Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage in Education

Hispanic Heritage Month was celebrated from September 15 to October 15 this year. There was much to be thankful for, but also much work still to do. In our work at the Center for the Success of ELs (CSEL), an IES funded National Research and Development Center, our team is diligently working to clarify issues related to English learner (EL) classification and achievement, as well as the special challenges brought on by the pandemic, and to identify future challenges to which we must turn our attention.

Proper Accounting for ELs and their Achievement

The linguistic diversity of our student population is remarkable. Over 300 languages other than English are spoken in U.S. homes with Spanish by far the most common. Although many student and school factors influence time to English proficiency, we do not celebrate often enough the significant accomplishments of these language minority students, including those who enter school as proficient English speakers, but especially those who achieve proficiency in English through their hard work in school and that of their teachers and families.  Many students with Hispanic heritage who are designated as language minority students enter U.S. schools in kindergarten fully proficient in English and are never designated as ELs within the school system. Many more who are initially designated as ELs become proficient in English within 3-5 years of entering US schools.

Our persistent focus on those students not yet proficient in English has merit. Focus placed on students during this stage of their development can improve progress towards English proficiency and student outcomes when students receive access to appropriate instruction and supports that afford access to grade level content. However, to focus exclusively on the achievement of students who are not yet proficient in English fails to recognize the temporary nature of this stage of development for most ELs. This skews our understanding of the achievement of ELs and undermines student efforts toward educational attainment and school efforts to foster that development. This deficit orientation in accounting and reporting creates an aura of inferiority that is at once unwarranted, unhelpful, and unnecessary.

Reclassification Should be Celebrated

Excluding reclassified students from analyses of EL achievement presents a misleading picture and ignores countless individual successes. Numerous studies, including work funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and IES within our group, have found that ELs who have attained proficiency in English perform at least as well as peers who were never designated as ELs. In fact, this comparability appears to be present for many ELs who remain classified as ELs but are scoring in the top performance band of the English proficiency test. The same cannot be said for students who have not yet achieved high levels of English proficiency.

The significant accomplishments of our ELs receive too little attention in our reports and conversations about education. Unfortunately, this statement is true for Hispanic students as well as for students from the hundreds of other language backgrounds who populate our diverse schools. This year, as schools and districts announce their valedictorians, college bound students, rising elementary and middle school students and other academic accomplishments, we should take note of how many of these students began school as ELs and celebrate their success—an outcome achieved by the hard work of teachers and students.

New and Unprecedented Challenges for EL Education

"This is the worst educational crisis ever seen in the region, and we are worried that there could be serious and lasting consequences for a whole generation, especially for the most vulnerable sectors."  Carlos Felipe Jaramillo, World Bank VP for Latin America and the Caribbean

Despite these successes and our general optimism for the post-pandemic educational system, there are significant challenges on the horizon as we consider educational practices for ELs. In March 2021, UNICEF estimated that total and partial school closures in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) had left approximately 114 million students in the region without face-to-face schooling. The impact of these school closures is particularly devastating in a region in which the majority of students did not achieve basic proficiency in reading, math, and writing prior to the pandemic. The World Bank estimates that as many as 71% of lower secondary education students in the region may not achieve basic levels of reading proficiency following this pandemic. Their educational risk is further compounded by twin crises of violence and poverty across the region.

This regional crisis is already felt in U.S. schools. Immigration data document a sharp increase in the number of families and unaccompanied minors from Latin America entering the US this past spring. This fall and beyond, U.S. schools will face the challenge of meeting the educational and social emotional needs of these at-risk immigrant youth but must do so with limited guidance from the research community on effective educational programs for newcomer English learners. Previous research with students who entered schools at a young age as ELs may not reliably generalize to students arriving at an older age following the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the pandemic and other socio-political challenges, many newcomers have interrupted formal educations, speak very little or no English on school entry, and may demonstrate academic weaknesses in their native language. A significant number are fleeing crises of violence and poverty with related psychological trauma that impacts learning.

Fortunately, this critical gap in research is explicitly acknowledged in the most recent Request for Applications for the National Center for Special Education Research, who set aside their research funding for the current year to specifically address educational challenges linked to the pandemic. Meeting the critical need for evidence-based strategies to ensure successful outcomes for newcomer ELs at significant educational risk will require everyone’s best efforts. The LAC region was disrupted more than any other region on the globe, experiencing the world’s longest school closures and inconsistent or non-existent remote learning options in the context of the deepest recession in decades. The learning loss resulting from this pandemic-related disruption is likely to be deep and pervasive, increasing school dropout and negatively impacting wellness and mental health.  

