Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Approaching Literacy Development From a Cross-Linguistic View

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. Young-Suk Kim, professor and Senior Associate Dean in the School of Education, University of California, Irvine, shares how her experiences and her work contribute to a better understanding of the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in education.

How have your background and experiences shaped your scholarship and career?

My research seeks to understand how reading and writing develop and how to best support this development for children from various backgrounds. I work on theory building and develop and evaluate effective teaching approaches toward this aim. Three salient aspects of my background and experiences have shaped my scholarship and career.

The first is that my mother does not know how to read or write. My mother is one of the most resilient and hard-working people I know. However, like many females of her generation in South Korea in the 1940s, her widowed mother could not afford education for my mother or her sister. Growing up, I observed firsthand the impact of illiteracy on her life from daily inconveniences such as getting lost because she could not read bus routes to a broader impact on her personal development over time. Second, my teaching experience in the United States also had a direct impact on my choice of career. I taught students, the majority of whom were ethnic minorities, in a highly diverse metropolitan city. I learned about their lives as children of immigrants. I also observed their language use and development and their development of reading and writing skills. I became curious and wanted to understand mechanisms underlying the development of language and literacy skills and effective ways to support their development.

Another important part of the fabric of my experience is that I am a first-generation immigrant who came to the United States as an adult. This allowed me to approach literacy development from a cross-linguistic view, not a US- or Anglo-centric view. Although I conduct my primary lines of work with children in the US from diverse linguistic, cultural, and economic backgrounds, I also conduct studies with children learning to read and write in languages other than English outside of the US context (for example, South Korea, China, South America, Africa) to expand our understanding of language-general and language-specific principles of literacy acquisition.

In your area of research, what do you see as the greatest research needs or recommendations to address diversity, equity, and inclusion and to improve the relevance of education research for diverse communities of students and families?

There is a great need for the science of teaching reading. The science of reading has received substantial attention in recent years, and we need a better understanding of the science of teaching reading, which includes knowledge of current teaching practices in the classroom and best teaching practices that are feasible, usable, and scalable in classroom contexts. Popular media articles, such as this one from the National Public Radio, have drawn public attention to reading instruction in classrooms. While valuable, they do not provide a comprehensive and precise picture about what really goes on in the classroom, and we do not have systematic data about how reading is taught and how to create conditions that support successful reading instruction. Carefully developed instructional programs implemented in well-controlled environments have shown measurable effects on language and literacy skills. However, less is known about how to make them usable and scalable in school contexts for various populations in the United States, including monolingual and multilingual children, typically developing children and exceptional children, and children who are from underserved areas.

Another important part of the science of teaching reading is research on establishing bidirectional communications between the communities of research and practice. In the field of reading and writing, there is a critical gap between research and teaching practices, and addressing this gap requires knowledge brokering. Making education research relevant for diverse communities of students and families requires systematic efforts and research on knowledge brokering as well as factors that influence one’s choice of teaching reading, conditions that support public understanding of science, and effective ways to build two-way communication channels.

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

Who we are is shaped by the fabric of our life experiences and history and what we are endowed with. I believe that the effect of our life experiences and endowment is moderated by our own actions, especially self-reflections. I have two thoughts on self-reflections at the personal level. The first one is recognizing strengths of our prior experiences and work. Being a nonnative speaker of English and an immigrant learning US culture and norms presented tremendous challenges, and there were countless days that I bemoaned the challenges. However, upon reflection, I recognize that these are invaluable and indispensable assets to me as a person and for my career in education research—I have an appreciation of immigrants’ challenges and lives, and their roles in society, and have an appreciation of who I am as a multilingual and multicultural human being.

A second related point is intentionally and actively resisting harmful effects of racial strife. As an Asian female who has lived in different parts of the United States, I have experienced a fair share of microaggressions and blatant racial discrimination. These experiences had a negative impact on me, as they would on others. While not discounting the well-documented and profound negative consequences and systemic structures associated with racial strife, we have a choice of channeling such negative experiences in positive ways and for personal growth. I am not suggesting that the burden for structural equity is on individuals. Instead, I have observed deleterious effects of these experiences on individuals including myself. Turning them into positive transformative power requires careful and intentional reflections.

How does your research contribute to a better understanding of the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in education?

I believe that my work contributes to defining diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in education in a broad way. My work with students from linguistically diverse backgrounds has contributed to understanding language-general and language-specific principles of literacy acquisition. I believe that this expands the idea of DEI beyond how it is discussed in US contexts, which tends to focus on race and ethnicity.

