developed a partnership with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund transformative research in artificial intelligence to improve outcomes for students with disabilities. Using ARP funds, NCSER will support a grant competition held by NSF’s National Artificial Intelligence Research Institutes. Competed under Theme 6, Track B: AI-Augmented Learning for Individuals with Disabilities, applicants must focus on deploying artificial intelligence to meet the needs of learners with or at risk for disabilities and address the pandemic’s negative impacts on these students. Innovative research like this will be vital to meeting the emergent needs of pandemic recovery, and IES is excited to build on this collaboration with NSF.

For nearly 18 years, we have sought to advance research and practice to support students with disabilities. Though institutions, terminology, and best practices continue to evolve, one thing remains unchanged— good science can deliver transformative improvements in educating students with disabilities. We are hopeful that with greater knowledge and understanding of the changes that have occurred during the pandemic, our system of educating students with disabilities will be made more equitable for all seasons and more effective, even in the face of crisis. As we spend our second National Special Education Day amid a continuing pandemic, we hope you will join us in reflecting on how far the field of special education research has come, looking forward to new and innovative approaches to research, and, most of all, celebrating the unwavering courage and resilience of this community.

This blog was written and edited by Bennett Lunn (Bennett.Lunn@ed.gov), Truman-Albright Fellow for the National Center for Education Research and the National Center for Special Education Research, and Amy Sussman (Amy.Sussman@ed.gov), Program Officer for the National Center for Special Education Research.

The ED/IES SBIR 2021 Year in Review and a Look Ahead to 2022

The Department of Education’s Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR), administered by IES, provides awards for the research and development of new, commercially viable education technology products. Known as ED/IES SBIR, the program’s goal is to grow a portfolio of scalable, research-based products that address pressing needs across topic areas in education and special education.

From an education technology perspective, 2021 will surely be remembered as the “year after” the onset of the global pandemic—where demand for effective education tools and platforms skyrocketed and developers pivoted to meet the needs of the return to in-person and hybrid learning environments. Dozens of ED/IES SBIR-developers contributed to these efforts, with millions of students and educators using their products to support remote and in-person learning in 2021. This blog shares some highlights from the ED/IES SBIR program in 2021 and provides a preview of its recently released 2022 solicitations.

The ED Games Expo

IES hosted the 8th annual ED Games Expo virtually in June 2021 to provide resources to the public in response to pandemic-related challenges. As part of the virtual Expo, 170 IES- and government-supported education technology products were available at no cost to educators and students around the country. The Expo also presented 35 virtual events for the public that have been viewed more than 10,000 times on YouTube, highlighted by a Kick Off Show introduced by Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and including master classes for educators and behind-the-sciences “how to” events for students. Dates for the next ED Games Expo will be announced soon.

New ED/IES SBIR Awards

ED/IES SBIR announced 29 new 2021 awards, including 18 for prototype development and 11 for full-scale education technology product development. The awards continue trends from recent years.

One exciting trend is the employment of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language processing, or algorithms to personalize student learning. Examples include projects by Myriad Sensors (Pocket Lab) to develop an AI engine to assess and provide feedback to students while doing physical science experiments, Analytic Measures Inc. (AMI) to create an natural language processing engine to recommend personalized practice activities based on a student’s level of oral reading fluency, and by KooApps and Kings Peak Technology to use machine learning to provide immediate vocabulary support to English learners.

Another trend in 2021 is the development of new products to scale existing IES-funded research. Projects that build on prior IES research include: Nimble Hiring to develop a platform to improve school district hiring and educator retention, xSEL Labs to create a platform for social and behavioral learning innovations, and Emberex to create a user interface with reporting and recommendation features to meet modern standards for a reading assessment.

ED/IES SBIR also continues to support projects in new areas. For example, three new projects are developing music-based technologies to support learning (Muzology, Edify, and Lyrics to Learn).

Highlights From Individual Projects in the Portfolio

Many ED/IES SBIR-supported companies enjoyed newsworthy successes in 2021.

ED/IES SBIR Releases Two 2022 Program Solicitations

On December 1, 2021, ED/IES SBIR released two new solicitations. Phase I solicitation #91990022R0001 is a request for proposals for $250,000 awards for 8 months for the research, development, and evaluation of new prototypes of education and special education technology products. Direct to Phase II solicitation #91990022R0002 is a request for proposals for $1,000,000 for 2 years for R&D and evaluation to develop new technology to prepare existing researcher-developed evidence-based innovations (products, interventions, practices) for use at scale, and to plan for commercialization. The goal is to support the successful transfer of research to practice at scale in education and special education. Proposals for both solicitations are due February 1, 2022.

Stay tuned for updates in 2022 on Twitter and Facebook as IES continues to support innovative forms of technology.


Edward Metz is a research scientist and the program manager for the Small Business Innovation Research Program at the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. Please contact Edward.Metz@ed.gov with questions or for more information.

 

Supporting Native Students and Conducting Research with Tribal Communities: An Interview with Nia Gregory, Executive Director of Education of the Wilton Rancheria Tribe

The Pathways to the Education Sciences Program was designed to inspire students from groups that have been historically underrepresented in doctoral study to pursue careers in education research. Pathways Alumna, Nia Gregory, is currently the Executive Director of Education of the Wilton Rancheria Tribe. In honor of Native American Heritage Month, we asked Director Gregory, who is of Cherokee and Yuchi descent, to discuss her career journey. This is what she shared with us.

