Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

The Importance of Training and Mentorship: An Interview with Former IES Postdoctoral Fellow Priscilla Goble

The IES Postdoctoral Research Training Program  funds groups of faculty research trainers who recruit, hire, and prepare postdoctoral researchers to conduct high-quality education research. IES encourages training programs to recruit fellows from underrepresented demographic groups including minority groups and those with disabilities, those coming from smaller or less well-known institutions, or those with non-traditional backgrounds including former practitioners or institutional researchers. Priscilla Goble was a fellow in the IES-funded University of Virginia Post-Doctoral Interdisciplinary Training Program in Education Science and is now an associate professor of human development & family sciences in the School of Family & Consumer Sciences at Texas State University. In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, we asked Priscilla to reflect on her career journey and the experiences of Hispanic scholars.

How did you become interested in a career in education research?

For as long as I can remember, I have been interested in the development of young children. I began taking child development and education focused courses as a high school student, and I had a clear plan to become an early childhood educator. As an undergraduate student at Purdue University, I became involved in several research projects, and one led by Dr. Karen Diamond was focused on young children’s development in preschool settings. This experience was fundamental in shifting my career goals from educator to education researcher.

Many young children spend most of their waking hours in education environments, and I became increasingly more curious about the factors that promote positive development within these early education settings. As I pursued my graduate degrees at Arizona State University, I explored child factors (for example, gender), family factors (for example, parent involvement), and contextual factors (for example, educational approaches) to better understand the relation between children’s preschool experiences, developmental gains, and formal school success.

The IES postdoctoral fellowship working with Dr. Robert Pianta in the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia solidified my interests and career in education research. My current work focuses on the importance of adult-child relationships and interactions for promoting positive development within education settings. I also have applied research experience developing, implementing, and evaluating early education interventions. I aim to conduct sound education science that can be used to inform practice and positively impact our education systems.

What has been the biggest challenge you have encountered, and how did you overcome the challenge? 

The biggest challenge I have had to overcome as a researcher is imposter syndrome around academic writing. I never would have imagined that I would achieve tenure at an academic institution because I have never viewed myself as a strong writer. My parents differ in their educational attainment and in their parenting around education. My father, a U.S.-born college graduate and successful entrepreneur, always encouraged good grades, hard work, and academic success. My mother, an immigrant from Panama, never completed college and placed more emphasis on relationships than education. In addition to different educational perspectives, language barriers created obstacles in my education because my primary literacy support at home was from an English as a Second Language (ESL) parent who struggled with English fluency. My verbal scores on the SAT and GRE were consistently low, and from early on, I have struggled with feelings that I am not a strong enough writer to be a successful researcher.

I’m not sure imposter syndrome ever goes away. I still put in work to move past feelings of inadequacy. I began by listening to my peers and mentors when they emphasized my strengths. Through warm and supportive professional relationships, I learned that I am a strong critical thinker, I am well organized, I am passionate about education, and I am persistent. These skills are also important to be a successful researcher and, although I am not the strongest writer, I’ve learned to overcome that challenge. When my imposter syndrome pops up, I remind myself of the growth I’ve made as a writer and of the other skills that have helped me to achieve the career I have now.

As it relates to my research, I empathize with children in similar situations, and as a result, I have developed a professional interest in identifying factors that promote positive educational experiences for ethnic-minority children.

How can the broader education research community better support the careers and scholarship of researchers from underrepresented groups?

To best inform policies and practices that influence education for diverse children, we need trained scholars who represent diverse identities, value inclusion, and challenge biases. Students who have opportunities to engage in undergraduate research are more likely to attend graduate school and proceed to research-focused careers; thus, the education research community can support underrepresented groups by targeting and enhancing their success through undergraduate research experiences.

As a Minority Serving Institution, Texas State University is dedicated to supporting opportunities for undergraduate involvement in research. For over 5 years, I have been co-leading a program to identify and recruit undergraduate students from underrepresented groups and provide them research training and experience. The goal of this program is to help develop strong connections with school faculty and peers that can build a sense of self-efficacy and provide underrepresented students with human capital and resources to navigate the maze of higher education systems.

I can speak from my own experience that my career trajectory was forever changed because of my engagement in undergraduate research experiences.

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

My best piece advice is to believe in yourself. Being a successful researcher is about persistence. You will have failures and receive critical feedback, but if you keep working and believe in yourself, you can achieve your goals. 

