IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Comparing College-Based to Conventional Transition Approaches for Improving Outcomes for Youth with Disabilities

In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, we discussed NCSER-funded research on transition support for students with disabilities with principal investigators Meg Grigal and Clare Papay. Transition services prepare students for life after school and can include activities such as job training, post-secondary education, and support for independent living and community participation. This research team’s project, Moving Transition Forward: Exploration of College-Based and Conventional Transition Practices for Students with Intellectual Disability and Autism, examines outcomes for two transition approaches: a college-based transition and the conventional approach provided by most local education agencies. In the interview below, the researchers discuss recent results and how this information can improve the quality of transition services for students with disabilities.

What is the purpose of your project? What motivated you to conduct this research?

Headshot of Meg Grigal

Headshot of Clare Papay

The bulk of existing transition research reflects knowledge about conventional transition services, 

or those services received by students with disabilities in high schools. An alternative approach, called college-based transition services, has been around for over 20 years, providing students with intellectual disability and autism a chance to experience college while continuing to receive support through special education. We wanted to explore and compare these two types of transition experiences and assess the outcomes for students. Using two existing datasets, our project conducted a series of interrelated analyses to look more closely at the transition services students with intellectual disability and/or autism (ID/A) are accessing and the association with youth outcomes in employment. Our hope is that our findings will contribute to the knowledge base on research-based college and career preparation for youth with ID/A.

Could you explain the difference between the two transition approaches (college-based and conventional) you are examining and how each prepares students for post-school life?

“Conventional transition services” is our way of describing the transition services typically provided to youth with disabilities across the United States. These services are documented in the data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2012 (NLTS 2012). College-based transition services, also known as dual enrollment or concurrent enrollment, provide students with intellectual disability access to college courses, internships, and employment and other campus activities during their final 2 to 3 years of secondary education. These experiences enable students to participate in career planning with a person-centered planning approach, enroll in college classes for educational and personal enrichment, engage in social activities alongside their college peers, and participate in community-based, paid work experiences that align with their employment goals.

What do the results from your research say about the employment outcomes and other transition outcomes of students with intellectual disability and autism participating in these transition programs?

To be blunt, our findings tell us that conventional transition services are not supporting students with ID/A to become employed after high school. We found a very low prevalence of school-based predictors of post-school success for students receiving conventional transition services. As an example, in our analysis of data from NLTS 2012, we found only 32% of youth with ID/A had paid employment in the previous 12 months. Paid employment in high school is a strong predictor of post-school employment. Additionally, there was low prevalence of other critical transition activities, including self-determination/self-advocacy, self-care/independent living skills, occupational courses, and work-study. Our findings highlight points of stagnation in access to college and career preparation for students with ID/A. Past low engagement rates in college preparation activities may have been attributed to the limited access youth with ID/A have had to positive employment outcomes and poor access to postsecondary education.

On a more promising note, when we look at data on students with ID/A who are enrolled in college-based transition programs, the picture is much brighter. We’ve found moderate to high prevalence of activities reflecting important predictors of post-school success (including­ paid employment while in high school, interagency collaboration, and learning skills in community settings). Students in college-based transition programs are enrolling in courses for college credit and taking courses to help them prepare for careers. These students are leaving K-12 education in a much better position to successfully be employed after high school than many of their peers who are receiving conventional transition services.

Based on what you have learned, what are the implications for practice and policy?

With increased access and opportunities to pursue further education after high school, youth with ID/A need college preparation activities to be a part of their standard education experience. Our findings suggest college-based transition services offer an approach that addresses both employment and college preparation. However, the availability of college-based transition programs depends upon whether school districts have established partnerships with a college or university. Greater availability of college-based transition services would provide the field with a better understanding of the essential elements of practice and associated outcomes of this approach. Our findings also show the need for substantial improvement in the access to college and career preparation for youth with ID/A in conventional transition services. Finally, these studies highlight the need for additional and more robust data in federal data systems reflecting information about the transition experiences of students with intellectual disability, autism, and other developmental disabilities. We need to know what their experiences between age 18-22 look like, how inclusive these experiences are, and what outcomes they achieve after they leave K-12 education.

