A cornerstone challenge in education is that too many learners in our nation can’t read well enough to succeed in their future education and employment. In addition, a disproportionate number of individuals with low literacy skills are members of underrepresented groups. Since IES’ founding in 2002, we have devoted millions of dollars to addressing this challenge, seeking to generate high-quality evidence about literacy practices that work for learners across our nation. Today, we can see how this 20-year investment focused on improving literacy has generated interventions and assessments that are transforming practices at scale and meeting the needs of learners and educators by incorporating evidence-based practices into the materials they use daily.
Since IES is an applied research agency, its mission is to provide scientific evidence on which to ground education practice and policy and to share this information in formats that are useful and accessible to educators, parents, policymakers, researchers, and the public. IES and its four centers work together to collect data on the current state of education; identify solutions and innovations through research, grant programs, and competitions; and evaluate the success of investments in order to identify solutions worthy of scaling across the nation’s education system.
The education research community is often accused of generating findings and products that sit in an attic corner unused. We aim to disrupt this perception and make it clear that our grantees’ knowledge and tools are both useful and used. Here I want to share a few examples to showcase how American tax dollars are transforming how millions of learners are learning to read.
IES Technologies and Google Classroom
In April 2022, we were excited to learn that Google had acquired the intellectual property rights for Moby.Read and SkillCheck, education technology products developed through IES programs by California-based Analytic Measures, Inc. (AMI). Google Classroom is advertised as an educators’ “all-in-one place for teaching and learning,” and many tools and apps are integrated into the system, including the IES-developed and IES-evaluated product, ASSISTments, which provides student feedback assistance and assessment data to teachers.
Moby.Read and SkillCheck are technology solutions created to provide teachers with a more efficient way to assess their students’ reading skills and provide them with individualized feedback. These technologies were developed over two decades with IES funding, a process that included prototype development starting in 2002, followed by ED/IES Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding to test Moby.Read in 2016 and 2017 and SkillCheck in 2020 and 2021, with validation research conducted all along the way.
Since their commercial launch in 2019, Moby.Read and SkillCheck have been used for more than 30,000 student assessments in 30 states.
IES Literacy Innovations and Scholastic
In September, Scholastic announced that the A2i (Assessment to Instruction) system—a system for literacy screening, progress monitoring and assessment, and instructional planning designed for classrooms and community organizations—and the Learning Ovations team that had developed and evaluated A2i would become part of its education solutions group. A2i provides educators with a system that enables them to deliver individualized reading. IES has invested in developing and evaluating this system since 2003, generating evidence of its effectiveness in improving young learners’ reading skills and comprehension. In 2020, we interviewed the creators of this system, who told the story of how their evidence-based system was prepared to scale. The system will continue to evolve so that it can serve all learners in our nation: IES is currently supporting the expansion of this system and its assessments for use with English learners.
A2i will help enhance Scholastic’s literacy platform, which integrates literacy screening, progress monitoring and assessment, instructional planning, and professional learning with their books and e-books, print- and technology-based learning programs, and other products that support children’s learning and literacy. With this acquisition, the IES-supported A2i system will have the opportunity to reach the 115,000 schools in the Scholastic community, potentially helping 3.8 million educators, 54 million students, and 78 million parents/caregivers in the United States.
Improving Literacy Outcomes Through Assessment
Teaching students how to read depends upon knowing what learners do and do not know. The acquisition of Moby.Read and SkillCheck highlights the recognition of that need by Google but is only one example of the IES commitment to developing and validating literacy assessments. While the two examples described above have the potential to touch many millions of learners, we have also invested in many other literacy assessments that are being widely used.
For example, since 2014, more than 2.5 million 3rd to 12th grade learners have been evaluated through a reading diagnostic system developed with IES funding: the Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading Aligned to Florida Standards. Another diagnostic tool for 3rd to 12th graders, available nationally via the Educational Testing Service (ETS), is Capti Assess with ETS® ReadBasix™. This diagnostic assessment system was developed and validated with funding from both NCER and ED/IES SBIR.
Educators in more than 13,000 U.S. schools rely on myIGDIs (currently distributed via Renaissance Learning) to evaluate the needs of their preschool learners. These individual growth and development indicators (IGDIs) are brief, easy-to-use measures of early language and literacy designed for use with preschool children. The development and validation of these measures have been (and are being) supported by multiple IES projects. Their current work seeks to expand the IGDIs for use with young Spanish-speaking and Hmong-speaking learners.
Scaling Evidence-Based Innovations to Accelerate Literacy Learning After COVID
Launched with funding from the American Rescue Plan, the Leveraging Evidence to Accelerate Recovery Nationwide Network (the LEARN Network) is adapting and preparing to scale existing, evidence-based products to assess students whose learning was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. IES has made four awards to product teams and one to a scaling lead, and these five teams will establish the LEARN Network together.
In addition to the LEARN Network’s generating of solutions to the nation’s most pressing challenges to COVID-19 recovery within the education sector, IES expects that the combined efforts of this network will lead to the establishment of best practices for the field for how to prepare to scale evidence-based products effectively.
Three of the four product teams are focused on preparing to scale literacy products developed and tested with prior IES funding. These innovations are designed for students in grades K–3 (Targeted Reading Instruction), fourth and fifth grades (Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies), and middle school (Strategic Adolescent Reading Intervention). The projects will work with students and teachers in elementary schools in Florida and North Carolina, in fourth grade classrooms in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, and in urban middle schools in the District of Columbia.
As I reflect on 20 years of investment in rigorous and relevant literacy research, I am hopeful. Our investment is transforming what we know and improving how that knowledge is being translated to ensure that every learner in our nation can read at or above grade level.
With our newest investment in supporting the systematic scaling of evidence-based practices, I believe that our educators and learners will have access to tools that support their needs for the next 20 years and beyond.
Elizabeth Albro (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the commissioner of the National Center for Education Research.