Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

CTE Teacher Licensure: The Wild West of the Wild West and Its Impact on Students with Disabilities

Positive career and technical education (CTE) experiences have the potential to lead to long-term success for students with disabilities. Yet the pathways into this field for teachers are highly variable. In honor of CTE Awareness Month, we would like to share an interview with NCSER-funded principal investigators Dan Goldhaber (left below) and Roddy Theobald (right below), who have been investigating the relationship between preparation pathways for CTE teachers and student outcomes. In the interview below, Drs. Goldhaber and Theobald share their findings and how their research can influence CTE teacher licensure. 

What led to your interest in studying CTE for students with disabilities?Headshot of Roddy TheobaldHeadshot of Dan Goldhaber

A growing body of research—including prior work we’ve done with a NCSER grant on predictors of postsecondary outcomes for students with disabilities—has found that participation in a concentration of CTE courses in high school is a strong predictor of improved postsecondary outcomes for students with disabilities. Moreover, in another recent NCSER-funded project, we found that pre-service preparation of special education teachers can be a significant predictor of outcomes for students with disabilities in their classrooms. Our current project lies directly at the intersection of these two prior projects and asks the following question: Given the importance of both CTE courses and special education teachers for predicting outcomes for students with disabilities, what role do CTE teachers play in shaping these outcomes, and what types of CTE teacher preparation are most predictive of improved outcomes for these students? This question is important in Washington state because individuals with prior employment experience can become a CTE teacher through a "business and industry" (B&I) pathway that does not require as much formal teacher preparation as traditional licensure pathways. Likewise, this question is important nationally because over half of states offer a similar CTE-specific path to teacher licensure that relies on prior work experience as a licensure requirement.

Your research team published a report last year from your current research project with some surprising results related to the teacher preparation pathway and outcomes for students. Can you tell us about those findings?

In the first paper from this project, now published in Teacher Education and Special Education, we connected observable characteristics of CTE teachers in Washington to non-test outcomes (including absences, disciplinary incidents, grade point average, grade progression, and on-time graduation) of students with and without disabilities in their classrooms. The most surprising findin­g was that students with disabilities participating in CTE tended to have better non-test outcomes when they were assigned to a CTE teacher from the B&I pathway compared those assigned to a traditionally prepared CTE teacher.

What do you think may be the underlying reason for this finding?

We discussed several hypotheses for this result in the paper, including the possibility that the content knowledge and experience of B&I pathway teachers may matter more than traditional preparation for students with disabilities. This conclusion, however, comes with two caveats. First, preliminary results from the second paper (presented at the 2023 APPAM Fall Conference) suggest that these relationships do not translate to improved college enrollment or employment outcomes for these students. Second, we cannot disentangle the effects of B&I teachers' prior employment experiences from "selection effects" of who chooses to enter through this pathway.

In what ways can this research influence CTE policy and practice?

We have described teacher licensure as the "Wild West" of education policy because 50 different states are responsible for developing state teacher licensing systems. CTE teacher licensure is like the "Wild West of the Wild West" in that over half of states offer a CTE-specific pathway to licensure, which relies on prior industry experience as a requirement for licensure, each with different requirements and regulations. As states continue to navigate challenges with staffing CTE classrooms with qualified teachers, it is important to understand the implications of the unique CTE-specific pathways for student outcomes, particularly for students with disabilities. This project is an early effort to provide this evidence to inform CTE licensure policy. 

How do you plan to continue this line of research?

The next steps of this project leverage data provided through the Washington state’s P-20 longitudinal data system maintained by the Washington Education Research and Data Center (ERDC). ERDC has connected high school students' CTE experiences (including their teacher) to college and employment records. This allows us to consider the implications of CTE teacher characteristics for students' postsecondary outcomes. Moreover, due to the question about the prior employment experiences of CTE teachers, ERDC has agreed to link records on CTE teachers’ prior employment so we can disentangle the importance of different pre-teaching employment experiences of CTE teachers. 