As we take stock and celebrate the joy and enrichment that Hispanic heritage brings to everyone in the US, regardless of their own heritage, let us commit to doing all we can to ensure the academic success and socio-emotional health of our ELs in the United States.  In doing so, let’s also keep in mind that these students willingly face many challenges in pursuit of their own American Dream, and their success in this pursuit benefits us all. 


This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see here and here) showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. As part of our Hispanic Heritage Month blog series, we are focusing on Hispanic researchers and fellows, as well as researchers that focus on the education of Hispanic students.

David J. Francis is the Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished University Chair of Quantitative Methods in the Department of Psychology at the University of University. He is also the Director of the Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistics (TIMES) and the Director of the IES-funded Center for the Success of English Learners National Research and Development Center.

Jeremy Miciak is an associate research professor at the University of Houston in the Department of Psychology and at the Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistics (TIMES). He is also a co-investigator on the IES-funded Center for the Success of English Learners National Research and Development Center.

Produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council and Helyn Kim (Helyn.Kim@ed.gov), Program Officer at the National Center for Education Research for the ELs portfolio.

Listen Now: English Learners in Secondary Schools Podcast

In FY 2020, IES established the National Research & Development Center to Improve Education for Secondary English Learners to support a large-scale, coordinated research effort to improve opportunities and achievement for English learners (ELs) in secondary settings, who represent more than one-third of all K-12 ELs enrolled in the United States. The Center, composed of experts and leaders in the field, and led by Dr. Aída Walqui at WestEd, is conducting a multi-pronged research approach to better understand the systemic and instructional influences that affect secondary ELs.

As part of their work, Dr. Walqui, Dr. Ilana Umansky from the University of Oregon, and Dr. Karen Thompson from Oregon State University participated in a webinar on English Learners in Secondary Schools: Trajectories, Transition Points, and Promising Practices hosted by the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) in early 2021. The purpose of this webinar was to discuss what research has shown about the academic trajectories of ELs in secondary school settings, including the trajectories of newcomer students, students who have been labeled as long-term ELs, ELs with disabilities, and former ELs.

Due to the overwhelming response from the audience, OELA brought the panelists back together for a two-part podcast to answer questions submitted during the webinar. In part 1, the panelists discuss how to support ELs in meeting graduation requirements, mitigate risks that may lead ELs to drop out of school, and provide English language development instruction. In part 2, the panelists discuss the needs of students with limited or interrupted formal education, professional learning opportunities for educators of secondary ELs, and promising practices that can help educators meet the needs of ELs in secondary schools.

Listen now to learn more about the work that Drs. Walqui, Umansky, and Thompson are doing regarding the education of ELs in secondary schools.


Written by Helyn Kim (Helyn.Kim@ed.gov), Program Officer for the English Learners portfolio, National Center for Education Research

IES Funds Innovations Across the Age Spectrum for Students with ADHD

Nearly 10% of all children in the United States have at one time been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—over 6 million children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As the name implies, ADHD can lead children to have primary problems with attention, hyperactive behavior, or both. Over the past two years, NCER and NCSER have awarded more than $12 million to four projects focusing on children and youth with ADHD through their primary grant competitions, from preschool to high school.

Comparing Virtual and In-Person Sessions for Parents of Young Children

Photo of George DuPaulPhoto of Lee KernDeveloped with NCSER funding, the Promoting Engagement with ADHD Pre-Kindergartners (PEAK) program has preliminary evidence of positive impacts on parent and child outcomes. Building on these findings, Principal Investigators (PIs) George DuPaul and Lee Kern are now testing the efficacy of the intervention with both face-to-face and online delivery methods. PEAK gives parents information on ADHD and a host of strategies, including behavioral management and response, reading and math skill development, and communication with school personnel to aid in the transition to kindergarten. The research team is comparing the face-to-face version, online version, and a control group without PEAK to determine the efficacy of the intervention and comparative efficacy between each method of delivery. They will also determine whether effects are maintained for up to 24 months after the end of the parent sessions.

