Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Computational Thinking: The New Code for Success

Computational thinking is a critical set of skills that provides learners with the ability to solve complex problems with data. The importance of computational thinking has led to numerous initiatives to infuse computer science into all levels of schooling. High-quality research, however, has not been able to keep up with the demand to integrate these skills into K–12 curricula. IES recently funded projects under the Education Research Grants, the Small Business Innovation Research, and the Low-Cost, Short-Duration Evaluation of Education Interventions programs that will explore computational thinking and improve the teaching and learning of computer science.

 

  • Greg Chung and his team at the University of California, Los Angeles will explore young children’s computational thinking processes in grades 1 and 3. The team will examine students’ thought processes as they engage in visual programming activities using The Foos by codeSpark.
  • The team from codeSpark will develop and test a mobile game app for grade schoolers to learn coding skills through creative expression. The game supports teachers to integrate computational thinking and coding concepts across different lesson plans in English Language Arts and Social Studies.
  • VidCode will develop and test a Teacher Dashboard to complement their website where students learn to code. The dashboard will guide teachers in using data to improve their instruction.
  • Lane Educational Service District will work with researchers from the University of Oregon to evaluate the impact of the district’s Coder-in-Residence program on student learning and engagement.

IES is eager to support more research focused on exploring, developing, evaluating, and assessing computational thinking and computer science interventions inclusive of all learners. IES program officer, Christina Chhin, will speak at the Illinois Statewide K-12 Computer Science Education Summit on September 20, 2019 to provide information about IES research funding opportunities and resources focusing on computer science education.

Equity Through Innovation: New Models, Methods, and Instruments to Measure What Matters for Diverse Learners

In today’s diverse classrooms, it is both challenging and critical to gather accurate and meaningful information about student knowledge and skills. Certain populations present unique challenges in this regard – for example, English learners (ELs) often struggle on assessments delivered in English. On “typical” classroom and state assessments, it can be difficult to parse how much of an EL student’s performance stems from content knowledge, and how much from language learner status. This lack of clarity makes it harder to make informed decisions about what students need instructionally, and often results in ELs being excluded from challenging (or even typical) coursework.

Over the past several years, NCER has invested in several grants to design innovative assessments that will collect and deliver better information about what ELs know and can do across the PK-12 spectrum. This work is producing some exciting results and products.

  • Jason Anthony and his colleagues at the University of South Florida have developed the School Readiness Curriculum Based Measurement System (SR-CBMS), a collection of measures for English- and Spanish-speaking 3- to 5-year-old children. Over the course of two back-to-back Measurement projects, Dr. Anthony’s team co-developed and co-normed item banks in English and Spanish in 13 different domains covering language, math, and science. The assessments are intended for a variety of uses, including screening, benchmarking, progress monitoring, and evaluation. The team used item development and evaluation procedures designed to assure that both the English and Spanish tests are sociolinguistically appropriate for both monolingual and bilingual speakers.

 

  • Daryl Greenfield and his team at the University of Miami created Enfoque en Ciencia, a computerized-adaptive test (CAT) designed to assess Latino preschoolers’ science knowledge and skills. Enfoque en Ciencia is built on 400 Spanish-language items that cover three science content domains and eight science practices. The items were independently translated into four major Spanish dialects and reviewed by a team of bilingual experts and early childhood researchers to create a consensus translation that would be appropriate for 3 to 5 year olds. The assessment is delivered via touch screen and is equated with an English-language version of the same test, Lens on Science.

  • A University of Houston team led by David Francis is engaged in a project to study the factors that affect assessment of vocabulary knowledge among ELs in unintended ways. Using a variety of psychometric methods, this team explores data from the Word Generation Academic Vocabulary Test to identify features that affect item difficulty and explore whether these features operate similarly for current, former, as well as students who have never been classified as ELs. The team will also preview a set of test recommendations for improving the accuracy and reliability of extant vocabulary assessments.

 

  • Researchers led by Rebecca Kopriva at the University of Wisconsin recently completed work on a set of technology-based, classroom-embedded formative assessments intended to support and encourage teachers to teach more complex math and science to ELs. The assessments use multiple methods to reduce the overall language load typically associated with challenging content in middle school math and science. The tools use auto-scoring techniques and are capable of providing immediate feedback to students and teachers in the form of specific, individualized, data-driven guidance to improve instruction for ELs.

 

By leveraging technology, developing new item formats and scoring models, and expanding the linguistic repertoire students may access, these teams have found ways to allow ELs – and all students – to show what really matters: their academic content knowledge and skills.