I also conduct research on the mitigation and prevention of reading and writing difficulties. It is estimated that anywhere between 5 and 10 percent of the population have reading and writing difficulties and addressing their educational needs is an important task in education. This line of work behooves us to broaden our understanding of DEI to students of different learning profiles.

How can the broader education research community better support the careers and scholarship of researchers from underrepresented groups?

Supporting the careers and scholarship of researchers from underrepresented groups requires serious attention to the research education pipeline. IES’s training programs are a fantastic way of achieving this goal. We also need to consider other aspects of the education pipeline. For example, systematic funding opportunities for undergraduate research training would be highly beneficial, particularly for individuals from underrepresented groups, who tend to have less exposure to research experiences. Given such opportunities, undergraduate students can be supported for their research experiences under the guidance of researchers, and this will help unveil the mystery of research for them and open up opportunities for pursuing careers related to educational research.  

Produced by Helyn Kim (, program officer for the English Learners Portfolio at NCER.

Six Strategies for Effectively Communicating Research Findings to Decision Makers

Researchers must possess the ability to clearly communicate research findings to non-technical audiences, including decision makers who may have limited time and varying levels of tolerance for data-rich reports. We and our colleagues recently honed these skills while preparing research briefs for the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) as part of an IES-funded partnership project between VDOE and the University of Virginia exploring the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on students and teachers. These briefs are a key mechanism through which our project services the purpose of IES’s Using Longitudinal Data to Support State Education Policymaking Grantmaking Programs to generate useful findings to inform the decision making of policy makers and education leaders at the state, district, and school levels.

In their initial feedback, VDOE described the briefs as “too technical.” When we led with the numbers, our intended audience quickly became overwhelmed by the need to also interpret the findings on their own. Our conversations with VDOE provided helpful direction on how we could revise the briefs to better reach non-technical, decision-making audiences in Virginia and beyond. We share six strategies we have applied to all our research briefs.

  • Yes, briefs need a summary too: The draft briefs were short (4-7 pages) inclusive of figures and endnotes, and they began with a list of key findings. Based on the feedback, we morphed this list into a proper summary of the brief. Many of the decision makers we want to reach only have time to read a page summary, and that summary needs to be self-contained. Without additional context, the initial list of key findings would have had minimal impact.
  • Lead with the headline: Numbers are a powerful tool for storytelling; however, too many numbers can also be hard for many people—researchers and non-researchers alike—to consume. We therefore edited each paragraph to lead with a numbers-free sentence that provides the main take away from the analysis and followed that up with the supporting evidence (the numbers).
  • Answer the question: Our initial groundwork to develop solid relationships with agency staff allowed us to identify priority questions on which to focus the briefs. While several tangential but interesting findings also resulted from our analysis, the briefs we developed only focused on answering the priority research questions. Tangential findings can be explored in more depth in future research projects.
  • Accurate but not over-caveated: All research makes some assumptions and has some limitations. The average non-technical audience member is unlikely to want a thorough detailing of each of these; however, some are too important to exclude. We chose to include those that were most vital to helping the reader make the correct interpretation.
  • A picture speaks a thousand words: This was something at which our initial drafts succeeded. Rather than providing tables of statistics, we included simple, well-labeled figures that clearly presented the key findings graphically to visually tell the story.
  • Conclude by summarizing not extrapolating: The purpose of these briefs was to describe the changes that the pandemic wrought to Virginia’s public schools and convey that knowledge to decision makers charged with plotting a course forward. The briefs were not intended to provide explicit guidance or recommendations to those decision makers.

These strategies, of course, are also useful when writing for technical audiences. While their training and experiences may equip them to consume research that doesn’t exhibit these six strategies, using these strategies will enhance the impact of your research findings with even the most technical of audiences.

Luke C. Miller is a Research Associate Professor at the University of Virginia’s School of Education and Human Development. He is the lead researcher and co-Principal Investigator on the IES-funded project led by VDOE in partnership with UVA.

Jennifer Piver-Renna is the Director of the Office of Research in the Department of Data, Research and Technology at the Virginia Department of Education. She is the state education agency (SEA) co-Investigator on the IES-funded project.

This blog was produced by Allen Ruby (, Associate Commissioner for Policy and Systems Division, NCER.  

Asking Questions about Dyslexia

National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) recognizes the important role people with disabilities play in a diverse and inclusive American workforce. In recognition of NDEAM, we asked IES predoctoral fellow, Rachelle Johnson, how having a learning disability impacts her career development as a researcher. Rachelle, a PhD student and FIREFLIES fellow at Florida State University, researches the role various factors play in the reading development of students with learning disabilities, with a focus on socioemotional and environmental factors.

What inspired you to become an education researcher?

