Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Effective Postsecondary Interventions: Early Colleges Combine High School and College to Benefit Students

Across a set of research grant programs, IES generates knowledge of how to increase students’ access to, progress through, and completion of postsecondary credentials and degrees. Funded projects develop and test a range of interventions from state-level policies to classroom practices, with an emphasis on strategies that promote college attainment for students historically underrepresented in postsecondary education. This new blog series called Effective Postsecondary Interventions highlights interventions with evidence of effectiveness generated through IES-funded research.

 

The Early College High School Model

The Early College High School (ECHS) model addresses barriers to college attainment commonly experienced by students historically underrepresented in higher education. Students from low-income families and minoritized racial and ethnic groups often attend high schools that lack rigorous pre-college courses, strong support for college enrollment, and established connections to colleges and universities. For those students, cost is an additional barrier to enrollment and persistence in college. The ECHS model addresses these barriers by combining secondary and postsecondary instruction within the same school, prioritizing college-preparatory high school courses, offering opportunities to enroll in college courses while in high school, and providing comprehensive supports for academic and social-emotional development—all at little or no cost to the students. Although concurrent enrollment in high school and college courses (dual enrollment) is a core component of the model, the ECHS model is more expansive than dual enrollment because it includes a broader set of intervention components and has a clear equity objective.

All early colleges reflect these four design principles:

  • Enrollment of students historically underrepresented in higher education
  • Partnerships including a local education agency, a higher education institution, and the surrounding community
  • An integrated program of secondary and postsecondary education with the goal of all students earning 1 to 2 years of college credit prior to high school graduation
  • A comprehensive support system for students to develop academic skills as well as social and behavioral skills.

 

Attending Early Colleges Increases Postsecondary Attainment

Four IES-funded projects have evaluated impacts of the ECHS model. Prior studies within these projects found that significantly larger percentages of early college students completed a college preparatory course of study during high school and enrolled in postsecondary education within six years of entering high school. The two most recent projects assess postsecondary attainment:

In addition, early college students earned associate degrees at rates that exceeded their counterparts in traditional high schools by 22% and 18%, respectively, while earning bachelor’s degrees at equal or higher rates. These impacts are substantial, and especially noteworthy because both evaluations studied early colleges across a range of settings. Moreover, the impacts are similar for different student subgroups, regardless of gender, race/ethnicity, or family income.

 

Why have early colleges been so effective?

Early colleges set high expectations, provide high-quality interactions between staff and students, and encourage college access and success for all students. Several studies confirm that early colleges substantially improve high school experiences and outcomes. Students in North Carolina early colleges reported higher expectations, more rigorous and relevant instruction, stronger academic and social supports, and better relationships with teachers than their counterparts in other high schools. Early college students in AIR’s five-state sample reported significantly higher levels of college-going culture and instructor support than their counterparts in traditional high schools. The combination of high expectations and supportive relationships promotes better outcomes for early college students beginning in ninth grade (compared with students in other high schools). For instance, early college students are more likely to persist in college-preparatory math courses, attain a significant number of college credits during high school, and graduate from high school. Importantly, these positive results hold for students from all racial and ethnic groups, including students who enter high school at low levels of math proficiency.


For more information about the studies, the SERVE Center at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro has posted a brief of impact findings from their evaluation of North Carolina early colleges. The American Institutes of Research has posted a brief of impact findings from their five-state evaluation of early colleges.  

Written by James Benson (James.Benson@ed.gov), a Program Officer for Postsecondary Education within NCER’s Policy and Systems Division.

What Does This Mean for Me? A Conversation about College and ADHD

Ever read an article or research abstract and wish you could ask the author questions? In this new IES series, “What Does This Mean for Me,” we are doing just that. IES researchers are answering questions to help students, educators, and others use their research. In the first round of this series, NCER virtual college interns are reaching out with questions relevant to their interests, goals, and communities. We invite you to learn more about not only what education science means for real people but also what students and other community members care about. This blog was written by Shirley Liu, virtual intern at NCER.