How can families find more information regarding college-based transition programs in their area?

We are glad you asked! The Think College website has a College Search feature that includes all the college and university programs enrolling students with ID/A in the United States, including those who are working with transitioning youth. This is a great way for families to explore local options. When options don't exist, we encourage families to speak with their school administrators to work on developing partnerships with local colleges or universities. Think College has many resources about college-based transition available on our website. Additionally, our national help desk is always available to answer questions or offer help to those seeking information about inclusive higher education and college-based transition services. Send us questions at thinkcollegeta@gmail.com

Many thanks to Drs. Grigal and Papay for sharing their work with our readers! If you want to learn more about this project, including the results of their research, please visit the following website: https://thinkcollege.net/projects/mtf.

Meg Grigal is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. At the Institute, she is co-director of Think College, a national organization focused on research, policy, and practice in inclusive higher education. Clare Papay is a senior research associate at the Institute for Community Inclusion.

This blog was produced by Shanna Bodenhamer, virtual student federal service intern at IES and graduate student at Texas A&M University, and Akilah Nelson, program officer for NCSER’s Transition to Postsecondary Education, Career, and/or Independent Living program.

 

 

Award-Winning Efficacy Research on Improving Cognitive and Motor Skills in Infants with Neuromotor Disabilities

Headshot of Regina (Reggie) Harbourne

Congratulations to Regina (Reggie) Harbourne and her colleagues for receiving the most prestigious award of the American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine (AACPDM)—for the second time!—for their NCSER-funded research on the efficacy of the START-Play intervention. The Gayle G. Arnold Award is presented annually to the authors of the best scientific manuscript in the field. Dr. Harbourne and her colleagues received the award in 2019 for their first publication on the initial motor and cognitive outcomes of this study. They recently accepted this award again at the 2022 annual meeting for a follow-up publication on the impacts of the intervention on the important cognitive construct of object permanence.

Sitting Together and Reaching to Play (START-Play) is an intervention designed to target sitting, reaching, and motor-based problem solving in infants with motor delays or disabilities. Physical therapists work in the child’s home with the family on providing intensive, individualized activities to promote these motor skills, building toward goal-directed movements, problem-solving, and learning basic cause-effect relationships based in early motor skills. In this study, the research team conducted a randomized controlled trial with 112 infants aged 7 to 16 months. Those receiving START-Play and those in the control group all continued to receive their usual early intervention services. Children were assessed at various timepoints during the 12-week intervention as well as follow-up visits up to examine maintenance of outcomes.

In their first award-winning manuscript, START-Play Physical Therapy Intervention Impacts Motor and Cognitive Outcomes in Infants With Neuromotor Disorders: A Multisite Randomized Clinical Trial, the authors report on the primary impacts of the intervention. They found that for those infants with more significant motor delay, those who received START-Play had greater improvements in cognition, fine motor skills, and problem-solving (at the 3-month follow up), and greater improvements were maintained for fine motor skills and for reaching at the 12-month follow up when compared to the infants receiving usual care. In addition to the Arnold Award, this manuscript won another prestigious research award from the American Physical Therapy Association, the Chattanooga Award, which recognizes authors who publish work in the association’s journal, Physical Therapy Journal.

The most recent Arnold award was for the research team’s new secondary outcomes manuscript, Early vs. Late Reaching Mastery’s Effect on Object Permanence in Infants with Motor Delays Receiving START-Play and Usual Care Early Intervention.[1] Object permanence is the cognitive construct that allows us to maintain a continual mental representation of an object, an important working memory skill for infants to develop. This manuscript reports that, overall, infants who mastered the motor skill of reaching early showed greater development of object permanence understanding than infants who mastered reaching later. Children who reached early and also received the START-Play intervention continued to improve their object permanence understanding to a greater degree than children receiving usual care. This study extended our understanding of how object permanence relates to developing motor skills, described in the authors’ previous publication, which revealed that object permanence skills improved as sitting skills improved. Together, these two papers show how developing the motor skills of sitting and reaching are important to building cognitive skills and understanding objects in the world.

