Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

A2i: From Research to Practice at Scale in Education

This blog post is part of an interview series with education researchers who have successfully scaled their interventions.

Assessment-to-Instruction (A2i) is an online Teacher Professional Support System that guides teachers in providing Kindergarten to Grade 3 students individualized literacy instruction and assessments. Students complete the assessments independently online without the teacher taking time away from instruction. A2i generates instantaneous teacher reports with precise recommendations for each student and group recommendations. See a video demo here. Between 2003 and 2017, researchers at Florida State University (FSU) and Arizona State University (ASU), led by Carol Connor, developed and evaluated A2i with the support of a series of awards from IES and the National Institutes of Health. Findings from all publications on the A2i are posted here.

While results across seven controlled studies demonstrated the effectiveness of A2i, feedback from practitioners in the field demonstrated that implementation often required substantial amounts of researcher support and local district adaptation, and that the cost was not sustainable for most school district budgets. In 2014, the development firm Learning Ovations, led by Jay Connor, received an award from the Department of Education (ED) and IES’s Small Business Innovation Research program (ED/IES SBIR) to develop an technologically upgraded and commercially viable version of A2i to be ready to be used at scale in classrooms around the country. In 2018, with the support of a five-year Education Innovation and Research (EIR) expansion grant from ED totaling $14.65 million, A2i is now used in more than 110 schools across the country, with plans for further expansion. 

 

Interview with Carol Connor (CC) and Jay Connor (JC)

From the start of the research in the early 2000s, was it always the goal to develop a reading intervention that would one day be used on a wide scale?
CC: Yes and no. First, we had to answer the question as to whether individualization was effective in achieving student literacy outcomes. Once the research established that, we knew that this work would have wide-scale application.

When did you start thinking about a plan for distribution
CC: Before embarking on the cumulative results studies, in 2008, Jay said that we needed to know who the “customer” was… i.e., how purchasing decisions were made at scale.  His 2008 Phase I ED/IES SBIR was critical in shifting our research focus from individual classrooms to school districts as the key scaling point. 

Did you work with a technology transfer office at the university?
CC: Only to the extent of contractually clarifying intellectual property (IP) ownership and licensing. 

Who provided the support on the business side?
CC: Jay, who has an MBA/JD and has been a senior officer in two Fortune 100 companies was very instrumental in guiding our thinking of this evolution from important research to practical application. 


 Do you have any agreement about the IP with the university? What were the biggest challenges in this area?

JC: Yes, Learning Ovations has a 60-year renewable exclusive licensing agreement with FSU Foundation. FSU couldn’t have been better to work with.  Though there were expected back-and-forth elements of the original negotiations, it was clear that we shared the central vision of transforming literacy outcomes.  They continue to be a meaningful partner.

When and why was Learning Ovations first launched?
JC: In order to pursue SBIR funding we needed to be a for-profit company.  At first, I used my consulting business – Rubicon Partners LLP – as the legal entity for a 2008 Phase I award from ED/IES SBIR.  When we considered applying (and eventually won) a Fast Track Phase I & II award from SBIR in 2014, it was clear that we needed to create a full C – Corp that could expand with the scaling of the business, thus Learning Ovations was formed.

Who has provided you great guidance on the business side over the year? What did they say and do? 
JC: Having run large corporate entities and worked with small business start-ups in conjunction with Arizona State University (Skysong) and the University of California, Irvine (Applied Innovation at The Cove) and having taught entrepreneurship at The Paul Merage School of Business at UC Irvine, I had the experience or network to connect to whatever business guidance we needed.  Further, having attended a number of reading research conferences with Carol, I was quite conversant in the literacy language both from the research side and from the district decision maker’s side.

How do you describe the experience of commercializing the A2i? What were the biggest achievements and challenges in terms of preparing for commercialization?

JC: Having coached scores of entrepreneurs at various stages, I can safely say that there is no harder commercialization than one that must stay faithful to the underlying research.  A key strategy for most new businesses: being able to pivot as you find a better (easier) solution.  It is often circumscribed by the “active ingredients” of the underlying research.  Knowing this, we imbued Learning Ovations with a very strong outcomes mission – all children reading at, or above, grade level by 3rd grade.  This commitment to outcomes certainty is only assured by staying faithful to the research.  Thus, a possible constraint, became our uncontroverted strength.