The next best piece of advice is to identify strong mentors who believe in you. I cannot overstate the degree to which my success and self-efficacy as an education researcher have been influenced by the strong mentors who believed in me at every stage. Strike up a conversation with someone you admire, be vulnerable in sharing your aspirations, listen to their advice, and believe them when they say that you have what it takes.

Finally, find your community. Join groups of people who come from both similar and different walks of life but who are struggling with the same challenges at the same time. Lean on these people and let them lean on you. Support one another through all the ups and downs and enjoy doing life together.


This guest blog is part of a series in recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month. It was produced by Corinne Alfeld (Corinne.Alfeld@ed.gov), a program officer in the National Center for Education Research.

Innovating Math Education: Highlights from IES Learning Acceleration Challenges

A teacher and students work on math problems on a white board

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) held two Learning Acceleration Challenges during the 2022–23 school year, designed to incentivize innovation in math and science. The Math Prize sought school-based, digital interventions to significantly improve math outcomes, specifically in fractions, for upper elementary school students with or at risk for a disability that affects math performance. An unprecedented number of students are performing below grade level in core academic subjects according to the most recent data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. In response to this problem, the grand prize required interventions to reach an effect size equal to or exceeding 0.77 on a broad measure of math achievement, the NWEA® MAP™ Growth math assessment. The challenge included two phases: In Phase 1, intervention providers submitted information on their interventions and research plans for implementing and testing their interventions under routine conditions. In Phase 2, selected research teams (finalists) were given $25,000 to implement and test their interventions with a shot at receiving the grand prize.

There were four submissions scored by a panel of judges during Phase 1. Two teams were selected to proceed to Phase 2 of the challenge to implement their intervention in schools: The DRUM (Digital Rational Number) Intervention and the ExploreLearning’s Reflex + Frax intervention. These two interventions were implemented in schools between November 2022 and April 2023 and participating students completed the NWEA MAP Growth math assessment before and after implementation. At the completion of Phase 2, the judging panel scored the Phase 2 submissions according to a rigorous set of criteria that included impact (as evaluated by a randomized controlled trial), cost effectiveness, scalability, and sustainability. Based on the scores received by the finalists, the panel did not recommend awarding any Phase 2 Prizes.

We recognize this challenge was an ambitious and rapid effort to improve math achievement. With the knowledge gained from this challenge, we hope to continue to design opportunities that encourage transformative, innovative change within education. While disappointing, these results shed light on some of the challenges of targeting ambitious improvements in student math achievement:

  • The implementation hurdles experienced by both teams reinforce the difficulties of conducting research in schools, especially in the current post-pandemic era climate. In the present circumstances, many schools face extra strains that may make it challenging to implement new interventions, as is required during an RCT.
  • It has historically been, and continues to be, difficult to create accelerated growth in math achievement for students who are with or at risk for disabilities that affect math performance. An improvement in line with the challenge’s 0.77 effect size criterion for the grand prize would substantially lessen the average achievement gap between students with disabilities and their nondisabled peers—and would be no small feat!
  • Barriers still exist to implementation of a technology-based intervention. For intervention developers, the cost and time required to create a digital intervention can be very large. For schools, the necessary infrastructure and acceptance of digital interventions is not always present.
  • Researching interventions within schools takes a lot of time and resources. Sometimes getting answers to our most pressing educational problems takes time, despite the best efforts of those involved to accelerate this process. The results of this competition underscore the continued need for research to support the significant difficulties of this population of learners.

Thank you to all who participated. We would also like to thank Luminary Labs, the contractor providing support for the IES Learning Acceleration Challenges and the two strong partners they included in the work: NWEA and Abt Associates. We appreciate NWEA’s support in conducting the evaluation of the effects of the intervention on the MAP Growth assessment and Abt Associates for their technical assistance during the Phase 2 implementation. We also appreciate all their work to collect and summarize data to understand what we can learn from the challenges and recommendations from other open innovation initiatives to inform future similar work at IES.

If you have an intervention or an idea for an intervention that could accelerate math achievement for students with or at risk for disabilities, you are encouraged to learn more about additional funding opportunities at IES, and contact Sarah Brasiel, program officer for NCSER’s STEM topic area.

This blog was written by Britta Bresina, NCSER program officer.

