Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Connecting to Place and People: How My Experiences with Native American Communities Motivate My Work

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 this guest blog, Dr. Tabitha Stickel, a second-year postdoctoral research fellow at the Georgia State University (GSU) Postdoctoral Training on Adult Literacy (G-PAL) program shares her experiences working with adult education programs in Native American tribal lands and how it has shaped her work and purpose.

Entering Adult Education: Connection to the Land and Peoples of the Southwest

Prior to graduate school, I found work as an adult education teacher at a rural, southwestern community college in the traditional lands of the Diné (Navajo), the Hopi, and the Ndee (Western Apache). This college, which served the indigenous communities, was set in the short-grass prairies, spotted with juniper trees in a land that seemed silent and empty to the untrained eye. But the land was full of life and opportunity, and the students I met gave me new appreciation for the opportunities adult education could provide.

As an adjunct faculty in an adult basic and developmental education program, I traveled several hours each week to teach classes on the Diné and Hopi tribal lands. I was immediately struck by the students’ dedication to their education and personal goals—to be the first in their families to earn a college degree, help their children or grandchildren with homework, find or keep employment, and/or fulfill the promise of completing high school made to themselves or others. 

Challenges in Adult Education for Rural Students

Despite this dedication, adult students face a variety of barriers to attending classes. Adult students often must contend with the challenges of caretaking, work, and transportation—a perennial problem for rural students, as there is no public transportation. Some students were able to carpool, and some of the tribes arranged vans to transport the “closer” students to the campus.

Even when faced with such challenges, students showed up each week. I had students without electricity at home who used their cell phones to access class materials, one of many such examples of the digital divide in rural areas. I had a student who made burritos each week and sold them to raise money for a desk for her schoolwork. These students drove my passion for my work. When students overcome incredible odds for their education, how can an educator do anything other than rise to meet them? Earning an education credential, such as a high school equivalency, could have far-reaching positive outcomes for the students and their families. 

What My Students Taught Me

In addition to learning about the challenges and rewards adult learners face, I also learned the importance of listening to students and checking assumptions. For instance, I had a GED student who was chronically late. One day, I called her because I was frustrated that she was over an hour late, only to learn that she was on her way. In fact, she was walking more than 20 miles to come to class. She had been unable to hitch-hike to class as she normally would. I was completely humbled in that moment and realized that my assumptions were keeping me from understanding her. She ended up earning her GED a month later.

When my students shared their stories, I learned how their lived experiences—including the very land on which they lived—shaped them. When I began to truly listen to these stories and understand their importance, I became a better teacher. And I knew that these stories deserved to be heard and answered with more than I could offer as a single teacher.

Moving Between Two Worlds: Research and Practice

My experiences in the southwest prompted me to attend graduate school and research how to understand, empower, and teach adult learners. In general, however, there is insufficient research on adult education within and for certain populations. I wanted help to address this gap, so I centered my work on identifying culturally relevant themes of belonging for Native adult education students to explore the various pathways along which student belonging might develop.

In 2020, I returned to the adult education program I had worked in to gather stories from the students for my dissertation. I found student stories became intertwined with the pandemic and revealed the extent of the devastation the COVID-19 pandemic was having on the Native American communities and students’ sense of belonging. COVID-19 was making it more difficult for students to balance attending class and providing for their families. It was also making the digital divide even more apparent—as adult education programs transitioned to remote instruction, students had to navigate the realities of participating and belonging in the digital sphere. I further explore these themes in the Coalition on Adult Basic Education’s (COABE) forthcoming special issue on COVIDs effects on adult students.

As with other challenges, these Native communities and students continued to survive and thrive despite the tragedies of COVID-19. The students and staff in the adult education programs in these tribal communities deserve all the recognition in the world for their dedication, their creativity in addressing ever-present and ever-arising challenges, and their persistence.

My own commitment to this endeavor led me to become a postdoctoral fellow in the Georgia State University (GSU) Postdoctoral Training on Adult Literacy (G-PAL) program. I hope to soon return to the land and communities that have so integrally changed my life.  