How did you become interested in a career in education?

Honestly, it was a long journey to where I am. I changed my major three times in undergrad from nursing to microbiology and then finishing with my bachelor’s degree in ethnic studies with a concentration in Native American studies. I was so disappointed with the lack of access to nursing programs and the increase of unhealthy competition; I had a perfect GPA and TEAS test scores, but I was denied for 3 years! That’s a long time for someone without many resources to stay in school. I switched to microbiology with the intent to teach. However, this was the first time I experienced how chilly the climate can be for women in the science fields. I felt that no matter how great I did, my professors gave credit to my male counterparts. Then, I took an elective class with the Department of Ethnic Studies, and I fell in love with the inclusion, transparency, and truth of it all. Never had I experienced the privilege of being taught my own history by people who represented my culture. I realized that I wanted to be that representation for others; I wanted to work towards correcting the narrative for Native peoples.

How did participation in the Pathways to the Education Sciences training program at California State University, Sacramento (Sacramento State) shape your career journey?

The mentors in the program and the work experience gave me a clearer vision of how I could support Native students in the future. It also helped me prepare for graduate school and keep me on track. My mentor, Heidi Sarabia, made sure I was passionate about my research, which I carry with me today. She also taught me different aspects of the research process, including the IRB process, which gave me the confidence to conduct research during my graduate studies. As part of the Pathways program, we also had internship opportunities, where I was able to see the wonderful work that the College of Education at Sacramento State was doing. I learned many skills with this internship with the Capitol Education Institute under the amazing leadership of Pia Wong. I was also able to pick up an exceptionally valuable skill through Pathways Director Jana Noel’s grant writing workshop. However, I couldn’t help the Native community directly in that position. I decided I wanted to work closer with Native youth, so I applied for a position at Wilton Rancheria’s Department of Education.

What has been the biggest challenge you have encountered, and how did you overcome the challenge?

Geez, it’s hard to pick just one! For a long time, it felt like every challenge was piling up, and barriers were getting higher. I was overwhelmed having to navigate college alone with limited resources. I dropped out of college and felt so defeated. I have always struggled with my mental health; regulating medications for bipolar disorder is exceptionally tiring. It wasn’t necessarily a specific tangible thing rather than a long slump. I wasn’t medically regulated, and I wasn’t treating myself or those around me well. In 2016, I took care of my father and watched him quickly decline and slip away from me. When he passed, it hit me hard, and I felt lost and knew I needed to make some moves. I decided to go back to school. Returning to college a bit older and more mature was a great experience. All in all, it took me 9 years to finish my undergraduate degree, but I’m grateful I was able to experience college in a healthier mindset with a wider worldview.

As the Executive Director of Education for the Wilton Rancheria Tribe, what advice would you give education researchers who wish to work with tribal communities?

The Native community is reasonably wary of researchers, especially research coming from outside of the community. So being transparent about your intention with data collection and interest in our community is key. Recognize that the community is not a subject of study, and it is not the community’s responsibility to aid in their research. As an educator, I feel it’s important to correct the erasure narrative of indigenous peoples in this country. However, I also feel it is not Tribal communities’ responsibility to catch people up to speed on the Native American experience. If somebody wishes to work with a Tribal community, they should take the time to learn about that community before reaching out to Tribes. I would also recommend going through a Tribal government or Tribal sponsored program. Recognize that you may be turned down, and the correct response is to graciously accept that. Be patient because forming this connection and trust takes time. Like my momma says, “your urgency is not my emergency.” I would also like to leave readers with a resource, a book by Devon A Mihesuah, So You Want to Write About American Indians?

How can the broader education research community better support the careers and scholarship of Native American students and researchers?

I know it sounds very simple, but by making space. Not just for the individual but for the worldview of Native people. When I was in graduate school, I struggled with getting books and literature from Native authors in our university library. I was advocating for a Native student space on top of correcting professors when they were blatantly continuing the erasure narrative of Native peoples. Sometimes, good intentions aren’t enough. Educators of all stages of learning need cultural competency training. We are often an asterisk or marked as “other” or often “too few to include” in data and graphs. Even well-intentioned research on race and ethnicity is exclusive and doesn’t make space for the Native community.

What advice would you give Native American students and scholars who wish to pursue a career in education research?

That it’s okay to be mad but use that to turn it into passion. I was frustrated for so long with trying to find information or fighting a system that only values certain sources. Also, know that there are people out there that know the barriers you are facing. I have reached out to Native authors and researchers, and of all the people I have contacted responded with empathy and provided me with resources. Don’t feel like you need to reinvent the wheel; reach out to Native educators and fellow students. Take Native studies courses. Get involved in a Native club for support. Talk to your professors. I cannot stress that enough!

Remember that your work will help the next generation, and then work for seven generations ahead. You are a living embodiment of what it means to resist and be resilient. You are your ancestors’ dreams come true.

All my relations


Nia Gregory is the Executive Director of Education of the Wilton Rancheria Tribe and focuses on the promotion of academic excellence of the Tribe.

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see here) showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. As part of our Native American Heritage Month blog series, we are focusing on Native American researchers and fellows, as well as researchers that focus on the education of Native American students.

This guest blog was produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council. She is also the program officer for the Pathways to the Education Sciences Research Training Program.