After accepting the award, Dr. Harbourne answered some questions from NCSER about her team’s research on START-Play.

What was the motivation behind your work on developing and testing the efficacy of START-Play? 

Early intervention services for children with motor delays or dysfunction are often siloed into disciplines by functional areas. For example, educators address cognitive skills and physical therapists address only motor skills. But our study supported the idea that early learning that combines movement with problem solving can advance cognitive skills, problem-solving, and fine motor skills, all areas important to eventual success in school.

What do your results tell us about how the intervention is working and its implications for implementation?  

Because we found that adding problem-solving and cognitive challenges to our motor intervention did not slow progress in motor skills, we believe that integrating motor and cognitive challenges may be better for overall development than separating these areas during service delivery. We also had a strong fidelity of intervention program, assuring that the key ingredients of the intervention were adhered to, and that it was clearly different from usual care. However, one implication is that early interventionists need further training to deliver this type of service to families of children with significant motor delays.

Please tell us about your current and ongoing work on START-Play. How are you moving forward with these positive results?

We are currently examining the data from our long-term follow-up study that we conducted with supplemental funding through NCSER. We are also working on a study, funded through NIH, to look at a dose-matched comparison of START-Play intervention with a formalized version of usual care called MORE-PT for infants with cerebral palsy. In addition, we have developed an online continuing education course that translates our findings from the original START-Play study and will help therapists to implement the key ingredients of START-Play in early intervention. We are excited to work on implementation and hope to gain further understanding of the implementation process as we move forward.

Regina (Reggie) Harbourne is the director of the infant development lab and associate professor of physical therapy in the Rangos School of Health Sciences, Duquesne University. This blog was produced by Amy Sussman, the program officer for NCSER’s Early Intervention and Early Learning program.


[1] Manuscripts are submitted for review for this award before they are published. Although AACPDM has first option to publish the wining manuscripts, the paper is not yet published or available publicly.

Asian Voices in Education Research: Perspectives from Predoctoral Fellows Na Lor and Helen Lee

The IES Predoctoral Training Programs prepare doctoral students to conduct high-quality education research that advances knowledge within the field of education sciences and addresses issues important to education policymakers and practitioners. In recognition of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we asked two predoctoral scholars who are embarking on their careers as education researchers to share their career journeys, perspectives on diversity and equity in education research, and advice for emerging scholars from underrepresented backgrounds who are interested in pursuing careers in education research. Here is what they shared with us.

 

Na Lor (University of Wisconsin-Madison) is currently a PhD candidate in educational leadership and policy analysis where she is studying inequity in higher education from a cultural perspective.

How did you become interested in a career in education research? How have your background experiences shaped your scholarship and career?

I view education institutions as important sites of knowledge transmission with infinite potential for addressing inequity. In addition, my background as a Hmong refugee and a first-generation scholar from a low-income family informs my scholarship and career interests. My positive and negative experiences growing up in predominantly White spaces also shape the way in which I see the world. Meanwhile, my time spent living abroad and working in the non-profit sector further influence my ideals of improving the human condition. With my training through IES, I look forward to conducting education research with a focus on higher education in collaboration with local schools and colleges to better serve students and families from underserved communities.  

In your area of research, what do you see as the most critical areas of need to address diversity and equity and improve the relevance of education research for diverse communities of students and families?

I see ethnic studies, culturally sustaining pedagogies, and experiential learning in postsecondary education as core areas in need of improvement to provide relevant education for an ever-diverse student body. Likewise, I see community college transfer pathways as crucial for addressing and advancing equity. 

What advice would you give to emerging scholars from underrepresented, minoritized groups who are pursuing a career in education research?

Chase your burning questions relentlessly and continuously strengthen your methodological toolkit. Embrace who you are and rely on your lived experience and ways of knowing as fundamental assets that contribute to knowledge formation and the research process. 

