Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

What We are Learning from Research Using NAEP Mathematics Response Process Data

Three students (two using tablets, one using a laptop) sitting at a library table

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the largest nationally representative and ongoing assessment of subject knowledge among students in public and private schools in the United States. On the 2017 eighth grade mathematics assessment, 38% of students without disabilities scored at the NAEP Proficient level or above while 25% scored below the NAEP Basic level. However, for students with disabilities, math achievement levels were much worse. Only about 9% of students with disabilities scored at the NAEP Proficient level or above whereas 69% scored below the NAEP Basic level. In response to this gap, in 2021, the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) released a funding opportunity to coincide with the release of the 2017 Grade 8 NAEP Mathematics response process data. NCSER intended to support research that explores how learners with disabilities interact with the NAEP digital assessment to better support these learners in test-taking environments and determine whether and how that information could be used to inform instructional practices. There is much to learn from research on NAEP process data for understanding test-taking behaviors and achievement of learners with disabilities. Below we showcase the latest findings from currently funded research and encourage more investigators to conduct research with newly released process data.

Since 2017, administrations of NAEP have captured a variety of response process data, including keystrokes as learners progress through the assessment, how learners use the available tools (such as the calculator), and how accommodations (for example, text-to-speech or more time to complete the assessment) affect performance. Besides score data, NAEP datasets also include survey data from learners, teachers, and schools, and information on test item characteristics and student demographics (including disability). Together, these data provide a unique opportunity for researchers to conduct an in-depth investigation of the test-taking behavior and the mathematics competencies of learners with disabilities compared to their peers without disabilities.  

In July 2021, IES awarded two grants to conduct research using NAEP process data. The results of these projects are expected to improve the future development and administration of digital learning assessments, identify needed enhancements to mathematics instruction, and highlight areas where further research is needed.  Although these projects are ongoing, we would like to highlight findings from one of the funded projects awarded to SRI International and led by principal investigator Xin Wei  entitled Analysis of NAEP Mathematics Process, Outcome, and Survey Data to Understand Test-Taking Behavior and Mathematics Performance of Learners with Disabilities.

The findings from this study, recently published in Autism, is an example of the power of process data to shed new light on learners with disabilities. Focusing on autistic students, Xin Wei and her team analyzed data from 15 items on the NAEP math assessment, their response time in seconds, their score on the items (including partially correct scoring), and survey data related to their enjoyment, interest, and persistence in math. They also analyzed the content of each item using Flesch Reading Ease scores to measure the reading difficulty level of the item. Finally, they rated each item based on the complexity of any social context of the item, as prior research has shown that these contexts can be more challenging for autistic students. They conducted statistical analyses to compare the performance of autistic students with extended time accommodations, autistic students without accommodations, and general education peers. The researchers were not only looking for any areas of weakness, but also areas of strength. Previous studies have demonstrated that autistic people frequently excel in abstract spatial reasoning and calculation tasks, relying more on visual-mental representations than verbal ones.

The findings showed that in comparison to their general education peers, unaccommodated autistic students scored higher and solved math problems involving the identification of figures more quickly. Unaccommodated autistic students were also faster than their general education peers at solving the following types of math items: comparing measures using unit conversions, mentally rotating a triangle, interpreting linear equations, and constructing data analysis plots. Although autistic students who used the extended-time accommodation were lower performing than the other two groups, they had a higher accuracy rate on items involving identifying figures and calculating the diameter of a circle. Both groups of autistic students seem to perform poorer on word problems. Researchers concluded that the linguistic complexity could be one of the reasons that autistic students struggle with math word problems; however, there were two word problems with which they seemed to struggle despite the fact that they were not linguistically complex. It turns out that the items were rated as having substantial social context complexity. The researchers also looked at the student survey data on what types of math they enjoyed more and found they had more enjoyment working with shapes and figures and less enjoyment for solving equations.

The researchers recommend incorporating meta-cognitive and explicit schema instruction during mathematics instruction to aid autistic students in understanding real-life math word problems. They also recommend that assessment developers consider simplifying the language and social context of math word problems to make the assessment more equitable, fair, and accessible for autistic students. Because the autistic student population is particularly heterogenous, more research is required to better understand how to improve instructional strategies for them.