 

As part of my virtual internship with IES, I wanted to learn about research that was applicable to my own experiences. I decided to ask Dr. Art Anastopoulos about the unique challenges for postsecondary students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), as well as strategies and interventions that can help students with ADHD succeed in college. With funding from IES, Dr. Anastopoulos evaluated an intervention called Accessing Campus Connections and Empowering Student Success (ACCESS) for students with ADHD. ACCESS aims to help college students succeed by increasing student knowledge about and ability to manage their diagnosis and to leverage campus supports.

 

Why are students with ADHD more likely to struggle in college than students without ADHD? What might be particularly challenging for them?

There are many possible reasons for why students with ADHD are more likely to struggle. For one thing, many high school students with ADHD lag behind their peers without ADHD, in terms of grade point average, less well-developed study-skills, etc. And this lag persists as they make the transition into college. Students with ADHD are also at increased risk for experiencing co-occurring mental health difficulties, such as depression and anxiety disorders, which together with ADHD interfere with college functioning.

Another useful way to understand the unique challenges of students with ADHD is through the notion of a “perfect storm.” [In this video (from 2:21 – 4:28), Art describes the “perfect storm” as the interplay between a diminished capacity for self-regulation that students with ADHD may have and the high levels of self-regulation that postsecondary education requires of students.]

In addition to their attentional difficulties and impulsivity, many students with ADHD have co-occurring executive functioning deficits, affecting their organization, planning, and time management. Together, such difficulties may lead to academic problems such as having trouble sitting through a boring class, taking detailed lecture notes, attending classes and other meetings on time, waiting until the last minute to complete papers and other long-term assignments, forgetting to preregister for upcoming courses, and placing greater emphasis on speed versus accuracy when taking tests. For similar reasons, students with ADHD may experience interpersonal problems with their friends, as well as difficulties in employment situations.

 

ACCESS is an institution-supported intervention for students with ADHD, but how exactly does ACCESS work?

ACCESS targets multiple deficit areas that can lead to impairment in multiple domains of daily functioning. More specifically, ACCESS is designed to increase student knowledge and understanding of ADHD, their use of behavioral strategies, and their adaptive thinking skills. To the extent that these goals are achieved, improvements in academic, emotional, social, and personal functioning are expected to occur.

 

In your opinion, how can professors best support college students with ADHD?

The most important thing that college professors can do is to respect a student’s need for formally recommended accommodations and to facilitate their implementation. Listed below are four common accommodations for college students with ADHD:

  • Taking exams in private locations where distractions are minimized
  • Having extended time to take exams
  • Being allowed to audio record lectures via smart pens or phone devices
  • Having another person take notes for them

 

How can students with ADHD prepare to succeed in college?

One of the most important thing students can do is to prepare for the increased demands that college brings while still in high school. This includes, for example, increasing their knowledge of ADHD. The more developmentally appropriate their understanding of ADHD is, the more likely students will accept their diagnosis. This can also help them recognize the importance of continuing and/or seeking out necessary treatments, such as medication management and counseling. The more that a student can wean themselves from dependence on parents and others for managing academic demands while in high school, the better able that student will be to manage the increased demands for self-regulation that college brings. This goes beyond academics and includes managing money, preparing meals, doing laundry, getting to doctors’ appointments, etc.

 

In addition to the written responses to my questions, Dr. Anastopoulos also shared links to videos and resources he and his team created as part of the grant. These are curated below and provide general overviews of ACCESS and the research project. In addition, he and his team have two recent publications that share the findings from the evaluation.