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

We are grateful to NCSER for their support of this project and the two prior projects that motivated it!

Dr. Dan Goldhaber is the director of the Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) at the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and the director of the Center for Education Data and Research at the University of Washington.

Dr. Roddy Theobald is the deputy director of CALDER and a managing researcher at AIR. Thank you, Dr. Dan Goldhaber and Dr. Roddy Theobald, for sharing your experiences and findings about CTE!

This blog was authored by Skyler Fesagaiga, a Virtual Student Federal Service intern for NCSER and graduate student at the University of California, San Diego. Akilah Nelson, NCSER program officer, manages grants funded under the Career and Technical Education for Students with Disabilities special topic.

Research and Development Partnerships Using AI to Support Students with Disabilities

A speach therapist uses a laptop to work with a student

It is undeniable that artificial intelligence (AI) is, sooner rather than later, going to impact the work of teaching and learning in special education. Given formal adoption of AI technologies by schools and districts and informal uses of ChatGPT and similar platforms by educators and students, the field of special education research needs to take seriously how advancements in AI can complement and potentially improve our work. But there are also ways that these advancements can go astray. With these technologies advancing so quickly, and with AI models being trained on populations that may not include individuals with disabilities, there is a real risk that AI will fail to improve—or worse, harm—learning experiences for students with disabilities. Therefore, there is a pressing need to ensure that voices from within the special education community are included in the development of these new technologies.

At NCSER, we are committed to investing in research on AI technologies in a way that privileges the expertise of the special education community, including researchers, educators, and students with disabilities and their families. Below, we highlight two NCSER-funded projects that demonstrate this commitment.

Using AI to support speech-language pathologists

In 2023, NCSER partnered with the National Science foundation to fund AI4ExceptionalEd, a new AI Institute that focuses on transforming education for children with speech and language disorders. Currently, there is a drastic shortage of speech-language pathologists (SLPs) to identify and instruct students with speech and language needs. AI4ExceptionalEd brings together researchers from multiple disciplines including special education, communication disorders, learning sciences, linguistics, computer science, and AI from nine different universities across the United States to tackle pressing educational issues around the identification of students and the creation of specially designed, individualized instruction for students with speech and language disorders.

By bringing together AI researchers and education researchers, this interdisciplinary research partnership is setting the foundation for cutting-edge AI technologies to be created that solve real-world problems in our schools. A recent example of this is in the creation of flash cards for targeted intervention. It is common practice for an SLP to use flash cards that depict a noun or a verb in their interventions, but finding or creating the exact set of flash cards to target a specific learning objective for each child is very time consuming. Here is where AI comes into play. The Institute’s team of researchers is leveraging the power of AI to help SLPs identify optimal sets of flash cards to target the learning objectives of each learner while also creating the flash cards in real time. To do this effectively, the AI researchers are working hand-in-hand with speech and language researchers and SLPs in the iterative development process, ensuring that the final product is aligned with sound educational practices. This one AI solution can help SLPs optimize their practice and reduce time wasted in creating materials.

Adapting a popular math curriculum to support students with reading disabilities

Another example of how partnerships can strengthen cutting-edge research using AI to improve outcomes for students with disabilities is a 2021 grant to CAST to partner with Carnegie Learning to improve their widely used digital math curriculum, MATHia. The goal of this project is to develop and evaluate reading supports that can be embedded into the adaptive program to improve the math performance, particularly with word problems, of students with reading disabilities. CAST is known for its research and development in the area of universal design for learning (UDL) and technology supports for students with disabilities. Carnegie Learning is well known for their suite of curriculum products that apply cognitive science to instruction and learning. The researchers in this partnership also rely on a diverse team of special education researchers who have expertise in math and reading disabilities and an educator advisory council of teachers, special educators, and math/reading specialists.

