Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

From the NCER Commissioner: How IES’ Investment in Literacy Is Changing Education

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 (elizabeth.albro@ed.gov) is the commissioner of the National Center for Education Research.

Investing in Next Generation Technologies for Education and Special Education

The Department of Education’s (ED) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, administered by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), funds entrepreneurial developers to create the next generation of technology products for students, teachers, and administrators in education and special education. The program, known as ED/IES SBIR, emphasizes an iterative design and development process and pilot research to test the feasibility, usability, and promise of new products to improve outcomes. The program also focuses on planning for commercialization so that the products can reach schools and end-users and be sustained over time.

In recent years, millions of students in tens of thousands of schools around the country have used technologies developed through ED/IES SBIR, including more than million students and teachers who used products for remote teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

ED/IES SBIR Announces 2022 Awards

IES has made 10 2022 Phase I awards for $250,000*. During these 8 month projects, teams will develop and refine prototypes of new products and test their usability and initial feasibility. All awardees who complete a Phase I project will be eligible to apply for a Phase II award in 2023.

IES has made nine 2022 Phase II awards, which support further research and development of prototypes of education technology products that were developed under 2021 ED/IES SBIR Phase I awards. In these Phase II projects, teams will complete product development and conduct pilot studies in schools to demonstrate the usability and feasibility, fidelity of implementation, and the promise of the products to improve the intended outcomes.

IES also made one Direct to Phase II award to support the research, development, and evaluation of a new education technology product to ready an existing researcher-developed evidence-based intervention for use at scale and to plan for commercialization. The Direct to Phase II project is awarded without a prior Phase I award. All Phase II and the Direct to Phase II awards are for $1,000,000 for two-years. Across all awards, projects address different ages of students and content areas.

The list of all 2022 awards is posted here. This page will be updated with the two additional Phase I awards after the contracts are finalized.

 

 

The 2022 ED/IES SBIR awards highlight three trends that continue to emerge in the field of education technology.

Trend 1: Projects Are Employing Advanced Technologies to Personalize Learning and Generate Insights to Inform Tailored Instruction

About two-thirds of the new projects are developing software components that personalize teaching and learning, whether through artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language processing, automated speech recognition, or algorithms. All these projects will include functionalities afforded by modern technology to personalize learning by adjusting content to the level of the individual learner, offer feedback and prompts to scaffold learning as students progress through the systems, and generate real-time actionable information for educators to track and understand student progress and adjust instruction accordingly. For example:

  • Charmtech Labs and Literably are fully developing reading assessments that provide feedback to inform instruction.
  • Sirius Thinking and studio:Sckaal are developing prototypes to formatively assess early grade school students in reading.
  • Sown To Grow and xSEL Labs are fully developing platforms to facilitate student social and emotional assessments and provide insights to educators.
  • Future Engineers is fully developing a platform for judges to provide feedback to students who enter STEM and educational challenges and contests.
  • Querium and 2Sigma School are developing prototypes to support math and computer science learning respectively.
  • ,Soterix is fully developing a smart walking cane and app for children with visual impairments to learn to navigate.
  • Alchemie is fully developing a product to provide audio cues to blind or visually impaired students learning science.
  • Star Autism Support is developing a prototype to support practitioners and parents of children with autism spectrum disorder.

Trend 2: Projects Focusing on Experiential and Hands-On Learning
Several new projects are combining hardware and software solutions to engage students through pedagogies employing game-based, hands-on, collaborative, or immersive learning:

  • Pocketlab is fully developing a matchbox-sized car with a sensor to collect physical science data as middle school students play.
  • GaiaXus is developing a prototype sensor used for environmental science field experiments.
  • Mind Trust is a developing a virtual reality escape room for biology learning.
  • Smart Girls is developing a prototype science game and accompanying real-world hands-on physical activity kits.
  • Indelible Learning is developing a prototype online multi-player game about the electoral college.
  • Edify is fully developing a school-based program for students to learn about, create, and play music.

Trend 3: Projects to Advance Research to Practice at Scale

Several new awards will advance existing education research-based practices into new technology products that are ready to be delivered at scale:

  • INSIGHTS is fully developing a new technology-delivered version to ready an NIH- and IES-supported social and emotional intervention for use at scale.
  • xSEL Laband Charmtech Labs (noted above) are building on prior IES-funded research-based interventions to create scalable products.
  • Scrible is developing an online writing platform in partnership with the National Writers Project based on prior Department of Education-funded research. 