IES plans to release the same type of process data from the 2017 Grade 4 NAEP Mathematics at the end of this summer. We encourage researchers to request these process data to conduct research to understand test-taking behavior and performance of students with disabilities at the elementary school level. For a source of funding for the work, consider applying to the current Special Education Research Grants competition. Here are some important resources to support your proposal writing:

This blog was authored by Sarah Brasiel (Sarah.Brasiel@ed.gov), program officer at NCSER, and Juliette Gudknecht, summer data science intern at IES and graduate student at Teachers College, Columbia University. IES encourages special education researchers to use NAEP response process data for research under the Exploration project type within our standard Special Education Research Grants Program funding opportunity.   

Integrating Intervention Systems to Address Student Mental Health and Social-Emotional-Behavioral Functioning

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, NCSER is featuring an IES-funded study on student behavioral supports and interventions that best address the mental health needs of students. Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and school mental health (SMH) are both evidence-based interventions that provide student mental health support independent of one another. For this blog, we interviewed Dr. Brandon Schultz, principal investigator of a current study investigating the integration of both PBIS and SMH into a comprehensive school intervention. In the interview below, he discusses the differences between PBIS and SMH, how this research contributes to equity and inclusion in the classroom, and his research journey.

Your study is comparing schools that integrate PBIS and SMH into the enhanced version of the Interconnected Systems Framework (ISF) to schools that implement these as separate, parallel systems. Can you describe PBIS and SMH, and explain the key differences between the integrated framework and parallel systems?

Headshot of Dr. Brandon Schultz

PBIS is a tiered prevention system that addresses student behavioral needs. It provides universal support (Tier 1) to all students, including clear schoolwide behavioral expectations and a rewards system for desired behaviors. For students who do not respond to these efforts, Tier 2 provides targeted help through classroom-level or small group interventions, such as teacher consultation or student mentoring/counseling. For students who need intensive support, Tier 3 provides specialized one-to-one behavioral services. SMH, in contrast, focuses specifically on mental illnesses (for example, anxiety, trauma, depression) and, in some cases, involves community-based therapists working contractually with schools. Typically, PBIS and SMH function separately as co-located services, but there is a growing recognition that student needs are best met when these efforts are meaningfully integrated. Integration, however, is challenging because it requires educators to rethink their teaming and progress monitoring practices and include different stakeholders in critical decision-making processes. This study tests innovations to the ISF model, designed by my co-PI, Dr. Mark Weist (University of South Carolina), to meet the challenges of integrating these systems in two diverse school districts.

How did you become interested in this area of research?

My previous research was mostly focused on school-based interventions for students with ADHD, but it became clear that without systems-level change, interventions meant to help students with ADHD are unlikely to be implemented or sustained effectively, no matter how well they are designed. So, I became interested in understanding school systems and identifying the elements, processes, and resources that are critical for student support services of all kinds. 

How does your research contribute to equity and inclusion in education?

Part of my current study is focused the degree to which innovations to the ISF model can reduce racial inequities in school disciplinary actions. Research shows that Black students receive higher rates of exclusionary punishments (for example, suspensions and expulsions) than their White counterparts, even after controlling for the type of infraction. The modified ISF model aims to reduce the overall need for exclusionary punishments, especially among students of color. By improving team functioning, ISF allows educators to identify systemic problems that lead to racial inequities in disciplinary referrals and to generate new strategies to address student needs in a fair and equitable manner. With this model, we anticipate increased support for students of color that obviates disciplinary referrals. We are working with school districts now to examine disciplinary data before, during, and after the implementation of the enhanced ISF. Our hope is to identify strategies that close race-related gaps and share the lessons learned broadly.

Have you encountered any challenges in studying this integrated framework in elementary schools?

Yes, absolutely. Systems-level change in general is difficult, as it requires change agents to overcome structural inertia rooted in local norms, routines, and expectations. Those challenges have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and preexisting trends in childhood mental illnesses. 