 

Written by Molly Faulkner-Bond (former NCER program officer).

 

Inequity Persists in Gifted Programs

The National Center for Research on Gifted Education (NCRGE) at the University of Connecticut, in Phase I of a rigorous research agenda, examined how academically-gifted students are identified and served in three states in order to provide systematic information for the field. The research team focused especially on the representation of historically underserved groups in gifted education.

NCER recently spoke with the Center’s Principal Investigator, Del Siegle, a nationally-recognized expert on gifted education. 

What is the biggest challenge facing gifted educators today?

Unfortunately, many of our nation’s brightest students from underserved populations (e.g., Black, Hispanic, English Learner, and/or free and reduced-price lunch eligible) are not being identified as gifted and do not receive gifted education services. About 80% of states that completed the most recent National Association for Gifted Children’s State of the States survey indicated that underrepresentation of students from underserved populations was an important or very important issue in their state.

What did you find in your study of identification of underserved students for gifted programs?

During Phase I of our work, we analyzed standardized student achievement test data from three states that mandate gifted identification and programming. We found that schools were less likely to identify students from underserved groups as gifted—even in cases where the underserved child had similar achievement test scores. For example, students with similar test scores who received free and reduced price lunch were less than half as likely to be identified as gifted as students who didn’t receive free or reduced price lunch.

What identification practices are schools using?

Cognitive tests and teacher nominations were the most common identification tools across the three states we studied. The majority (90% to 96%) of the districts in all three states used these practices to select students. Identification for gifted services occurs most often in third grade. Districts seldom reassess identified students once they are identified and only about half reassess non-identified students in elementary schools at regular intervals. Screening all children and using a variety of identification criteria showed promise for reducing under-identification in one of our states.

How are students being serviced in gifted programs?

In the three states we studied, schools primarily focused on critical thinking and creativity followed by communication skills, research skills, and self-directed projects.  Mathematics and reading language arts acceleration was much less of a focus and were ranked among the bottom third of focus areas. Gifted students seldom receive gifted programming in core academic areas. Only 29% of the schools provided a separate gifted curriculum in reading/language arts. Only 24% of the schools had a separate gifted curriculum in mathematics. Gifted students spent 5 hours or more each week in regular education mathematics and reading/language arts classrooms. Of the 74% of schools reporting using pull-out services, only 32% offered separate gifted curriculum in reading/language arts and 28% offered separate gifted curriculum in math. 

What about gifted student growth in mathematics and reading?

In 3rd grade, gifted students are approximately 2 grade levels ahead of students not identified as gifted, but gifted students grow more slowly than non-gifted students between 3rd and 5th grade. Most grouping arrangements for gifted students had no impact on the growth of academic achievement. We believe much of this has to do with the limited advanced mathematics and reading instruction gifted students receive in their classrooms and gifted programs.

What is the next step in your research?

We are examining the effect of attending dedicated gifted classes in core content areas on academic achievement in reading/language arts and mathematics in a large, ethnically, economically, and linguistically diverse urban school district. Our research will compare the reading/language arts and mathematics achievement of gifted students in three different settings: schools offering a full-time gifted-only program with gifted classes in all subject areas, schools offering a part-time gifted-only program with gifted classes in mathematics, and schools offering a part-time gifted-only program with gifted classes in reading/language arts.

New Reports and Resources Around ELs and STEM

In recent months, several federal reports and resources related to English learner (EL) learning and education related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) have been released.

First, the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) released its third “data story” about ELs in US schools. This story, which builds on two previously released stories about the characteristics and educational experiences of ELs, focuses specifically on ELs’ NAEP performance and high school graduation rates. Through interactive infographics (many of which are built on data from the National Center for Education Statistics), the story shows that higher percentages of ELs are proficient in math than in reading, but that nearly half of all states experienced declines in the number of ELs who scored proficient in math between 2009 and 2017. The story also shows that graduation rates for ELs improved by 10 percentage points between 2010-11 and 2015-16 (from 57 percent to 67 percent), but still fall well below the rates for non-ELs (84 percent). While interesting and informative, the data story also underscores the necessity of research and development to produce better resources and information to support EL learning.

In that vein, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives. This report examines what we know about ELs’ learning, teaching, and assessment in STEM subjects and provides guidance on how to improve STEM learning outcomes for these students. It reflects the consensus of a committee of EL experts that was chaired by NCER and NCSER grantee Dr. David Francis and included past grantees Dr. Okhee Lee and Dr. Mary Schleppegrell alongside a dozen other experts in EL education, STEM education, and teaching. One of the report’s central conclusions is that ELs develop proficiency in both STEM subjects and language when their classroom teachers provide them with opportunities for meaningful interaction and actively support both content and language learning. Given that many STEM teachers do not receive preparation to teach in this way, the report provides several recommendations to improve pre-service and in-service training. It also includes recommendations for how developers and publishers might produce better instructional materials and assessments to help both teachers and EL students. 