Do you have advice for university researchers seeking to move their laboratory research in education into wide-spread practice? 
JC:  Start with the end in mind.  As soon as you envision wide-scale usage, learn as much as you can about the present pain and needs of your future users and frame your research questions to speak to this.  Implementation should not be an after-the-fact consideration; build it into how you frame your research questions. On one level you are asking simultaneously “will this work with my treatment group” AND “will this help me understand/deliver to my end-user group.”  I can’t imagine effective research being graphed onto a business after the fact.  One key risk that we see a number of researchers make is thinking in very small fragments whereas application (i.e., the ability to go to scale) is usually much more systemic and holistic.

In one sentence, what would say is most needed for gaining traction in the marketplace?
JC: If not you, as a researcher, someone on your team of advisors needs to know the target marketplace as well as you know the treatment protocols in your RCT.

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Carol Connor is a Chancellor’s Professor in the UC Irvine School of Education. Prior she was a professor of Psychology and a Senior Learning Scientist at the Learning Sciences Institute at ASU. Carol’s research focuses on teaching and learning in preschool through fifth grade classrooms – with a particular emphasis on reading comprehension, executive functioning, and behavioral regulation development, especially for low-income children.

Joseph “Jay” Connor, JD/MBA, is the Founder/CEO of Learning Ovations, Inc, the developer of the platform that has enabled the A2i intervention to scale.  Jay has 20+ years of experience in senior business management at the multi-billion dollar corporate level, and has experience in the nonprofit and public policy arenas.

This interview was produced by Edward Metz of the Institute of Education Sciences.

Lexia RAPID Assessment: From Research to Practice at Scale in Education

With a 2010 measurement grant award and a 2010 Reading for Understanding subaward from IES, a team at Florida State University (FSU) led by Barbara Foorman, developed a web-based literacy assessment for Kindergarten to Grade 12 students.

Years of initial research and development of the assessment method, algorithms, and logic model at FSU concluded in 2015 with a fully functioning prototype assessment called RAPID, the Reading Assessment for Prescriptive Instructional Data. A body of research demonstrates its validity and utility. In 2014, to ready the prototype for use in schools and to disseminate on a wide-scale basis, FSU entered into licensing agreements with the Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) to use the prototype assessment royalty-free as the Florida Assessment for Instruction in Reading—Florida Standards (FAIR-FS), and with Lexia Learning Systems LLC, a Rosetta Stone company (Lexia), to create its commercial solution: Lexia® RAPID™ Assessment program.  Today, RAPID (watch video) consists of adaptive screening and diagnostic tests for students as they progress in areas such as word recognition, vocabulary knowledge, syntactic knowledge and reading comprehension. Students use RAPID up to three times per year in sessions of 45 minutes or less, with teachers receiving results immediately to inform instruction.

RAPID is currently used by thousands of educators and students across the U.S. RAPID has been recommended in Massachusetts as a primary screening tool for students ages 5 and older, is on both the Ohio Department of Education List of Approved Screening Assessments and the Michigan Lists of Initial and Extensive Literacy Assessments.

Interview with Barbara Foorman (BF) of Florida State University and Liz Brooke (LB) of Lexia Learning  

Photograph of Barbara Foorman, PhD

From the start of the project, was it always a goal for the assessment to one day be ready to be used widely in schools?

BF: Yes!

How was the connection made with the Florida Department of Education?   

BF: FSU authors (Yaacov Petscher, Chris Schatschneider, and I) gave the assessment royalty-free in perpetuity to the FLDOE, with the caveat that they had to host and maintain it. The FLDOE continues to host and maintain the Grade 3 to 12 system but never completed the programming on the K to 2 system prototype. The assessment we provided to the FLDOE is called the Florida Assessment for Instruction in Reading (FAIR—FS).  We also went to FSU’s Office of Commercialization to create royalty and commercialization agreements.

How was the connection made with Lexia? 

BF: Dr. Liz (Crawford) Brooke, Chief Learning Officer of Lexia/Rosetta Stone, and Dr. Alison Mitchell, Director of Assessment at Lexia, had both previously worked at the Florida Center for Reading Research (FCRR). Liz served as the Director of Interventions, as well as a doctoral student under me, and Alison was a postdoctoral assistant in research. Both Liz and Alison had worked on previous versions of the assessment.

Photograph of Liz Brooke, PhD

LB: Also, both Yaacov and Chris had done some previous work with me on the Assessment Without Testing® technology, which was embedded in our K to 5 literacy curriculum solution, the Lexia® Core5 Reading® program.

Did Lexia have to do additional R&D to develop the FSU assessment into RAPID as a commercial offering for larger scale use? Were resources provided?  

LB: To build and scale the FSU prototype assessment into a commercial platform, our team of developers worked closely with the developers at FSU to reprogram certain software application and databases. We’ve also spent the last several years at Lexia working to translate the valuable results that RAPID generates into meaningful, dynamic and usable data and tools for schools and educators.  This meant designing customized teacher and administrator reports for our myLexia® administrator dashboard, creating a library of offline instructional materials for teachers, as well as developing both online and in-person training materials specifically designed to support our RAPID solution.

BF: They also hired a psychometrician to submit RAPID to the National Center for Intensive Intervention, and had their programmers develop capabilities to support access to RAPID via iPads as well as through the web-based application.

What kind of licensing agreement did you (or FSU) work out?  

BF: The prototype assessment method, algorithms, and logic model that were used to develop RAPID are licensed to Lexia by FSU. Some of these may also be available for FSU to license to other interested companies.  Details of FSU’s licensing agreement terms to Lexia are confidential, however, royalties received by FSU through its licensing arrangements are shared between authors, academic units, and the FSU Research Foundation, according to FSU policies. (Read here for more about commercialization of FSU technologies and innovations.)

Does FSU receive royalties from the sale of RAPID?

BF: Yes. The revenue flows through FSU’s royalty stream—percentages to the three authors and the colleges and departments that we three authors are housed in.

What factors did Lexia consider when determining to partner with FSU to develop RAPID?

LB: We considered the needs of our customers and the fact that we wanted to develop and offer a commercial assessment solution that would provide a great balance between efficiency from the adaptive technology, but also insight based on an emphasis on reading and language skills. At Lexia, we are laser-focused on literacy and supporting the skills students need to be proficient readers. The value of the research foundation of the assessment was a natural fit for that reason. RAPID emphasizes Academic Language skills in a way that many other screening tools miss - often you’d need a specialized assessment given by a speech language pathologist to assess the skills that RAPID captures in a relatively short period of time for a whole classroom of students.

Describe how RAPID is marketed and distributed to schools?

LB: The Lexia RAPID Assessment was designed and is offered as a K-12 universal screening tool that schools can use up to three times per year. We currently offer RAPID as a software as a service -based subscription on an annual cost per license basis that can be either purchased per student or per school.  We also encourage schools that utilize RAPID to participate in a yearlong Lexia Implementation Support Plan that includes professional learning opportunities and data coaching specific to the RAPID solution, to really understand and maximize the value of the data and instructional resources that they receive as part of using RAPID.

Do you have advice for university researchers seeking to move their laboratory research into wide-spread practice?

BF: Start working with your university’s office of commercialization sooner than later to help identify market trends and create Non-Disclosure Agreements. In the case of educational curricula and assessments, researchers need to be (a) knowledgeable about competing products, (b) able to articulate what’s unique and more evidence-based than the competitors’ products, and (c) know that educators will find their product useful.

LB: As Barbara noted, it is critical to identify the specific, real-world need that your work is addressing and to be able to speak to how that’s different than other solutions out there.  It’s also really important to make sure that the research you’ve done has really validated that it does meet the need you are stating, as this will be the foundation of your claims in the market.

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Barbara Foorman, Ph.D., is the Frances Eppes Professor of Education, Director Emeritus of FCRR, and Director of the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast at FSU. Barbara is an internationally known expert in reading with over 150 peer reviewed publications. Barbara was co-editor of the Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness and is a co-founder and on the board of the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness

Liz Brooke, Ph.D., CCC-SLP is the Chief Learning Officer for Rosetta Stone/Lexia Learning. Dr. Liz Brooke is responsible for setting the educational vision for the company's Language and Literacy products, including the Adaptive Blended Learning (ABL) strategy that serves as the foundation for Rosetta Stone’s products and services. Liz has been working in the education sector for over 25 years and has been published in several scholarly journals. Liz joined Lexia in 2010. Prior to that, she worked as the Director of Interventions at the FCRR and she has also served as a speech-language pathologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and in the public school setting. Liz began her career in the classroom as a first-grade teacher.

This interview was produced by Edward Metz of the Institute of Education Sciences. This post is the second in an ongoing series of blog posts examining moving from university research to practice at scale in education.

IES at the Conference on Computing and Sustainable Societies

Over the summer, researchers, technologists, and policymakers gathered in Accra, Ghana for the Association for Computing Machinery’s Conference on Computing and Sustainable Societies (ACM COMPASS) to discuss the role of information technologies in international development.

Two IES-funded researchers from Carnegie Mellon University’s Program in Interdisciplinary Education Research, Michael Madaio and Dr. Amy Ogan, shared their research on developing voice-based early literacy technologies and evaluating their efficacy with low-literate, bilingual families in the Ivory Coast. 