During the pandemic, student progress in mathematics and reading have dramatically declined. Meeting these academic needs, a priority for teachers, can divert attention away from student mental health needs. For example, all teachers in one of our states are required to take a year-long online course in reading instruction, partly to address student learning loss. Although commendable, this requirement creates a significant burden for teachers that can leave little room for other concerns. 

Preexisting mental health trends demonstrate that mental illness was increasing sharply among school-age children; by 2018, nearly 15% of all K-12 students experienced a psychiatric condition each year. Then, with the onset of the pandemic, indicators of childhood mental illness (for example, emergency room visits for suicidal behavior) spiked. Childhood anxiety and depression doubled worldwide from pre-pandemic estimates, and it is unclear whether those rates will return to baseline.

Together, these events have created real challenges, not just for our research, but for student support services in general.

What is currently the greatest area of need in studying school-based systems that support student mental health, particularly for those students with or at risk for emotional and behavioral disorders?

Perhaps the greatest area of need for supporting students with emotional and behavioral disorders is understaffing in critical school mental health positions. There is a significant shortage of school psychologists, counselors, social workers, and nurses nationwide. In North Carolina, the current ratio of school psychologists to students is 1:2,527, five times higher than recommended. This understaffing hinders schools’ ability to provide high-quality services and complicates efforts to test and refine innovative practices because field-based practitioners are unable to collaborate on research efforts. Researchers have had to hire individuals to fulfill critical roles, such as behavioral consultants, that might otherwise have been assigned to district-employed staff. Trained personnel then exit the school district when the research project ends and that skillset is lost. We hope that states prioritize the hiring of school mental health practitioners in the coming years to ensure optimal student support services and that university-school research collaborations can reliably lead to sustainable innovations.

NCSER looks forward to seeing the results of this efficacy trial and will continue to fund research aimed at supporting the mental health and social-emotional-behavioral needs of students with or at risk for disabilities.

This blog was authored by Isabelle Saillard, student volunteer for NCSER and undergraduate at the University of Virginia.

Exploring the Intersection of Special Education, Learning Analytics, and Psychometrics: A Journey in Education Research

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. In recognition of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, in this interview blog we asked Dr. Xin Wei, a senior quantitative researcher at Digital Promise to discuss her career journey. Dr. Wei’s current IES-funded study uses statistical and machine-learning techniques to understand the test-taking behavior of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) grade 8 learners with and without disabilities.

How did you become interested in a career in education research?

As a child, I aspired to become a teacher, and in college I decided to pursue a degree in child development. During my senior year of college, I worked as a research assistant on a project studying statistical and psychometric methods used to analyze learning differences among children. This experience sparked my interest in education research and revealed the potential for statistical analysis to inform and enhance teaching practices.

Graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Stanford University helped me gain a deeper understanding of quantitative methods in education research. Through applying and improving quantitative methods, I discovered how national and state longitudinal datasets can help us understand the learning, social, and emotional needs of students with disabilities and which policy interventions can help us achieve better outcomes. This opportunity helped me understand the challenges students with disabilities face in the education system and deepened my appreciation for secondary data analysis and its power to inform intervention research.

Currently, my research focuses on analyzing log/process data to understand how digital learning and assessments can facilitate student learning, accurately measure progress, and improve outcomes for students with disabilities. Through this work, I am committed to advancing the education research field at the intersection of special education, learning analytics, and psychometrics.

What has been the biggest challenge you have encountered, and how did you overcome the challenge?

When I came to the United States to pursue a graduate degree at the age of 23, I faced a host of challenges that forced me out of my comfort zone. Navigating a new culture and adapting to academic expectations and research demands was overwhelming. Additionally, understanding U.S. K-12 education policies and practices was no easy feat. However, I was fortunate enough to have incredible mentors, professors, peers, and colleagues who provided me with guidance, support, and patience when I needed it most. These individuals played a crucial role in helping me grow as a researcher.

The most important lesson I learned from the challenges I faced was the value of continuous learning and growth in my career. These experiences have strengthened my commitment to making a positive impact in education and helping others who may be facing similar obstacles.

