IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

IES Resources for Supporting Student Engagement and Attendance

The United States is facing a chronic absenteeism crisis. Over 14 million students nationwide during the 2021–22 school year were chronically absent. This means that they missed at least 10 percent of school days—equivalent to approximately 18 days in the year. Missing this much instructional time creates significant learning challenges for students and adversely affects student wellbeing. School systems across the nation are looking for ways to address this crisis and the accompanying problems it presents.

IES has created four handouts that discuss research findings and research-based tools from across IES that educators and policymakers can use to improve student attendance and engagement: 

These resources from IES can help educators and policymakers consider different research-based approaches to improving student engagement and attendance. They include ways to partner with families, promote a positive and safe learning environment, use data and early warning systems, and apply cycles of evidence-based continuous improvement. Before selecting any particular strategy to address chronic absenteeism, we recommend all educators consult Applying a Cycle of Evidence-Based Continuous Improvement when Selecting Interventions and Project Components to Improve Attendance. Educators can also go to the REL program page on the IES website to learn more about the program and search for other REL products and resources.

We hope you find these resources helpful. Please send any feedback or questions you may have to

Text Messaging with Families to Support Student Attendance

A smiling parent and child sit on a couch looking at a smart phone

Findings from IES-funded research suggest that text messaging can be effective in reducing rates of chronic absenteeism.

What is the text messaging practice?

As schools and districts work to decrease chronic absenteeism rates, text messaging has emerged as an evidence-based practice to increase engagement with families and support their efforts to get students to school regularly. It involves schools sending messages to parents or guardians informing them of their child’s attendance record and encouraging them to get the child back in school. The text messages can include many different messages, discussed below, but generally the approach is to let families know how many total days students have missed. Additionally, the texts often have a message about how important school attendance is and where families can turn to for support if there is an issue that the school should be aware of, such as chronic health challenges or transportation issues. These texts aim to engage families and have them partner with schools to increase attendance.

How easy is it for schools to adopt this practice?

Text messaging is a low-cost practice that districts can adopt to encourage family engagement. The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) at the U.S. Department of Education developed a toolkit that provides information on how districts can develop their own text messaging approach. The toolkit encourages districts to form an attendance team to determine the priorities of the text messaging approach and then to develop the system that can be automated and easily implemented. The toolkit provides guidance to districts on how to incorporate existing student information systems to develop the texts.

What are the different types of text messaging?

IES’s evaluation of the text messaging strategy involved different types of text messaging to determine if certain features improved attendance.[1] The “basic” texts involved a weekly message every Sunday to families about how important attendance is and different ways to overcome potential challenges to attendance. In addition, schools sent automated same-day texts when a child missed a day of school, which were personalized to include the student’s name and the total number of days the student had been absent that school year. These basic texts can be framed to emphasize the benefits of attending school (i.e., “Going to school every day can help [the child’s name] learn math and reading.”) or the consequences of missing school (i.e., “Children who miss 2 or more days a month starting in elementary school are less likely to graduate from high school.”)

The IES evaluation also included “intensified texts,” which were targeted to families of students who had already missed many school days, despite receiving the basic texts in the previous school semester. These texts either consisted of school staff reaching out directly to families to increase family engagement and to provide individualized support, or an automated text message asking families to set goals for their child to attend school every day in the upcoming school week.

How effective is the text messaging practice at improving attendance?

The evaluation study by IES found that, regardless of the type or framing of text messaging used by the district, the percent of students who were identified as chronically absent decreased by 12 to 18 percent when schools implemented the text messaging strategy.  On average, basic text messaging was sufficient to increase overall attendance in schools. Among students with a prior history of chronic absenteeism, intensified text messages further decreased the chronic absenteeism rate. Thus, schools might benefit by implementing a basic text messaging strategy for all students and targeting students with records of chronic absenteeism to receive the intensive texts. Since the effectiveness did not vary by framing or approach, districts and schools can identify a strategy that meshes with their school mission and approach.