Although I may return with more knowledge of the adult education field and how to facilitate classroom learning, I will occupy not just a “teacher” role but a student one as well, as I have much to learn from the lands, the people, and the experiences they inevitably shape.

 

Understanding NCER and NCSER’s Investments in Research Training

Since 2004, NCER has invested over $270 million dollars in education research training programs through solicited and unsolicited grants. NCSER has invested over $32 million in special education research training programs through solicited and unsolicited grants since 2008.

This investment has supported the training and professional development of thousands of undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and early- and mid-career researchers. But what guides NCER’s and NCSER’s investments? What roles do NCER and NCSER play in research training in the education sciences, and how can the centers determine whether these investments are successful?

In June 2022, IES awarded a joint-center contract to WestEd to document the background and rationale for these training programs and help articulate the theoretical models for each of the programs, including assumptions, inputs, activities, and outputs. WestEd will then work with IES to identify metrics and potential data sources to better understand the successes and impacts of the current and possible future programs.

 

The commissioners for the centers, Drs. Elizabeth Albro and Joan McLaughlin, are excited about the opportunity to delve into the training programs that they believe have transformed the education sciences:

We see the benefits of these trainings every day, including the quality of the applications that we receive, ability of the research teams to conduct thoughtful and rigorous studies even when confronted with the practical challenges of working in schools, the number of early career applicants taking on important research, and the growing diversity of the research teams. 

 The commissioners see the contract as an exciting opportunity:

WestEd is supporting us as we take stock of our various research trainings and help us identify metrics for measuring success both within and across our training programs.  We want to make sure our research training programs stay current and address the needs and evolving challenges of the field and are looking forward to working with the WestEd team on this project. 

 

Dr. Nick Gage, a former NCSER postdoctoral fellow and current mentor on an NCSER Early Career grant leads the WestEd team and notes –  

I believe deeply in the capacity of IES to impact change through the training programs and am passionate about working with IES to find the connections among the programs and to develop a plan for measuring success across the training programs. I believe thinking broadly while also attending to the unique features of the training programs when developing models and a unified conceptual framework will be an on-going challenge, but one my team is excited to tackle. 

By understanding the connections between what is being done during these programs and the impacts on grantees, trainees, institutions, and the education sciences in the short and long term, we can develop new approaches for measuring and understanding success resulting from training program implementation. 

To build the models and identify metrics, WestEd is talking with IES staff, reviewing public and internal documents, leveraging natural language processing and other data analytic approaches, and soliciting input from former training program grantees and participants. Dr. Gage’s goal is to incorporate the voices of all those involved in training programs to help bring together multiple perspectives and ideas in this effort.

 

For more information about the research activities or to provide input, contact Dr. Nick Gage ngage@wested.org.

 

NCER Research Training Programs 

  • Early Career Mentoring Program for Faculty at Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs)  
  • Methods Training for Education Research 
  • Pathways to the Education Sciences 
  • Postdoctoral Research Training 
  • Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training 
  • Training in Education Use and Practice 

  

NCSER Research Training Programs 

  • Early Career Development and Mentoring in Special Education 
  • Methods Training for Special Education Research 
  • Postdoctoral Research Training Program in Special Education and Early Intervention 

 


This blog was written by Dr. Meredith Larson (Meredith.Larson@ed.gov), an NCER Postdoctoral Training program officer and current coordinator for the NCER/NCSER Training Program team. She is also the contracting officer representative for the NCER/NCSER Education Research Training Program Support contract. 

New Grant to Develop a Learning Game About the Supreme Court Features ED/IES SBIR Education Technology Platform

In April 2022, iCivics was awarded a $400,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to develop Supreme Justice, a live-action multiplayer experience that simulates the deliberation process used by Supreme Court justices.  The game is being developed in partnership with small business Gigantic Mechanic and deployed using their VOXPOP platform, which was developed through the ED/IES SBIR program with awards in 2018 and 2019.