English Language Learners (ELLs) in Early Elementary Grades

Photo of Nicole Schatz

PI Nicole Schatz and her team are addressing a gap in existing research: very few interventions for the development of language and reading skills in ELL students are tailored to those who also have disabilities, particularly for ELL students with behavior disorders such as ADHD. Their 2021 NCSER-funded study will examine whether language and behavioral interventions, delivered independently or combined, improve learning outcomes for kindergarten and first grade ELLs with or at risk for ADHD. The research team will examine the impact of one of these three interventions: 1) an educational language intervention involving small-group, interactive reading; 2) a behavioral classroom intervention; and 3) a combined intervention in which students receive both the language intervention and the behavioral classroom intervention.

Academic and Social Effects of Sluggish Cognitive Tempo (SCT) in Elementary and Middle School

Photo of Stephen Becker

SCT is an attention disorder associated with symptoms similar to ADHD, such as excessive daydreaming, mental confusion, seeming to be "in a fog,” and slowed behavior/thinking. In this recent extension of PI Stephen Becker’s initial NCER grant, he explores how SCT is associated with academic and social impairments over development. The research team will collect measures of student engagement and organization, withdrawal and social awareness, and contextual factors like student-teacher relationship and school climate. The yearly observations will follow cohorts of 2nd-5th graders through their 5th-8th grade years, half with and half without SCT.

Peer Support from Upperclassmen for 9th Graders with ADHD

Photo of Margaret Sibley

Sometime in adolescence, there tends to be a shift from the influence of parents and teachers to the influence of peers. With their recent grant from NCER, researchers Margaret Sibley and Joseph Raiker will be testing Sibley’s peer-intervention program, Students Taking Responsibility and Initiative through Peer-Enhanced Support (STRIPES). Developed with IES funding, STRIPES was designed to support students with ADHD by leveraging successful peer influence to address organization, time management, and planning. Supervised by a campus staff member, 11th and 12th grade students who have demonstrated academic and social competencies mentor 9th grade students with ADHD. These older peers are trained to help with goal setting, strategies for completing homework and organization, and maintenance of skills once the program is finished.

Stay tuned for findings and lessons learned from these newly funded studies.

Written by Julianne Kasper, Virtual Student Federal Service Intern at IES and graduate student in Education Policy & Leadership at American University.

Disability Research Informed by Researcher’s Experience as a Person with a Visual Impairment: An Interview with Dr. Rosenblum

As part of our recognition of National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), we asked IES-funded researcher L. Penny Rosenblum how having a disability impacted the development of her career as a special education researcher.

As a person with a visual impairment, how have your background and experiences shaped your scholarship and career?

Photo of L. Penny Rosenblum, PhD I have a congenital visual impairment, so I have had low vision all my life. When I began my undergraduate studies, I quickly realized that I wanted to become a teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI). Once I began work, I came to the realization that I could have a larger and more sustaining impact on the education of students with visual impairments if I prepared TVIs. After earning my doctorate, I first was faculty at Florida State University and then at the University of Arizona. The combination of my own experiences as a child and adult with a visual impairment coupled with my experiences teaching children and then preparing TVIs worked together to shape my research agenda.

What got you interested in a career in special education research?

During my master’s program at Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, I was hired to enter data for a research study. I saw a pattern in the data others had not noticed and I shared this observation with the lead researcher and his doctoral students. This was a pivotal moment for me and sparked an interest in research. When I began my doctoral program and started to learn more about research methods and how outcomes can be used to shape intervention and policy, I was hooked!

What has been the biggest challenge you have encountered and how did you overcome the challenge?

As a researcher, the biggest challenge is funding. I was funded by “soft money” (funding through external sources) at the University of Arizona for 2 decades, the last 7.5 of which were primarily with funding from NCSER. During my career in academia, colleagues and I spent countless hours writing grants. I wish there were more efficient mechanisms to fund research so that researchers can spend more time engaged in research and less time chasing dollars to do research.

How does your research contribute to a better understanding of how to support students with disabilities?