Where can I learn more about how to implement text messaging?

The IES toolkit on using text messaging provides step-by-step information on how districts and schools can adopt and implement the text messaging strategy to support their families and students. The toolkit contains strategies for both the leadership team as well as the IT team developing the text messaging system using the student information system that the district already uses. This toolkit also contains many examples of different versions of texts that the district can employ, based on the age of students, how frequently the district decides to send text messages, and the framing the district decides to use.


Heppen, J.B., Kurki, A., & Brown, S. (2020). Can texting parents improve attendance in elementary school? A test of an adaptive message strategy (NCEE 2020-006). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. Retrieved from

Kurki, A., Heppen, J.B., & Brown, S. (2021). How to text message parents to reduce chronic absence using an evidence-based approach (NCEE 2022-001). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. Retrieved from

Using Data and Early Warning Systems to Improve Student Attendance and Engagement

Six students with their backs facing the camera walk toward a school entrance

Findings from IES-funded research suggest that early warning systems can help school systems improve student attendance:

To learn more about designing and implementing an early warning system:

  • Read the Forum Guide to Early Warning Systems (2018) published by the National Forum on Education Statistics.  The guide provides information and best practices to help education agencies plan, develop, implement, and use an early warning system in their agency to inform interventions that improve student outcomes. The document includes a review of early warning systems and their use in education agencies and explains the role of early warning indicators, quality data, and analytical models in early warning systems. It also describes how to adopt an effective system planning process and recommends best practices for early warning system development, implementation, and use. The document highlights seven case studies from state and local education agencies who have implemented, or are in the process of implementing, an early warning system.
  • Read the transcript and accompanying materials from the REL webinar, Using Attendance Data for Decisionmaking: Strategies for State and Local Education Agencies (2018, REL West). The webinar includes a discussion about the Forum Guide to Early Warning Systems and Attendance Works’ Key Ingredients for Systemic Change.  Presenters Sue Fothergill (Attendance Works) and Laura Hansen (Metro Nashville Public Schools) share highlights from their work conducting “deep dives” into student attendance data, including understanding the reasons that students are absent and building effective interventions to directly address them. They will discuss the importance of accurately tracking student attendance data and how it can be used to make decisions in policy and practice that will support students who are chronically absent get back on track with their attendance.
  • Watch the State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) program’s webinar, Supporting LEA Early Warning Systems with SEA Support and Infrastructure, (2023, SLDS). This webinar includes presentations by representatives from three State Education Agencies about the SEA role in supporting LEA early warning systems.
  • Watch the REL webinar, Connecting with Parents about Early Warning Systems (2016, REL Midwest). This webinar is intended for a state education agency audience and discusses  strategies for communicating with parents about early warning systems.
  • Read the REL report, Using Data from Schools and Child Welfare Agencies to Predict Near-Term Academic Risks (REL Mid-Atlantic, 2020) to learn about an approach for developing a model that predicts near-term academic problems such as absenteeism, suspensions, poor grades, and low performance on state tests. The report provides information for administrators, researchers, and student support staff in local education agencies who are interested in identifying students who are likely to have near-term academic problems such as absenteeism, suspensions, poor grades, and low performance on state tests. The report describes an approach for developing a predictive model and assesses how well the model identifies at-risk students using data from two local education agencies. It also examines which types of predictors--in-school variables (performance, behavior, and consequences) and out-of-school variables (human services involvement and public benefit receipt)--are individually related to each type of near-term academic problem to better understand why the model might flag students as at risk and how best to support these students. The study finds that predictive models using machine learning algorithms identify at-risk students with moderate to high accuracy.
  • Read the REL report, Comparing methodologies for developing an early warning system (REL Southeast, 2015). The purpose of this report was to explicate the use of logistic regression and classification and regression tree (CART) analysis in the development of early warning systems. It was motivated by state education leaders' interest in maintaining high classification accuracy while simultaneously improving practitioner understanding of the rules by which students are identified as at-risk or not at-risk readers. 