 


*Note: Two additional 2022 Phase I awards are forthcoming in 2022. The contracts for these awards are delayed due to a back-up in the SAM registration process.

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

Edward Metz (Edward.Metz@ed.gov) is the Program Manager of the ED/IES SBIR program.

Michael Leonard (Michael.Leonard@ed.gov) is the Program Analyst of the ED/IES SBIR program.

 

Improving Academic Achievement through Instruction in Self-Regulated Strategy Development: The Science Behind the Practice

Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) is an evidence-based instructional approach characterized by active, discussion-based, scaffolded, and explicit learning of knowledge of the writing process; general and genre-specific knowledge; academic vocabulary; and validated strategies for teaching reading and writing. IES has supported multiple research studies on SRSD for students with learning disabilities in K-12 and postsecondary general education settings. SRSD is used in as many as 10,000 classrooms across the United States and in 12 other countries. In this interview blog, we spoke with Dr. Karen Harris, the developer of SRSD, to learn more about this effective instructional strategy, the IES research behind it, and next steps for further scaling of SRSD so that more students can benefit.

What led you to develop the Self-Regulated Strategy Development model?

Photo of Karen Harris

I began developing what became the SRSD model of instruction in the 1980s, based on my experiences tutoring and teaching. No one theory could address all of what I needed to do as a teacher, or all that my students needed as learners. SRSD instruction pulls together what has been learned from research across theories of learning and teaching. It is a multicomponent instructional model that addresses affective, behavioral, and cognitive aspects of learning. Further, SRSD instruction is intended to take place in inclusive classrooms, is discourse-driven, integrates social-emotional supports, and involves learning in whole class and group settings with peer collaboration. SRSD research started in writing because Steve Graham (my husband and colleague) was deeply interested in writing, and we co-designed the initial studies. Today, SRSD instruction research exists across a wide variety of areas, such as reading comprehension, mathematical problem solving, fractions, social studies, and science.

What are some of the key findings about this instructional strategy?

SRSD has been recognized by the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) as an evidence-based practice with  consistently positive effects on writing outcomes.  A 2013 meta-analysis of SRSD for writing found that SRSD was effective across different research teams, different methodologies, differing genres of writing (such as narrative or persuasive), and students with diverse needs including students with learning disabilities and emotional and behavioral disorders. Effect sizes in SRSD research are typically large, exceeding .85 in meta-analyses and commonly ranging from 1.0 to 2.55 across writing and affective outcome measures.

Over the years, IES has supported a number of studies on SRSD, which has led to some key findings that have practical implications for instruction from elementary school through college.

Do you know how many teachers use SRSD in their classrooms?

It is hard to be sure how prevalent SRSD instruction is in practice, but there are two groups dedicated to scaling up SRSD in schools— thinkSRSD and SRSD Online—both of which I voluntarily advise. Together, they have reached over 300,000 students and their teachers in the United States. In addition, I am following or in touch with researchers or teachers in 12 countries across Europe, North America, Australia, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

What’s next for research on SRSD?  

Many students have difficulty writing by the time they get to upper elementary school. Currently, there is an ongoing development project that is adapting and testing SRSD for children in the lower elementary grades to support their oral language skills, transcription, and writing strategy skills. The research team is in the process of conducting a small-scale randomized controlled study and will have findings soon.

Beyond this study, there are many future directions for SRSD research, including further work in different genres of writing, different grades, and involving families in the SRSD process. More work on how to integrate SRSD strategies into instruction across content areas, such as social studies or science is also needed. Despite the evidence base for and interest in SRSD, a major challenge is scaling up SRSD in schools. We and other researchers have identified numerous barriers to this goal. We also need research on working with administrators, schools, and teachers to use writing more effectively as a tool for self-expression, self-advocacy, and social and political engagement. Writing can also be an important and effective means of addressing issues of equity and identity, and little SRSD research has been done in these areas.

Dr. Karen Harris is Regents Professor and the Mary Emily Warner Professor at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Her current research focuses on refining a web-based intelligent tutor to augment SRSD instruction with elementary students in persuasive writing, integrating SRSD with reading to learn and writing to inform, developing a Universal Design for Learning Science Notebook, and developing practice-based professional development for SRSD.

This blog was produced by Julianne Kasper, Virtual Student Federal Service intern at IES and graduate student in education policy & leadership at American University.

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.