Spotlight on FY 2023 Early Career Development Grant Awardees: Supporting HBCU Students with Trauma Informed Online Teaching

This summer, IES awarded the first grant within the Early Career Development and Mentoring Program for Faculty at Minority Serving Institutions to Dr. Virginia Byrne, an assistant professor at Morgan State University, a historically black university (HBCU) located in Maryland. In recognition of HBCU week, we asked Dr. Byrne to share with us her career journey and her new IES-funded early career project that explores how evidence-based models of trauma informed online teaching (TIOT) may benefit students taking online classes at HBCUs.

Tell us about your current IES early career project.

I began my career as a student affairs practitioner focused on how the Internet was expanding access for activism, community engagement, and higher education, particularly among students of minoritized and marginalized groups. Now I study online teaching and learning in higher education with a focus on which students tend to thrive in online classes versus those who struggle.

My IES early career project is driven by the urgent need to understand how to best support the academic success of HBCU students in online learning environments. Today’s college students are likely to have survived some form of traumatic or adverse event either prior to or during their undergraduate enrollment, including the complexities of grief, illness, financial difficulties, and social disruption such as the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, many trauma-affected students struggle to engage in traditional school activities, regulate their effort and motivation, authentically participate in classroom discussions, and successfully graduate. To ensure that trauma-affected students are persisting in their college courses, educators are encouraged to adopt trauma-informed teaching practices.

While research exists on the value of trauma-informed teaching in face-to-face K-12 classrooms and, to a lesser extent, higher education contexts, it has yet to rigorously explore the impact of these trauma-informed practices on online college students. It is still unclear how trauma-informed teaching principles align with the leading online teaching literature, how students feel about these practices, or how they relate to achievement and persistence outcomes, particularly among trauma-affected students who might struggle with effort regulation. My three-year project, The Learning and Engaging at a Distance (LEAD) Initiative, seeks to fill this gap by posing an evidence-based model of TIOT practices in higher education and rigorously exploring how these practices might benefit HBCU students in online classes. I hypothesize that the adoption of TIOT practices will be helpful to all students, but especially those who are trauma-affected with reduced effort regulation. 

What are trauma-informed online teaching practices?

A trauma-informed approach to teaching consists of shifts in education practices, pedagogies, and policies as faculty learn about the role of trauma in students’ lives and how classrooms can perpetuate it. Trauma-informed teaching emphasizes an anti-racist, asset-based approach to provide all students with trauma-informed care, not just those who report their traumatic experiences (a universal approach). In my current IES project, I weave together the online learning, college teaching, and trauma-informed teaching literatures to pose the TIOT model, an evidence-based model consisting of seven related principles:

  1. Collaboration and Mutuality: Faculty welcome student input in collaboration and decision-making to share power and co-construct knowledge.
  2. Emotional, Social, and Academic Safety: Faculty foster an online learning environment that respects the need for safety, respect, and authenticity.
  3. Empowerment, Voice, and Choice: Faculty make space for and empower students to make choices so that the course is relevant to their professional interests and aligned with their personal development goals.
  4. Resilience, Growth, and Change: Faculty take an anti-deficit, growth-oriented approach by forwarding the idea that all students are emerging scholars capable of learning and succeeding. They use formative feedback to cultivate a community of learning and to reinforce self-efficacy.
  5. Social Justice: Faculty cultivate an equitable and anti-oppressive learning environment that prioritizes social justice in the course design and curriculum.
  6. Support and Connection: Faculty provide students with structures and resources to support their community building, academic achievement, and professional development.
  7. Trustworthiness and Transparency: Faculty foster a sense of trust and transparency among students by providing clear expectations, being reliable and consistent, and establishing healthy boundaries.

I theorize that by adopting a universal, trauma-informed approach to online teaching, instructors can create a more supportive and equity-centered learning environment for all students to thrive.

What advice would you give to emerging scholars from HBCUs who are pursuing a career in education research?

First, recognize the strengths of your institution as an HBCU. For example, my project leverages Morgan State University’s focus on high-touch teaching both in-person and online. By emphasizing what our faculty are already doing well and building on our existing expertise, I was able to gain campus buy-in on my project. Remember that being at an HBCU is an asset.

Second, even if your campus is small and research is not on the top of everyone’s to-do list, there are probably faculty who are doing rigorous research projects. Find them, even if they are outside of your field or discipline. Ask them how they found support on campus to do this work. Who is their go-to person for budget questions? For grant submission issues? Is there any unadvertised money for professional development? There are likely those on campus who want to mentor emerging scholars on research and grant-writing, even if it is not their full-time job. Reach out to them. 