Partnering with Families to Support Student Attendance and Learning

A parent and child speak with a teacher holding a tablet

Resources from the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Program

Schools and districts can use the following REL tools and resources to support family engagement broadly:

  • Toolkit of Resources for Engaging Families and the Community as Partners in Education (REL Pacific, 2016) The Toolkit of Resources for Engaging Families and the Community as Partners in Education is a four-part resource that brings together research, promising practices, and useful tools and resources to guide educators in strengthening partnerships with families and community members to support student learning. The toolkit defines family and community engagement as an overarching approach to support family well-being, strong parent-child relationships, and students' ongoing learning and development. The primary audiences for this toolkit are administrators, teachers, teacher leaders, and trainers in diverse schools and districts.
  • Pillars for Family Engagement: Foundation for Meaningful & Equitable School & Family Partnerships (REL Mid-Atlantic, 2021) This video highlights a research-based family engagement framework that identifies practices that are meaningful for schools in Delaware. The goal is to help support school districts in adopting and implementing research-based family engagement practices.
  • Go-Learn-Grow Toolkit: Improving the School Attendance of New Jersey’s Youngest Learners (REL Mid-Atlantic, 2019) New Jersey Department of Education and REL Mid-Atlantic created this toolkit of simple, easy-to-use resources and handouts to support districts, schools, and early childhood providers in improving school attendance in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. The goals of these materials are to: help educators and families understand the importance of attendance in the early grades; encourage schools to gather and include data on preschool students when reporting chronic absenteeism rates on school report cards; help schools collect information from families to help identify reasons for absenteeism in the early grades; and provide guidance on selecting and implementing research-based strategies to improve attendance in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, based on the identified challenges.

Other REL tools and resources can support family engagement with specific types of academic content:

Promoting a Positive School Climate and Safe Learning Conditions

A teacher holds the door as smiling students leave school

All students should be afforded safe, supportive, and fair learning environments. Reducing exclusionary discipline actions is one strategy leaders may seek to use in service of that larger goal. Schools and districts can use the following REL tools and resources to support more equitable and less punitive discipline practices.

Two REL tools to support schools and districts with analyzing disciplinary data:

  • School discipline data indicators: A guide for districts and schools (REL Northwest, 2017) This guide is designed to supply educators with a means to identify whether disproportionality in discipline practice across different student groups—such as those informed by gender, race/ethnicity, or disability status—exists in their schools or districts. It also aims to help educators use data to reduce disproportionality in suspensions and expulsions.  
  • Analyzing student-level disciplinary data: A guide for districts (REL Northeast & Islands, 2017) This guide provides information on how to conduct such an examination and explores differences in student academic outcomes across the types of disciplinary actions that students receive. It serves as a blueprint to assist districts with designing and carrying out their own analyses and engaging with external researchers who are doing the same. 

One REL resource supports using that data to improve discipline policies: 

  • Using Data to Promote Equity in School Discipline (REL Northwest, 2019) REL Northwest developed this training series to help schools and districts improve their school discipline policies and practices. The series provides resources to help school and district teams use data to identify areas of concern related to the overuse of exclusionary discipline or disproportionality in assigning discipline to student groups, such as students of color or students with disabilities. The training series also helps teams use evidence to identify interventions, develop an action plan, track their effectiveness, and inform improvement decisions.

The following REL resources can be used to support schools and districts with improving school climate. 

Check out these REL resources on trauma and student mental health.

This blog was produced by Casey Archer (, education research scientist and contracting officer’s representative for the WWC program; Liz Eisner (, associate commissioner for NCEE's Knowledge Use Division; and Janelle Sands, (, research analyst and contracting officer’s representative for the REL program. 

