Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Towards a Better Understanding of Middle-Schoolers’ Argumentation Skills

What is the difference between fact and opinion? How do you find relevant evidence and use it to support a position? Every day, teachers help students practice these skills by fostering critical discussions, a form of argumentation that encourages students to use reasoning to resolve differences of opinion.

In their IES-funded study, Exploring and Assessing the Development of Students' Argumentation Skills, Yi Song and her colleagues are uncovering activities (both teacher led and technology supported) that can improve middle-school students’ ability to generate better oral and written arguments.

This project began in 2019 and is working in classrooms and with teachers and students. The researchers have created a series of videos that describe their work. In this series, Dr. Song and her co-PIs, Dr. Ralph Ferretti and Dr. John Sabatini, discuss why the project is important to education, how they will conduct the research plan, and how educators can apply what they are learning in classrooms.

 

 


For questions and more information, contact Meredith Larson (Meredith.Larson@ed.gov), Program Officer, NCER

NCSER Principal Investigators Receive 2021 CEC Awards

This week, the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) is holding its annual Convention and Expo virtually. Several scholars are being presented with awards during the event to recognize their research contributions to the field. IES-funded investigators Linda Mason, Nicholas Gage, and Patricia Snyder are among those recognized.

Photo of Dr. Linda Mason

Dr. Linda Mason, Endowed Director of the Kellar Institute for Human disAbilities at George Mason University, received the CEC Special Education Research Award. This award is given to an individual or team whose research has made significant contributions to the education of children and youth with exceptionalities. Dr. Mason’s research focuses on content reading comprehension and writing interventions to support students with learning disabilities in inclusive classrooms. She has been the Principal Investigator (PI) on two National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) grants. For one, she developed a writing intervention for middle schoolers with behavior disorders. Currently, Dr. Mason is the PI for a project that is exploring the relationships among teacher use of evidence-based practices, teacher experience with and attitudes about adapting instruction for students with disabilities, and student writing outcomes.

Photo of Dr. Nicholas Gage

Dr. Nicholas Gage, Associate Professor at the School of Special Education, School Psychology, and Early Childhood Studies at the University of Florida, received the CEC Division for Research Martin J. Kauffman Distinguished Early Career Research Award. This award is given to an individual in recognition of outstanding scientific contributions in special education research within the first 10 years after receiving doctoral degree. Dr. Gage’s research focuses on identification of policies and practices to support the academic, social, and behavioral needs of students with or at risk for emotional or behavioral disorders. A former IES post-doctoral fellow, he has also served as the PI on a NCSER grant that developed a technology-based intervention to support students with visual impairments in locating key information in math word problems that include graphics. Currently, Dr. Gage serves as a mentor for an early career grant.

Photo of Dr. Patricia Snyder

Dr. Patricia Snyder, a Distinguished Professor and Director of the Anita Zucker Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies at the University of Florida, received the CEC Division for Research Kauffman-Hallahan-Pullen Distinguished Researcher Award. This award is given to an individual in recognition of research resulting in more effective services or education for exceptional individuals. Dr. Snyder’s research focuses on developing, validating, and evaluating interventions for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers with or at risk for disabilities or experiencing social and behavioral challenges. Dr. Snyder has been the Principal Investigator number of NCSER-funded research grants. She and her colleagues designed a professional development program, Tools for Teachers, to support teachers in using embedded instruction with preschool children with disabilities. Following up on the initial grant, she and her colleagues recently completed an efficacy trial of Tools for Teachers to examine the impact of the professional development intervention on teacher practices and child outcomes and she is serving as a co-PI for a grant developing Tools for Families, a program for teachers to engage families in embedded instruction for learning across school and home. Dr. Snyder has also been a co-PI for a study examining the efficacy of the Pyramid Model, a class-wide model aimed at promoting social-emotional development and positive behavior for preschool children; a project that developed Embedded Practices and Intervention with Caregivers, an early intervention program aimed at coaching caregivers of infants and toddlers to embed learning opportunities in every day routines; and a current project developing a professional development intervention focused on teaching vocabulary to children at risk for communication difficulties. Finally, she has been actively involved in training the next generation of researchers, serving as PI on a postdoctoral training grant focused on preparing postdoctoral fellows to conduct research on improving outcomes for young children with or at risk for disabilities and serving as a mentor for an Early Career program grant.

Congratulations to the award recipients!

This blog was authored by Alice Bravo (University of Washington), IES intern through the Virtual Student Federal Service, and Amy Sussman, Program Officer at NCSER.