Efforts of both types – instructional preparation and development of new materials – may be further supported by two new toolkits released by the Office of Education Technology. The toolkits are designed for educators and developers, and each is organized around five specific guiding principles to help the targeted group approach education technology with ELs’ unique needs in mind. The principles for developers emphasize the importance of thinking ahead about EL needs for those who wish to make products for this population. Meanwhile, the educator principles center on issues of awareness, and encourage teachers to learn more about the features, platforms, and resources that are available for ELs in the world of education technology. The principles also complement one another – for example, developers are encouraged to offer instruction-focused professional development, and educators are encouraged to seek out the same.

Brought together, these resources provide a snapshot of ELs’ mathematics achievement, a summary of research evidence about learning and instruction for ELs in STEM, and a set of principles to guide instruction and development efforts in the technology space moving forward. They also make a clear case for continued investment in R&D efforts to support STEM learning for both EL students and their teachers. Since 2010, the National Center for Education Research has invested nearly $20 million across 13 research and researcher-practioner partnership grants that have focused on STEM learning and ELs. Several such grants are coming to a close in the 2019 fiscal year; watch this space for future blog posts about the products and findings from these projects.

 

Exploring New Insights and Approaches to Closing the Gender Achievement Gap in STEM

Gender achievement gaps in education, particularly in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) domain continue to persist. On the 2015 NAEP, male students continue to significantly outperform female students in science in Grades 8 and 12, and on the 2017 NAEP, male students outperformed female students in mathematics at Grades 4 and 8. In addition, a recent study by Reardon and colleagues supported by IES found that the gender achievement gap favoring male students in mathematics was related to local socioeconomic conditions, with the gap being more prevalent in more socioeconomically advantaged school districts.

Although we know that the gender achievement gap is pervasive, particularly in STEM, what can we do to help close the gap? Previously, IES released a Practice Guide on Encouraging Girls in Math and Science that included evidence-based recommendations for how practitioners can better support and encourage girls to pursue math- and science-related fields. Adding to this research base, three new FY 2018 IES grants funded under the Education Research Grants program will explore potential causes and correlates of gender differences in achievement that can provide new insights and approaches to closing the gender achievement gap in STEM.  Here is a brief summary of these studies along with their potential contributions to research, practice, and policy.

Gender Stereotypes in STEM – Although many factors influence the gender gap in STEM, research points to gender difference in students' interest and motivation in STEM as a major contributor to later disparities in STEM majors and careers. Allison Master and colleagues will explore how and when gender stereotypes about academic fields emerge, the relationship between stereotypes and motivation in STEM fields, and whether teaching a growth mindset (i.e., the belief that intelligence is malleable) can change stereotypes and improve students' sense of belonging, self-efficacy, interest, and outcomes in STEM in grades 2 to 8. The results from this study will be used to inform the development of future interventions to reduce the impact of STEM-gender stereotypes.

The Relation of Gender-Integrated Classroom Climate to Students' Academic Outcomes - Because boys and girls are typically taught together in classrooms, there is the assumption that boys and girls are cooperative and integrated in their classroom activities, yet evidence suggests this may not be the case.  Some classroom climates facilitate gender integration, while other classroom climates may perpetuate gender segregation where students tend to only work with classmates of the same gender. Carol Lynn Martin and colleagues will examine how gender integration relates to 4th to 6th grade students' school-related engagement and academic perceptions and achievement. The results from this study will provide preliminary evidence of potentially promising practices for gender integration in classrooms that can help girls feel more comfortable working with boys and may encourage persistence in STEM.

Underrepresented Student Learning in Online Introductory STEM College Courses – Online instruction has the potential to make course content more accessible to a larger number of students, thereby strengthening the STEM pipeline. Michelle Perry and colleagues will explore the interaction among various characteristics of online instruction and postsecondary students' persistence in STEM courses. In particular, the researchers will explores how students traditionally underrepresented in STEM (e.g., women, first-generation students, minorities) benefit from or are impeded by online course features (e.g., course videos, discussion boards). The results from this study will provide a theory of postsecondary online STEM instruction that could strengthen persistence in STEM among women and others traditionally underrepresented in STEM. 

Written by Christina Chhin, Education Research Analyst, National Center for Education Research