Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Join us for IES Innovation Day at the 2023 ED Games Expo

For the first time, IES is hosting IES Innovation Day as part of the 9th annual ED Games Expo. This full day event of engaging panel sessions, taking place Thursday, September 21, 2023, from 9:00 AM to 3:15 PM, will highlight IES’s investments in advanced research and development. The day will feature—

  • Lightning talks from IES-funded project teams who have developed and conducted research on education technology (EdTech) innovations
  • Sessions on modernizing the research and development infrastructure and preparing to scale evidence-based products
  • Demos of IES-funded EdTech products
  • An afternoon session with IES Director Mark Schneider focused on the Institute’s vision for achieving transformative impact at scale
  • Remarks by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director, Arati Prabhakar

IES Innovation Day is one of the many events taking place at the 2023 ED Games Expo this September 19-22 at the Kennedy Center REACH and at locations across Washington, DC. The ED Games Expo is the public showcase of game changing EdTech innovations created through more than 50 programs at the IES, the U.S. Department of Education, and across government. This multi-day event engages a broad audience, including EdTech developers and researchers, organizations across the education ecosystem, students and educators, members of the public including families and children, and representatives and leaders from Federal agencies and offices.

Register to attend these free events:

Can’t make it to the Expo in-person? Join through a livestreamed Science is Cool virtual event on Thursday, September 21 from 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM Eastern Time. Speakers at the virtual event will include EdTech developers and STEM education experts who will discuss their classroom interventions and share how they used art and design in creating them.

Communicating with Migrant Communities: An Interview with Pathways Alum Gabriel Lorenzo Aguilar

The Pathways to the Education Sciences Program was designed to inspire students from groups that have been historically underrepresented in doctoral study to pursue careers in education research. Gabriel Lorenzo Aguilar, who participated in the IES-funded University of Texas San Antonio (UTSA) Pathways program focused on P-20 pipeline issues, is the first Pathways fellow to be offered a tenure track position at a university. Gabriel, who is currently finishing his doctoral program in English at the Pennsylvania State University, recently accepted a tenure-track position in the Technical Writing and Professional Design program at the University of Texas at Arlington. Growing up in the barrios of South Texas, Gabriel brings a working-class, migrant-community, and undocumented-community perspective to academia. His research and teaching center the problems of communities who are in dire need of aid and assistance and who rely on technical communication in life-critical situations, especially migrants, refugees, and asylees. In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, we asked Gabriel to reflect on his career journey and the experiences of Hispanics scholars.

How have your background and experiences shaped your scholarship and career in using technical communication to improve the lives of vulnerable populations, such as migrants and refugees?

My grandmother was an undocumented migrant. Growing up in the Lower Rio Grande Valley (RGV) of South Texas, I saw how much community came to help not only my grandmother but other undocumented people. I saw firsthand the generosity, commitment, and sacrifice all of us in our neighborhoods made to make sure we had everything we needed.

That level of sacrifice required communication between the community, nonprofits, and others. I saw younger generations provide translation services to their grandparents, making sure that the older generation understood how to get resources such as Medicaid or subsidized utilities. It was only after I went to college that I learned that this communication had a name: technical communication. Broadly speaking, the field of technical communication focuses on making technical information understandable to a wide variety of audiences. It can include things like instructions on how to submit applications for aid or forms for service but has recently expanded to include the communication of marginalized peoples. The types of technical communication we did in the barrios were not included in broader discussions. So, I made it a mission of mine in graduate school to bring the kind of technical communication from marginalized populations into the mainstreams of research and practice.

My past projects looked into helping humanitarian organizations better translate for Mexican migrant populations. Future projects are tackling similar issues with the general population in the RGV and how citizens communicate with one another to form coalitions for change. In any case, my background and experiences help me see technical communication as a field that can improve the lives of my community.

How did participation in the UTSA P20 Pathways program shape your career journey?

Quite frankly, the UTSA Pathways program made my career journey. I struggled a lot in undergrad. I noticed that my peers that excelled were usually white and from more affluent school districts. They seemed to know everything while the rest of us, especially those from the RGV, were behind.