It has taken this kind of partnership—and the inclusion of relevant stakeholders and experts—to conduct complex research applying generative AI (ChatGPT) and humans to revise word problems within MATHia to decrease reading challenges and support students in understanding the semantic and conceptual structure of a word problem. Rapid randomized control trials are being used to test these revised versions with over 116,000 students participating in the study. In 2022-2023 the research team demonstrated that humans can successfully revise word problems in ways that lead to improvements in student performance, including students with disabilities. The challenge is in trying to train generative AI to reproduce the kinds of revisions humans make. While generative AI has so far been unevenly successful in making revisions that similarly lead to improvements in student outcomes, the researchers are not ruling out the use of generative AI in revising word problems in MATHia.

The research team is now working with their expert consultants on a systematic reading and problem-solving approach as an alternative to revising word problems. Instead of text simplification, they will be testing the effect of adding instructional support within MATHia for some word problems.

The promise of AI

AI technologies may provide an opportunity to optimize education for all learners. With educators spending large amounts of their day planning and doing paperwork, AI technologies can be leveraged to drastically decrease the amount of time teachers need to spend on this administrative work, allowing more time for them to do what only they can—teach children. Developers and data scientists are invariably going to continue developing AI technologies, many with a specific focus on solutions to support students with disabilities. We would like to encourage special education researchers to exert their expertise in this development work, to partner with developers and interdisciplinary teams to apply AI to create innovative and novel solutions to improve outcomes for students with disabilities. For AI to lead to lasting advances in education spaces, it will be imperative that this development is inclusive of the special education field.

This blog was written by NCSER Commissioner, Nate Jones (Nathan.Jones@ed.gov) and NCSER program officers Britta Bresina (Britta.Bresina@ed.gov) and Sarah Brasiel (Sarah.Brasiel@ed.gov).

What We are Learning from NAEP Data About Use of Extended Time Accommodations

For students with learning disabilities, many of whom may take more time to read and process information than non-disabled peers, an extended time accommodation (ETA) is often used on standardized assessments. In 2021, IES awarded a grant for researchers to explore the test-taking behavior, including use of accommodations such as ETA, of students with disabilities in middle school using response process data from the NAEP mathematics assessment. In this blog, we interview Dr. Xin Wei from Digital Promise to see what she and Dr. Susu Zhang from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are learning from their study.

The researchers have delved into the performance, process, and survey data of the eighth graders who took the digital NAEP mathematics test in 2017. Their recent article presents a quasi-experimental study examining the differences in these data across three distinct profiles of students with learning disabilities (LDs)—students with LD who received and utilized ETAs, students with LD who were granted ETAs but did not use them, and students with LD who did not receive ETAs.

The key findings from their study are as follows:

  • Students with LDs who used their ETAs performed statistically significantly better than their peers with LDs who were not granted ETA and those who received ETA but did not use it. They also engaged more with the test, as demonstrated by more frequent actions, revisits to items, and greater use of universal design features like drawing tool and text-to-speech functionalities on most of the math items compared to students who were not granted extended time.
  • Students with LDs who had ETAs but chose not to use them performed significantly worse than their peers with LDs who were not granted extended time.
  • Students with LDs who were granted ETAs saw the best performance with an additional 50% time (45 minutes compared to the usual 30 minutes provided to students without ETA).
  • Students who were given extra time, regardless of whether they used it, reported feeling less time pressure, higher math interest, and enjoying math more.
  • There were certain item types for which students who used ETAs performed more favorably.

We recently discussed the results of the study with Dr. Wei to learn more.


Which types of items on the test favored students who used extended time and why do you think they benefited?

Headshot of Xin Wei

The assessment items that particularly benefited from ETAs were not only complex but also inherently time-consuming. For example, students need to complete four sub-questions for item 5, drag six numbers to the correct places for item 6, type answers into four places to complete an equation for item 9, type in a constructive response answer for item 11, and complete a multiple-choice question and type answers in eight places to complete item 13.

For students with LDs, who often have slower processing speeds, these tasks become even more time-intensive. The additional time allows students to engage with each element of the question thoroughly, ensuring they have the opportunity to fully understand and respond to each part. This extended time is not just about accommodating different processing speeds; it's about providing the necessary space for these students to engage with and complete tasks that are intricate and time-consuming by design.