Being dyslexic, I grew up in special education and in pull-out reading intervention groups. Because dyslexic students were often in the same classes and pull-out groups, we formed an informal community of understanding and acceptance. But as I progressed through school, I noticed the makeup of my classmates changed.  My dyslexic classmates had spread out—a couple were in advanced placement, many were in regular classes, others still in mainly special education classes, and many in a mix of class types. And many of us came back together for inclusion English class. Among us we had vastly different goals for the future. I was in some advanced placement classes and was looking at going to university, while many of my dyslexic friends were just trying not to drop out of high school. In noticing these wide individual differences among my learning disabled (LD) peers, I wanted to know what differentiated us. Why had some of us gone onto high achievement and some didn’t when we all started out in that same reading intervention pull-out room?

To figure out these answers, I started to read what I could on dyslexia and began attending local conferences on learning disabilities. In doing so, I became frustrated because the people I saw talking about dyslexia were not LD themselves and often I was the only “out” LD person in the room. Even though I was still in high school, I decided I wanted to be the one to find the undiscovered answers to my questions about the factors involved in creating differentiated outcomes among learning disabled people. And I wanted to write about and tell people what I found and have that information help my LD community. What I was trying to find the word for was research, but I didn’t know that was a career option.

When I described my questions about learning disabilities to the PI whose lab I started working in as a research assistant my first semester in college, she encouraged me to pursue a career as a LD researcher. She showed me that answering questions was what researchers do and that being a researcher was a career option for me. Today, I continue to research the same overarching research question that I had in early high school: what factors play into the individual differences in academic outcomes among LD students?

What have been some challenges you have faced as a learning disabled person in academia?

A big challenge I often came up against in my early career was how “out” I was going to be about being disabled. I was told that if people knew I was disabled I would never get hired, no one would take me as a PhD student, and that I was just setting myself up for discrimination. However, part of why I started pursuing research was because I didn’t see LD people being represented and given a voice in conversations on LD. I decided to go against the advice of those around me and disclose my disability. I knew I would not be able to hide my disabilities well and that if I was going to thrive in an environment I would need to disclose. Also, my disabilities are central to my identity, and I didn’t want to hide that important part of myself. It is important to me to be the representation I desperately wanted. 

Another challenge is that there is pressure to “be disabled but not too disabled.” When people first meet me, they often talk about my dyslexia in the past tense, like it is something that I overcame in elementary school. However, I did not overcome my dyslexia. Dyslexia is a lifelong disability and one that is very much still a part of my daily life. Reading is still an issue for me and will always be. I rely heavily on assistive technology such as text-to-speech to read academic articles.

What supports have been the most helpful to you in your academic career?

I have had many great mentors, both current mentors at Florida State University and past mentors in and out of research. My mentors never expected anything less from me due to my disability and were also willing to talk with me through different barriers and find solutions together without lowering the expectations.

As a person with a learning disability, what advice would you give education researchers who focus on students with learning disabilities?

Be sure to actively involve LD people in your research. A small proportion of people researching LD are LD themselves. Help by mentoring the next generation of LD researchers by taking on LD mentees.

What advice would you give students with learning disabilities who wish to pursue a career in education research?

Sometimes, it can be scary thinking about going into a field such as education research, especially if you are not expected to do well.  I have actively sought a career that relies on skills that I have disabilities in. However, even if the field of education research was not structured with disabled people in mind from the beginning, that does not mean that the LD and otherwise disabled community do not belong there. Imposter syndrome happens, but you do belong in those spaces.

Community is so important inside and outside academia and inside and outside disability. I have had many mentors who have supported me. My learning-disabled community outside of academia has always been there for me and that is a cherished part of my support system. Whether that be just friends or someone to help problem solve when my assistive technology is malfunctioning. But it is also important to be involved in disability community as a whole, not just limited to LD. And the level of disclosure and outness of disability is a personal choice for everyone. But I have found that in being out as disabled at least I am not also hiding a big part of my identity and it helps in finding other disability community members to make connections.

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. 

Rachelle Johnson is a proud dyslexic with ADHD. She has been in learning disabled spaces all her life and is actively involved in learning disability research, outreach, and activism. Rachelle is currently a developmental psychology Ph.D. student and FIREFLIES fellow at Florida State University, where she researches reading development and learning disabilities within the Florida Center for Reading Research. She is also a member of the Board of Directors and the Young Adult Leadership Council of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. The goal of both her research and activism is to create a world where learning disabled people are understood, supported, and reach their potential in life.

This blog post was produced by Katina Stapleton (, NCER program officer and co-chair of the IES Diversity Council.