How can the broader education research community better support the careers and scholarship of researchers from underrepresented groups?

The student population in the United States is diverse, and it is essential that the education research community reflects that diversity by including scholars who bring unique perspectives and experiences.

One way to do this is by actively seeking out and valuing diverse voices in research, teaching, and leadership positions. This includes promoting diversity in conference panels, as well as actively recruiting and hiring researchers from underrepresented groups. By creating a culture of inclusivity, the education research community can better support the careers and scholarship of researchers from underrepresented groups.

Another way to better support the careers and scholarship of researchers from underrepresented groups is through mentoring programs, summer internships, and postdoc positions. These opportunities can provide valuable professional development and collaboration opportunities. In addition, research grants specifically targeted toward underrepresented groups can also help support their work and advance their careers. It is essential to widely advertise these opportunities and make them accessible to ensure that all researchers have an equal chance to participate.

In your area of research, what do you see as the greatest research needs or recommendations to address diversity, equity, and inclusion and to improve the relevance of education research for diverse communities of students and families?

To address diversity, equity, and inclusion in education research, it is crucial to adopt an asset-based approach when working with neurodiverse students. By shifting the focus from deficits to strengths, we can recognize and leverage their unique abilities, promoting more equitable educational practices. Additionally, targeted support should be provided to address the specific challenges underserved students face, ensuring inclusive learning environments. For instance, my research findings indicate that students with autism exhibit strengths in visuospatial reasoning and are drawn to STEM fields. However, autistic students may benefit from extra support to develop perseverance and improve their weaker areas (such as word problems) in math.

Furthermore, there is a need for more research focusing on understanding how students with disabilities or other underserved groups engage with and benefit from digital learning and assessment systems. This entails investigating their cognitive processes, level of engagement, needs, and barriers within these contexts.

To address this gap, I am currently analyzing the NAEP process/log, performance, and survey data to study the impact of digital tools (such as text-to-speech) on student performance. This line of research is crucial and should be expanded to gather new insights on inclusive and accessible learning possibilities as technologies continue to develop.

In addition, research efforts should extend beyond traditional methods and incorporate the analysis of multimodal data. By considering a range of data sources, including behavior log/process data, speech, facial expressions, and eye-tracking data, we can gain deeper insights into how students interact with digital learning and assessments. This comprehensive approach enables us to capture nuanced aspects of their experiences and informs the design and implementation of effective educational interventions and digital learning platforms.

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

First and foremost, seek out a great mentor and research team. Having someone to guide and support you in the field can be tremendously beneficial to your career. Look for someone who shares your research interests, is supportive of your goals, and is committed to helping you succeed. Learning from others in your team is a great way to improve your skills and knowledge.

Second, don’t be afraid of change. The greatest opportunities often require stepping out of your comfort zone and exploring new research areas or methodologies. Be open to feedback and new perspectives that can help you grow as a researcher.

Third, be brave! It is important to recognize that your unique experiences and perspectives are valuable assets to the research community. Do not be afraid to share your ideas and contributions with others. Being proactive about your work can be a great way to build your network and collaborate with other researchers in the field.

Lastly, know that you have the potential to lead a research team yourself. Keep working hard, stay focused on your goals, and do not be afraid to take on leadership roles when the opportunities arise. Pursuing this career as an emerging scholar from an underrepresented or minoritized group can be challenging but also incredibly rewarding, and you can make a meaningful impact in the field and inspire others to follow in your footsteps.


Dr. Xin Wei is currently a senior quantitative researcher at Digital Promise. Prior to joining Digital Promise, she held the position of principal research scientist at SRI International for a duration of 15 years. She specializes in using applied experimental design, statistical and machine-learning techniques to evaluate and improve instruction, interventions, assessments, and policies. In addition to her current IES study, Dr. Wei has designed and directed statistical analysis of more than 26 grants funded by federal agencies.

Produced by NCER program officer Wai Chow (Wai-Ying.Chow@ed.gov) and Virtual Student Federal Service intern Audrey Im.

