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Update on the IES Use of ARP Funds

Mark Schneider, Director of IES | August 31, 2021

As you may remember, IES received $100 million through the American Rescue Plan (ARP) to respond to the overwhelming learning challenges posed by COVID-19. This is an update on how we are using those funds to invest in research grants, gather data through the School Pulse, and make sure that the information we generate about accelerating learning is translated into forms that are useful, usable, and used.

Investing in research

The School Pulse. The 2021–22 school year will be a critical year in the recovery from the disruptions of the last two school years. The School Pulse, a monthly survey based on a nationally representative target sample of 1,000 K–12 schools, will help us identify which policies and practices schools are deploying and how they are thinking about gathering evidence about which of those practices are supporting student learning. We are committed to making sure that the survey results are reported as quickly as possible and are made widely available through a user-friendly dashboard, such as the one we created for the NAEP School Survey last spring.

Improving middle school science. IES launched an XPRIZE competition on using digital learning platforms to radically change how education interventions are tested. Over 80 high-quality teams have expressed interest in joining this challenge. Capitalizing on this success, we are planning another prize competition focused on middle school science. While much of the work on improving student performance focuses on math and reading, recent NAEP science results show that American students have an equally poor, if not worse, grasp of science. We are planning to launch a prize competition in the 2021–22 school year focused on improving learning in science, laying a stronger foundation for students to understand, enjoy, and apply science in high school and beyond.

A Research Network on State & Local Recovery Efforts. Under the Improving State and Local Education Recovery Programs and Policies grant program, IES will support research to better understand instructional losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and to identify and evaluate state and local programs and policies designed to improve student learning. IES will establish two research networks: one focused on recovery in prekindergarten through grade 12 and the other on recovery in community colleges.

Using Longitudinal Data to Support State Education Policymaking. In FY 2021, IES launched this grant program to expand state agencies' use of their State Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) for generating evidence in support of education policy decisions. For FY 2022, IES focused the competition to specifically address the evidence needs of states and districts as they continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. IES will support work focused on a wide range of student outcomes, including academic learning; progression through the education system; preparation for the labor market; student interest, motivation, and participation in their education; and social, behavioral, and emotional learning.

Innovative Products to Support Learning Acceleration for Pandemic Recovery and Beyond. IES is establishing a research network to develop evidence-based products and bring them to the education marketplace. IES' goal is to encourage the development and adoption of products that will improve outcomes for students, especially for those historically underserved student populations who, data show, experienced the most severe learning losses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pandemic Recovery Initiatives for Learners with Disabilities. During the pandemic, schools found it more difficult to provide learners with disabilities with critical services and supports, such as hands-on instructional accommodations and transition-related support. The requirements of virtual learning and social distancing also created social and emotional obstacles for learners with disabilities. IES is supporting two research initiatives focused on learning recovery for learners with disabilities.

  • First, the Research to Accelerate Pandemic Recovery in Special Education grant program is aimed at addressing the challenges districts and schools face in supporting learners with or at risk for disabilities, their teachers, and their families in the aftermath of the pandemic.
  • Second, in collaboration with the National Science Foundation, IES is supporting an Artificial Intelligence (AI) Institute that seeks to advance AI-driven research and innovations for learners (birth through postsecondary education) with or at risk for physical, cognitive, or behavioral and social disabilities. The institute will encourage AI research to transform identification, assessment, and support for learners with disabilities; aid pandemic recovery; and lead to more active and engaged participants in a diverse workforce.

Translating science into action

Given the urgency of the task at hand and demands on educators' already limited time, we must thoughtfully curate and make accessible information about learning recovery.

IES' National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE) is developing the web-based Evidence-based Practices for Recovery and Renewal, highlighting information on evidence-based practices that demonstrate the greatest potential to improve student learning. The compilation will distill our best guidance on selecting, implementing, and monitoring evidence-based practices into simple checklists, highlighting key steps along the way.

I want to give a shout out to the work that our Regional Educational Laboratories (RELs) have done. I consider the RELs to be IES' "boots on the ground," representing our largest workforce dealing with education policymakers across the nation. From the pandemic's earliest days, the RELs were charged with identifying and disseminating evidence-based practices that could support states, districts, educators, and families. They developed more than 130 new resources, from simple tip sheets to family-facing websites supporting evidence-based, at-home learning (for example, Supporting Your Child's Reading at Home and Teaching Math to Young Children for Families and Caregivers). The RELs have been, and will continue to be, instrumental in identifying, translating, and disseminating information about strategies for improved learning.

Building a foundation for accelerating learning

COVID-19 wreaked havoc on American schools and its learners, from prekindergarten through adult education. Furthermore, these adverse effects compounded already large differences in learning outcomes for different groups of students. Unfortunately, the most severe COVID-related learning losses landed most heavily on students who were already struggling, including the nation's lowest-performing students, Black and Hispanic students, and students with disabilities. By far, most of the activities IES is funding using ARP money are designed to help the nation accelerate learning among these very students.

Recovering from COVID-19 is going to take more than a few months, especially with the raging Delta variant threatening to disrupt yet another school year. We have tried to make sure that ARP-supported IES projects contribute to the need for improved learning now, and that the lessons we learn from these projects will help us continue to build a strong foundation of education research and data for identifying what works for whom under what conditions.

As always, please reach out to me with any comments and ideas: