Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Exploring the Role of Physical Activity, Inactivity, and Sleep in Academic Outcomes

What role do physical activity, inactivity, and sleep habits play in students’ academic outcomes? Some new IES-funded research grants will help us find out.

Three new IES grants funded under the Education Research Grants program will explore how students’ physical activity, sleep habits, and cognitive tempo are associated with their socio-emotional and academic outcomes.  Here is a brief summary of these studies along with their potential contributions to research, practice, and policy. 

Physical activity – While physical activity is generally accepted as a positive thing, its full effect on children's cognitive and academic outcomes remains uncertain and little is known about whether increased opportunities for physical activity are associated with improved academic achievement. In this new grant, Michael Willoughby, of RTI International,  and colleagues will examine whether, and under what conditions, individual differences in child physical activity in preschool settings are associated with enhanced executive functioning and academic achievement. The findings from this project may help inform school policy decisions about the frequency and amount of student physical activity during the school day.

Sleep - Sleep problems are considerably more common in individuals with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in comparison to the general population. Approximately 30% of children and 60% of adults with ADHD exhibit significant sleep problems. Little is known, however, about how sleep problems contribute to the educational functioning of adolescents with ADHD or why prevalence rates are higher among adolescents with ADHD. In this new grant, Joshua Langberg, of Virginia Commonwealth University, will lead a team that will conduct a longitudinal study of students with and without ADHD from Grades 8 to 10. They will assess sleep patterns, academic, and social functioning, and factors that may differentially predict the presence of sleep problems. The findings from this project may lead to recommendations for how and when schools can include sleep assessments as part of psychoeducational evaluations and may help inform policy decisions about school contextual factors that can impact sleep, such as the amount of homework assigned. In addition, the findings from this project can be used to inform the development of a school-based intervention that addresses sleep problems.

Sluggish Cognitive Tempo - Sluggish cognitive tempo (SCT) refers to a specific set of attention symptoms, including excessive daydreaming, mental confusion, seeming to be "in a fog," and slowed thinking or behavior. In this new grant, Stephen Becker, of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, and his colleagues will examine the academic and socio-emotional problems experienced by students in grades 2 to 5 with elevated SCT symptoms. They will examine the current patterns of school referrals, educational accommodations, and interventions for children with elevated levels of SCT. The findings from this project can inform the development of interventions to mitigate the long-term consequences of sluggish cognitive tempo on students’ socio-emotional and academic outcomes.

Written by Christina Chhin, Education Research Analyst, National Center for Education Research

What’s Next for the Reading for Understanding Research Initiative?

After years of intense collaboration and research, the Reading for Understanding (RfU) Research Initiative is coming to an end. But the initiative’s work continues through recently announced IES-funded grants.

Over six years, research teams in the RfU network designed and tested new interventions that aim to improve reading comprehension in students in all grade levels and developed new measures of reading comprehension and component skills that support it. The initiative led to several new and important findings. In the coming years, several teams will build on that work through new research projects funded by IES’ National Center for Education Research (NCER) and National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER).  

During the RfU initiative, the Promoting Adolescents’ Comprehension of Text (PACT) team found positive effects in improving the content-area reading comprehension of middle school students. The PACT intervention uses social studies content to engage students and teach them to build coherent representations of the ideas in texts. Through a new grant from NCER, the PACT team will be testing the effectiveness of the intervention in middle school social studies classrooms in eight states.

Another group of researchers from the PACT team are starting a new project with funding from NCSER to design and test a technology-based intervention aimed at improving how middle school students with reading disabilities make inferences while reading.  

The RfU assessment team is also launching a new NCER-funded project to develop a digital assessment appropriate for adults, in particular those reading between the 3rd- to 8th-grade levels. Building on the Global, Integrated Scenario-Based Assessment (GISA) developed in RfU, the team intends for this new assessment to help determine an adult reader's strengths and weaknesses, inform instruction, and improve programs and institutional accountability. In addition, this team is using assessment items developed with RfU funding to explore the relationship between high school students' background knowledge and their reading comprehension.  

