Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

How Enhanced Core Reading Instruction Has Improved Reading Outcomes for Students with Reading Difficulties Through Tiered Supports

A teacher and students work with flashcards

Enhanced Core Reading Instruction (ECRI) is a systemic intervention that researchers at the University of Oregon developed with practitioners to assist educators in providing instruction within multi-tiered systems of supports. ECRI provides teachers with guidance and support for implementing Tier 1 core reading instruction and Tier 2 interventions that align with core reading instruction. Teachers have access to specific instruction methods that enhance their district-adopted core reading program, guided lesson plans, intervention templates, and explicit protocols for data collection and review to inform instructional decisions. Since 2009, IES has funded research projects that examine ECRI’s impact on academic and behavioral outcomes for students with or at risk for reading difficulties.

At the University of Oregon, Hank Fien conducted a study that provided 2 years of professional development (PD) and coaching to first grade teachers to implement the core reading program and use ECRI materials. The results of this randomized controlled trial demonstrated that students who received ECRI Tier 2 intervention made more progress towards reading achievement and reading proficiency than students who received the typical, “business-as-usual” Tier 2 instruction. Findings from the study indicated that schools should consider three factors when choosing an instruction model for struggling readers: 1) increasing specificity of instruction procedures through lesson plans and teaching routines, 2) increasing the intensity of instruction that students receive, and 3) closely aligning instruction between Tier 1 and Tier 2 interventions.

At the University of Alabama, Gregory Benner developed a program, Integrated Literacy Study Group, that provides web-based PD to special education teachers to assist in delivering high-quality reading instruction based on ECRI to students with an emotional/behavioral disorder (EBD). Results from the pilot study showed the program demonstrated promise for teacher and student outcomes. Teachers who participated in online learning modules to learn ECRI strategies demonstrated increases in teaching self-efficacy in the areas of classroom management, instructional strategies, student engagement, and self-efficacy in teaching reading and using behavior management strategies with students with or at risk for EBD. They also demonstrated increased knowledge of the evidence-based behavioral and reading strategies for students with EBD learned through the PD program. Students with or at risk for EBD served by these participating teachers made significant improvements in academic engagement and notable gains on reading scores.

In a collaborative effort led by Nancy Nelson, the University of Oregon and the Michigan Department of Education’s Office of Special Education worked in partnership to conduct an evaluation of a state’s multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) framework that implements ECRI for Tier 1 and Tier 2 reading instruction. The MTSS framework included specific protocols for integrating teaching academic and behavioral content across tiers of support. The reading intervention incorporated ECRI instructional strategies while the behavior intervention used positive behavior supports, including a “check-in/check-out” behavior monitoring and reinforcement system. We hope to share the results and their implications in an additional blog in the near future.

More recently, Dr. Nelson, now at Boston University, is developing a Tier 3 extension of the ECRI reading intervention that is intensified for students identified as needing more intensive support in kindergarten through second grade. This study will develop protocols and training for teachers, collect data on the feasibility of teacher implementation, and study the promise of the Tier 3 intervention for improving student outcomes. Researchers will study how student outcomes are related to reading content, executive function supports, instructional design elements, and instructional delivery features.

In another recently funded study, Elaine Wang at RAND Corporation is conducting an ECRI replication study to measure its effectiveness on foundational reading skills with first-grade students. In addition to examining whether ECRI will improve reading outcomes for students, researchers are also investigating whether features of the intervention can be feasibly implemented within a typical classroom context by classroom teachers under routine conditions, with less support for implementation than was included in prior studies.

The NCSER-funded studies of ECRI to date have demonstrated improved reading outcomes for students at risk of reading difficulties by targeting critical reading content areas (phonemic awareness, blending sounds, fluency, vocabulary) and increasing the explicitness of instruction. An important aspect of these studies is they were implemented in an authentic school environment by school staff, demonstrating that ECRI procedures can fit within the daily routines of a typical school day. NCSER looks forward to learning the results of the current, ongoing ECRI studies that will add to the evidence focused on the impact and implementation of this intervention. We thank all the researchers for their hard work and dedication to supporting students, educators, and our schools.

This blog was written by Shanna Bodenhamer, virtual student federal service intern at IES and graduate student at Texas A&M University. Sarah Brasiel (Sarah.Brasiel@ed.gov) is the program officer for the Reading, Writing, and Language program and oversees most of the research projects that focus on studying ECRI across NCSER programs.