VOXPOP is a technology-enabled, class-wide, role-playing game for high school students. Using any web browser, teachers access a library of simulations on a range of topics drawn from the AP U.S. history curriculum and Common Core History Standards. VOXPOP’s platform provides resources to guide implementation, including videos, individualized student profiles, and real-time voting, and facilitates each student playing a unique historical role. Throughout the experience, the software guides participants with facts and primary sources, with students engaging in face-to-face discussions, and debating issues central to the simulation. All VOXPOP content can be found at www.voxpop.io

On July 15, VOXPOP was selected as the winner for the “Best Civics Game” through the Games For Change 2022 Awards. This annual award competition recognizes the year's best games for social impact and learning. All awards are competitive with submissions are evaluated by expert jurors.

In the new Supreme Justice game, students in grades 6 to 12 participate in a live-action multiplayer simulation focused on freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and due process rights. Classrooms are divided into different groups to play petitioners, respondents, and justices as they argue and consider cases of constitutional law. Supreme Justice will model deliberation and critical thinking in a civic setting, grounded in historical cases and relying heavily on the U.S. Constitution as evidence. The experience will engage students in face-to-face discussions and debates, while collaborating to craft arguments central to civic and government life. Once the game is developed, it will be freely available on the iCivics website.

 

 

Along with the iCivics NEH grant, Gigantic Mechanic is partnering with other organizations and museums, such as Revolutionary Spaces (see video below), to develop custom role-plays and simulations for their platforms and spaces.

 

 


Stay tuned to @IESResearch for news and updates on research, initiatives, and project updates in the area of tutoring to accelerate learning.

For more information, please contact Edward Metz (Edward.Metz@ed.gov), research scientist and the program manager for the Small Business Innovation Research Program at the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.

 

Technology Facilitated Tutoring Programs to Accelerate Learning

It goes without saying, challenges caused by COVID-19 in the field of education remain widespread and have the potential to be long lasting. A recent report confirmed that during the pandemic the move to full-time remote schooling was related to a decrease in student achievement, especially in high-poverty districts. Now over two years later, school leaders continue to employ strategies to address learning loss, such as intensive tutoring programs. This is because decades of research support the effectiveness of in-person tutoring to accelerate learning, and recent research also shows positive effects for high dosage virtual tutoring for struggling learners during the pandemic.

While the human-to-human interaction will always be central to a quality tutoring experience, technology offers unique functionalities to enrich and extend tutoring. For example, new models of technology facilitated tutoring programs—

  • Engage students with game-based and multi-media content that adjusts to the level of the individual and generate real-time tips to scaffold learning
  • Employ tools such as virtual whiteboards and data visualizations to enrich the virtual workspace for the tutor and student
  • Use dashboards to present real-time data driven insights for tutors to track student progress and individualize instruction
  • Provide automated professional development and training opportunities to prepare tutors

Technology also enables schools and community organizations to offer remote tutoring programs at scale—to reach students anywhere and anytime, including after school and during the summer. This of course depends on student access to technology and the availability of qualified tutors.  

Four IES Supported Technology-Based Tutoring Programs

In spring 2020, to help address the crisis in education caused by the pandemic, four teams of IES-funded developers adapted and extended their learning technologies for remote tutoring to be ready to be used at scale. The technologies are all research based and offer unique capabilities to strengthen the tutoring experience and to allow programs to reach more students. Each of the following programs described below can now deliver tutoring in schools or remote settings.

A2i by Learning Ovations. A2i (watch video) is a web-based product for students in kindergarten to grade 3 that continually assesses reading and generates data-driven recommendations to inform instruction. A2i is used in hundreds of schools by tens of thousands of students each year. Originally developed for in-school use through multiple IES and other government awards, research demonstrates the efficacy of A2i to improve student reading.

At the beginning of COVID-19, the Community Literacy Support System was designed to extend A2i for tutoring at student homes and other non-school locations. The program provides customized lessons and data visualization tools for tutors and parents. In the past two years, the tutoring program has been used by 9,200 students across 5 different states, at 23 different community sites (such as this one), and within almost 8,000 homes.

ASSISTments by ASSISTments. ASSISTments (watch video) is used by teachers to assign problems to students from curricula, such as EngageNY, Illustrative Mathematics, and Open Up Resources. Students receive real-time instructional feedback while doing problems online, while teachers receive reports with actionable insights to inform instruction. Initially developed through multiple awards from IES and other sources, in 2021-22, ASSISTments was used by over 5,000 educators and 200,000 students at schools around the country. Research by SRI International demonstrated that classrooms that used ASSISTments increased in learning course content compared to a control group.