The UTSA Pathways program helped me understand there is a place for scholars like me: those from disenfranchised backgrounds with the passion to help communities in need. While in the program, I learned to recognize disparities in education outcomes—that inequity stems from lack of resources and structural issues such as racism. The program empowered me to see education as a means to tackle such issues.

The program also shaped my understanding of what it means to be an educator: patient, accessible, and demonstrative. I was the undergraduate who didn’t understand the material, who felt too small to ask for help. I’ve learned to recognize the tells of that kind of student—students who often experience the world like I do as a student of color from a working-class background. I try to approach these students first, establishing clear channels of communication and accessibility.

What advice would you give education researchers who wish to work with migrant and refugee communities?

These communities need resources, not predatory researchers. My advice would be to be reflexive on what you give and take when working with a migrant community. There is a long history of researchers extracting data from a marginalized population only to leave that community once their findings are peer reviewed and published. I encourage researchers to practice humanitarian values in their research and practice; that is, to work on the immediate needs of the community, write about those interventions, and then collect data on that immediate work. This way, the community can get the resources they need from a researcher that is actively engaged in improving their quality of life.

How can the broader education research community better support the careers and scholarship of Hispanic students and researchers?

The broader education research community must understand the conditions that many Hispanic students and researchers face in academia, especially Hispanics of color from working class backgrounds. My advice would be to practice patience and grace with Hispanic students. I’ll give an example. I worked with a nontraditional Hispanic student at Penn State who was brilliant but lacked confidence in his writing. He grew up in the Dominican Republic and was in the United States pursuing a degree as a middle-aged adult. His professors that semester heavily criticized his writing: some of the criticism was constructive, some was racist. The constructive criticism demonstrated the flaws of his writing and offered solutions to consider. The racist criticism questioned this student’s belonging in academia, often referring to his misunderstanding of U.S. and English language writing conventions.

Of course, Hispanic students and researchers are not a monolith. We come from all walks of life, some of us more privileged than others. Nonetheless, those with power in the education research community must understand the obstacles that Hispanic students face when navigating higher education.

What advice would you give Hispanic students and scholars who wish to pursue a career in education research?

Understand that the halls of academe weren’t built for us, especially Hispanics of color from working-class backgrounds. I’ve experienced my fair share of microaggressions and blatant racism. Most of the time, these aggressions come from a place of misunderstanding on how our experiences, communities, and culture shape our perspectives of the world. The fight to get our problems recognized, our perspectives respected, and our voices heard can seem never ending. But when I look back at the previous generations of Hispanics in academia, I can really appreciate the positive changes that have come.

My advice would be to accept that you alone cannot change education research. Our generation of scholarship might do little to change education research. It might do a lot. But the momentum is here. The community is here, and with that community, real change can come.


This guest blog is part of a series in recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month. It was produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council. She is also the program officer for the Pathways to the Education Sciences Research Training Program.

ED/IES SBIR: Advancing Research to Practice at Scale in Education

This image depicts a young girl with headphones holding onto a mic that is attached.

The Department of Education and Institute of Education Sciences Small Business Innovation Research Program (known as ED/IES SBIR), funds projects to develop and evaluate new education technology products that ready to be widely deployed to address pressing educational needs.

In advance of IES Innovation Day at the ED Games Expo on September 21, 2023 at the Kennedy Center REACH in Washington, DC, this blog features a series of ED/IES SBIR awards that were funded for the purpose of creating education technology to ready previously funded evidence-based products for use at scale. Two of the projects highlighted below, one led by Jay Connor of Learning Ovations and the other by Clark McKown of xSEL Labs, will be featured as part of panels. This event is open to the public. Register for the Expo here.


Over its 20-year history, ED/IES SBIR has been well known for stimulating pioneering firms, such as Filament Games, Future EngineersPocketLab, and Schell Games, to create entrepreneurial and novel education technology products. ED/IES SBIR has also established a track record for investing in a different set of projects—ones that facilitate the uptake of innovations originally developed in university or laboratory settings. This is important because even when researcher-developed innovations (for example, models, programs, and tools) are shown to have evidence for impact, many are not delivered at scale, preventing learners from fully benefiting from these innovations.