"Boys Have It; Girls Have to Work for It": Examining Gender Stereotypes in Mathematics Achievement

In 2020, Andrei Cimpian, along with co-PIs Sapna Cheryan, Joseph Cimpian, and Sarah Lubienski, were awarded a grant for “Boys Have It; Girls Have to Work for It”: The Development and Consequences of Gender Stereotypes About Natural Talent vs. Effort in Mathematics. The goal of this project is threefold: 1) to explore the origins of the gender stereotype that girls achieve in math due to effort and boys achieve in math due to natural talent, 2) to investigate the consequences of these stereotypes, and 3) to identify ways of reducing the negative effects of these stereotypes on mathematics outcomes. In this blog, we interviewed Dr. Andrei Cimpian on his inspiration and insights on this research, as well as his plans to disseminate the findings to education practitioners.

 

Dr. Andrew CimpianWhat spurred your research, and what prior research was foundational for this current study? 

The co-PIs and I were inspired to do this research because we were struck by the contrast between two sets of facts. On the one hand, girls do better in school than boys from kindergarten to grade 12. Women also obtain more bachelor’s and graduate degrees than men. On the other hand, we as a society still think of men as more brilliant and genius-like than women. For example, participants in a 2018 study referred more male than female acquaintances for a job that they were told requires natural smarts1. When the same job was said to require a strong work ethic instead, participants referred equal numbers of women and men.

Of course, societal views of women and men have changed quite a bit over the last century. With respect to general competence, women are now equal with men in the eyes of the American public. But the stereotype that associates “raw,” high-level intellectual talent with men more than women seems to have resisted change. Why?

Our research is testing a promising hypothesis: It is possible that people give different explanations for women’s and men’s intellectual successes, explaining men’s competence as being due primarily to their inborn intellectual talent and women’s as being due to their efforts. This effort-vs.-talent stereotype “explains away” women’s achievements by attributing them to a quality—perseverance—that is less valued in American culture than natural ability.

Versions of this explanatory stereotype have been documented in adults, but our project will provide its first systematic investigation among children. In particular, we will investigate the effort-vs.-talent stereotype in the domain of mathematics because innate ability is particularly valued in this domain1, which might make this stereotype especially consequential.

 

What are some examples of language or behavior that might suggest an individual holds a particular stereotype? Are there potential ways of mitigating the negative effects of stereotypes?

The best example of this stereotype that I can think of—and this is in fact the anecdote that crystallized our team’s interest in this topic—was recounted by co-PI Joseph Cimpian in a recent piece for The Brookings Institution (emphasis is mine):

About five years ago, while Sarah [Lubienski] and I were faculty at the University of Illinois, we gathered a small group of elementary teachers together to help us think through […] how we could intervene on the notion that girls were innately less capable than boys. One of the teachers pulled a stack of papers out of her tote bag, and spreading them on the conference table, said, “Now, I don’t even understand why you’re looking at girls’ math achievement. These are my students’ standardized test scores, and there are absolutely no gender differences. See, the girls can do just as well as the boys if they work hard enough.” Then, without anyone reacting, it was as if a light bulb went on. She gasped and continued, “Oh my gosh, I just did exactly what you said teachers are doing,” which is attributing girls’ success in math to hard work while attributing boys’ success to innate ability. She concluded, “I see now why you’re studying this.”

In terms of what can be done to mitigate the effects of this stereotype, our project will investigate a potential strategy: normalizing effort by making it clear to students that everyone (not just particular groups) needs to work hard to learn math. This message reframes what is viewed as necessary for success in math away from the belief that natural talent is key, thereby undercutting the power of effort-vs.-talent stereotypes.

 

The current study focuses on elementary school students in grades 1 through 4. What was the motivation for choosing this specific age group?

In general, gender stereotypes about intellectual ability seem to emerge quite early. For instance, girls as young as 6 and 7 are less likely than boys to associate being “really, really smart” with members of their own gender. For this reason, we think it is really important to focus on young children—we need to understand when effort-vs.-talent stereotypes first take root!

“Catching” these stereotypes when they first arise is also important for intervention purposes. If left unchecked, the effects of effort-vs.-talent stereotypes may snowball over time (for example, differences in the types of careers that young women and men are motivated to pursue).

 

What plans do you have to disseminate the findings of this research in ways that will be useful for education practitioners? 

We are mindful of the importance of getting this research into the hands of teachers so that they can use it in practice. We hope to write articles on this work for media outlets that draw educationally oriented audiences. To reach parents as well, we will coordinate with popular media outlets to disseminate the results of this work to general audiences. More generally, we will make every effort to ensure that the findings have maximal societal impact, raising awareness of effort-vs.-talent stereotypes among parents, educators, and the general public.

 


Andrei Cimpian, PhD (@AndreiCimpian), Professor of Psychology at New York University, has conducted extensive research on children’s conceptual development, explanations, and motivation in school.

Written by Yuri Lin (ylin010101@g.ucla.edu), intern for the Institute of Education Sciences.

Photo credit: Brian Stauffer


1The full PDF and resources are available at https://www.cimpianlab.com/motivation.

The Center for the Success of English Learners Launches Website to Support Policy and Practice for English Learners

Policies and practices affect English learners’ (ELs) education access and quality. Supporting these students requires alignment across all levels of the education system—from federal and state governments to districts and schools to individual classroom teachers and students. 