Meeting the Needs of Students in Real World Education Settings

This year, Inside IES Research is featuring a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, we interviewed Michael P. Mesa, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Children's Learning Institute at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. His research focuses on examining factors that can maximize children’s academic and behavioral development, particularly in the context of small-group instruction. We recently caught up with Dr. Mesa to learn more about his career, the experiences that have shaped it, and his view of the role of diversity and inclusion in education research.

How did you begin your career journey as an education researcher?

Headshot of Michael P. Mesa, PhD

I became interested in education research while working as an undergraduate research assistant at the Center for Children and Families at Florida International University. I worked on IES-funded research studies focused on behavioral interventions, such as the Summer Preparatory Program for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. As part of the primary intervention, I used applied behavior analysis (ABA) in the context of a summer camp. I found supporting the behavioral development of children rewarding and the process of conducting research to be interesting. Over time, I was given opportunities to become more and more involved in the research side of the behavioral interventions.

At the same time, I was also a professional tutor and found that many of the students referred to tutoring for academic support also had behavioral difficulties. I wound up using the same strategies that worked in the behavioral intervention while tutoring students. For example, I was liberal with my use of labeled praise and consistent with my expectations and feedback and found that using ABA helped students stay engaged and motivated during the tutoring session. These experiences supporting students with academic and behavioral difficulties in research and applied settings inspired me to pursue my doctorate at the College of Education at Florida State University. Here I became interested in strategies that can be used to maximize learning and development, particularly in the context of targeted small-group instruction. For my dissertation, I explored the role of classroom management strategies in the context of small-group literacy interventions for children at risk for reading difficulties.

What are you researching now?

Currently I am investigating the role that group composition and peers play in maximizing student learning in the context of targeted, small-group interventions. My research suggests that the language skills of peers is related to their own language development in this context, such that students benefit from interacting with and being exposed to peers with more developed language skills.

What do you see as the greatest research needs or recommendations to improve the relevance of education research for diverse communities of students and families?

As researchers, I think it is important to focus on research questions with practical implications that meet the needs of students and teachers in real world classrooms or education settings. The development of and participation in researcher–practitioner partnerships is one path towards assuring that we are aware of the needs of the teachers and students we are serving and that our research is relevant for diverse communities. I believe these partnerships should include active participation from diverse stakeholders in various stages of research, including project development, implementation, analysis, and dissemination. Within the context of these partnerships, researchers can solicit research questions of importance and interest to teachers and other stakeholders.

I also believe that one of the ways we can improve the relevance of education research for diverse communities is by increasing the diversity of the research workforce. This means attracting individuals with diverse backgrounds and lived experiences, who will bring fresh and relevant ideas to the field. During my graduate studies, I was part of a department and organizations with colleagues and faculty from diverse backgrounds. For example, I served various roles in an IES-funded Pathways training program, Partners United for Research Pathways Oriented to Social Justice in Education (PURPOSE), focused on increasing the diversity of individuals in education research. As a Hispanic and first-generation graduate student, I found being part of these diverse research teams helped make me feel welcome in the field of education research and supported the development of my professional identity. I also observed that many of the research projects developed by these diverse individuals aimed to support marginalized students that are typically understudied. 

What advice would you give to emerging scholars that are pursuing a career in education research?

Protect your writing time and create a writing routine—find a consistent time and place to write for your primary research task and don’t schedule over it. I would encourage emerging scholars to treat their writing time like a meeting, class, or job that they can’t miss. This may require saying ‘no’ to requests from others in order to prioritize writing. Research requires sustained effort and I have found that protecting my writing has supported me in making continuous progress on my manuscripts and projects.

My next recommendation aligns with my research in the area of peer effects that has found that the skills of one’s peers are related to one’s own skill development. I would encourage early researchers to find colleagues and peers with common goals or interests, particularly peers who are at more advanced stages in their career journey, and to find ways to collaborate and work with them. Throughout my career journey, a constant theme is that I have been part of a supportive village of researchers, and that others have provided opportunities for me to become involved in their projects. I have also found it beneficial to have at least one accountability partner within my village of researchers. An accountability partner is somebody with whom you share your goals and your plans to meet these goals. During times of success, your accountability partner is somebody that you can celebrate with. During times of stress, your accountability partner is somebody that can help with reflection, problem solving, and encouragement. Participating in recurring meetings with a writing group is a way to combine these pieces of advice.