Smooth Sailing Using the Neurodiversity Paradigm: Developing Positive Classrooms Experiences for Autistic Students

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, we’d like to highlight an IES-funded research project on autism spectrum disorder and discuss how the current framework of neurodiversity informs this research. In recent years, the neurodiversity paradigm has been an increasingly popular way of viewing autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions. Neurodiversity is a term coined in the late 1990s by Judy Singer to refer to natural human variation in neurotypes. Neurodivergent individuals diverge from the norm, usually with conditions such as autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or dyslexia. Rather than focusing on deficits, this paradigm supports a strength-based view of these conditions while still acknowledging individual challenges. For this blog, we interviewed Dr. Jan Blacher and Dr. Abbey Eisenhower, principal investigators who created a professional development (PD) program supporting general education teachers of students on the autism spectrum. In the interview below, the researchers describe how their PD program works and how it uses the neurodiversity paradigm to strengthen relationships between autistic students and their teachers.

What is Smooth Sailing and what led you to develop it?

Headshot of Dr. Abbey EisenhowerHeadshot of Dr. Jan Blacher

Smooth Sailing is the nickname for our PD for general education teachers in kindergarten through second grade who have at least one student on the autism spectrum in their classrooms. The catalyst for the program was the findings from our previous project on student-teacher relationships, indicating that teachers are central to facilitating positive school experiences, especially for autistic students. Warm, positive student-teacher relationships are predictive of academic engagement and social adjustment.

The program provides coaching-based support for teachers, equips them with strategies for building strong relationships with autistic students, and enables them to expand on their students' strengths and interests in the classroom. Developed by educators, clinicians, and researchers in partnership with teachers and autistic individuals, Smooth Sailing uses an autism-affirming, neurodiversity perspective throughout the program.

What makes this program unique?                                                                                                                

Smooth Sailing recognizes the importance of relationships—especially student-teacher relationships—in making school a positive and welcoming place for students.

Our program prioritizes a neurodiversity perspective on autism: We recognize autism as a set of differences that are part of the diversity of human experience. In order to best support autistic students, we must provide an affirming context that embraces their strengths and differences. This approach contrasts with a deficit-based model, which focuses on changing children and their behaviors. The deficit model could impair relationships between students and their teachers, making academic engagement and social adjustment worse.

Finally, Smooth Sailing is unique for centering on autistic people as key contributors to shaping program content so that the program reflects the lived realities of autistic students.

What have you learned while developing and testing the Smooth Sailing intervention?

We have learned several important lessons:

(1) During the initial research for our intervention, findings indicated that only 8% of general education teachers in the study had received any professional training in autism. This provides a clear-cut mandate for more autism-focused training for these educators.

(2) After the intervention, general education teachers endorsed three key Smooth Sailing strategies for reaching out to their autistic students: (a) identifying interests, (b) celebrating talents, and (c) having one-on-one time to form stronger relationships. We learned that these simple strategies are ones every teacher can adopt to create more inclusive classrooms and cultivate stronger relationships with students, especially autistic students.

(3) Overall, teachers who received the Smooth Sailing PD experienced significant improvements in the quality of their relationships with autistic students, including higher student-teacher closeness and lower student-teacher conflict, compared to teachers who had not received the program. Thus, in addition to other positive outcomes for teachers and children, we learned that our brief program (12 hours over 4 weeks) was sufficient for moving the needle on the critical construct of student-teacher relationship quality.

How does respect for neurodiversity inform the Smooth Sailing intervention and your philosophies as researchers?

One key factor that has been transformative to the resulting Smooth Sailing program has been our close consultation with current and former autistic students. As part of developing the Smooth Sailing program for teachers, our research team interviewed many autistic adolescents and adults about their school experiences, their advice for teachers, and their opinions on making schools more affirming and inclusive. In addition, we closely engaged autistic adults as expert consultants during our program development process. These consultants advised on teacher-focused content, reviewed materials, and weighed in on program changes.

The rich information we learned from the interviews and intensive consultation substantially impacted the content of the resulting program. To offer one example, these interviews showed us the outsized power of a positive student-teacher relationship, even with just one teacher, in making school a bearable place for autistic students.

