Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Powering Our Future: How Service-Learning Aligned with Next Generation Science Standards Can Promote Science Learning, Social and Emotional Skills, and Civic Engagement

Each generation faces its own societal challenges. Two prominent issues—the climate crisis and America’s political divide—are heavy burdens for today’s youth. Without explicit focus in schools, it is hard to imagine how children will learn to work across differences and collaborate with others to solve complex environmental problems. Youth are very capable people, and school comes alive when they feel agency and see how their efforts matter in the community. Service-learning can help teachers make instruction feel relevant and teach skills that lead to civic engagement as youth learn to design, implement, and evaluate solutions to problems that are important to them. In this interview blog, the Connect Science project team explains how they developed curriculum and professional development to support teachers to engage their students in service-learning experiences.

Can you tell us about Connect Science and what it looks like in action?

Fueled by an IES Development and Innovation grant, our team developed and evaluated a science-based service-learning approach for the upper-elementary school years. In doing so, we answered a need that teachers and schools face as they strive to create engaging experiences aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Connect Science is a 12-week project-based learning unit for upper elementary students. Early on, teachers and students explore topics of energy and natural resources using lessons aligned with the NGSS. Teachers guide student learning on what it means to be an engaged citizen and on the social and collaborative skills needed to take action in the community. To prepare, teachers receive five days of professional development and follow-up coaching. Teachers also receive a Connect Science manual, related books, and science materials.

But what does Connect Science actually look like in action? Imagine fourth graders engaged in a science unit on renewable and non-renewable resources. The students learn about different energy sources and then discuss pros and cons of each source. They become aware that non-renewable energy resources are rapidly diminishing and would not always be available to generate electricity. The awareness of this problem energizes them to promote energy conservation. Toward that goal, the students decide to educate other students and families at their school about energy use. At the next open house night, they turn their cafeteria into an energy fair where they share important information. For example, one group of students teaches about what types of energy sources were used in their state to produce electricity and another group teaches ways that people can save energy in their home. Before and after the energy fair, the students administer a pre- and post-survey on energy facts to size up what their visitors learned.

How did the IES grant support the development and pilot testing of Connect Science?

In the first two years of this grant, we developed and tested materials with teachers. In the third year, we conducted a randomized controlled trial of Connect Science involving 41 classrooms with 20 in Connect Science and 21 in a waitlist comparison group, resulting in a student sample of 868 students (423 students participated in the intervention).

We found that Connect Science impacted teacher practices and student outcomes. Teachers in the Connect Science group were more effective at engaging in the two NGSS practices that we measured: eliciting and building on prior knowledge and creating opportunities for student critique, explanation, and argument. Further, we saw higher science achievement and energy attitudes and behaviors in the intervention than control condition. The social skill results hinged on the fidelity of implementation. When teachers used more Connect Science practices, students showed improved communication and social competence. As a result of these findings, Connect Science is designated as a Promising Program by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL).

What are the implications of your findings?

Too few projects integrate academic and social learning in schools. Often, high-quality NGSS materials are developed with little thought about the social skills students need to engage in that instruction. Likewise, social and emotional learning is often taught separately from academic content. Service-learning is a framework that bridges these two areas and allows students to engage in authentic, science-based work. Given our experiences, we have a few recommendations for educators eager to use service-learning.

  • Teach social, emotional, and collaborative skills with intention before launching into group work. In the elementary schools, children thrive from being in supportive caring classrooms and they respond well to lessons on active listening, respectful communication, and understanding people with multiple perspectives.
  • Leverage the existing curriculum and build in service-learning experiences. Rather than adding one more new topic, look at existing curricular topics and use service-learning to facilitate deep learning on content areas that already part of the curriculum.
  • Amplify youth voice. Teachers need to work with students to identify a relevant community problem and generate solutions to that problem. We carefully developed the Connect Science materials to be more teacher-directed toward the beginning of the unit and more student-directed toward the end. This approach was based both on theoretical and empirical work supporting the importance of student autonomy.

 


Sara Rimm-Kaufman is the Commonwealth Professor of Education at the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development. Her recent book for teachers, SEL from the Start, is based on the Connect Science work.