Video Resources:

 

Additional information about ACCESS:

 

Additional Reading:

  • Anastopoulos, A.D., Langberg, J.M., Eddy, L.D., Silvia, P.J., & Labban, J.D. (2021).  A randomized controlled trial examining CBT for college students with ADHD.  Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 89 (1), 21–33.  – Reports significant differences for ACCESS participants, namely of improved ADHD symptoms, executive functioning, clinical change mechanisms, and use of disability accommodations.
  • Eddy, L.D., Anastopoulos, A.D., Dvorsky, M.R., Silvia, P.J., Labban, J.D., & Langberg, J.M. (2021). An RCT of a CBT intervention for emerging adults with ADHD attending college: Functional outcomesJournal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology. Reports findings that ACCESS may improve students’ self-reported general well-being and functioning as well as improved time management and study skills and strategies but may not show as much impact on students’ interpersonal relationships or GPA.

Dr. Art Anastopoulos is a Professor and the Director of the ADHD Clinic in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies in the School of Health and Human Sciences at UNC Greensboro.

Written by Shirley Liu, virtual intern at NCER and an English major at Lafayette College.

 

New Project Exploring Adult Basic Skills in STEM-Related Postsecondary CTE®

In celebration of CTE® (career and technical education) month, we would like to highlight the launch of an NCER project that aims to help us understand how to best support adults seeking additional CTE education and training.

Through their exploratory project, Literacy, Numeracy, and Problem-Solving Skills in Technology-Rich Environment in the STEM-Related Subbaccalaureate Programs in the United States, researchers will use a mixed-method design to gather information about the distribution of basic skills (literacy, numeracy, and problem solving) for adults in STEM occupations and students enrolled in STEM-related sub-baccalaureate programs at community colleges. Their goal is to help identify the needs of students and the programming practices at community colleges that may promote basic skill development in STEM programs.

The team will be leveraging data from the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) to survey the distribution of skills and abilities across a nationally representative sample of adults in STEM fields. They will also be collecting primary data from adults and programs in multiple locations, including Indiana, Ohio, and Washington states.

 

 

To help inform the public about their project, the researchers have created a short YouTube video for the public. This project began in July 2020 and may have initial results ready as early as late 2021.

 


Written by Meredith Larson (Meredith.Larson@ed.gov), Program Officer for Postsecondary and Adult Education, NCER.

Exploring How COVID-19 Affects Learning and Critical Thinking

Our nation continues to navigate a unique and challenging year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In our first blog post in this series, we highlighted how educators, students, families, and researchers are adapting while trying to engage in opportunities to support learning. COVID-19 has created numerous challenges in education research with many studies needing to be modified or put on hold. At the same time, new research questions arise focusing on the impact of the pandemic on student learning, engagement, and achievement. Here, we highlight two IES-funded projects that are conducting timely and relevant research exploring the impact of COVID-19 on learning and critical thinking.    

Guanglei Hong, Lindsey Richland, and their research team at University of Chicago and University of California, Irvine have received supplemental funds to build off their current grant, Drawing Connections to Close Achievement Gaps in Mathematics. The research team will conduct a study during the 2020-21 school year to explore the relationship between student anxiety about the health risks associated with COVID-19 and their math learning experiences. They predict that pressure and anxiety, like that induced by COVID-19, use the same executive function resources that students need to engage in higher order thinking and reasoning during math instruction, which negatively affects the ability to learn. Through this study, the research team will also test whether particular instructional approaches reduce the effects of pressure and anxiety on learning. These findings will be useful for teachers and students in the near term as they navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and longer term for students who experience anxiety due to a variety of other reasons.

In addition, IES has funded an unsolicited grant to Clarissa Thompson at Kent State University to investigate whether an education intervention aimed at decreasing whole number bias errors can help college-aged students and adults more accurately interpret health statistics about COVID-19. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the public receives daily updates about the number of people locally, nationally, and globally who are infected with and die from COVID-19. Beliefs about the risk of getting a disease is a key predictor of engagement in prevention behaviors. Understanding the magnitude of one’s risk may require making sense of numerical health information, often presented in the form of rational numbers, such as fractions, whole number frequencies, and percentages. An intervention to decrease whole number bias errors and improve understanding of rational numbers has the immediate and pressing benefit of being able to accurately reason about the risk of COVID-19 and other health risks. This skill is also critical for success in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Both of these projects offer opportunities to better understand learning and critical thinking in the midst of the pandemic. They will also provide the field with generalizable information about ways to improve learning in STEM fields. Stay tuned for more COVID-19 related education research discussions as we continue this series on our blog.