Examples of ED/IES SBIR Research to Practice Projects

Over the past two decades, ED/IES SBIR projects have provided useful models for how researchers can navigate and overcome the research-to-practice gap. ED/IES SBIR has made several awards to projects that were originally researcher-initiated, many through IES research grants. These researchers either founded a small business or partnered with an existing small business to develop and commercialize new education technology products to advance research to practice at scale in education.

The short descriptions of these projects below include links to IES website pages with additional information on the unique project models. These projects converted findings from research into scalable, education technology delivered interventions, added new components to existing research-based prototypes to enable feasible implementation and to improve the user experience, and upgraded technology systems to handle large numbers of users across numerous sites.

  • Learning Ovations: Through a series of IES and NIH funded research, Dr. Carol Connor led an academic team to develop a personalized early learning assessment, the A2i, and demonstrated its efficacy for improving literacy outcomes through multiple trials. To ready the A2i for use in larger numbers of settings and to improve data processing and reporting, Learning Ovations won an ED/IES SBIR award to upgrade the underlying data architecture and create automated supports and functionalities. In 2022, Scholastic acquired Learning Ovations, with plans for the A2i to be integrated into its suite of products. See the Learning Ovations Success Story for more information.
  • Mindset Works: Through an IES research grant in 2002 and with funding from other sources, Dr. Carol Dweck led a research team to develop the concept of the growth mindset—the understanding that ability and intelligence can develop with effort and learning. Lisa Blackwell, a member of the research team, founded Mindset Works and won a 2010 ED/IES SBIR award to develop training modules and animated lessons to deploy this instructional model through a multi-media website. A research grant funded in 2015 tested and demonstrated the efficacy of the technology-delivered Growth Mindset Intervention to improve outcomes of struggling learners. See the Mindset Works Success Story for more information.
  • Nimble Assessment Systems: Through IES and other grants, Dr. Michael Russell led team of researchers to conducted foundational research and develop and validation of new forms of assessment. Informed by this research, Nimble Assessment Systems developed NimbleTools with an award from a ED/IES SBIR, a set of universally designed accommodation tools to improve accessibility of assessments for students with disabilities. Measured Progress acquired Nimble Assessment Systems, and the product was integrated into its suite of products for state and district assessments. See the Nimble Tools Success Story for more information.
  • Children’s Progress: Through NIH grants, Dr. Eugene Galanter led a research team to create a computer-based assessment that adapted to how a student responded to each question and delivered individualized narratives for each student. With awards from NIH SBIR and ED/IES SBIR, Children’s Progress developed a commercial version of the computer-adaptive dynamic assessment (CPAA) for early childhood in literacy and math. In 2012, Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) acquired Children’s Progress, with the assessment technology incorporated into the NWEA’s assessment platform and used at scale. See the Children’s Progress Success Story for more information.
  • Teachley: Through IES and NSF funded research, Dr. Herb Ginsburg led an academic team to develop prototype software programs for children from preschool to grade 3 to practice mathematics. In 2011, three members of the research team founded a small business, Teachley, which won ED/IES SBIR awards to extend the research model into easily playable, engaging, and widely used math game apps. See the Teachley Success Story for more information.
  • Analytic Measures: With funding from IES, Dr. Jaren Bernstein led a research team to develop prototypes of automated oral reading fluency assessments that were administered to students during the NAEP and other national assessments by IES’s National Center for Education Statistics. Analytic Measures won ED/IES SBIR awards (here and here) to develop the school-ready version of these assessments. In 2022, Google acquired the intellectual property of the assessments with plans to incorporate the tools into its suite of products for education. See this Analytic Measures Success Story more information.
  • Lightning Squad: Through awards from ED’s Office of Education Research and Improvement (now IES) and the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Drs. Nancy Madden and Bob Slavin led a research team to develop a model to make tutoring more cost-effective. With awards from ED/IES SBIR, Sirius Thinking partnered with Success For All to develop a mixed online and face-to-face multimedia intervention for struggling readers in grades 1 to 3. The program is now in wide-scale use in schools and in tutoring programs. See the Lightning Squad Success Story for more information.
  • Apprendis: With research grants from IES and other sources, Dr. Janice Gobert led teams at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Rutgers University to develop and evaluated Inq-ITS (Inquiry Intelligent Tutoring System) virtual labs for students in grades 4 to 10. Apprendis was founded in order to commercialize InqITS and won an ED/IES SBIR award to develop a teacher alert system that generates real-time insights to inform instruction. InqITS is currently in wide-scale use.
  • Common Ground Publishing: Through IES and other grants, Drs. Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis led a team of researchers to conduct research on new forms of technology-delivered formative assessment for student writing. A technology-based company spun out of a university tech-transfer office, Common Ground Publishing, and won ED/IES SBIR awards (here and here) to develop CGScholar based on this research. CGScholar is an AI-based digital media learning management system designed to support student writing, learning, and formative assessment, which has been in wide-scale use for several years.  See the CGScholar Success Story for more information.
  • xSEL Labs: With funding from IES, Dr. Clark McKown led a team led to develop screening assessments for social and emotional learning and conducted research to demonstrate the efficacy of the tool. xSEL Labs was founded to commercialize the assessments, and with an ED/IES SBIR award, is developing a platform to support educators and administrators using research-based SEL assessments. In 2023, 7 Mindsets acquired xSEL Labs was acquired to commercialize the platform at scale.