Eileen Merritt is a Research Scientist in the College of Natural Resources and the Environment at Virginia Tech. Her research and teaching focus on environmental and sustainability education.

Tracy Harkins is the owner of Harkins Consulting, LLC in Maine. Her focus is providing professional development and resources to engage and motivate student learners through service-learning. She will be offering an upcoming Connect Science Institute in Summer 2022.

For questions about this project, please contact Corinne.Alfeld@ed.gov, NCER program officer.

The 2022 IES PI Meeting: Advancing Equity & Inclusion in the Education Sciences

On January 25-27, 2022, NCER and NCSER hosted  our first Principal Investigators (PI) Meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world as we know it. Even though we were hopeful and eager to connect with our grantees in person, given the continuing uncertainties due to COVID-19, we opted for our very first fully virtual PI meeting, and we are pleased to say it was a success on many fronts!

Our co-chairs, Brian Boyd (University of Kansas), and Doré LaForett (Child Trends and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) were instrumental in the success of this meeting. They helped identify the meeting theme: Advancing Equity & Inclusion in the Education Sciences, suggested sessions (including the plenaries) that addressed the theme,  recommended strategies to encourage networking and engagement, and participated in two great sessions focused on Engaging in Anti-racist, Culturally Responsive Research Practices and the Importance of Identifying English Learners in Education Research Studies.

Here are a few highlights:

The meeting kicked off with a welcome from the Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, followed by IES Director Mark Schneider’s opening remarks. Secretary Cardona reaffirmed the importance and need for high-quality education research to identify, measure, and address disparities in education opportunities and outcomes. Director Schneider spoke about improving the infrastructure of the education sciences and ways that IES will continue to encourage investigators to incorporate the SEER principles going forward. He also revealed a ninth SEER principle focused on equity, calling on researchers to “address inequities in societal resources and outcomes.” See a recap of his talk here.

This year’s theme was threaded throughout the meeting, emphasizing the importance and complexity of advancing equity and inclusion in the education sciences. The opening plenary speakers began the meeting with advice on how to center equity and inclusion in education research; the Commissioners provided updates on how NCER and NCSER are working to address diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility; sessions focused on challenges and potential solutions for doing research with an equity lens; and the closing plenary discussed how to plan for diversity in education research.   

Deep conversations occurred around meaningful and relevant topic areas. Over three days, we had nearly 900 attendees going in and out of virtual rooms (with very few technology glitches—no small feat!) participating in discussions around four main topic areas:

  • Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA)—Sessions included discussions of centering equity in education research
  • COVID-19 Pandemic—Sessions included lessons learned from COVID-19 research pivots and considerations for research during COVID-19 and recovery
  • Methods & Measurement—Sessions included information on innovations in statistical methods, data collection tools, and scaling evidence-based practices
  • Results from IES Research—Sessions included highlights of findings from several IES-funded grants and Research and Development centers

See the agenda for a complete list of this year’s sessions.

Finally, although we weren’t able to be in the same physical room, one of the real benefits of this virtual meeting was the ability to record the sessions. IES continues to encourage the dissemination of IES-supported research to a wider audience, and we want to do our part by making the recordings from the sessions publicly available. We hope you enjoy watching the incredibly valuable and thought-provoking presentations and discussions and share widely with your networks.

 

 

Thanks to our attendees for their participation. Your engagement made this year’s meeting a true success. We are already looking forward to next year’s meeting!

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for how to continue the conversation around DEIA, please do not hesitate to contact NCER Commissioner Liz Albro (Elizabeth.Albro@ed.gov) or NCSER Commissioner Joan McLaughlin (Joan.McLauglin@ed.gov). We look forward to hearing from you.

Promoting Equitable and Sustainable Behavioral Interventions in Early Childhood

The Postdoctoral Research Training Program in Special Education and Early Intervention is designed to prepare scientists to conduct rigorous, practice-relevant research to advance the fields of special education and early intervention. Dr. Jun Ai recently completed an IES postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Kansas and is currently an assistant research professor at the University of Northern Iowa. Her research focuses on the implementation of early childhood behavioral interventions, particularly for young learners with disabilities and those from minoritized communities. We recently caught up with Dr. Ai to learn more about her career, the experiences that have shaped it, and how her work addresses equity and inclusion in early intervention. This is what she shared with us.