[1] The study was conducted using 26,843 elementary school students during the 2017-2018 school year, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. While absenteeism rates have increased nationally post-pandemic, the practice may still help schools to increase family engagement and encourage student attendance.

NCES Centralizes State-Level Data in New Digest State Dashboard

With hundreds of tables to explore, the Digest of Education Statistics offers a wide array of education data. For the first time, NCES is visualizing Digest data in a new Digest State Dashboard. The Dashboard provides a centralized location for state-level Digest data, so users can easily find it all in one place. As the first-ever Digest data tool, the Dashboard helps you not only find and use NCES data but also better understand the education landscape of an individual state.

In alignment with NCES’s goal to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in our products, the Dashboard provides data for all entities that are part of the United States: the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Bureau of Indian Education, and outlying areas—i.e., American Samoa, Guam, Northern Marianas, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands.

Digest Dashboard Topics

  • Public school enrollment
  • Public school student characteristics
  • Public school teachers
  • Public schools
  • Private school education
  • Reading and mathematics assessments
  • 4-year adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR)
  • Public school expenditures
  • Postsecondary enrollment
  • Postsecondary institution and student charges

For each of these entities, the Dashboard highlights the most recently published Digest data on topics of interest (see textbox). The selected topics represent key indicators of a state’s education landscape, and data are presented for each entity and topic whenever available.

To help make data interpretation easier, the Dashboard presents data in figures—like bar charts, line graphs, and brief tables—that allow you to interact with the data in ways not possible with the static tables. If you’ve ever explored the Condition of Education—which will be updated next month (May 2024)—the Dashboard’s figures should look very familiar, as they were designed to mirror the appearance and functionality of the Condition’s interactive figures. Similarly, in the Dashboard, you can

  1. modify the figure by selecting characteristics and years to include;
  2. share the figure on various platforms; and
  3. download the figure and the data used in the figure. 

The Dashboard also provides links to other NCES state-level data tools, centralizing these resources and providing a more detailed picture of each state’s educational landscape. You can find state-specific links to NAEP State Profiles, the NTPS State Dashboard, and the PIAAC Skills Map on each state’s page. Plus, you can find links to other NCES data tools, like the EDGE ACS Dashboard and the IPEDS Trend Generator, on the Dashboard’s homepage.

The Dashboard will be continuously updated throughout the year—as data become available in the Digest—making it a great source of up-to-date information for policymakers, researchers, practitioners, and parents/families. In May 2024, several figures will be updated, including two postsecondary figures on enrollment and institutions and student charges. Be sure to check back and follow NCES on XFacebookLinkedIn, and YouTube and subscribe to the NCES News Flash to stay informed when these and other updates are made. You can also continue to explore the Digest tables to find even more state-level data.

Integrated Opportunities: Addressing Adult English Learners’ Digital Skill Needs Through Supplemental Videos

In recognition of National Bilingual/Multilingual Learner Advocacy Month, we want to highlight an IES-funded research project, Content-Integrated Language Instruction for Adults with Technology Support (CILIA-T). This work focuses on the needs of adult English learners (ELs) to help them build not only language proficiency but also knowledge of U.S. history and civics, akin to what may occur in part of adult education Integrated English Literacy and Civics Education programs while also enhancing digital literacy skills. In this interview blog, Theresa Sladek (Northstar, co-PI of CILIA-T), Aydin Durgunoglu (University of Minnesota Duluth, PI of CILIA-T), and Leah Hauge (Northstar), describe a creative approach to building adult digital literacy skills as a part of their curriculum for adult English learners. To help ensure the learners will benefit from technology-supported instruction, the team has created a series of videos and an instructional guide that are all publicly available and free.

What are the videos about, and why did you make them?