A New Program Area at ED/IES SBIR to Continue Advancing Research to Practice
With a history of awards to advance research to practice, ED/IES SBIR created a new program area in 2022 called Direct to Phase II to invest in more projects to develop commercially viable education technology products to ready existing evidence-based research for use at scale. The program resulted in one award (see here) in 2022. Please see the ED/IES SBIR solicitation page for information on the next opportunity for funding through its FY2024 program.


Stay tuned for updates on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn as ED/IES SBIR continues to support projects to advance research to practice at scale.

Edward Metz (Edward.Metz@ed.govis a research scientist and the program manager for the Small Business Innovation Research Program at the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.

 

2023 ED Games Expo – Showcasing Special Education Technology for Learning

Students draw on tablets at a previous ED Games Expo

The 9th annual ED Games Expo will take place in Washington, DC, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts REACH on September 20 and 21, 2023 (Agenda). The Expo is a public showcase of game-changing education technology (EdTech) innovations developed through programs at the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and across the federal government. There will be a Showcase of Special Education and Technology products on September 21 from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm in Studio F of the REACH building (Agenda/Overview). The showcase will focus on accessibility and inclusion, with special speakers and demonstrations from 30 developers.

With artificial intelligence (AI) tools and products are spreading across schools and other learning contexts, it is important to maintain a focus on accessibility and inclusion in the development of these technologies. Accessibility needs to be considered from the beginning stages of design/development of technology, including digital games and learning technology. This showcase will highlight product developers doing just that!

The showcase starts with three thought leaders with expertise in this field who will share their ideas for what we can do now to make sure these special education and assistive technology innovations can be disseminated to have impact at scale and be sustained over time.

Headshot of Lauren Allen



Laura Allen, head of strategy and programs for Accessibility and Disability Inclusion at Google, works to improve the accessibility and usability of Google products and processes and to make Google a more accessible place for people with disabilities.

 


Headshot of Erin Mote

Erin Mote, executive director and co-founder of InnovateEDU, is a recognized leader in mobile and broadband technology and has spent much of her career focused on expanding access to technology in the United States and abroad.

 

 

Headshot of Kevin Custer



Kevin Custer is a founding principal at Arc Capital Development, an early-stage venture firm for education and special needs healthcare markets that has invested and managed more than $18 million in companies that provide products and technology for educators and people with special needs, especially autistic individuals.

 

We will host two panels with developers funded by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) of technology for accessibility, including:

In addition to the talks on special education technology products funded by SBIR, OSERS and its Office of Special Education Programs, and other federal agencies, the showcase will feature live demonstrations of the following 11 innovations funded by the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER):

Many of these products will also be demonstrated the night before at the ED Expo Public Event, held Wednesday, September 20, from 5:30 to 8:30 pm (Register Here). This event is open to the public (including families) where they can meet with developers and test out the innovations.

