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March 2010

From the National Center for Education Research (NCER)

Research Aimed at Improving Postsecondary Access and Success

While colleges use a variety of programs and strategies to help students succeed, there is little definitive research on the effects of widely used practices. The National Center for Postsecondary Research (NCPR), led by and housed at the Community College Research Center at Columbia University, analyzes the effectiveness of programs designed to help students make the transition to college and master basic skills needed to advance to a degree. NCPR employs rigorous research methodologies, including random assignment experimental design, to evaluate such practices.

One of the studies done by NCPR researchers examines the effects of a program to streamline both the financial aid application process and students' access to accurate and personalized higher education financial aid information. The project, called the H&R Block FAFSA Experiment, is co-led by Bridget Terry Long of Harvard University. The program involves H&R Block tax professionals helping low- to middle-income families in Ohio and North Carolina complete the free application for federal student aid (FAFSA). The professionals also gave families in the program an immediate estimate of their eligibility for federal and state financial aid, as well as information about local postsecondary education options.

The findings indicate that individuals who received assistance with the FAFSA and information about aid were substantially more likely to submit the aid application when compared to a group of students who didn't receive this extra help. High school seniors in the treatment group were also much more likely to enroll in college and receive need-based financial aid the following fall. The program also increased college enrollment for independent adults with no prior college experience. Results from the study are available in a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research titled "The Role of Simplification and Information in College Decisions: Results from the H&R Block FAFSA Experiment" (2009, Bettinger, E.P., Long, B.T., Oreopoulos, P., Sanbonmatsu, L.,

NCPR also is studying developmental summer bridge, learning communities, and dual enrollment programs, which enable high school students to enroll in college courses and earn college credits. More information on the National Center for Postsecondary Research is available at

IES Grantees Receive 2010 Journal of Research in Science Teaching Award

The Journal of Research in Science Teaching Award is given annually for the article published in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching that is judged to be the most significant publication for that year. Three IES grantees—Helen Patrick, Panayota Mantzicopoulos, and Ala Samarapungavan—at Purdue University were selected by the National Association for Research in Science Teaching to receive this year's award for their paper titled "Motivation for Learning Science in Kindergarten: Is There a Gender Gap and Does Integrated Inquiry and Literacy Instruction Make a Difference." The award will be presented to the researchers at the annual conference of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching on March 23.

The researchers examined whether kindergarten students assigned to use the Scientific Literacy Project instruction and activities differed in whether they liked science and saw themselves as competent in the subject compared to students who had regular kindergarten science instruction. Patrick, Mantzicopoulos, and Samarapungavan received a 2005 Mathematics and Science grant from IES's National Center for Education Research.

View the abstract: The Scientific Literacy Project: Enhancing Young Children's Scientific Literacy Through Reading and Inquiry-Centered Adult-Child Dialogue.

IES Grantees Receive Prestigious Award at a White House Ceremony

Director John Easton welcomes the two IES grantees, both recipients of the prestigious Presidential Early Career Award for Scientist and Engineers.
Dr. Nonie Lesaux, Director Easton, and Dr. Katherine Rawson after the award ceremony
Two IES-funded researchers—Dr. Nonie K. Lesaux and Dr. Katherine Rawson—received the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers beginning their independent careers—the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. The researchers were honored at a ceremony in January at the White House. Read their reflections below.

Dr. Lesaux is the Marie and Max Kargman Associate Professor in Human Development and Urban Education Advancement at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her NCER grant work, "Increasing Opportunities-to-Learn in Urban Middle Schools," evaluated the efficacy of the Academic Language Instruction for all Students program in a large number of urban middle school classrooms. This program is an instructional intervention designed to improve the reading comprehension of English language learners and their classmates through explicit instruction in vocabulary and word-learning strategies. Details on this project can be found at

Dr. Rawson is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Kent State University. Her NCER grant work on "Developing the Retrieval-Monitoring-Feedback Method for Improving the Durability and Efficiency of Student Learning" investigates methods for helping students to support long-term retention of key concepts. The study includes both middle school students and college undergraduates. Details on this project can be found at

For information on the annual Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers program visit

INTERVIEWS: The researchers reflected on their work and the award with IES Research Scientist Karen Douglas.