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see here, here, and here) showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. As part of our Hispanic Heritage Month blog series, we are focusing on Hispanic researchers and fellows, as well as researchers that focus on the education of Hispanic students.

Michael P. Mesa, PhD is a postdoctoral researcher at the Children's Learning Institute at the University of Texas Health Science Center. He received his bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a minor in Statistics from Florida International University. Dr. Mesa earned his MS and PhD from the Educational Psychology and Learning Systems program at Florida State University, where he also earned certificates in Measurement and Statistics and College Teaching and completed the nationally recognized Preparing Future Faculty program.

This blog was produced by Katie Taylor (Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov), postdoctoral training program officer at the National Center for Special Education Research and Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-chair of the IES Diversity Council.

 

Congratulations Dr. Roddy Theobald on Winning the 2022 AEFP Early Career Award!

Headshot of Roddy TheobaldEach year, the Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP) recognizes one outstanding early career scholar whose research makes a significant contribution to the field of education finance and policy. In 2022, Dr. Roddy Theobald was the recipient of the Early Career award from AEFP. Congratulations to Dr. Theobald!

Dr. Theobald is a principal researcher in the Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). CALDER, a collaboration among researchers at AIR and several universities around the United States, uses longitudinal data to explore a wide range of policy-relevant topics in education. Dr. Theobald’s research focuses on the teacher pipeline and its implications for student outcomes. Over the years, he has been involved in multiple IES-funded projects. These projects reflect a clear commitment to improving the teacher workforce and promoting positive outcomes for students. Dr. Theobald became interested in education policy research and studying the teacher workforce as a result of his experience as a 7th grade math teacher in the Oakland Unified School District. He is particularly interested in better understanding teacher shortage areas and what schools and districts can do to address them. 

As principal investigator (PI) on a recently completed researcher-practitioner partnership project, Dr. Theobald and his team worked in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to investigate the predictive validity of the state’s pre-service teacher evaluation systems and later in-service teaching outcomes and student outcomes. Key findings showed that teacher candidate performance on the Massachusetts Candidate Assessment of Performance, a practice-based assessment of student teaching, was predictive of their in-service summative performance ratings a year later. In examining the predictive validity of the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure, results indicated that pre-service teacher scores were positively and significantly related to in-service performance ratings and value-added modeling of student test scores.

Dr. Theobald is currently the PI of a research grant that examines associations between pre-service teacher experiences (coursework, student teaching placements, and the match between student teaching experiences and early career experiences), special education teacher workforce entry and retention, and student academic outcomes. Using data on graduates of special education teacher education programs in Washington state, he found that the rate of special educator attrition is between 20-30%, which includes teachers that left public schools as well as those who moved to general education classrooms. Interestingly, the research team found that while dual endorsement in special and general education is positively associated with retention in the teaching workforce, it is negatively associated with retention in special education classrooms specifically. In terms of factors that promote retention, the research team found that better coherence between teacher preparation and early career experiences is associated with greater retention and that being supervised by a cooperating teacher endorsed in special education as part of student teaching is associated with a higher likelihood of becoming a special education teacher. The research team also found a link between preservice teacher experiences and student outcomes: students demonstrate larger reading gains when their district and the program from which their teacher graduated emphasized evidence-based literacy decoding practices and when a more experienced cooperating teacher supervised their teacher’s student teaching placement.

When we asked Dr. Theobald about the direction in which this line of research is heading, he explained, “immediate next steps in this line of work include looking at the employment outcomes of individuals trained to be special education teachers who never enter public school teaching or leave the teacher workforce, as well as better understanding the paraeducator workforce in public schools. It is also essential to understand how the special educator workforce has changed in response to the COVID pandemic, and we hope to study these changes in the years to come!”

This blog was authored by Kaitlynn Fraze, doctoral student at George Mason University and IES intern, and Katie Taylor (Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov), program officer at the National Center for Special Education Research.

Asian Voices in Education Research: Perspectives from Predoctoral Fellows Na Lor and Helen Lee

The IES Predoctoral Training Programs prepare doctoral students to conduct high-quality education research that advances knowledge within the field of education sciences and addresses issues important to education policymakers and practitioners. In recognition of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we asked two predoctoral scholars who are embarking on their careers as education researchers to share their career journeys, perspectives on diversity and equity in education research, and advice for emerging scholars from underrepresented backgrounds who are interested in pursuing careers in education research. Here is what they shared with us.