Helping People with Disabilities Achieve their Employment Goals

National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is held every October to raise awareness about disability employment issues and celebrate the contributions of workers with disabilities. This year, we asked Dr. David Mann, a senior researcher at Mathematica and alumni of our University of Pennsylvania predoctoral training program, to share his journey as a researcher with a physical disability as well as his current research on vocational rehabilitation.

As a person with a physical disability, how have your background and experiences shaped your scholarship and career?

Having a disability has profoundly shaped my scholarship and career. My research focuses on the employment, benefit receipt, and health of children and working age adults with disabilities. My interest in those topics is rooted in my own experience as a person with a disability. Before my injury and subsequent disability, I had limited interest in disability awareness or policy. But after joining the disability community, I came to appreciate the importance of generating evidence that can empower people with disabilities to live the lives they want. More personally, I view my disability and the insight it provides as a critical component of who I am.

What sparked your interest in education research?

My interest in education research is rooted in my personal experience. I acquired my disability at age 14, just after finishing the eighth grade. I was taught at a young age that education is critical to having a fulfilling career, but that insight became even more important after acquiring a disability. I knew that if I wanted to be independent as an adult, education would be critical. This personal experience made me interested in education research more broadly, especially the intersection of education and disability.     

How does your research on vocational rehabilitation contribute to a better understanding of how to support students with disabilities as they enter the workforce?

The Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program provides services and supports—including education-based supports—to people with disabilities who want to work. The services and supports are individually tailored based on each customer’s career goals and barriers to employment. I received VR services during my time in college and graduate school. My recent VR research focuses on testing new interventions that could improve employment outcomes for key groups of VR customers, such as transition age youth or people receiving subminimum wages. If we can generate evidence that identifies more effective strategies for helping people with disabilities achieve their employment goals, then we can have a large positive impact in the disability community.

What has been the biggest challenge you have encountered as a researcher with a disability and how did you overcome the challenge?

My biggest disability-related challenge as a researcher is managing the effects of my condition, which are wide-ranging. My limited stamina, inability to physically write, and limited ability to type are key challenges when trying to produce research and keep up with colleagues. I use assistive technology and other accommodations whenever possible to overcome these challenges. However, not all the effects of my condition are addressed with technology or accommodations. Consequently, I also do the best I can to take care of myself and avoid situations that demand more stamina than I have.   

How can the broader education research community better support the careers and scholarship of researchers with disabilities?

If I had to highlight one thing the broader education research community can do to support researchers with disabilities, it would be creating a culture of encouragement. Reflecting on my experience in the predoctoral training program, a few key faculty members linked to the program regularly signaled to me that I could do what I set out to achieve. Put another way, they believed in me. I will always be grateful for that because it gave me the confidence to pursue the career I really wanted, not what I thought was expected of me. Any graduate student can benefit from encouragement but encouraging researchers with disabilities is especially important because of the additional challenges they must overcome.

What advice would you give to emerging scholars with disabilities who are pursuing a career in education research?

Pursue your research passion! I was interested in disability-related research since college, but early in my graduate career an advisor in the economics department dissuaded me from pursuing disability-related research because I have a disability. I now realize how misguided that advice was, but at the time, I followed his advice. It was only after graduate school that I felt free to examine the intersection of disability, education, and employment. Do not make the same mistake—start pursuing now the research topics you care most about.

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. 

David Mann is a senior researcher for Mathematica’s Center for Studying Disability Policy. His primary research interests include the labor force participation, human capital accumulation, and benefit receipt of youth and adults with disabilities. He also has expertise in disability policy reform.

This blog post was produced by Katina Stapleton (, NCER program officer and co-chair of the IES Diversity Council.

It Takes a Village: Supporting the Next Generation of Education Researchers

The IES Pathways to the Education Sciences Program was designed to inspire students from groups that have been historically underrepresented in doctoral study to pursue careers in education research. In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, we asked Dr. Guadalupe Carmona, Principal Investigator of the P20 Pathways to Education Research training program at University of Texas at San Antonio to share her career journey and advice on supporting the next generation of education researchers.

How have your background and experiences shaped your scholarship and career?

It takes a village….

My goal has been to prepare the next generation of students in STEM by providing all students access to fundamental STEM ideas from an early age. My own early life experiences guided my scholarship and career in mathematics education. I was born and raised in Mexico City by my mother, an English teacher, and my father, a chemical engineer. They always inspired me to wonder, to ask questions, to seek for answers and to ask more questions, to never settle.