Finally, the Florida State University RfU team is continuing to explore which combination of interventions will improve the early language skills that are foundational to mastery of reading. In this new project, the researchers will examine the relative efficacy and sustained impacts of a language and vocabulary intervention for prekindergarten and kindergarten students, with variations on when and how long the intervention is used.

Written by Elizabeth Albro, Associate Commissioner, NCER

Supporting Early Career Researchers

An important part of the mission at the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is to support the work of scholars who are early in their independent research careers. An example of that commitment can be seen in the latest round of grants from the National Center for Education Research (NCER), which includes eight grants being led by early career scholars.  These principal investigators are all individuals who began their independent research careers within the last five years.

Under the Education Research Grants competition, there are four NCER-funded grants that were awarded to early career scholars.

Abigail Gray, Senior Research Specialist at the University of Pennsylvania, who was an IES predoctoral fellow, is now leading a grant to study the efficacy of Zoology One, an integrated science and literacy intervention for kindergarten students. At the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Assistant Professor Stephen Becker is examining the academic, social, and emotional problems experienced by children with sluggish cognitive tempo—specific attention-related symptoms such as excessive daydreaming, mental confusion, and slowed thinking or behavior. 

       

(From l to r: Abigail Gray, Stephen Becker, Shaun Dougherty, and Sonia Cabell)

Shaun Dougherty, Assistant Professor at the University of Connecticut, is looking at whether attending a high school in the Connecticut Technical High School System has an impact on achievement, high school graduation, and college enrollment. And Sonia Cabell, a Research Scientist from the University of Virginia, is leading a team that will study the efficacy of the Core Knowledge Language Arts Listening and Learning intervention for children in kindergarten through second grade. This program is designed to guide teachers in their reading out loud to their students in classrooms.

NCER awarded another set of Early Career grants through its Statistics and Research Methodology in Education grant program. This year, NCER made three awards under this competition.

      

(From l to r: Chun Wang, James Pustejovsky​, Nathan VanHoudnos, and Benjamin Castleman)

Finally, Benjamin Castleman, Assistant Professor at the University of Virginia, is leading a team in the Scalable Strategies to Support College Completion Network. Research Networks involve a number of research teams working together to address a critical education problem or issue. Castleman’s team will examine whether text messages that provide personalized information will help students at open- and broad-access enrollment institutions to complete their degrees.

Written by Becky McGill-Wilkinson, Education Research Analyst, NCER

Making Contributions: IES-funded Research in Mathematics

From 2002 to 2013, the Institute of Education Sciences has funded scores of research grants with a focus on improving mathematics education. Many of the outcomes of that research have been captured in a new publication, Synthesis of IES-funded Research on Mathematics.  

This Synthesis was co-authored by Bethany Rittle-Johnson, of Vanderbilt University, and Nancy C. Jordan, of University of Delaware, two nationally recognized experts in the area of mathematics education research. The co-authors reviewed published research and organized the synthesis for the public to answer the overarching question—What have we learned? The short answer: A lot!

Here’s a look at the new Synthesis by the numbers:

 

200

Between 2002 and 2013, IES has funded almost 200 grants on mathematics learning and teaching through its two research centers—the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER).

 

69

The co-authors synthesized what was learned from 69 IES-funded grants that had peer-reviewed publications published between January 1, 2002, and June 30, 2014. Grants that did not have peer-reviewed publications during that time frame were not included in this synthesis.

 

28

The Synthesis summarizes 28 contributions that IES grants have made in furthering our understanding of mathematics teaching and learning for students in kindergarten through high school. A summary of research findings is provided for each contribution, along with citations to the publications that will allow practitioners, policymakers, and researchers to access more information about the findings if they are interested.

 

2

The research contributions listed in the Synthesis are divided into two sections

  1. Improving Mathematics Learning in two areas: Whole numbers, operations, and word problem solving in elementary school, and fractions and algebra in the middle grades; and
  2. Development and Evaluation of Teacher Professional Development Approaches.