About the Center

To address these issues of policy and practice, IES funded the Center for the Success of English Learners (CSEL) with the goal of improving access and outcomes for English Learners across the United States. Specifically, CSEL’s focused program of research includes identifying and removing barriers related to ELs’ access to the classroom and developing and testing interventions that leverage transdisciplinary approaches (for example, foregrounding content knowledge and building knowledge and academic language simultaneously) to improve instruction for ELs in Grades 6 and 9 science and social studies. Some research questions that will be explored include:

  • How are potential barriers, such as educator attitudes and mindsets and stated policies, associated with school tracking practices?
  • How do educators encounter and/or overcome barriers to providing ELs with access to the general curriculum?
  • What is the impact of the CSEL developed lessons on student vocabulary, language, and content knowledge in science and social studies?
  • Can student outcomes be improved in science and social studies through integrated formative assessments that allow teachers to make meaningful interpretations of student learning and informed decisions to guide their instruction?

New Website Launched

CSEL has launched a brand-new website to engage with the larger education community to exchange ideas, disseminate information and resources based on their findings, and create learning and collaboration opportunities for state and local education agencies. Visit www.cselcenter.org for information to learn more about their research, resources, and events, including an upcoming event based on their recently published brief, Education English Learner Students During the Pandemic: Remote & In-person Instruction & Assessment.

For more information about IES’s investment in improving opportunities and achievement for English learners in secondary school settings, please see here.


Written by Helyn Kim (Helyn.Kim@ed.gov), Program Officer for the English Learners Portfolio, National Center for Education Research.

 

Recent Research and Developments in School Finance

Education constitutes a significant investment at all levels of government, and understanding how funding structures, revenue streams, and spending practices influence student outcomes is important for education researchers and practitioners alike. The pandemic has underscored the significance of education finance, with projected funding shortages making the need for fiscal data and evidence-based spending practices that much more urgent. Although not in direct response to the pandemic, some recently completed and ongoing IES-funded research projects may contribute to a better understanding of education spending and how certain spending models and practices relate to student outcomes.

In 2017, the National Center for Education Research (NCER) awarded a grant to Dr. Marguerite Roza at Georgetown University to explore the weighted student funding (WSF) allocation strategy. Districts using WSF provide a fixed dollar amount to schools for each student, with larger increments going to students identified as having greater needs (including students with limited English proficiency, students with disabilities, and students who come from low-income households). This study examined 19 large, urban districts that use WSF to better understand the diverse ways in which these strategies are implemented and can influence student outcomes. Key findings indicated that, on average, WSF districts spend more on schools with higher concentrations of low-income students. In addition, test scores in English language arts and math were higher for the overall student population in districts that use WSF than in non-WSF districts in the same state. However, there was no evidence that WSF was associated with better test scores for Black or Hispanic students.

In 2020, NCER funded an efficacy study led by Dr. Sean Tanner at WestEd to evaluate the impact of fiscal flexibility in Title I compensatory revenue on student achievement, grade progression, and class completion. Fiscal flexibility refers to the policy that allows schools to spend Title 1 revenue across the school rather than for those services that specifically target at-risk students. Findings from this study could inform decisions around the level of autonomy schools should be given over how to use Title I compensatory funding to boost the success of the lowest performing students.

While the above projects are important contributions to the field, additional research is needed to address limitations in our understanding of how education funds are being spent and how dollars can be maximized to promote positive student outcomes. For example, research on special education spending is sorely needed. National data on special education spending are over 20 years old and pre-date many key changes to the way that students with disabilities are educated, including the rise in inclusive classrooms and multi-tiered systems of support.

Newly funded research and upcoming data collection efforts may offer insights into how schools and districts spend money as well as opportunities for additional research:

  • In 2020, NCER awarded Dr. Marguerite Roza another grant to develop an open-access archive of school-level spending data. The project will build off the requirement in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) for states to publish school-level financial data by making the data available and usable for researchers and policymakers.
  • The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is planning several revisions to the Annual Survey of School System Finances. Changes will include adding new items on special education spending, such as expenses for instruction, transportation, support services, and instructional staff as well as total special education expenditures.
  • NCES also plans to add new revenue and expenditure variables to the National Public Education Financial Survey related to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
  • The National Center for Education Evaluation’s Study of District and School Uses of Federal Education Funds will examine how funds—and flexibilities—from five major federal education programs are used to support students.    

Understanding how resource allocation influences outcomes will only become more important in coming years as education settings grapple with the financial impacts of the pandemic. Through the research that NCER and NCSER fund (analyzing existing data and/or collecting primary data) as well as data collection efforts in NCES, IES hopes to contribute to a better understanding of education finance and inform practical decisions in this area. 

This blog was written by Bennett Lunn (Bennett.Lunn@ed.gov), Truman-Albright Fellow, NCER and National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) and Katie Taylor (Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov) program officer, NCSER.