Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Are You What You Eat? Understanding the Links Between Diet, Behavior, and Achievement During Middle School

We’ve all heard the phrase “you are what you eat,” but what exactly does it mean for student learning and achievement in middle school? In 2018, researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham received an IES Exploration grant to investigate the direction and nature of the relationships between middle school students’ diet, behavior, and academic achievement. These relationships have not been fully studied in the United States, nor have longitudinal designs been used (most existing studies are cross-sectional) making it hard to determine the precise nature of the links between what adolescents eat and potential implications for learning and achievement.  

Because children in the United States consume about half of their nutrients at school, the need to identify school nutrition policies and practices that benefit student behavior and achievement is great, especially given newly published findings that motivated this IES research and that have attracted lots of media interest in recent days (see this story from CNN and this press release). The Alabama researchers found that specific nutrients (high sodium, low potassium) predicted depression over a year later in a sample of 84 urban, primarily African American adolescents (mean age 13 years). In the IES study, these researchers are expanding their work with a larger and more diverse sample of 300 students. In the first year of this 4-year study, the researchers recruited about two thirds of their sample (186 students across 10 schools) who completed the first of three week-long assessments as 6th graders and who will complete assessments again in the 7th and 8th grades. During each week-long assessment period, each student reports on their own diet and academic functioning, and on their own and their peers’ emotions and behavior. They also complete objective tests of attention and memory. The researchers observe each child’s actual food and beverage consumption at school and behavior during one academic class period. They also collect school records of grades, test scores, attendance, discipline incidents, and information about each school’s nutrition policies and practices. Parents and teachers also report on student diet, behavior, and academic functioning.

This school year the researchers are recruiting the rest of their sample. If their findings suggest a role for school practices and dietary factors in student behavior and achievement, they can guide future efforts to develop school-based programs targeting students’ diet that could be easily implemented under typical school conditions.

Written by Emily Doolittle, NCER Team Lead for Social Behavioral Research

Computational Thinking: The New Code for Success

Computational thinking is a critical set of skills that provides learners with the ability to solve complex problems with data. The importance of computational thinking has led to numerous initiatives to infuse computer science into all levels of schooling. High-quality research, however, has not been able to keep up with the demand to integrate these skills into K–12 curricula. IES recently funded projects under the Education Research Grants, the Small Business Innovation Research, and the Low-Cost, Short-Duration Evaluation of Education Interventions programs that will explore computational thinking and improve the teaching and learning of computer science.

 

  • Greg Chung and his team at the University of California, Los Angeles will explore young children’s computational thinking processes in grades 1 and 3. The team will examine students’ thought processes as they engage in visual programming activities using The Foos by codeSpark.
  • The team from codeSpark will develop and test a mobile game app for grade schoolers to learn coding skills through creative expression. The game supports teachers to integrate computational thinking and coding concepts across different lesson plans in English Language Arts and Social Studies.
  • VidCode will develop and test a Teacher Dashboard to complement their website where students learn to code. The dashboard will guide teachers in using data to improve their instruction.
  • Lane Educational Service District will work with researchers from the University of Oregon to evaluate the impact of the district’s Coder-in-Residence program on student learning and engagement.

IES is eager to support more research focused on exploring, developing, evaluating, and assessing computational thinking and computer science interventions inclusive of all learners. IES program officer, Christina Chhin, will speak at the Illinois Statewide K-12 Computer Science Education Summit on September 20, 2019 to provide information about IES research funding opportunities and resources focusing on computer science education.

Career Pathways Research at HHS: Lessons and Opportunities for Education Research

Over the past few years, staff from IES and the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) in the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), have been learning from and supporting one another’s work. Our offices have a shared interest in understanding and improving outcome for adults in postsecondary career pathway programs and for creating a strong evidence base.

We have even funded projects that dovetail nicely. For example, IES funded a development project focusing on Year Up, and OPRE included Year Up programs in their Pathways for Advancing Careers and Education (PACE) Study.

For IES researchers not already aware of OPRE’s research, we would like to highlight three things that may be particularly relevant to the work IES hopes to support.

A Growing Portfolio of Career Pathway Research: For over a decade, OPRE has created a robust research portfolio longitudinal, rigorous experimental career pathways program research.  These career pathway programs provide postsecondary education and training through a series of manageable steps leading to successively higher credentials and employment opportunities. In particular, OPRE has supported the Pathways for Advancing Careers and Education (PACE) Study and the rigorous evaluation of the Health Profession Opportunity Grants (HPOG) Program. You can find reports from these and other self-sufficiency, welfare, and employment activities in the OPRE Resource Library.

Available Data and Funding Opportunity: Later this summer, OPRE will be archiving data from PACE and HPOG at the University of Michigan’s Inter-University Consortium on Political and Social Research (ICPSR) at the Institute for Social Research. These data will be available as restricted-use files for secondary data analysis. To encourage research, OPRE announced a funding opportunity Career Pathways Secondary Data Analysis Grants to support secondary analysis these data. Applications are due August 16, 2019.