 

Na Lor (University of Wisconsin-Madison) is currently a PhD candidate in educational leadership and policy analysis where she is studying inequity in higher education from a cultural perspective.

How did you become interested in a career in education research? How have your background experiences shaped your scholarship and career?

I view education institutions as important sites of knowledge transmission with infinite potential for addressing inequity. In addition, my background as a Hmong refugee and a first-generation scholar from a low-income family informs my scholarship and career interests. My positive and negative experiences growing up in predominantly White spaces also shape the way in which I see the world. Meanwhile, my time spent living abroad and working in the non-profit sector further influence my ideals of improving the human condition. With my training through IES, I look forward to conducting education research with a focus on higher education in collaboration with local schools and colleges to better serve students and families from underserved communities.  

In your area of research, what do you see as the most critical areas of need to address diversity and equity and improve the relevance of education research for diverse communities of students and families?

I see ethnic studies, culturally sustaining pedagogies, and experiential learning in postsecondary education as core areas in need of improvement to provide relevant education for an ever-diverse student body. Likewise, I see community college transfer pathways as crucial for addressing and advancing equity. 

What advice would you give to emerging scholars from underrepresented, minoritized groups who are pursuing a career in education research?

Chase your burning questions relentlessly and continuously strengthen your methodological toolkit. Embrace who you are and rely on your lived experience and ways of knowing as fundamental assets that contribute to knowledge formation and the research process. 

 

Helen Lee (University of Chicago) is currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Comparative Human Development where she is studying the impact of racial dialogue and ethnic community engagement on the identity and agency development of Asian American youth.

How did you become interested in a career in education research? How have your background and experiences shaped your scholarship and career?

I first considered a career in education research while completing my Master’s in educational leadership and policy at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. I had entered my program in need of a break after working as a classroom teacher, organizer, and community educator in Detroit for five years. During my program, I had the opportunity to reflect on and contextualize my experiences in and around public education. It was also during my program that I first came across scholarship that aligned to my values and spoke to my experiences as a teacher in under-resourced communities and as a first-generation college graduate.

Taking classes with Dr. Carla O’Connor and Dr. Alford Young, working with Dr. Camille Wilson, and engaging with scholarship that counters deficit notions of people of color was a critical turning point for me. The work of these scholars motivated me to pursue a path in education research. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to meet other scholars who conduct community-based and action-oriented research in service of social justice movements. These interactions, along with the opportunities to collaborate with and learn from youth and educators over the years, has sustained my interest in education research and strengthened my commitment to conducting research that promotes more equitable educational policies and practice.

In your area of research, what do you see as the most critical areas of need to address diversity and equity and improve the relevance of education research for diverse communities of students and families?

My current research examines the racial socialization experiences of Asian American youth in relation to their sociopolitical development. This work is motivated by my own experiences as an Asian American, my work with Chinese and Asian American-serving community organizations, and a recognition that Asian American communities are often overlooked in conversations about racism due to pervasive stereotypes.

Education research must be better attuned to the history and current manifestations of racism. That is, research should not only consider the consequences of systemic racism on the educational experiences and outcomes of marginalized communities but also challenge and change these conditions. I believe there is a critical need for scholarship that reimagines and transforms the education system into a more just and humanizing one.

What advice would you give to emerging scholars from underrepresented, minoritized groups who are pursuing a career in education research?

I would provide the following advice:

  • Clarify what your purpose isthe reason why you are engaged in this work. This will help guide the opportunities you pursue or pass on and connect you to the people who can support your development toward these goals. Your purpose will also serve as a beacon to guide you in times of uncertainty.
  • Seek out mentorship from scholars whose work inspires your own. Mentorship may come from other students as well as from those outside of academia. It may stem from collaborations in which you participate or simply through one-time interactions.
  • Be attuned to your strengths and your areas of growth and nurture both accordingly. In retrospect, I could have done a better job of recognizing my own assets and engaging in diverse writing opportunities to strengthen my ability to communicate research across audiences.
  • Continuously put your ideas and research in conversation with the ideas and research of others. This enables growth in important ways—it can open you up to new perspectives and questions as well as strengthen your inquiry and understanding of your findings.
  • Engage in exercises that nurture your creativity and imagination and participate in spaces that sustain your passion for education research. A more just and humanizing education system requires us to think beyond our current realities and to engage in long-term efforts.      