At the onset of COVID-19, ASSISTments designed TutorASSIST, a tool to present data visualizations for tutors to target specific student needs through remote (or in-person) sessions. More than 750 students across Louisiana, Georgia, and Maryland used the tool to support remote tutoring during the pandemic. With a 2021 ED/EIR grant, ASSISTments is further developing its core product and tutoring tool to serve historically underserved students, including starting a school tutoring pilot program in eight schools in partnership with EnCorps Tutors, with a focus on optimizing the technology for tutoring.

SAGA Coach by SAGA Education and Simbulus. SAGA Education and Woot Math (watch video) employ interactive and game-based activities to support student math learning and a dashboard that generates data-driven insights to promote dialogue and discussion of complex topics between teachers and students. The school-based intervention reaches approximately 75,000 students per year. Woot Math was developed through an ED/IES SBIR award and through other sources. In 2021, Woot Math was acquired by and integrated within SAGA Education’s online math program.  

During the pandemic, SAGA Coach was designed to extend Saga Education and Woot Math for remote tutoring through the addition of an interactive whiteboard shared by tutors and students, and online training materials for tutors. During the 2020-21 school year, 5,500 students used SAGA Coach for high-dosage remote tutoring, and in 2022-23, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America will use SAGA Coach to deliver a remote tutoring program.

Lightning Squad by Sirius Thinking and Success For All. Lightning Squad (watch video) is a multimedia platform where pairs of students in grades 1 to 3 who are struggling readers collaborate to read stories and play games that are presented by the computer, while a tutor provides targeted support. Developed through an ED/IES SBIR award, the product is currently being evaluated through a multiyear efficacy trial and will be used in 50 Baltimore City elementary schools in fall 2022.  

At the onset of COVID-19 in 2020, Lightning Squad was adapted for remote delivery in eight Baltimore City schools serving principally low-income students. In the remote version, tutors use a video platform (for example, Zoom) with pairs of students in their respective homes. Students proceed with the activities of the software and respond verbally while a tutor types responses on the screen in real-time for each team member to see. In the 2020-21 school year, 16 Baltimore City schools used Lightning Squad with over 800 students, most for remote tutoring. Research conducted during the project by Success For All (not yet reviewed by the Department) found that students who were able to maintain consistent participation with remote tutoring gained 1.5 years of progress as measured by their initial placement and end of year placement, double the expected gains in reading during the period of school closures.  An additional 1,200 students were served remotely using Lightning Squad in other states during this same period.

Additional Related Resources on Tutoring to Accelerate Learning

  • Lightning Squad and SAGA Coach are part of Proven Tutoring, a coalition of technology-delivered tutoring programs with a mission to help educators learn about and access tutoring programs. These evidence-based programs have the potential to increase the achievement of students performing far below grade level due to COVID school closures or other factors.
  • In June 2021 during the ED Games Expo, IES partnered with AmeriCorps to host a webinar focusing on government and community partner initiatives to support remote tutoring to accelerate student learning during COVID-19.

In April 2022, AmeriCorps partnered with ED to produce a webinar on lessons from the field on the topic of high-dosage tutoring. AmeriCorps and the Department, along with Johns Hopkins University’s Everyone Graduates Center, are partners in the National Partnership for Student Success (NPSS). Launched in July 2022, the NPSS is committed to engaging 250,000 adults as tutors, mentors, and coaches in evidence-based programs designed to accelerate students’ recovery from the pandemic. 


Stay tuned to @IESResearch for news and updates on research, initiatives, and project updates in the area of tutoring to accelerate learning.

Edward Metz is a research scientist and the program manager for the Small Business Innovation Research Program at the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.

Melissa Moritz was the Afterschool and Summer Learning Fellow in the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE) at the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. She currently serves as the Director of Policy for the STEM Next Opportunity Fund.

Please contact Edward.Metz@ed.gov with questions or for more information.