Why did you decide to look at the additional survey data NAEP collects on math interest and enjoyment in your study of extended time?

These affective factors are pivotal to academic success, particularly in STEM fields. Students who enjoy the subject matter tend to perform better, pursue related fields, and continue learning throughout their lives. This is especially relevant for students with LDs, who often face heightened test anxiety and lower interest in math, which can be exacerbated by the pressure of timed assessments. Our study's focus on these affective components revealed that students granted extra time reported a higher level of math interest and enjoyment even if they did not use the extra time. ETAs appear to alleviate the stress tied to time limits, offering dual advantages by not only aiding in academic achievement but also by improving attitudes toward math. ETAs could be a low-cost, high-impact accommodation that not only addresses academic needs but also contributes to emotional health.

What recommendations do you have based on your findings for classroom instruction?

First, it is crucial to prioritize extra time for students with LDs to enhance their academic performance and engagement. This involves offering flexible timing for assignments and assessments to reduce anxiety and foster a greater interest in learning. Teachers should be encouraged to integrate Universal Design for Learning principles into their instructional methods, emphasizing the effective use of technology, such as text-to-speech tools and embedded digital highlighters and pencils for doing scratchwork. Professional development for educators is essential to deepen their proficiency in using digital learning tools. Additionally, teachers should motivate students to use the extra time for thorough problem-solving and to revisit math tasks for accuracy. Regularly adjusting accommodations to meet the evolving needs of students with LDs is vital in creating an inclusive learning environment where every student can achieve success.

What is the implication of the study findings on education equity? 

Our study demonstrates that ETAs offer more than just a performance boost: they provide psychological benefits, reducing stress and enhancing interest and enjoyment with the subject matter. This is vital for students with LDs, who often face heightened anxiety and performance pressure. To make the system more equitable, we need a standardized policy for accommodations that ensures all students who require ETAs receive them. We must consider the variable needs of all students and question the current practices and policies that create inconsistencies in granting accommodations. If the true aim of assessments is to gauge student abilities, time is a factor that should not become a barrier.


U.S. Department of Education Resources

Learn more about the Department’s resources to support schools, educators, and families in making curriculum, instruction, and assessment accessible for students with disabilities.

Learn more about conducting research using response process data from the 2017 NAEP Mathematics Assessment.

 

This  interview blog was produced by Sarah Brasiel (Sarah.Brasiel@ed.gov), a program officer in the National Center for Special Education Research.

Celebrating National STEM Day on November 8 and Every Day

IES widely supports and disseminates high-quality research focusing on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) through NCER and NCSER. To celebrate National STEM Day on November 8 and every day, we highlight some of the work that NCER and NCSER have supported over the years in the various STEM areas, as well as opportunities for funding future work. Additional information about IES’s investment in STEM education can also be found on our STEM topic page.

Science

  • Researchers developed ChemVLab+ an online chemistry intervention that allows high school students to perform experiments and analyze data in a flexible, multimedia virtual chemistry lab environment. The online modules promote conceptual understanding and science inquiry skills aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards. The chemistry activities are freely available on the project website.
  • Researchers are developing Words as Tools, an intervention for emergent bilingual adolescents that is designed for use in English as a second language classes to promote development of metalinguistic awareness with science vocabulary. The lessons, being developed with a lens of culturally sustaining pedagogy, are intended to help build knowledge of essential science words as well as how words work in science.
  • Researchers are evaluating the efficacy of an integrated science and literacy curriculum (ISLC) designed to engage first grade students in scientific investigations at a level appropriate for young learners. ISLC addresses the challenges of language and literacy development by ensuring that the language of science is brought forward and explicitly addressed in an integrated approach.
  • Through Project MELVA-S, researchers are developing an online formative assessment that measures the science vocabulary knowledge of Latinx bilingual students with different levels of English and Spanish language proficiencies. Results from the assessment can be used to monitor the progress of individual students, help teachers differentiate language and vocabulary instruction, and provide additional science vocabulary supports.