I was inspired to become an educator at the age of 15 when I volunteered for an adult literacy program. There, I had the opportunity to meet an amazing group of (mainly) women who taught me the best lessons of my life. One of my students, Doña Lola, was 70 years old. For 40 years, she sold newspapers at the stand only 2 blocks away from where I lived. Every day she would earn a living by selling news that she was unable to read. Doña Lola was an example to her two daughters, who were 35 and 40, who also enrolled to obtain their middle school certificate. For three consecutive years, I met with Doña Lola and her friends every week. Their perseverance and knowledge earned them an elementary school certificate. When graduation day came Doña Lola’s daughters received her diploma because she had passed away.

Doña Lola and all the wonderful people I met in this program have inspired my scholarship and career. They taught me that education was a privilege that I had taken for granted. They taught me about the joy in learning new things that can transform lives in better ways and about the joy of teaching in their learning. Even in these early years in my life, they taught me that students’ agency and participation in learning communities are fundamental to provide all students access to fundamental ideas from an early age.

At the age of 16, I became inspired to become a mathematician. By a teacher’s recommendation, I registered for the Mathematics Olympics. I didn’t know what this was about, but I knew I had to show up on Saturday and Sunday. I was handed three problems and was given four hours to solve them. I found great joy in finding different ways to solve these problems and in finding ways to explain my thinking process clearly so that the judges would understand my reasoning. Several months later, I received a phone call asking me to come with my family to receive an award. In that ceremony, I met Dr. María Trigueros, faculty at Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, who offered me a scholarship for the mathematics program. She inspired me to write my honor’s thesis about the Conceptualizations of the tangent line and its relation to the derivative, my introduction to mathematics education.

How does your research contribute to a better understanding of the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in education?

My research, teaching, and service have been guided by an integrated vision to build a scalable and sustainable research program to prepare the next generation of students in STEM by broadening access to fundamental STEM ideas from an early age, through innovative approaches to teaching, learning, and assessment. In our research group, we use low-cost technologies that are easily available to develop learning environments in STEM. My work centers on impacting the field to become more diverse and more inclusive of populations who have historically been underrepresented. As a scholar and an educator, I work on broadening participation in STEM and STEM education and building bridges to create pathways from K-16 that leads to improved access and quality to education innovation, research, and workforce in the STEM fields.

In a time when Hispanic students are the fastest growing population in this country, providing support for STEM education resources that are also bilingual/biculturally sensitive in Spanish and English, and especially, strengthening ties with STEM and STEM education researchers in HSIs, Mexico and Latin America, are fundamental pieces to achieve these needed changes. This vision cannot be achieved by a single individual. I am fortunate to work within learning communities formed by national and international network of scholars, research and resources who share this vision.

How can the broader education research community better support the careers and scholarship of researchers from underrepresented groups?

It is important that the education research community respond to the imminent need to broaden participation in education research—especially by engaging groups that historically have been underrepresented—and work together towards systemic change. There are at least four key action items:

  • Increase research focus in educational systemic changes by simultaneously addressing equity and knowledge, in the design of PreK-16 learning environments for all students, teacher professional development to support these learning environments, and innovative assessments to capture the complexity of student thinking in these learning environments.
  • Support training programs, such as the IES Pathways Research in Education Training Programs, for underrepresented individuals to develop careers and create new pathways in education research. These programs support fellows to develop knowledge, tools, and experiences in doing research and participating in learning communities and networks to support their lifelong careers in education research.
  • Foster collaborations for interdisciplinary research that requires broad and diverse perspectives to solve grand challenges in education. It is important to have a shared vision and work together in coordinated ways for changes to occur systemically.
  • Make use of science communication training for scholars to disseminate results of educational research, especially when addressing interdisciplinary challenges in education so that relevant knowledge quickly becomes part of public domain and citizen literacy.

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

Ask questions. Seek answers. Find mentors. Learn and participate. Be grateful for the doors they will open for you. Build community. Become mentors. Inspire others and open doors for them.

Be passionate about changing the world. Be strategic about the ONE thing you want to change; prioritize and focus. Always remember that YOU are part of the change!

Dr. Carmona is a Professor in STEM Education at The University of Texas at San Antonio and also serves as Executive Director of ConTex, an initiative between the University of Texas System and Mexico’s National Council of Science and Technology (Conacyt) to foster binational academic collaborations between Mexico and Texas that are mutually beneficial for both countries. Dr. Carmona’s research agenda for the past 20 years has focused on broadening participation in STEM and addressing the need to prepare the next generation of students who can have democratic access to the fundamental and complex ideas in STEM from an early age. 

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

This guest blog was produced by Katina Stapleton (, co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council. She is also the program officer for the Pathways to the Education Sciences Research Training Program.