 

Meet NCSER and NCER Summer 2022 Interns

IES is proud to introduce the summer 2022 cohort of interns. These three interns come to us through the U.S. Department of Education’s Student Volunteer Trainee Program and are helping the Centers translate and understand the work we do. We asked this year’s interns to tell us about themselves, why they are interested in an internship, what they are learning, and a fun fact to share. Here’s what they said.

Kaitlynn Fraze is pursuing a PhD in special education and research methods at George Mason University.

Before pursuing my PhD, I taught in a variety of special education teaching positions. I started as a special education teacher at an elementary school serving students with high-incidence disabilities, then transitioned to teaching high school and post-graduate classes for students with severe disabilities and complex medical and communication needs. While teaching, I took master’s degree classes in autism and severe intellectual disabilities. My experiences in the public school system and in academia inspired me to learn more about how I could use research to inform policy and advocacy efforts.

I found my way to NCSER after completing a summer internship with the Department’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) in 2021. The experience I gained at OSEP with programs aimed at bridging the research-to-practice gap influenced my drive and direction. While policy and advocacy for inclusion continue to be passions of mine, my graduate focus shifted to reading research for students with moderate to severe disabilities to help improve instruction for those students who were not previously held to the same high educational standards as their peers. I sought out an internship with NCSER because I want to use research to improve practice for ALL students and have exposure to federal special education grants management.

While interning at NCSER, I learned about the different IES-funded research programs and gained experience writing about impactful researchers and their research programs. The internship expanded my professional network to include even more people who share the same passion for education research for students with disabilities. Paired with the knowledge gained from my PhD program, the internship has strengthened my readiness to enter the field.

Fun Fact:

I love cooking! I enjoy making dinner for my family. The entire process of planning, organizing, and preparing the food is calming and therapeutic for me. I use it as a time to bond with my son, develop his functional life skills, and make huge messes.

Manvi Harde is a rising 2nd year Jefferson & Echols Scholar, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Global Development Studies and Economics at the University of Virginia.

Growing up in a vibrant and diverse area attending one of the biggest public schools in Arizona, I had an incredible opportunity to expand my perspective and learn from my peers. I always loved education, in whichever form it manifested, including advocating for CTE education and raising awareness for the education of refugees. Through these various passions, I realized that I had a deep-rooted interest in education policy. 

At the University of Virginia, I immersed myself even more in the world of education and diversity by taking classes, such as Poverty and Education Policy and Race and Ethnic Relations to Macroeconomics, tutoring local refugee children, and interacting with undergraduate and faculty groups to compile data on racial justice and anti-racism education. I also was a fellow for Teach for America this past semester, through which I worked with changemakers and policy educators to tutor children from low-income families throughout the country.

Through my internship at IES, I am challenging myself and delving into the nuances of the world of education policy and research, with an eager hope to enter this field in the future. I strive to apply the knowledge I’ve learned through my work on disseminating and translating research for different stakeholders to uplift communities through research and policy and to find bright spots within those areas.

Fun Fact:

Throughout quarantine, my family and I fostered 5 dogs, each of which has a special place in my heart. I love pets, and though we didn’t adopt any of them, it was a wonderful experience to provide love and a home to these dogs for as long as needed.

Nadiyah Williams is a rising senior, majoring in information science at the University of Maryland, College Park.

I have been taking several classes to help me prepare for a profession in either data science or cybersecurity. This summer, I worked as a data science intern at IES, focusing on a project that leveraged data from the Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE) at ED. We used these data to determine which institutions were classified as minority-serving institutions (MSIs) during a particular time period.

While interning this summer, I learned a lot about all the different types of colleges that are eligible to become MSIs and what makes them eligible. The work I did this summer supports IES in determining whether the research Centers are getting applications from or awarding grants to MSIs. This work will continue to be important as IES identifies areas to expand the grant applicant pool.

I am grateful for my internship this summer. IES has taught me so many skills, especially in Excel, while leveraging previous coursework in Python and SQL. I hope to use the skills I have learned while cleaning data in my future college courses and my future job.

Fun Fact:

I enjoy traveling and have been to several cool countries such as Ghana and Qatar.