Technology

  • Using The Foos by codeSpark, researchers are exploring computational thinking processes in grades 1 and 3 through a series of classroom-based studies.
  • Researchers are evaluating the efficacy of the CAL-KIBO curriculum, an educational robotics program designed for use with early elementary school-aged students to examine its impact on computational thinking, fluid reasoning, and math achievement.
  • Researchers are systematically investigating how specific features of immersive virtual reality (IVR) can be used to improve student outcomes in science learning. In particular, the researchers are exploring how visual and auditory IVR design features can enhance affective state and cognitive processing in general and for specific subgroups of learners.
  • Researchers are developing and testing TaylorAI, an artificial intelligence formative feedback and assessment system for hands-on science investigations to help build student competence as they engage in laboratory activities.
  • In partnership with the National Science Foundation, IES is co-funding two National Artificial Intelligence (AI) Institutes. Under NCER, the Institute for Inclusive and Intelligent Technologies for Education (INVITE) is developing artificial intelligence (AI) tools and approaches to support behavioral and affective skills (for example, persistence, academic resilience, and collaboration) to improve learning in STEM education. Under NCSER, the AI Institute for Exceptional Education (AI4ExceptionalEd) is using multiple cutting-edge AI methodologies to create the technology to assist speech-language pathologists with identifying students in need of speech and language services and delivering individualized interventions.

Engineering

  • Researchers are developing an innovative teacher professional learning intervention called Elevating Engineering with Multilingual Learners that is intended to help grade 3-5 teachers develop the knowledge and skills they need to effectively teach engineering to English learners and all students through culturally and linguistically responsive pedagogies and engineering instruction.
  • Product developers and researchers are developing and testing NEWTON-AR, an augmented reality (AR) application-based engineering, computer science, and STEM puzzle game for children in kindergarten to grade 3. Intended for use in classrooms, after-school programs, and at home, NEWTON-AR will combine AR, engineering, simulation, making, and programming into a sandbox game where students create, modify, simulate, prototype, and test contraptions to solve puzzle challenges.

Mathematics

  • Researchers have developed and tested for efficacy of Fusion, a first-grade intervention aimed at developing understanding of whole numbers for students at risk for mathematics learning disabilities. It is designed as a program for schools using a multi-tiered approach to instruction that provides increasingly intense levels of instruction based on the results of frequent progress monitoring of students.
  • Researchers tested for efficacy of Pirate Math Equation Quest, a word problem-solving intervention for third grade students with mathematics difficulties, including students with or at risk for mathematics learning disabilities.
  • Researchers assessed the efficacy of Interleaved mathematics practice, an intervention that rearranges math practice problems so that 1) different kinds of math problems are mixed together, which improves learning, and 2) problems of the same kind are distributed across multiple assignments, which improves retention. A new systematic replication study is also now underway to further examine the efficacy of interleaved mathematics practice.
  • Researchers have conducted several impact studies (one conducted with grade 7 students in Maine and replication study conducted in North Carolina) of ASSISTments, a free web-based program that provides immediate feedback to students and teachers on homework. ASSISTments can be used with any commercial or locally developed math curriculum, and teachers can assign "mastery" problem sets that organize practice to facilitate the achievement of proficiency.  

STEM Education Research Funding Opportunities

Research grant funding opportunities focusing on STEM education can be found across several programs and competitions. Currently, there are several active funding opportunities where training or research with a STEM education focus would fit:  

More information on these fundings opportunities can also be found at: https://ies.ed.gov/funding/


This blog was written by Sarah Brasiel (sarah.brasiel@ed.gov), program officer at NCSER and Christina Chhin (christina.chhin@ed.gov), program officer at NCER.