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

My research focuses on the equitable and sustainable implementation of early childhood positive behavioral interventions and supports (EC-PBIS) to promote the social-emotional and behavioral health of all children, especially those with disabilities and/or from minoritized groups. Before starting my PhD program, I was a special education teacher working with students with autism spectrum disorders in China. That’s when I learned about applied behavioral science and PBIS. I decided to become a board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA) during my doctoral studies at the University of Kansas. Through my BCBA practicum, I worked with young children with disabilities and challenging behaviors in self-contained settings.

Meanwhile, I was also supervising pre-service teachers and behavioral analysts working in inclusive early care and education settings where behavior issues were addressed through multi-tiered EC-PBIS. These experiences deepened my interest in EC-PBIS and led me to research how to prepare professionals to use multi-tiered EC-PBIS to promote foundational social-emotional competence and prevent challenging behaviors for all children, regardless of their abilities or forms of diversity. Most importantly, I study how equitable and sustainable implementation of EC-PBIS can reduce racial disciplinary disparities to eventually eliminate suspension and expulsion in early care and education. Through my dissertation and NCSER-funded postdoctoral fellowship at Juniper Gardens Children’s Project at the University of Kansas, I led multiple independent research projects in these areas. With the support from my mentors, Judith Carta, Kathryn Bigelow, and Jay Buzhardt, I also had the opportunity to work on several NCSER-funded projects that address issues in EC-PBIS and the implementation of evidence-based practices.

What is the most rewarding part of your research?

Currently, I serve on the Iowa state leadership team of EC-PBIS and continue to expand my scholarship on EC-PBIS implementation through my research and teaching capacities. The most rewarding part of my work has been gaining expertise in a variety of research methodologies, especially mixed-methods research. Mixed-methods research allows me to carry out rigorous quantitative intervention and test hypotheses while also hearing the voices of participants and various stakeholders using trustworthy qualitative methodology, with data from each method informing the other. As a result, I can tackle complex issues related to implementing interventions in real-world settings and improve the design of interventions.

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

One of the greatest needs is around diversifying the researcher leadership workforce. Higher education institutions need to prioritize recruitment, retention, and tailored support for educational researchers from historically and currently marginalized groups based on their race, ethnicity, language, sexual orientation, disabilities, and more.

Equally important is the need to increase funding resources for minority researchers whose scholarship aims to dismantle systemic racism and racial inequities in our educational systems. Researchers of color need more seats at the table to disturb the power imbalance within the research community, advocate for students and families in their own communities, and improve the relevance of education research for diverse groups.

Last but not least, the education research community at large needs to question the status quo of how to conduct research for, with, and by diverse communities.

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

Find the research topic that gives you goosebumps. It might be hard at the beginning when research interests are highly directed by the existing research agenda of advisors or funding sources. But don’t let that feeling of butterflies go. Try to start small. It might mean stepping out of your normal circle to find mentors, allies, or funding agencies that are also excited about your mission and your research interests.

Remember that you need to be so good that nobody can ignore you. Researchers of color, especially minoritized early career scholars, still need to work multiple times harder to be seen and heard. Unfortunately, this will still be true in the foreseeable future. Find and join minority education researcher communities through professional organizations or organize your own. You are not in this alone.

While continuing to hone your craft, speak up for yourself and your community when you can. Recognize your own burdens and privileges and stand with the most oppressed. Learn about and practice how to have a voice at the table even though your culture or your lived experience told you otherwise. The work you care about can change students' and families’ lives. Your work matters. Your voice matters.

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see herehere, and here) showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice.

This blog was produced by Bennett Lunn (Bennett.Lunn@ed.gov), Truman-Albright Fellow, and Katie Taylor (Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov), postdoctoral training program officer at the National Center for Special Education Research.

Improving the Reading Skills of Middle School Students with and at Risk for Disabilities

Two girls work together to write in notebooks.

NCSER celebrates Middle Level Education Month this year by highlighting some of our current research projects aimed at supporting the literacy skills of middle school students with and at risk for disabilities. Data from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) indicate that in 2019, 68% of eight graders with disabilities scored “Below NAEP Basic” in reading compared to 22% of students without disabilities, a gap that had grown larger over the previous decade. The urgent need to improve the reading skills of middle school students with disabilities has led to some important NCSER-funded research projects.  