Because many autistic students describe their school experiences as ableist and marginalizing, our team's programming aims to disrupt these school problems by building strong student-teacher relationships and fostering teachers' understanding of autism through an affirming, neurodiversity-informed lens. By incorporating first-person perspectives of autistic students and adults in its creation and content, our programs affirm the lived realities of autistic students. 

What needs are still unmet for general education teachers working with autistic students?

We have heard from teachers and administrators at all K-12 levels—high school, middle school, and later elementary school—that they would like access to similar autism-focused PD programs targeted to the student age ranges they teach. We think that creating a school culture that affirms neurodiversity starts by fostering understanding between students and all school staff, not just primary classroom teachers.  

What's next for the Smooth Sailing project?

We hope to expand the Smooth Sailing PD program to the early childhood education context. Unfortunately, our research has shown that, by the time they enter elementary school, one out of every six autistic children has been expelled from a preschool or childcare program. Viewed through a social justice lens, this preschool expulsion is an educational equity issue.

Early childhood educators are key to improving these early school experiences. We believe that preschool and childcare educators can be catalysts in providing an inclusive environment by forming strong relationships with autistic and neurodivergent children. That said, most early childhood educators report having no professional training in autism, feeling underprepared to meet the needs of autistic children, and wanting more support for inclusion. We hope that programs like Smooth Sailing can be applied to support educators working with preschool-age children who are autistic or neurodivergent, many of whom are not yet diagnosed, so that their first school experiences can be enriching and inclusive.

Jan Blacher is a distinguished research professor in the School of Education and the director of the SEARCH Family Autism Research Center at the University of California, Riverside. Abbey Eisenhower is an associate professor in the Psychology Department at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.   

This blog was authored by Juliette Gudknecht, an intern at IES, along with Emily Weaver (Emily.Weaver@ed.gov), program officer at NCSER with oversight of the portfolio of autism grants.

Paving Better Paths to the Future through Gender-Specific Curricula Interventions

Young women and men with disabilities face unique barriers in the transition from school to adulthood. In recognition of the IES 20th anniversary, we are spotlighting Paths 2 the Future, a career development intervention for students with disabilities with gender-specific versions for boys and girls. For this blog post, virtual intern Audrey Im checks in with IES grantees Dr. Lauren Lindstrom (University of California, Davis) and Dr. John Lind (University of Oregon) about their experiences iteratively developing Paths 2 the Future. What started as an intervention to provide career guidance to high school girls with disabilities has now expanded to a package of interventions that also address the needs of high school-aged men with disabilities and underserved students of all genders.

Headshot of Dr. Lauren Lindstrom

In 2007, Lauren Lindstrom (then a senior research associate at the University of Oregon) received a grant from the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) to develop PATHS, a curriculum to improve education and career outcomes of high school girls with learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, and emotional or behavioral disabilities. Lindstrom and her team created a curriculum advancing gender equity, disability awareness, and career readiness, which was then implemented in six high schools as an 18-week program.

According to Dr. Lindstrom, her team created PATHS just for girls after examining the disparate post-school outcomes for high school girls with disabilities enrolled in existing transition programs. “I consistently noticed that the girls were less likely to go to work, and if they went to work, they were working in really low-wage jobs,” she said. “And this was with the benefit of an intervention, right? Same kind of disabilities, same schools, but very different outcomes. So that really sparked my interest.”

In 2015, Dr. Lindstrom received a second grant to conduct a randomized controlled trial to test whether the intervention, now called Paths 2 the Future (P2F), improved career knowledge and skills among participants.

“We realized that this was probably one of the very first randomized controlled trials of a gender-specific career intervention,” Lindstrom said.

Lindstrom and her team sampled 366 girls with high-incidence disabilities in 26 Oregon high schools. The girls randomly assigned to the P2F intervention received the curriculum’s four core modules on self-awareness, disability knowledge, gender identity, and career and college readiness. They also received extensive information on career-related activities. The girls in the control group received the existing transition services of their respective schools. This study period lasted one 18-week semester and included a 6-month follow up with the students.