Their research draws on methods from human-computer interaction, the learning sciences, and information-communication technology for development, to design educational technologies that are culturally and contextually appropriate.

Although the COMPASS conference focused on cross-cultural applications and technology for development, the research presented has implications for U.S. based education researchers, practitioners, and policymakers.

For instance, while research provides evidence for the importance of parental involvement in early literacy, parents with low literacy in the target language – as in many bilingual immigrant communities in the U.S. – may not be able to support their children with the explicit, instrumental help suggested by prior research (for example, letter naming or bookreading). This suggests that there may be opportunities for technology to scaffold low-literate or English Learners (EL) parental support in other ways.

At the conference, researchers described interactive voice-based systems (known as “IVR”) that help low-literate users find out about crop yields, understand local government policies, and engage on social media.  

This body of work has implications for designers of learning technologies in the U.S. Many families may not have a smartphone, but basic feature phones are ubiquitous worldwide, including in low-income, immigrant communities in the U.S. Thus, designers of learning technologies may consider designing SMS- or voice-based (such as IVR) systems, while schools or school districts may consider how to use voice-based systems to engage low-literate or EL families who may not have a smartphone or who may not be able to read SMS information messages.

In a rapidly changing, increasingly globalized world, research at IES may benefit from increased international engagement with international research, both focusing specifically on education, as well as information technology research that has implications for educational research, practice, and policy.

This guest blog was written by Michael Madaio. He is an IES Predoctoral Fellow in the Program in Interdisciplinary Education Research at Carnegie Mellon University. He is placed in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute.

Fieldnotes: Reflections from an Adult Education Instructor on Research and Practice

Approximately 18 percent of US adults are at the lowest levels of literacy and nearly 30 percent are at the lowest levels of numeracy. The adult education system serves adults with low skills, but many education researchers know little about the students or the setting.  Recently, NCER convened a working group of adult education instructors, administrators, and researchers to discuss adult education’s research and dissemination needs.

Mr. Marcus Hall, an adult education instructor at the Community Learning Center and JEVS Human Services in Philadelphia, participated in this working group. He spoke with Meredith Larson, NCER program officer for adult education, about his experiences and interests in research. A copy of the working group meeting summary is available here.

Please describe your adult education classroom.

I once taught a 7-week course with students ranging from 18 to over 60 years old who had low literacy or math scores. I tried to contextualize instruction around their career interests and differentiate it to their learning needs. For example, some students were proficient readers but needed comprehension and math practice while others struggled with one or more of the basic components of reading. Somehow, I needed to help those learning phonics and those struggling with fluency while also challenging those ready for comprehension work. It’s hard to meet student needs in such a short time without teacher aides or adaptive technologies.

Why is research particularly important for adult education?

The challenges we face are monumental. Despite the large number of adults in need, adult education feels under-funded, under-staffed, and under-appreciated. Our students need complex, comprehensive, and well-rounded intervention, but we often have to make the most out of slightly targeted, inexpensive, and difficult-to-implement solutions. We need researchers to provide practical information and recommendations that we can use today to help adults learn and retain information.

Have you used research into your teaching?

Specifically, for reading instruction, I use techniques and activities built on evidence-based reading interventions. I start with tested diagnostic assessments to determine the needs of my students followed by strategies such as Collaborative Oral Reading or Repeated Reading exercises to support my students.

What topic during the meeting stood out to you?

The discussion about the workforce and professional development resonated with me. Many of our educators are part-time, come out of K-12, close to retirement, and may not have specific training for working with adults. They are asked to teach subjects they may not have any certification in, and their programs may not be able to provide the professional development they need. Just as we need supports for our learners, we need research to develop supports for us educators.

What additional research would you like to see?

Many of my students have had traumatic experiences that, when relived in the classroom, can cause them to disengage or struggle. I feel that understanding triggers and signs of discomfort has greatly enhanced my ability to help my students. Many educators want to leverage mental health approaches, like trauma-informed care, but we could use help learning how to integrate these strategies into instruction.

What do you hope researchers and educators keep in mind regarding one another?

It seems that researchers publish and promote their work to other researchers and then move to the next topic. This may be due to time constraints, publishing demands, or institutional requirements. I hope researchers take the time to come into our settings and observe us in action. I want researchers to work with us to help us understand and accept what is and isn’t working.

As for educators, we need to not try things and then stop using them when something unexpected occurs. At times, we revert back to what we know and are most comfortable with in the classroom. We educators can and must think critically about our norms and be ready and willing to enhance our practice with new information. 

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).