Sharon Vaughn and Leticia Martinez at the University of Texas, Austin and Jeanne Wanzek at Vanderbilt University, along with their colleagues, are testing the efficacy of Promoting Adolescents' Comprehension of Text (PACT), a fully developed reading comprehension intervention for middle school students with evidence of efficacy for students without disabilities. The current study will be the first efficacy trial of PACT that focuses specifically on students with disabilities. PACT is a text- and inquiry-based reading comprehension intervention with instructional supports for teachers and material for students in general education classrooms. In this large-scale, multi-site study, the team is using a randomized controlled trial in approximately 80 eighth-grade social studies classrooms, each with at least two students with disabilities. The team will examine the intervention’s impact on student reading and social studies outcomes, whether the impact differs depending on level of teacher fidelity or by student characteristic, and the intervention’s cost-effectiveness over the typical expenditures.

PACT is also being used as the evidence-based literacy intervention in a project designed to support middle school teachers’ knowledge and practices and improve reading and content area knowledge among students with disabilities. Jade Wexler at University of Maryland, College Park and Elizabeth Swanson at the University of Texas, Austin, along with their colleagues, are developing and testing a model for instructional leaders to provide ongoing support to content-area middle school teachers as they implement PACT. More specifically, the team will be developing an intervention package that includes a multi-stage, adaptive intervention coaching model to systematically tailor support to teachers as they implement Tier 1 literacy practices (in this case, the PACT intervention) in their content areas (English language arts, social studies, and science) to improve reading outcomes for students with disabilities. The package will also include a professional development program to train instructional leaders on how to implement the coaching model with teachers effectively.

Deborah Reed at the University of Iowa and her colleagues are also focusing on integrating literacy instruction with content-area instruction, but this team is focused on the Tier 2 level. They are developing and testing an intervention for middle school students with or at risk for reading disabilities who need support in literacy and text-based content in science and social studies. Pairs of students will alternate reading science and social studies texts, with specific academic vocabulary language, on a digital platform. This platform will provide scaffolded support and allow opportunities for individual work in building related reading and writing skills. Passages on each science or social studies topic repeat 85% or more of the unique words but in different contexts to support students’ ability to recognize and read the academic vocabulary. The overall aim of the intervention is to improve student literacy as well as science and social studies performance.

Marcia Barnes and her team at Vanderbilt University are testing the efficacy of a reading comprehension intervention, Connecting Text by Inference and Technology (Connect-IT), with middle school students with or at risk for reading disabilities. Connect-IT, developed with a prior IES grant, was designed to improve inference-making and reading comprehension in this population. In the current study, the research team will examine the impact of the intervention on students in grades 6-8 who did not pass their state English Language Arts test and who have demonstrated difficulties in reading comprehension. They will compare the efficacy of the intervention as implemented in small groups by a teacher, individual implementation of the intervention through computer software with project interventionist supervision, and the school’s business-as-usual classes. The study aims to determine the effect of each version of the intervention on student inference-making abilities and reading comprehension, as well as whether various student skills (such as vocabulary, word reading, attention, and anxiety) may moderate the impact of the interventions. The interventions’ cost-effectiveness will also be evaluated.

Focused on more intensive intervention for middle school students with or at risk for reading  disabilities, Mary Beth Calhoon at the University of Miami is testing the efficacy of a 2-year implementation of the Adolescent Multi-Component Intensive Training Program (AMP-IT-UP), which was previously tested after 1 year of implementation through an IES-funded grant. The intervention uses direct, systematic, explicit instruction (in phonological decoding with comprehension, spelling, and fluency) and cognitive strategy instruction (including use of cues and anchors), combined with reciprocal peer-mediated instruction. Dr. Calhoon’s research team is conducting a randomized controlled trial with middle school students with or at risk for reading disabilities who are still reading at the third-grade level or below. They will examine the impact after 2 years of intervention as well as 1 year after intervention has ended to determine its effect on student word recognition, spelling, fluency, and comprehension skills.

We look forward to reporting on the results of these studies as these teams complete their work in the years to come.

