Inside IES Research

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Spotlighting Doug and Lynn Fuchs: Two Decades of Innovation in Special Education Research

Doug and Lynn Fuchs

During our 20-year anniversary, IES would like to reflect upon the important work of Drs. Doug and Lynn Fuchs, who have received multiple IES grants over the years to explore important factors associated with learning and develop interventions aimed at improving outcomes for low-achieving learners and learners with disabilities in math and literacy. Their work as “trailblazers in the field of special education” was recognized in 2021 when they received the “Nobel Prize of education,” the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education.

Doug and Lynn Fuchs are internationally recognized for their intervention work in Response to Intervention, or Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS), tiered models that include teacher collection of progress monitoring data and offer progressively intensive support for students who are not performing at grade level. Their research and development work has provided training for educators and research project staff and intervention materials to use in tiered interventions for students who are struggling in the areas of reading and mathematics. Their research has also included exploratory work and measurement development to better understand and measure factors associated with risk of disability in reading and math in elementary school children. Their innovative intervention designs take into consideration different cognitive factors such as working memory and executive functioning.

Although Doug Fuchs is well known for his work within MTSS frameworks, one of his early IES grants in 2004 focused on teachers tailoring instruction to meet individual student needs in elementary schools with a diverse range of students. The goal of the project was to scale up Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS), an instructional approach developed by the Fuchses in 1997 with increasing instructional differentiation and evidence of reading achievement. For this scale-up study, his research team collected and analyzed data across 2 years from three sites. They demonstrated that implementation of PALS with onsite support for teachers led to significant reading achievement gains, an effect that was strongly influenced by whether teachers were encouraged to modify the PALS program to suit the needs of their particular students. With a NCSER grant in 2009, Doug Fuchs and his research team (including Lynn Fuchs) developed and tested interventions in reading and math to prevent or mitigate disability among first grade students with or at risk for disabilities in these outcome areas. One of the interesting findings from this research related to students with comorbid math and reading disabilities (LD). They found that students with comorbid LD respond differently than those with only math disabilities, depending on the nature of mathematics intervention. However, students with reading disabilities responded similarly whether they had a disability only in reading or in both reading and math. Recently, Doug Fuchs has become passionate about assessment, critiquing how reading comprehension is often assessed in an article he co-authored with Nathan Clemens, “Commercially Developed Tests of Reading Comprehension: Gold Standard or Fool’s Gold?

Lynn Fuchs is a leader in improving outcomes for students with or at risk of math disabilities. Through a 2009 grant, she and her research team (including Doug Fuchs) developed a measure to predict first graders’ calculation skills and word problem development using dynamic assessment. The measure was found to be more predictive than traditional assessments for early identification of students at risk for a math disability. The team concluded that language, reasoning, and mathematical cognition were important in predicting calculation and word problem solving for these early learners. Lynn Fuchs continued this work in math and cognition with students in second grade, exploring connections between cognition and student calculation, word problem solving, and pre-algebraic knowledge with funding from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. With a 2015 IES grant, she applied what she learned about the importance of cognition to test the efficacy of a math intervention that embedded working memory training into a previously validated math problem-solving intervention (Pirate Math) for students with poor problem-solving skills. The results of this study showed that general working memory training with ongoing math practice improves working memory and word problem skills; however, working memory training alone is not sufficient to improve word problem solving.

More recently, Lynn Fuchs received a 2020 grant to further research a fraction intervention for fourth grade students with disabilities developed through her work as co-principal investigator on the 2010 National Research and Development Center on Improving Mathematics Instruction for Students with Mathematics Difficulties. In the current replication study, she and her research team are testing the Inclusive Fraction Intervention as a class-wide intervention taught by general education teachers to understand the effect on students with and without math learning disabilities. Lynn Fuchs also chaired the panel for the most recent WWC Practice Guide, Assisting Students Struggling with Mathematics: Intervention in the Elementary Grades. This guide provides six evidence-based practices that can help teachers tailor their instructional approaches and/or their mathematics intervention programs to meet the needs of their students. All six practices in this guide are supported with strong evidence due, in part, to the research conducted by Lynn Fuchs. By the start of 2023, this practice guide has had 62,346 views and 10,468 downloads.

Together, Doug and Lynn Fuchs have pushed the field forward with their leadership. Through their 2013 A3 Initiative project, they developed and tested the efficacy of intensive reading and math interventions for learners in upper elementary grades. The research team demonstrated that both the math and reading interventions were effective in improving  outcomes for students with disabilities. As part of this work, the Fuchses led a meeting with a group of experts to discuss evidence to support the importance of moderator analysis in intervention research. This effort resulted in a special journal issue with several articles on this topic. Their leadership role extends beyond IES-funded work to their involvement in several other national projects, such as the National Center on Intensive Intervention, funded by the Office of Special Education Programs and other national thought leadership activities, such as their webinar on  intensive intervention. The Fuchses have also published articles in practitioner journals outlining how their research-based practices can be implemented by teachers in the classroom, such as “What is intensive intervention and why is it important?

The impact of Doug and Lynn Fuchs research is far reaching. In addition to leading research projects and publishing articles, Doug and Lynn Fuchs have truly developed capacity in the field of special education research through mentoring and collaborating with junior researchers. The following are examples of researchers who worked with Doug and Lynn Fuchs in the past as graduate research assistants, post-doctoral researchers, or research associates who now lead their own IES-funded research:

Doug and Lynn Fuchs have pushed the fields of assessment and intervention development forward, providing new opportunities to understand and support math and literacy outcomes for students with or at risk for disabilities. We are proud to have funded their work over the years, and we are excited to see how they continue to advance the field.

This blog was authored by Sarah Brasiel, program officer at NCSER.

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