 

Helen Lee (University of Chicago) is currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Comparative Human Development where she is studying the impact of racial dialogue and ethnic community engagement on the identity and agency development of Asian American youth.

How did you become interested in a career in education research? How have your background and experiences shaped your scholarship and career?

I first considered a career in education research while completing my Master’s in educational leadership and policy at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. I had entered my program in need of a break after working as a classroom teacher, organizer, and community educator in Detroit for five years. During my program, I had the opportunity to reflect on and contextualize my experiences in and around public education. It was also during my program that I first came across scholarship that aligned to my values and spoke to my experiences as a teacher in under-resourced communities and as a first-generation college graduate.

Taking classes with Dr. Carla O’Connor and Dr. Alford Young, working with Dr. Camille Wilson, and engaging with scholarship that counters deficit notions of people of color was a critical turning point for me. The work of these scholars motivated me to pursue a path in education research. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to meet other scholars who conduct community-based and action-oriented research in service of social justice movements. These interactions, along with the opportunities to collaborate with and learn from youth and educators over the years, has sustained my interest in education research and strengthened my commitment to conducting research that promotes more equitable educational policies and practice.

In your area of research, what do you see as the most critical areas of need to address diversity and equity and improve the relevance of education research for diverse communities of students and families?

My current research examines the racial socialization experiences of Asian American youth in relation to their sociopolitical development. This work is motivated by my own experiences as an Asian American, my work with Chinese and Asian American-serving community organizations, and a recognition that Asian American communities are often overlooked in conversations about racism due to pervasive stereotypes.

Education research must be better attuned to the history and current manifestations of racism. That is, research should not only consider the consequences of systemic racism on the educational experiences and outcomes of marginalized communities but also challenge and change these conditions. I believe there is a critical need for scholarship that reimagines and transforms the education system into a more just and humanizing one.

What advice would you give to emerging scholars from underrepresented, minoritized groups who are pursuing a career in education research?

I would provide the following advice:

  • Clarify what your purpose isthe reason why you are engaged in this work. This will help guide the opportunities you pursue or pass on and connect you to the people who can support your development toward these goals. Your purpose will also serve as a beacon to guide you in times of uncertainty.
  • Seek out mentorship from scholars whose work inspires your own. Mentorship may come from other students as well as from those outside of academia. It may stem from collaborations in which you participate or simply through one-time interactions.
  • Be attuned to your strengths and your areas of growth and nurture both accordingly. In retrospect, I could have done a better job of recognizing my own assets and engaging in diverse writing opportunities to strengthen my ability to communicate research across audiences.
  • Continuously put your ideas and research in conversation with the ideas and research of others. This enables growth in important ways—it can open you up to new perspectives and questions as well as strengthen your inquiry and understanding of your findings.
  • Engage in exercises that nurture your creativity and imagination and participate in spaces that sustain your passion for education research. A more just and humanizing education system requires us to think beyond our current realities and to engage in long-term efforts.      

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of blogs showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. For Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage month blog series, we are focusing on AAPI researchers and fellows, as well as researchers that focus on the education of AAPI students.

Produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council and training program officer for the National Center for Education Research.

Understanding the Co-Development of Language and Behavior Disorders in the Context of an Early Career Grant

The Early Career Development and Mentoring Program in Special Education provides support for investigators in the early stages of their academic careers to conduct an integrated research and career development plan focused on learners with or at risk for disabilities. Dr. Jason Chow is an assistant professor of special education at the University of Maryland, College Park and principal investigator of a current Early Career grant funded by NCSER. Dr. Chow’s research focuses on the comorbidity of language and behavior disorders in school-age children as well as teacher and related service provider training in behavior management. We recently caught up with Dr. Chow to learn more about his career, the experiences that have shaped it, and the lessons he’s learned from the Early Career grant. This is what he shared with us.

How did your experiences shape your interest in a career in special education?