After the Special Education Technology Showcase, there will be office hours on September 21 from 3:00 to 5:30 pm where people can meet with developers and representatives from over 40 government offices that invest in and support EdTech initiatives, as well as dozens of national education organizations that lead initiatives to support EdTech innovation, research, and commercialization. Sarah Brasiel, program officer for NCSER’s projects focusing on technology for special education, will be at a table during office hours and happy to talk to you about our NCSER funding opportunities.

Space is limited for the Showcase of Special Education Technology, so please Register Here!

This blog was authored by Sarah Brasiel (Sarah.Brasiel@ed.gov), program officer at NCSER.

 

 

Spotlight on FY 2023 Early Career Grant Awardees: Word-Level Reading Disabilities

NCSER is excited to share the work of our three new Early Career Development and Mentoring Grants Program principal investigators (PI). The aim of this grant program is to support early career scholars in their academic career trajectories as they pursue research in special education. Through a series of interview blogs, each PI will share their research interests, advice for other early career scholars, and desired impact within the field of special education.

The first scholar we are spotlighting is Kelly Williams, assistant professor in communication sciences and special education at the University of Georgia (formerly at Indiana University). Dr. Williams received a grant to develop an intervention to support reading and spelling outcomes for adolescents with word-level reading disabilities (WLRD).

How did you become interested in this area of research?         

Headshot of Dr. Kelly Williams

I originally became interested in research on WLRD through my experience as a high school special education teacher in rural Georgia where I taught English literature and composition to students with mild to moderate disabilities. Most of my students had difficulty reading and spelling words accurately and automatically, which significantly impacted their performance both in and out of school. In school, my students struggled to complete grade-level coursework, which, in turn, affected their ability to graduate with a regular high school diploma. Outside of school, my students had difficulty with tasks such as completing job applications that required extensive amounts of reading. Although I was well prepared to provide classroom accommodations and modifications for my students, I found that I lacked the knowledge and skills to provide intensive interventions that would help improve basic reading and spelling skills. These experiences ultimately led me to pursue my doctorate in special education with an emphasis on learning disabilities.

What advice do you have for other early career researchers?

I think it is important for early career researchers to collaborate with various stakeholders throughout the entire research process. Although many of my ideas stem from my own experiences as a teacher, I have found that listening to various perspectives has helped me identify problems, brainstorm potential solutions, and design practical interventions that will improve outcomes for students with disabilities. Sustaining effective interventions requires us to think about how we can involve students, teachers, administrators, parents/caregivers, schools, and other community members in research.

What broader impact are you hoping to achieve with your research?

We know low reading achievement is associated with numerous negative outcomes across domains (social, emotional, behavioral, academic, economic). My hope is that this project will provide secondary teachers with a feasible and practical intervention to improve reading outcomes for older students with WLRD, which, in turn, may help prevent or ameliorate the effects of these negative consequences. Ultimately, I envision that this intervention could be used independently or as part of a multi-component reading intervention for secondary students with WLRD.

How will this intervention be distinct from other reading and spelling interventions?

There are two ways that this intervention is distinct from other word reading and spelling interventions. First, this intervention will embed spelling instruction within word reading, which is not currently happening in research or practice for secondary students with WLRD. Many existing programs teach spelling in isolation or through rote memorization, despite a large body of research demonstrating a connection between spelling and word reading. Second, the proposed intervention will emphasize a flexible approach to multisyllabic word reading instead of teaching formal syllable division rules. The goal of this approach is to reduce cognitive load, thereby improving the ability to accurately and automatically read and spell words.

Thank you, Kelly Williams, for your thoughtful insights and commitment to improving reading and spelling among students with word-level reading disabilities. NCSER looks forward to following your work as you progress in developing this intervention.

This blog was produced by Emilia Wenzel, NCSER intern and graduate student at University of Chicago. Katie Taylor (Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov) is the program officer for NCSER’s Early Career Development and Mentoring program.