In addition to building  knowledge of English, civics, and U.S. history, we are also building digital proficiencies through CILIA-T. For example, we want to help adult learners become efficient in using digital tools such as Gmail and Zoom as part of their coursework and build digital proficiencies such as digital safety, finding reliable and relevant information online, knowing how to solve technical problems in different contexts and with different tools, and accessing, comprehending and integrating information across multiple modalities and resources.  

To help learners build these skills, we created six short, free videos in partnership with Northstar Digital Literacy, allowing any individual, anywhere in the world, who has a device and internet connection to access them. By partnering with Northstar, we are increasing the reach of this resource, as the Northstar website saw over 800,000 hits in the last year alone, and its YouTube channel has over 2.18k subscribers. Since being posted about three months ago, the videos have already had 900 views. These free tools are a step towards removing the digital divide through clear and concise entry-level video tutorials.

The tutorials cover six topics: Finding Information Online, Zoom, Smartphone Apps, WhatsApp, Quizlet, and Gmail. The videos help learners build entry-level skills in each topic and can also be used to onboard instructors (teachers or tutors) to each topic.

In addition, we also created an instructional guide for teachers or tutors, which is available in the Educator Resources section of the Literacy Minnesota website. The instructor guide that accompanies the video tutorials supports every step of the teaching process, including instructions for teachers or tutors to guide learners before, during, and after viewing the video content. Educator Resources has an extensive national and international reach, getting over 20,000 visits a year. Through our work in the adult foundational skills system (also called adult education), we know that many programs have limited budgets, and free curricula and teaching aids are a key to those programs being able to provide much-needed services. Although we made these materials with ELs and CILIA-T curriculum in mind, these materials can be used in a wide variety of contexts, with both ELs and native  speakers and in settings outside of education.

Why are the videos important for your project?

Because not all learners, teachers, and volunteers are familiar with these tools, we did not want this to be a barrier to accessing the CILIA-T curriculum. Addressing this barrier is an intentional act to bring equity and access to adult learners and those assisting them.

As part of the CILIA-T project, these videos are critical not only because they teach digital skills that can be used in a wide variety of settings and purposes but also because they assist students in learning the civics and U.S. history content in the curriculum and English language through a variety of modalities. Learners will be using these tools to read texts, answer questions, use multimodal resources, make presentations, create and share content, perform self-checks, comment on others’ work, engage in discussions and group projects, and complete internet searches and evaluations.  

What did you learn about making videos and disseminating them as part of this process?

We learned a few things along the way:

  • Consider different operating systems. Because phones are the main device to perform digital tasks for most adult learners, we incorporated variations relevant to different operating systems (for example, iOS and Android) into digital skill teaching tools. For example, the process for downloading apps varies a bit between iOS and Android, so we have modeled both with our videos showing students when processes may vary between devices. 
  • Always consider viewers’ English language level. For example, CILIA-T curriculum was written to support intermediate-level English language learners. So, we had to design the instructional script with digital skill vocabulary for such speakers in mind and use many examples and visuals to define vocabulary in the videos.
  • Build in opportunities for learners and educators to pause, practice, and reflect. To do this, we intentionally divided videos into sections to make finding specific pieces of learning easier. We also added titled chapters to each portion of a video. 

We are excited about this new resource and invite teachers and learners to try them out and reach out to us with any feedback and questions: Theresa Sladek (, Aydin Durgunoglu (, and Leah Hauge (

This blog was produced by Dr. Meredith Larson (, research analyst and program officer for postsecondary and adult education research at NCER.


Early Intervention and Beyond: How Experience with Young Children and Special Education Motivated a Career in Autism Research

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, we would like to share an interview with Dr. Stephanie Shire about her Early Career Development and Mentoring project. Dr. Shire, associate professor of Early Childhood Special Education at the University of Oregon, focuses her current research on young children with autism and their families. In this interview, she discusses this project as well as her prior experiences in early intervention and special education and advice for other early career researchers.

Please tell us about your IES Early Career project.