Dr. Lesaux:

Tell us a little about your background — how did you become interested in your research topics?
I did my graduate work in Vancouver, British Columbia, beginning in the late '90s. At that time, the city and, therefore, schools had become very linguistically diverse. In focusing on assessment and instruction in the field of learning disabilities and reading difficulties, we had a lot of unanswered questions about the population of children who were coming to the classroom and to the curriculum without full proficiency in English. For example, in the North Vancouver School District, there were 33 different educators, clinicians and researchers, myself included, who had a lot of questions about how reading develops for these children, as well as corresponding questions about appropriate, effective identification of difficulties and appropriate instructional practices to prevent and remediate reading difficulties to ensure they are academically successful.

What questions do you most want to answer in your program of research?
At this time, I am most focused on two related lines of research. The first aims to continue to generate a nuanced understanding of how reading comprehension develops and breaks down for linguistically diverse learners and their classmates. To accomplish this goal, I conduct longitudinal studies that track students' language and reading development over time, from early childhood through adolescence. The second aims to generate and evaluate instructional approaches to increase opportunities-to-learn in settings with children and youth who need additional support to bolster their reading skills. In order to ensure that this research is not only rigorous and sophisticated but equally practical and relevant, it is conducted in collaboration with educational and clinical settings serving children.

How will receipt of this award influence your future work?
The award is a tremendous honor for me and I am humbled to be recognized at a national level and among such distinguished leaders. I also hope that it's an honor for the field of reading research and research on linguistically diverse students' development, particularly since I have been mentored by some truly outstanding scholars and I have the ongoing benefit of drawing on others' research and scholarly work to strengthen my own work. In accepting this award, I pledge to continue my commitment to the science of children's development and well-being by focusing on their language and reading skills.

Personal thoughts on the ceremony to honor you at the White House.
January 13th was a very memorable day for me. The ceremony was wonderful and it was great to hear about the fields of study for all of the other winners, including Katherine Rawson (IES). While incredible just to be at the White House that day . . . the highlight was to hear from President Obama when he addressed the group of PECASE winners. He was characteristically articulate and inspiring; he spoke to us about his administration's commitment to advancing knowledge and supporting young scientists, including women, to do their best work. Among other noteworthy points, he explained that he was particularly encouraged and excited about PECASE because it is as much about future work and accomplishments as about celebrating past work and accomplishments.

Dr. Rawson:

Tell us a little about your background — How did you become interested in your research topics?
I actually did not go to college directly out of high school—I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do and I wasn't sure I could afford college. So I worked for a few years, eventually ending up as a restaurant manager. One of my perennial frustrations was with the lack of support or guidance for the best way to train employees (and given the turnover rates of employees in restaurants, we did a lot of training!). This quickly grew into a broader interest in how we educate students more generally. So when I eventually decided to go to college, I knew I wanted to study how people learn and how they can learn better.

What questions do you most want to answer in your program of research?
My program of research actually has two major branches. One branch involves investigating how the cognitive processes involved in reading comprehension become automatic with practice, with an eye toward eventually figuring out what kinds of practice might best help struggling readers become more proficient. The other major branch includes my IES-funded research, which is focused on exploring the effectiveness of different study strategies and study schedules for enhancing student learning. Our major questions there concern how students of all ages can learn more, learn it faster, and retain it longer.

How will receipt of this award influence your future work?
I'm very honored to have been selected as a PECASE awardee, and the recognition alone has really renewed my enthusiasm and motivation to continue to pursue these branches of research, which I believe will have important applications for readers and learners.

Personal thoughts on the ceremony to honor you at the White House.
I can't even begin to do justice to what an awe-inspiring experience it was to see President Obama in the White House and to hear his encouraging words to us as young researchers. I'll remember that for the rest of my life, I'm sure.