 

65%

The Synthesis cites research that shows that annual income is 65 percent higher among adults who have taken calculus in high school than among adults who have completed only basic mathematics. It is our hope that this Synthesis will spark efforts to improve American students’ math proficiency and increase their interest in taking higher level math.

 

So, where do we go from here? IES will continue to make significant contributions to mathematics education research and practice. In particular, the co-authors of the Synthesis recommend the following future directions for IES-funded research in mathematics:

  • Replication: Studies of promise or ones that demonstrate positive results must be replicated and extended to ensure that the findings can be reproduced in different educational settings, improve student achievement on measures used by teachers and schools, and lead to improvements that can be sustained over time;
  • Innovation: Future work should continue to innovate and test new strategies for improving mathematics achievement. Research should examine the features of interventions that most effectively build concepts and skills in mathematics topics and address whether observed gains can be transferred to other areas of mathematics learning; and
  • Context: Future research must continue to address what works for whom and under what conditions.

Although the Synthesis provides a broad overview of the contributions IES-funded research has made in mathematics education, it is not exhaustive. There are many more IES-funded studies that did not have published results by June 30, 2014. These studies are likely to produce additional findings on mathematics learning on these topics, as well as on topics not addressed in the Synthesis, such as mathematics learning in high school. Also, it should be noted that other centers and programs within IES conduct research and evaluation on mathematics that can be helpful to researchers, practitioners, and policymakers.

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When It’s Good to Talk in Class

Most people remember being told not to talk in class or risk a trip to the principal’s office or a note sent home. But researchers in the Reading for Understanding Research Initiative (RfU) want students to talk in class as a way to improve reading comprehension.

Five research teams in the RfU network have designed and tested new interventions intended to provide a strong foundation for reading comprehension in students from pre-kindergarten through high school. And promoting high quality language use and talk among students is a central feature of many of these interventions. The goal is to improve reading outcomes by building students’ understanding of rich syntax and academic language to express and evaluate complex ideas.

RfU researchers have conducted studies in 29 states and interventions developed by the RfU network have been tested for efficacy with over 30,000 students (see the chart to the right for more information on the grantees and the map below to see where they conducted research).

While findings from these studies are still forthcoming, some interventions already show promise toward improving reading for understanding and/or supporting skills. New assessments have been field-tested with over 300,000 students across the country and have documented their capacity to collect valid and useful information for teachers, schools, and researchers.

Support for informative and instructional talk by students was provided in a variety of ways across different academic areas, including social studies, science, and English language arts classes. Some teams developed new classroom activities to structure whole class discussion through student debate on current topics of interest. Using a program like 

Word Generation, students discuss a focal question to stimulate various opinions on current topics, such as ‘Should students be required to wear school uniforms?’ or ‘Are green technologies worth the investment?’  In other interventions, such as PACT, students spend time talking in pairs or small groups to reinforce a new concept or idea.

Teachers are understandably concerned about how to manage a classroom in which students are talking. As part of RfU, curricula and materials were created to help teachers to improve their skills in managing constructive student talk, and several teams also provided extensive professional development for teachers.

Attention to the importance of student talk was also evident in a computer-based assessment called GISA developed by ETS which uses a scenario-based approach. Rather than talking with their peers during the assessments, students interact with avatars on a task that simulates a realistic classroom-based task.

Using student talk to improve reading comprehension is just one of many supports that have been explored by the RfU teams in their extensive body of work over the past six years. The RfU teams provided an update on their research during an event in May. You can watch a webcast of the event until July 31, 2016.

Visit the IES website to see a detailed agenda for the May event and to learn more about the work of the Reading for Understanding Research Initiative. In addition to providing an overview of the work, the abstracts include links to RfU team websites and many of these have examples of their materials. Materials for the Word Generation and PACT interventions are available for free on their websites, and several other RfU grantees will be making their materials freely available in the coming year.

Written by Karen Douglas, project lead, Reading for Understanding Research Initiative, National Center for Education Research