Headshot of Dr. Stephanie Shire

My IES Early Career project is titled LIFT: Leveraging Autism Interventions for Families through Telehealth. The idea behind this project—exploring the technology-assisted delivery of an established evidence-based, in-person, one-on-one, caregiver-mediated social communication intervention—began even prior to the pandemic, before the field had to shift service delivery to online family-mediated services for young children with autism. The project focuses on helping caregivers use the existing intervention strategies to advance their children’s social communication and play skills. We’re not changing or testing the established intervention for the children, but rather the way in which we support caregivers in their learning.

The project is being conducted in partnership with early intervention and early childhood special education community practitioners and leaders. Our partners were fundamental in the development and revision of the online intervention program, which took an intervention manual of several hundred pages designed for clinicians and turned it into a series of brief online modules that families can read or listen to at their own pace. Our partners also shaped the implementation strategies that we are now testing in a pilot randomized trial. Families enrolled in the trial are being served by their local early intervention and early childhood special education practitioners in their home communities in Oregon.

How did you become interested in research on interventions to help young children with autism?

I was introduced to young children with autism as a high school student volunteering in a hospital playroom and as a special education classroom volunteer in my first year as an undergraduate student. In both cases, these preschool and school-age children had few or no words. I watched the practitioners try to connect and engage with the children with mixed success. I then spent the next several years as an undergraduate student working as an in-home intervention aide delivering services to young children with autism, many of whom had few or no words. I found myself failing to support the children’s progress, particularly with their communication skills. My desire to do more for these children prompted me to pursue additional resources and learn more about practices to better support them. This led me on a path to graduate school, first at the master’s level and then doctoral-level training, focused on intervention science to learn more about the development and testing of interventions to maximize communication development for young children with autism.

What do you find most rewarding about conducting research with young children with autism and their families?

Children and their families are at the heart of all my research team’s projects. Celebrating the moments when a child shows us a new idea in play, makes a joke, or points to something to share it with us lights up my entire lab! The greatest reward is seeing children shine and experience victories, big and small.

What are your next steps in this line of research?

We’re taking what we’re learning now, as well as the training that I’ve received in implementation science, to work on the next steps in this research project. We need to understand how to personalize implementation strategies for caregivers to help more families advance their children’s social communication skills through play and daily activities. Because this intervention has an adaptive component, we are now looking at combining sequences of supports for caregivers based on their individual progress halfway through implementing the intervention.

What advice do you have for other early career researchers?

Persist. In special education and early intervention, we are still acutely feeling the effects of the pandemic on a system that was already experiencing many challenges. There will be bumps along the way, but children show us every day that they can keep accomplishing small victories even in the face of obstacles. Let’s follow their lead and do the work in partnership with their caregivers and educators to keep building toward big victories for all children and their families. 

Thank you, Dr. Stephanie Shire, for sharing your early career research experience!

This blog was produced by Skyler Fesagaiga, a Virtual Student Federal Service intern for NCSER and graduate student at the University of California, San Diego. KatieTaylor, NCSER program officer, manages grants funded under The Early Career Development and Mentoring Program Program.


Observations Matter: Listening to and Learning from English Learners in Secondary Mathematics Classrooms

April is National Bilingual/Multilingual Learner Advocacy Month and Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month. We asked Drs. Haiwen Chu and Leslie Hamburger, secondary mathematics researchers at the IES-funded National Research & Development Center to Improve Education for Secondary English Learners (EL R&D Center), to share how classroom observations are critical to analyzing and improving learning opportunities for English learners.

Could you tell us about your IES-funded project?

Haiwen: As part of the EL R&D Center portfolio of work, we developed RAMPUP, or Reimagining and Amplifying Mathematics Participation, Understanding, and Practices. RAMPUP is a summer bridge course for rising ninth graders. The three-week course is designed to challenge and support English learners to learn ambitious mathematics and generative language simultaneously. We will conduct a pilot study during summer 2024, with preliminary findings in fall 2024.