I engage in research that directly impacts students with visual impairments. I was privileged to serve as a project director for two related NCSER projects: AnimalWatch-VI Suite: A comprehensive program for increasing access to science and math for students with visual impairments and An Intervention to Provide Youth with Visual Impairments with Strategies to Access Graphical Information in Math Word Problems. Through these projects we developed materials to support students at the middle school math level to build their skills with the ultimate goal of having more students with visual impairments enter STEM careers. More specifically, the first project developed and tested an instructional program that teaches students with visual impairment computation, fractions, and variables and expressions through solving math word problems embedded in an environmental science context; the second one developed and tested a program to teach students to locate and understand information in graphics that accompany math problems using tactile graphics and accessible image descriptions. I am proud that the materials we developed are available through the American Printing House for the Blind. Our two apps are available at no cost!

In your area of research, what do you see as the greatest research needs or recommendations to improve the career outcomes of students with disabilities?

We live in a digital world and until we have addressed the issue of universal access, students with visual impairments will continue to be at a disadvantage. If you’re at a disadvantage in K-12 education, then you’re not going to be as well prepared as others for post-secondary education and employment. I’d like to see research funding that addresses access issues and the development of technologies and tools to level the playing field for all students.

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

Mentorship is so important to me. I have been fortunate in my journey to have some amazing mentors, including Dr. Carole R. Beal who was a principal investigator on the two NCSER-funded projects described above. Dr. Beal was always willing to discuss accommodations I needed due to my visual impairment and to work with me to find solutions. She mentored me in research methodology and professional writing. Researchers, whether they have a disability or not, need to mentor the next generation. I think this is even more important if an emerging scholar has a disability or is from another marginalized group.

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

When I think about advice, I again immediately go back to mentorship. I encourage emerging scholars to seek out mentors, both with and without disabilities and in and outside their professional field. I also think it is important to seek out and take advantage of opportunities that come your way, and not wait for someone to come to you. The more networking you can do, the more doors that will open for you. If you’re passionate about your field and your work, people will quickly look beyond your disability and focus on your commitment and skills as a researcher.

L. Penny Rosenblum, PhD is the owner of Vision for Independence, LLC. She has more than 35 years of experience in the field of visual impairment.

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see here and here) showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. This NDEAM blog post was produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council and NCER Program Officer, and Amy Sussman (Amy.Sussman@ed.gov), NCSER Program Officer. See this related NDEAM blog post by NCSER Program Officer Akilah Swinton Nelson (Akilah.Nelson@ed.gov) for information about IES Research on improving career readiness and employment outcomes for students with disabilities.

Congratulations and Thanks to the 2021 Winners of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences

IES would like to congratulate and thank David Card, Joshua D. Angrist, and Guido W. Imbens, who received this year’s Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. The work of these laureates has greatly contributed to the ability of researchers to provide causal evidence in support of education practice and policy decision making. IES is proud to have previously supported Card and Angrist in some of their education research work.

Many key issues in education cannot be analyzed using randomized experiments for practical and ethical reasons. Card’s work (with Alan Krueger) on natural experiments helped open up a novel approach to providing causal findings. In natural experiments, outcomes are compared for people who have differential access to a program or policy (or a change in a program or policy) because of real life conditions (for example, institutional or geographic differences) rather than through random assignment by researchers. Natural experiments have been adopted by IES grantees to examine a broad variety of education programs and policies such as PreK expansion, early literacy, school choice, school turnaround programs, high school curriculum change, and changes to postsecondary remediation course requirements. Angrist and Imbens showed how to estimate a causal treatment effect when individuals can choose to participate in a program or policy, which often occurs in natural experiments and can occur in randomized experiments after researchers have randomly assigned participants. IES grantees widely use their instrumental variable approach for both experimental (often involving designs based on school lotteries) and quasi-experimental designs.

In addition to developing evaluation designs and methods that have been broadly applied within education research, Card and Angrist have also directly carried out education research important to the field, sometimes with the support of IES. For example, Card is a principal investigator (PI) on two IES-funded studies on gifted education (elementary school and middle school) and is a co-PI on the National Center for Research on Gifted Education. Angrist is PI on two IES-funded studies, one on charter schools and one evaluating a Massachusetts desegregation program.

Angrist and Imbens have also supported the work of IES. Both researchers served as IES peer reviewers on grants and reports, and Imbens provided the What Works Clearinghouse with advice on standards for regression discontinuity designs (RDD) and co-authored one IES-supported paper regarding RDD (a method that has also become widely used in IES-funded research).

IES thanks Card, Angrist, and Imbens—both for their contributions to causal methods and for their direct participation in education research—and congratulates them for this recognition.