Understanding Programs’ Motivations for Participating in Research: Getting education programs (schools, universities, etc.) to join multi-year, randomized controlled trials is difficult. Programs are wary of random assignment or finding null or negative effects. Yet, the programs that participated in the PACE Study were overall quite supportive. A recent report “We Get a Chance to Show Impact”, Program Staff Reflect on Participating in a Rigorous, Multi-site Evaluation documents the hurdles and benefits of participation from a program’s point of view. These programs’ insights are particularly useful for any researcher hoping to form partnerships with education settings.

To learn more about the ongoing career pathways research at OPRE and their findings, please visit https://www.acf.hhs.gov/opre/research/project/career-pathways-research-portfolio.

IES Research Centers are Hiring

IES is seeking professionals in education-related fields to apply for open positions in our Research Centers, National Center for Education Research (NCER) and the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER). The Research Centers support research focused on practices and policies that improve education outcomes and access to education opportunities. Learn more about our work here: https://ies.ed.gov/ncer/ and here: https://ies.ed.gov/ncser/

If you are even potentially interested in this sort of position, we strongly encourage you to set up a profile in USAJobs (https://www.usajobs.gov/) and to upload your information now. As you build your profile, include all relevant research experience on your resume whether acquired in a paid or unpaid position. The positions will open in USAJobs on June 24, 2019 and will close as soon as 50 applications are received, or on July 8, 2019, whichever is earlier. Getting everything in can take longer than you might expect, so please apply as soon as the positions open in USAJobs (look for vacancy numbers IES-2019-0010 and IES-2019-2011).

IES Announces Forthcoming Funding Opportunity For the R&D of an “ROI Tool” to Inform Students’ Postsecondary Education and Career Decision Making

Students with electronic devices sitting against a wall.

Overview

On or about February 15, 2019, the Small Business Innovation Research Program at the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (ED/IES SBIR) anticipates releasing a Special Topic Solicitation #91990019R0016 in Postsecondary Education. The solicitation will be announced through an IES Newsflash and will be posted here. It will request Phase I proposals for awards of up to $200,000 for 8 months to develop a prototype of a "ROI tool.” The tool will be designed to measure the costs versus benefits (the return on investment) of different postsecondary education and training programs to help students make well-informed choices about options to pursue after they complete high school.

Applicants must be a for-profit business 500 employees or less, and U.S. owned and operated. Applicants may partner with entities or organizations working on related initiatives in the field of postsecondary education, or may subcontract to non-profit researchers or individuals with specialized expertise as needed. The due date for submission for proposals will likely be on or about April 15, 2019, with awards in mid-June, and projects beginning shortly thereafter. All Phase I awardees will be eligible to apply for a Phase II award in 2020, for $900,000 for full scale development and research to test and validate the ROI tool.

Background

While many websites provide ways for students to explore colleges or careers and occupations of interest (e.g., such as College Scorecard and CareerOneStop), there is currently no tool that helps students understand the costs and benefits of individual postsecondary programs in an integrated, customizable, and user-friendly manner.  An ROI tool would likely combine information on individual program’s tuition and fees, time needed to complete, and expected earnings. Because these characteristics can vary significantly across programs and institutions, creating a single estimated measure of ROI would allow students to more easily compare postsecondary program options. If it helps students make better choices, it could lead to improved program completion rates, higher levels of employment and earnings, less education-related debt, and more satisfaction with their selected education and career paths. 

The ED/IES SBIR Special Topic intends to fund up to five (5) Phase I projects to (a) develop and research a prototype of an ROI tool, and (b) conduct planning and concept testing for a fully developed ROI tool that provides a user-friendly experience for students. The prototype of the ROI tool developed in Phase I shall integrate with one or more existing technology systems, data sets, data standards, or resources (such as CareerOneStop or College Scorecard), and add new data elements provided by an end-user.  After a successful Phase I project, it is anticipated that small businesses that win Phase II awards will complete the full-scale development of the ROI tool that was started in Phase I, including developing an interface to improve the experience of students using the ROI tool.

Because data for ROI at the program level may only be available from some states, regions, or sets of institutions at this time, it is expected that the scope of the ROI tool developed in Phase I & II would be limited and would not be an attempt to calculate ROI for every program and institution in the country. Applicants must propose a project scope that appropriately reflects the datasets that are to be integrated within the new ROI tool, and the amount of funding and time allotted for development and research of the SBIR awards in Phase I and II.  Small businesses that are interested in this solicitation must have expertise with related efforts in the field to enhance student choices by linking education and workforce information.

Potential applicants may submit questions to ED’s Contracting Specialist Kevin.Wade@ed.gov. All questions and responses will be posted publically on the same website where the solicitation is posted as Amendments to the Solicitation.