 


Written by Christina Chhin (christina.chhin@ed.gov) and Erin Higgins (erin.higgins@ed.gov), National Center for Education Research (NCER).

This is the third in a series of blog posts focusing on conducting education research during COVID-19. Other blog posts in this series include Conducting Education Research During COVID-19 and Measuring Attendance during COVID-19: Considerations for Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning Environments.

 

Conducting Education Research During Covid-19

Since the start of the pandemic, we have all heard about the unprecedented changes to schooling in the U.S. and the ways that educators, students, and families have been adapting to the new reality.

Education researchers have also been adapting their work due to school closings, canceled testing, and different school reopening plans in the 2020-21 school year.

How have education researchers handled the new reality?

Some researchers have been busy compiling and disseminating research findings to support districts and schools to continue instruction during the pandemic. For example, evidence-based recommendations were made available to help parents and schools pivot to a virtual environment (from very young children up to the postsecondary level), maintain engagement, address mental health (including in rural areas), protect against learning loss, and decide how to prioritize needs when considering re-opening. And many education technology researchers and developers have provided online resources to schools.

Other researchers have been working hard to understand the overall disruption to schooling due to COVID-19 and the ramifications on student learning around the world.  For example, there have been efforts to keep track of school closures, document what is happening in schools across the country (including in rural districts), study the switch to online learning and attend to unequal access to technology for remote learning, forecast funding scenarios, and examine changes in teacher recruitment.

In addition, education researchers are thinking about new ways to conduct research in light of the changes to schooling. They are looking at alternatives to standardized testing, new approaches to teaching and learning to strengthen schools moving forward, and ways to rebuild our education systems after the pandemic. Indeed, there are myriad ways that education researchers can and are using their skills to continue to support education during this unprecedented time.

How has COVID-19 impacted IES-funded education research studies?

IES realizes that the pandemic has changed things in ways that may complicate education research – both how it is conducted and how it is interpreted. So, we are actively working with grantees to help ensure the integrity of their work and to respond to the needs, interests, and concerns of the schools and colleges they are working with and the communities they are trying to help. In a follow-up to an IES-funded study on students in foster care, a researcher-practitioner partnership in Colorado is examining the implications of challenging circumstances such as COVID-19 on the postsecondary education of vulnerable youth.

Many IES-funded researchers have had to alter their research plans to accommodate the needs of their partner schools and overcome the challenges posed by the abrupt transition to virtual learning. Because of continued uncertainty, they may need to change plans again. Program officers at IES have been working with grantees on a case-by-case basis to adapt their timelines and, in some cases, their research designs.

IES’s priority is to help researchers maintain scientific rigor while holding a realistic view of what can and cannot be done this year. As we work with our grantees, we take into consideration where the project is in its overall timeline. For example, if the project has collected all of its data and is in the final analysis stage, the remaining work may not be affected. Or, if a project has not yet started to begin an intervention in schools, it can pause during the 2020-2021 academic school year and resume in 2021-2022. Still, other projects may find themselves unable to either continue or pause. These projects may not be able to achieve their initial purpose and may need to end.

Despite some of the challenges, the pandemic offers a unique natural experiment for learning and instruction, as well as opportunities for innovation that can ultimately benefit education. IES, our funded researchers, and the communities that rely on research evidence continue to pull in the same direction: building strong evidence to inform policy and practice. Through collaboration and dialog, we will work together to ensure that data and results are meaningful, valid, and as timely as possible. IES will continue to focus on high-quality education research to improve student learning and achievement both now and in the future.

Stay tuned for future blog posts on what our researchers are doing to address some of the challenges that face educators, families, and policymakers during this unprecedented time!


Written by Corinne Alfeld (Corinne.Alfeld@ed.gov), National Center for Education Research.