Daily Report Cards to Enhance Individual Education Plans for Students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

In honor of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Awareness Month, we would like to share an interview with Dr. Gregory Fabiano, who has been investigating the enhancement of Individual Education Programs (IEPs) for children with ADHD using daily report cards (DRC). The DRC provides a way to provide feedback to students, parents, and teachers on behavioral and social IEP goals on a daily basis. In the interview below, Dr. Fabiano shares how ADHD impacts student outcomes and how linking the DRC to IEP goals can improve social and academic outcomes above and beyond what an IEP alone can do.

What do we already know about how ADHD impacts academic and social outcomes in children in elementary school? How does this motivate your own research?

Like all people, individuals with ADHD have areas of strengths and weaknesses. If you wanted to create a situation where a person with ADHD is more likely to demonstrate weaknesses, you would likely construct a situation like an academic classroom—long periods of time where individuals are asked to complete rote tasks, attend to lectures, and follow strict rules about where they should be, what they can say, and when they can say it. The situation is highly likely to exacerbate challenges with staying on task and being productive. Through our team’s work with so many children with ADHD, we have seen first-hand how hard their caregivers and teachers work to support them and the good they can do when they are successful. That is why we are motivated to develop approaches to help every child with ADHD who may struggle in school.

The DRC has been used with students with ADHD for a while now. What can you tell us of the history of this intervention?

The DRC has been around since the 1960s when it was used by scholars such as Jon Bailey and colleagues at the University at Kansas and then by Dan and Sue O’Leary and their graduate student Bill Pelham at Stony Brook University. Since that time, the DRC has been disseminated to schools. It has the advantage of being practical and easy to understand across caregivers, educators, and the child. Throughout its use over the past 50 years, it has always included the same active ingredients: (1) clearly specified behavioral goals with objective criteria for meeting goals (for example, completes assigned work within time given, has no more than three instances of interruptions during the science lesson); (2) provision of progress feedback throughout the day; (3) daily communication between the teacher, caregiver, and child by sending the report home; and (4) contingent rewards provided at home for goals achieved.

What does a DRC introduce to a child’s IEP that can improve academic and social outcomes relative to an IEP without a DRC? 

Research, including our own work, has suggested that IEPs for children with ADHD may under-represent social/behavioral goals and objectives. They are even less effective at providing specific, ongoing evidence-based interventions for a student with ADHD. When the DRC is linked to IEP goals and objectives on a daily basis, educators and others are better able to focus their own attention on the most important areas of need. Further, it is flexible enough to quickly add worthy goals that may not have been on the IEP.

We think that the DRC is especially important at the elementary school level, where school is a particularly formative educational experience. We emphasize positive daily goals and contingent rewards for meeting goals. And because the DRC is implemented just for the one day, students start with a clean slate at the onset of each school day.

What impact do you hope that your study of the DRC intervention will have on the field, and for students with ADHD and their IEPs in particular?

One of the sobering findings of our IES-funded study was that the comparison group, which included special education as usual, did not improve in the main outcomes assessed at the end of the year. This leads our team to believe that we need to do much more to support students with ADHD on a daily and ongoing basis, beyond simply drafting an IEP. Because most students with ADHD spend the majority of their day in general education settings, even if they have an IEP, the DRC serves as a bridge to promote continuity and consistency of behavioral support across school personnel and across school days.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your project? 

It is important to note that some children with ADHD progress through school and find their footing successfully in college and/or career. Yet, we know from long-term follow-up studies that the educational outcomes for many with ADHD are poor. These outcomes do not occur suddenly, but instead are caused by the accumulation of negative school experiences. It is important to acknowledge that establishing an IEP alone is unlikely to influence these negative outcomes. It is the everyday support and intervention received by the child with ADHD in the classroom that makes the difference. Caregivers, educators, and the child must work together daily to make progress, celebrate successes, and problem solve to address any continued areas of need. The DRC is one way to do this and we are hopeful the field will continue to develop innovative ways to support individuals with ADHD using a competency-building approach.

This blog was authored by Skyler Fesagaiga, a Virtual Student Federal Service intern for NCSER and graduate student at the University of California, San Diego. Jackie Buckley, NCSER program officer, manages this grant.