Literacy and Deafness: Helping Students who are D/HH Improve Language and Writing Skills

Dr. Hannah Dostal (left), University of Connecticut, and Dr. Kimberly Wolbers (right), University of Tennessee
Image: Dr. Hannah Dostal (left), University of Connecticut, and Dr. Kimberly Wolbers (right), University of Tennessee

September is National Literacy Month and Deaf Awareness Month. To celebrate both occasions, we spoke with two IES-funded principal investigators about their intervention aimed at increasing the writing and language skills of students who are deaf or hard of hearing through teacher professional development targeting writing instruction and use of multilingual strategies. Together with their team, Dr. Kimberly Wolbers (University of Tennessee) and Dr. Hannah Dostal (University of Connecticut) developed Strategic and Interactive Writing Instruction (SIWI) and tested SIWI for efficacy. The team is now analyzing effects of SIWI on both student and teacher outcomes in the D/HH space.

What are some challenges facing deaf and hard of hearing (D/HH) students in the area of literacy? How does your project address these student-related challenges?

Children who are D/HH are highly diverse with respect to language modality (spoken, sign) and proficiency. Understanding this diversity is the foundation to their literacy learning and academic engagement. Working between languages and across modalities when engaged in literacy tasks is a unique challenge for D/HH writers. For example, a student may use American Sign Language (ASL), which does not have a written form, while learning and using English text as they read and write. Strategies used during writing instruction that scaffold bilingual and multilingual development have the potential to leverage student knowledge of languages to support literacy development. During SIWI, teachers engage students in explicitly comparing and contrasting ASL and English with the intention of increasing metalinguistic knowledge and translation abilities.

Another unique challenge is that a number of D/HH students lack consistent exposure to accessible language at home and school. They may not hear sufficient amounts of spoken language to acquire its complexities and may not have sufficient exposure to sign language early in their lives to acquire visual language. Such language deprivation directly impacts literacy development. Based on what we are seeing and learning from our school partners, online learning due to COVID-19 exacerbated delays in academic progress when D/HH students experienced greater language isolation during this time.

Teachers implementing SIWI tackle expressive language delays head on. They use a designated space in the classroom, called the Language Zone, to develop, translate, and revise ideas generated in ASL and English.

What are some challenges facing teachers of D/HH in the area of literacy? How does your project address these teacher-related challenges?

It is becoming increasingly more challenging to find qualified teachers of the deaf. Not only are there shortages in the field, but many current teachers also point to limited preparation and a lack of assessment materials, curriculum, and instructional resources specifically designed for D/HH students with distinct languages histories.

The SIWI professional development (PD) program is designed to address these challenges facing teachers. It is a multi-component PD program that is intensive and sustained over a 3-year period and consists of a summer institute, site visits, and individual biweekly online coaching. Teachers not only learn about effective approaches but also how to flexibly enact the approaches with students who have diverse language histories and literacy skills.

What have you found so far?

SIWI has been implemented across settings with D/HH students and studies so far suggest SIWI results in significant language and literacy growth. Results from IES-funded studies using a variety of methods demonstrate SIWI’s positive impact on student outcomes. For example, we found a relationship between SIWI and positive student gains in the effective use of genre-related writing traits and grammar and conventions, including an increase in the length of writing as well as written language clarity and complexity. Recent analyses, currently in press, demonstrate that in one academic year, students participating in SIWI gained an average of 1.2 grade levels as measured by the Woodcock Johnson IV.

The SIWI PD program has also resulted in notable outcomes for SIWI teachers. The randomized control trial demonstrated significant increases in teachers’ knowledge of writing instruction, efficacy in teaching writing, and use of evidence-based practices compared to teachers in the business-as-usual control group (a manuscript is currently in progress). 

What are the next steps for your research?

Analyses of student outcomes in the efficacy trial are currently underway. In addition to analyzing the impact of SIWI on writing and language outcomes, we are also examining the impact on reading comprehension, vocabulary knowledge, handwriting, and motivation to write.

Additionally, we are investigating whether implementation fidelity of SIWI is positively associated with student outcomes. We intend to examine whether teachers with higher implementation fidelity in their second or third year of teaching SIWI demonstrate a significantly greater impact on their students’ writing and language growth.

Dr. Kimberly Wolbers is a Deaf Education Professor and Co-Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Department of Theory & Practice in Teacher Education at the University of Tennessee and Dr. Hannah Dostal is an Associate Professor of Reading Education and an advisory board member of the Aetna Chair of Writing at the University of Connecticut. This interview was produced and edited by Julianne Kasper, Virtual Student Federal Service Intern at IES and graduate student in Education Policy & Leadership at American University.