Photo of Jason Chow

I first became interested in education when I started substituting for paraprofessionals in special education programs over winter and summer breaks in college, which I really enjoyed. That experience, along with a class I took in my senior year on disability in the media and popular culture, got me interested in the field of special education. After I graduated, I ended up applying for a full-time position as a paraprofessional in a program supporting high schoolers with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD).

My experiences as a paraprofessional definitely shaped my career path. As a substitute paraprofessional in college, I was surprised that my job was to support students with the most intensive needs even though I had the least amount of classroom training. That made me recognize the need for research-based training and supports for related service providers and got me interested in different factors that contribute to decision making in school systems. Another memorable experience occurred when I was working in the support program for students with EBD. All our students had the accommodation to be able to come to our room at any time of the day as needed for a check in or a break. I was alarmed by how often students needed a break because of things teachers said or did to upset them or make them feel singled out. I was also coaching several sports at the time and saw first-hand how a strong, positive relationships with the players were vital. These experiences got me interested in teacher-student relationships, how important positive interactions and experiences can be, and the need for general education teachers to receive training on working with students with disabilities. Ultimately, my work as a paraprofessional supporting kids with EBD also helped shape my interest in determining how language and communication can facilitate prosocial development, which led to my Early Career grant.

What are the goals of your NCSER Early Career grant?

My project focuses on better understanding the co-development of language and behavior in children at risk for language disorders, behavior disorders, or both in early elementary school. Many studies have examined the concurrent and developmental relations between language and behavior, but they are typically done using extant datasets. The goal of this project was to conduct a prospective study aimed at measuring both constructs in several different ways (such as direct observations, interviews, and teacher report) to provide a more robust analysis of how each of these constructs and assessment types are related over time. This type of research could inform the types of interventions provided to children with EBD and, more specifically, the need to address language impairments alongside behavior to improve academic outcomes for these learners.

How has the Early Career grant helped your development as a researcher?

This project has taught me a lot about the realities of doing school-based research and managing a grant. First, I have learned a great deal about budgeting. For example, I proposed to recruit a sample based on a power analysis I conducted for the grant application. But in my original budget, I did not consider that I would need to screen about triple the number of children I estimated in order to enroll my planned sample. I have also learned a lot about hiring, human resources, procurement, and university policies that are directly and indirectly involved in process of conducting research. Also, like many others, my project was impacted by pandemic-related school closures, and I have learned how to be flexible under unpredictable circumstances. More specifically, we had intended to determine how developmental trajectories of language and behavior were associated with academic outcomes, but we lost our outcome assessment timepoint due to the pandemic. Fortunately, we are working collaboratively with our partner schools to use district-level data to approximate some of these intended analyses. I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to learn and develop my skills in the context of a training grant.

What advice would you give to other early career researchers, including those who may be interested in applying for an Early Career grant?

Reach out to other early career grantees and ask for their proposals. (I am happy to share mine!) Just be aware that the RFA has changed over time—including a substantial increase in funds—so the more recent proposals the better. Also, in terms of setting up a strong mentorship team for your career development plan, reach out to the people whom you see as the best to support your career development (no matter how busy you think they are or if you think they are too senior). In talking with other folks, I’ve learned that generally people are very willing to support the next generation of researchers!

This interview blog is part of a larger IES blog series on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) in the education sciences. It was produced by Katie Taylor (Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov), program officer for the Early Career Development and Mentoring program at the National Center for Special Education Research.

Promoting Equitable and Sustainable Behavioral Interventions in Early Childhood

The Postdoctoral Research Training Program in Special Education and Early Intervention is designed to prepare scientists to conduct rigorous, practice-relevant research to advance the fields of special education and early intervention. Dr. Jun Ai recently completed an IES postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Kansas and is currently an assistant research professor at the University of Northern Iowa. Her research focuses on the implementation of early childhood behavioral interventions, particularly for young learners with disabilities and those from minoritized communities. We recently caught up with Dr. Ai to learn more about her career, the experiences that have shaped it, and how her work addresses equity and inclusion in early intervention. This is what she shared with us.