What motivated you to do this work?

Haiwen: English learners are frequently denied opportunities to engage in conceptually rich mathematics learning. We want to transform these patterns of low challenge and low support by offering a summer enrichment course that focuses on cross-cutting concepts uniting algebra, geometry, and statistics. We also designed active and engaged participation to be central to the development of ideas and practices in mathematics. English learners learn by talking and interacting with one another in ways that are both sustained and reciprocal.

Leslie: In addition, we wanted to offer broader approaches to developing language with English learners. As we have refined the summer program, we have explicitly built in meaningful opportunities for English learners to grow in their ability to describe, argue, and explain critical mathematics concepts in English This language development happens simultaneously with the development of conceptual understanding.

What have you observed among English learners so far in RAMPUP study classrooms?

Leslie: Over the past two summers, I have observed RAMPUP in two districts for two weeks total. The classrooms reflect America’s wide diversity, including refugee newcomers and students who were entirely educated in the United States. I was able to see both teachers facilitating and students learning. I observed how students developed diverse approaches to solving problems.

Through talk, students built upon each other’s ideas, offered details, and expanded descriptions of data distributions. Over time, their descriptions of data became more precise, as they attended to similarities and differences and developed labels. I also observed how teachers assisted students by giving hints without telling them what to do.

Haiwen: As we observed, we wanted to understand how English learners engaged in the activities we had designed, as well as how their conceptual understandings and language developed simultaneously. I have spent two summers immersed in three districts over seven weeks with diverse students as they developed relationships, deep understandings, and language practices.

I was honestly surprised by the complex relationships between how students wrote and the development of their ideas and language. Sometimes, students wrote to collect their thoughts, which they then shared orally with others, to collectively compose a common way to describe a pattern. Other times, writing was a way to reflect and give each other feedback on what was working well and how peers could improve their work. Writing was also multi-representational as students incorporated diagrams, tables, and other representations as they wrote.

From closely observing students as they wrote, I also gained valuable insight into how they think. For example, they often looked back at their past work and then went on to write, stretching their understanding.

Why are your observations important to your project?

Haiwen: RAMPUP is an iterative design and development project: our observations were driven by descriptive questions (how students learned) and improvement questions (how to refine activities and materials). By observing each summer what worked well for students, and what fell flat, we have been able to iteratively improve the flow and sequencing of activities.

We have learned that observations matter most when they directly inform broader, ongoing efforts at quality learning.

Now, in our final phase, we are working to incorporate educative examples of what quality interactions looked and sounded like to enhance the teacher materials. Beyond the shorter episodes confined within a class period, we are also describing patterns of growth over time, including vignettes and portfolios of sample student work.

Leslie: Indeed, I think that wisdom comes both in practice and learning by looking back on practice. Our observations will enable teachers to better anticipate what approaches their students might take. Our educative materials will offer teachers a variety of real-life approaches that actual students similar to their own may take. This deep pedagogical knowledge includes knowing when, if, and how to intervene to give the just-right hints.

We will also soon finalize choices for how teachers can introduce activities, give instructions, and model processes. Having observed marvelous teaching moves—such as when a teacher created a literal “fishbowl” to model an activity (gathering students around a focal group to observe their talk and annotations), I am convinced we will be able to provide teachers with purposeful, flexible, and powerful choices to implement RAMPUP with quality and excellence.

To access research-based tools developed by the National Research & Development Center to Improve Education for Secondary English Learners to help teachers design deeper and more meaningful mathematics learning for all students, particularly those still learning English, see How to Engage English Learners in Mathematics: Q&A with Dr. Haiwen Chu.

To receive regular updates and findings from the Center, as well as webinar and conference opportunities, subscribe to Where the Evidence Leads newsletter.

This blog was produced by Helyn Kim (, program officer for the Policies, Practices, and Programs to Support English Learners portfolio at NCER.