The blog was authored by Amy Sussman (Amy.Sussman@ed.gov), Sarah Brasiel (Sarah.Brasiel@ed.gov), and Katie Taylor (Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov), program officers for NCSER.

From Disproportionate Discipline to Thriving Students: An IES Postdoc’s Mission

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. This week, Dr. Courtney Zulauf-McCurdy, an IES postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington School Mental Health Assessment Research and Training (SMART) Center, shares her experiences and discusses her path forward.

 

My interests in child development began early on. I moved frequently for my parents’ work, so I was often seen as an outsider by the other children at the schools I attended. One school in particular had a group of “popular students” who bullied others and were particularly aggressive to peers. Often, teachers and parents would turn a blind eye to this behavior, and I became curious about how parents and educators respond to and shape child behavior.

Understanding Disparities in Early Childhood

I pursued a PhD in clinical psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago out of a desire to advocate for children in both research and clinical practice. As a graduate student in the Social Emotional Teaching and Learning (SETL) Lab, I worked directly with parents, educators, and young children to understand how the school and home environment shape child behavior. Much of our research aimed to support teachers in improving children’s social-emotional development, but what I learned was that teachers weren’t providing equal opportunities and experiences to all children.

In particular, I became focused on an alarming disparity: disproportionate discipline. Not only are preschoolers being expelled at rates three times higher than students in K-12, but there are large discipline disparities by gender and race. In AY 2013-14, the U.S. Department of Education reported that Black children composed 19% of enrollment but 47% of those expelled. A report citing data from the 2016 U.S. Census Bureau found that children with social emotional difficulties are 14.5 times more likely to be expelled.

During graduate school, I explored the reasons why Black boys are being disproportionately expelled and found that it was at least in part related to teachers’ biased perceptions of parents. Because of this, I became interested in developing evidenced-based interventions for parents and educators to protect children from being expelled.

For my clinical internship, I specialized in integrated behavioral health at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where I provided evidenced-based practices to children and families in underserved community settings. Here, I learned about behavioral interventions that improve child behavior, which work best when parents and teachers work together across home and school. However, I noticed that children of color were less likely to receive evidenced-based interventions (such as classroom-based behavioral interventions or parent management training), and even when they do, parents and teachers experience barriers to working together to implement these interventions. As a result, I shifted my focus from designing new interventions to understanding how to improve the implementation of interventions in community settings that serve young children from under-represented backgrounds.

Moving from Intervention Development to Implementation Science

As a second year IES postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington (UW) SMART Center, I am combining my research interests with implementation science. I am partnering with educators and parents to understand how teacher perceptions of parents and parent engagement is an implementation determinant—that is, a barrier or facilitator. Together, we are learning how to reduce disparities in preschool by improving the implementation of interventions that allow for early, easy, and acceptable access to families who face the highest levels of barriers. 

I have been using stakeholder-engaged processes consisting of focus groups, community advisory boards, and rapid try outs of strategies to ensure equity by engaging the perspectives of families from under-represented minority backgrounds. Such community engagement aims to ensure that our interventions are culturally responsive and unimpeded by bias.

Through my work, I have learned that educators and parents want the best outcomes for their children but face a multitude of barriers that hinder their ability to engage. For example, preschool teachers have limited resources, face stress and burnout, are under-prepared and underpaid, leading to considerable barriers in addressing the mental health needs of young children. Likewise, parents face obstacles such as perceived bias from their child’s school and logistical barriers such as time and childcare.

Moving Forward

I will continue working directly with parents and educators to understand how we can place all young children (and their families) in the best position to thrive. I will continue to use research methods, such as community advisory boards and qualitative methods, that seek to elevate the voices of parents and educators to promote equitable child outcomes. Through continued collaboration with community partners, disseminating my findings to parents, educators, and practitioners and connecting research with culturally responsive early childhood practice and policies, I hope to dismantle disparities in preschool outcomes.


Produced by Meredith Larson (Meredith.Larson@ed.gov), a program officer for IES Postdoctoral Training grants, and Bennett Lunn (Bennett.Lunn@ed.gov), Truman-Albright Fellow for the National Center for Education Research and the National Center for Special Education Research.