The P2F study found that the girls in the treatment group not only had more awareness of their identity and career possibilities after completing the curriculum, but they also had more confidence to talk about those topics. “The nature of being in a girl-only class really mattered,” Lindstrom said. “The students told us they felt safe there. They said things like ‘I’m a different person now. I feel empowered to talk, to think differently about my future.’” Lindstrom’s study also found that students in the treatment group were more likely to seek and have work experience in high school, an important observation as early work experience has proven to be a predictor for their future employment.

Headshot of Dr. John Lind

Lindstrom’s co-PI and research collaborator, Dr. John Lind, wondered if the P2F model would also work for boys. Lind, a research associate at the University of Oregon, received a 2019 IES grant Paths to the Future for Young Men (P2F-Young Men) to modify the P2F curriculum to take into account the specific needs of high school boys with high-incidence disabilities. These needs included (but were not limited to) building healthy relationships, breaking down gender stereotypes, and managing anger and stress.

“I think these needs are applicable to a range of genders but doing it in a classroom with just young men opens up the opportunity for potentially deeper discussions,” Lind said. “And that’s feedback that we’ve gotten anecdotally from the teachers we work with.”

After fully developing the P2F-Young Men curriculum, the researchers are currently conducting a small randomized controlled trial with eight teachers and their students at Oregon high schools. Although they are still in the process of collecting data for this study, Lind noted that teachers report that having a gender-specific curriculum helped the boys feel more comfortable in having discussions. “This is anecdotal at this point,” Lind acknowledged, “but if that stands true by the end of our study, I think that’s a really important finding.”

To Lindstrom and Lind, having separate curriculum interventions for different genders was necessary to address gender-specific issues and foster a safe learning environment. At the same time, they felt that it was important for all students across the gender spectrum to have access to these curricula to promote social-emotional development and build knowledge of career pathways.

“Teachers and schools have come to us and said, well is it just for cisgender students or people who are born as a certain gender? And our answer to that is no,” Lind affirmed. “What we’ve done with P2F-Young Men is create a transition curriculum for people who identify as young men. We start early in the curriculum of getting to know yourself, exploring yourself, your strength.”

In 2017, through funding from the National Center for Education Research (NCER), Lindstrom and Lind also developed a non-gender-specific version of the curriculum called P2F for All. This curriculum was targeted to underserved youth who face barriers to educational attainment and, due to a variety of reasons, may not be receiving transition services or college and career readiness support. Their study developed and tested the new P2F for All curriculum and found that it increased participating students’ career readiness, emotional coping skills, and interpersonal skills.

P2F for All aimed to take the findings from their gender-specific studies focused on the needs of students with disabilities and create a new, comprehensive career readiness curriculum—one that succeeded at addressing the needs of underserved students, not just those identified for special education services, regardless of gender. “What we strive to do in special education is provide services that are individualized and meet the needs of the person,” Lind said. “I think we’ve got a range of lessons to address that, and, ultimately, I think that lessons could be pulled out of a menu to meet specific needs for all students.”

Lauren Lindstrom is a professor and dean of the School of Education at the University of California, Davis. Prior to UC-Davis, Dr. Lindstrom served more than 25 years as an academic and administrator at the University of Oregon’s College of Education. Dean Lindstrom is an active researcher whose areas of interest include inclusive education, gender equity, career and college readiness and transition services for youth with disabilities. 

John Lind is a research associate at the University of Oregon’s College of Education. As a former special education teacher, Dr. Lind has extensive experience developing and implementing strength-based interventions for youth with disabilities, including adolescents with emotional and behavior disabilities. He has also worked as an educational consultant, providing training and technical assistance to international, national, and state departments of education on issues related to IDEA, effective classroom management, multi-tiered levels of support, and inclusion. Currently, he is the director of the SIGnetwork, a clearinghouse of resources for the OSEP-funded State Personnel Development Grantees.

This blog was written by Virtual Student Federal Service Intern Audrey Im and produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov). Akilah Nelson (Akilah.Nelson@ed.gov) is the program officer for the IES Transition to Postsecondary Education, Career, and/or Independent Living portfolio. The blog is part of a larger series on DEIA in Education Research.