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of blogs showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. For Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage month blog series, we are focusing on AAPI researchers and fellows, as well as researchers that focus on the education of AAPI students.

Produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council and training program officer for the National Center for Education Research.

Understanding the Co-Development of Language and Behavior Disorders in the Context of an Early Career Grant

The Early Career Development and Mentoring Program in Special Education provides support for investigators in the early stages of their academic careers to conduct an integrated research and career development plan focused on learners with or at risk for disabilities. Dr. Jason Chow is an assistant professor of special education at the University of Maryland, College Park and principal investigator of a current Early Career grant funded by NCSER. Dr. Chow’s research focuses on the comorbidity of language and behavior disorders in school-age children as well as teacher and related service provider training in behavior management. We recently caught up with Dr. Chow to learn more about his career, the experiences that have shaped it, and the lessons he’s learned from the Early Career grant. This is what he shared with us.

How did your experiences shape your interest in a career in special education?

Photo of Jason Chow

I first became interested in education when I started substituting for paraprofessionals in special education programs over winter and summer breaks in college, which I really enjoyed. That experience, along with a class I took in my senior year on disability in the media and popular culture, got me interested in the field of special education. After I graduated, I ended up applying for a full-time position as a paraprofessional in a program supporting high schoolers with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD).

My experiences as a paraprofessional definitely shaped my career path. As a substitute paraprofessional in college, I was surprised that my job was to support students with the most intensive needs even though I had the least amount of classroom training. That made me recognize the need for research-based training and supports for related service providers and got me interested in different factors that contribute to decision making in school systems. Another memorable experience occurred when I was working in the support program for students with EBD. All our students had the accommodation to be able to come to our room at any time of the day as needed for a check in or a break. I was alarmed by how often students needed a break because of things teachers said or did to upset them or make them feel singled out. I was also coaching several sports at the time and saw first-hand how a strong, positive relationships with the players were vital. These experiences got me interested in teacher-student relationships, how important positive interactions and experiences can be, and the need for general education teachers to receive training on working with students with disabilities. Ultimately, my work as a paraprofessional supporting kids with EBD also helped shape my interest in determining how language and communication can facilitate prosocial development, which led to my Early Career grant.

What are the goals of your NCSER Early Career grant?

My project focuses on better understanding the co-development of language and behavior in children at risk for language disorders, behavior disorders, or both in early elementary school. Many studies have examined the concurrent and developmental relations between language and behavior, but they are typically done using extant datasets. The goal of this project was to conduct a prospective study aimed at measuring both constructs in several different ways (such as direct observations, interviews, and teacher report) to provide a more robust analysis of how each of these constructs and assessment types are related over time. This type of research could inform the types of interventions provided to children with EBD and, more specifically, the need to address language impairments alongside behavior to improve academic outcomes for these learners.

How has the Early Career grant helped your development as a researcher?

This project has taught me a lot about the realities of doing school-based research and managing a grant. First, I have learned a great deal about budgeting. For example, I proposed to recruit a sample based on a power analysis I conducted for the grant application. But in my original budget, I did not consider that I would need to screen about triple the number of children I estimated in order to enroll my planned sample. I have also learned a lot about hiring, human resources, procurement, and university policies that are directly and indirectly involved in process of conducting research. Also, like many others, my project was impacted by pandemic-related school closures, and I have learned how to be flexible under unpredictable circumstances. More specifically, we had intended to determine how developmental trajectories of language and behavior were associated with academic outcomes, but we lost our outcome assessment timepoint due to the pandemic. Fortunately, we are working collaboratively with our partner schools to use district-level data to approximate some of these intended analyses. I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to learn and develop my skills in the context of a training grant.

What advice would you give to other early career researchers, including those who may be interested in applying for an Early Career grant?

Reach out to other early career grantees and ask for their proposals. (I am happy to share mine!) Just be aware that the RFA has changed over time—including a substantial increase in funds—so the more recent proposals the better. Also, in terms of setting up a strong mentorship team for your career development plan, reach out to the people whom you see as the best to support your career development (no matter how busy you think they are or if you think they are too senior). In talking with other folks, I’ve learned that generally people are very willing to support the next generation of researchers!

This interview blog is part of a larger IES blog series on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) in the education sciences. It was produced by Katie Taylor (Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov), program officer for the Early Career Development and Mentoring program at the National Center for Special Education Research.