How did you begin your career journey as an education researcher?

My research focuses on the equitable and sustainable implementation of early childhood positive behavioral interventions and supports (EC-PBIS) to promote the social-emotional and behavioral health of all children, especially those with disabilities and/or from minoritized groups. Before starting my PhD program, I was a special education teacher working with students with autism spectrum disorders in China. That’s when I learned about applied behavioral science and PBIS. I decided to become a board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA) during my doctoral studies at the University of Kansas. Through my BCBA practicum, I worked with young children with disabilities and challenging behaviors in self-contained settings.

Meanwhile, I was also supervising pre-service teachers and behavioral analysts working in inclusive early care and education settings where behavior issues were addressed through multi-tiered EC-PBIS. These experiences deepened my interest in EC-PBIS and led me to research how to prepare professionals to use multi-tiered EC-PBIS to promote foundational social-emotional competence and prevent challenging behaviors for all children, regardless of their abilities or forms of diversity. Most importantly, I study how equitable and sustainable implementation of EC-PBIS can reduce racial disciplinary disparities to eventually eliminate suspension and expulsion in early care and education. Through my dissertation and NCSER-funded postdoctoral fellowship at Juniper Gardens Children’s Project at the University of Kansas, I led multiple independent research projects in these areas. With the support from my mentors, Judith Carta, Kathryn Bigelow, and Jay Buzhardt, I also had the opportunity to work on several NCSER-funded projects that address issues in EC-PBIS and the implementation of evidence-based practices.

What is the most rewarding part of your research?

Currently, I serve on the Iowa state leadership team of EC-PBIS and continue to expand my scholarship on EC-PBIS implementation through my research and teaching capacities. The most rewarding part of my work has been gaining expertise in a variety of research methodologies, especially mixed-methods research. Mixed-methods research allows me to carry out rigorous quantitative intervention and test hypotheses while also hearing the voices of participants and various stakeholders using trustworthy qualitative methodology, with data from each method informing the other. As a result, I can tackle complex issues related to implementing interventions in real-world settings and improve the design of interventions.

In your area of research, what do you see as the most critical areas of need to address diversity and equity and improve the relevance of education research for diverse communities of students and families?

One of the greatest needs is around diversifying the researcher leadership workforce. Higher education institutions need to prioritize recruitment, retention, and tailored support for educational researchers from historically and currently marginalized groups based on their race, ethnicity, language, sexual orientation, disabilities, and more.

Equally important is the need to increase funding resources for minority researchers whose scholarship aims to dismantle systemic racism and racial inequities in our educational systems. Researchers of color need more seats at the table to disturb the power imbalance within the research community, advocate for students and families in their own communities, and improve the relevance of education research for diverse groups.

Last but not least, the education research community at large needs to question the status quo of how to conduct research for, with, and by diverse communities.

What advice would you give to emerging scholars from underrepresented, minoritized groups that are pursuing a career in education research?

Find the research topic that gives you goosebumps. It might be hard at the beginning when research interests are highly directed by the existing research agenda of advisors or funding sources. But don’t let that feeling of butterflies go. Try to start small. It might mean stepping out of your normal circle to find mentors, allies, or funding agencies that are also excited about your mission and your research interests.

Remember that you need to be so good that nobody can ignore you. Researchers of color, especially minoritized early career scholars, still need to work multiple times harder to be seen and heard. Unfortunately, this will still be true in the foreseeable future. Find and join minority education researcher communities through professional organizations or organize your own. You are not in this alone.

While continuing to hone your craft, speak up for yourself and your community when you can. Recognize your own burdens and privileges and stand with the most oppressed. Learn about and practice how to have a voice at the table even though your culture or your lived experience told you otherwise. The work you care about can change students' and families’ lives. Your work matters. Your voice matters.

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see herehere, 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 blog was produced by Bennett Lunn (Bennett.Lunn@ed.gov), Truman-Albright Fellow, and Katie Taylor (Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov), postdoctoral training program officer at the National Center for Special Education Research.