How can the broader education research community better support the careers and scholarship of researchers from HBCUs?

The broader community often misses out on the tremendous excellence that HBCU faculty and graduate student researchers have to offer. There is a LOT of excellence here!

That said, we are limited by a lack of administrative research support and training, such as grant-writing support staff, in-house budget teams, graduate assistantship funding, high-quality financial software, and conference travel funding. This is caused, in part, by historic and systemic underfunding. Members of the broader community could better support HBCU researchers by educating themselves on the funding histories of the public HBCUs in their states and talking about it with colleagues, reaching out to HBCU faculty to build collaborative research partnerships, recruiting HBCU students to join their research teams as interns, research assistants, and post-docs, and sharing access to existing resources on the hidden curriculum around research (for example, how to write a grant proposal, how to craft a budget, how to effectively manage a large grant).

Incredible research is already happening at HBCUs. These are just a few ways that the education research community could get more involved.


Virginia L. Byrne, PhD, is an assistant professor of higher education and student affairs at Morgan State University in the School of Education and Urban Studies. Her research falls at the intersection of higher education, online learning, and the learning sciences to investigate issues of climate and equity in online and technology-enhanced learning environments. Dr. Byrne earned her PhD from the University of Maryland, College Park in technology, learning and leadership and her master’s degree in student affairs from Florida State University.

This blog was produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), program officer for the Early Career Mentoring Program for Faculty at Minority Serving Institutions (Early Career MSI). This program supports grants that prepare faculty at minority-serving institutions 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 FY 2024, IES is accepting applications for the Early Career MSI program as well as the new Early Career Development and Mentoring Program for Education Research.

 

Behavior and School Discipline for Students with Disabilities

Schoolwide discipline policies are meant to reduce disruptions to student learning. However, research reveals that the use of exclusionary discipline policies and practices, involving in- and out-of-school suspension and expulsion, could lead to long-term harmful outcomes for students who are frequently excluded from learning environments. Exclusionary discipline increases the risk of academic failure, school dropout, and socioemotional and mental health problems. Importantly, research also indicates that students with disabilities are disproportionately likely to be subject to exclusionary policies. According to 2017-18 data from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, students with disabilities comprised approximately 13% of total school K-12 enrollment, yet receive about 25% of one or more out-of-school suspensions and 23% of all school expulsions. This pattern of school discipline demonstrates a pressing concern in modern education, requiring educators to explore systematic changes in current practice.

NCSER has been funding research projects that address school discipline for students with or at risk for disability, either directly or indirectly through interventions aimed at improving behavior. This blog features some examples of this work in elementary school, ranging from more focused student-level interventions to schoolwide efforts.

Headshot of Timothy Lewis

Timothy Lewis (University of Missouri, Columbia) and his colleagues are currently conducting a study aimed at evaluating the effectiveness of a behavioral intervention program called Check-in/Check-out. This intervention works to improve the social, emotional, and academic behavior of students at risk for emotional behavior disorder (EBD). Previous studies on Check-in/Check-out evaluated the intervention using single-case design research and small n group designs. This study expands the evidence base on Check-in/Check-out by employing a randomized controlled trial and assessing cost-effectiveness. Taking place in midwestern elementary schools, selected students at risk of EBD “check-in” with an intervention facilitator about daily behavioral goals. Students receive feedback and points (derived from a preestablished point system) from their teachers throughout the day about the extent to which they are meeting these goals. “Check-out” occurs at the end of the day, when points are recorded and the student takes this information home in a daily progress report. Results from this research project may offer insight on ways Check-in/Check-out can redirect student behavior at early stages, thus harboring the potential to decrease discipline rates among students with disabilities.

Headshot of Carl Sumi

Carl Sumi at SRI International and his colleagues at the University of Florida evaluated the effectiveness of the Tools for Getting Along intervention, which focuses on educators rather than on individual students. Tools for Getting Along is designed to help teachers enhance social problem solving in their classrooms so that students and teachers can work together to improve behavior and decrease disciplinary action. Prior research revealed that among this intervention’s positive effects, some of the strongest impacts were on behavior regulation and problem-solving knowledge for students with or at risk for disabilities, specifically those with behavioral needs. This effectiveness study expanded upon this research by incorporating more locations with more diversity and using an independent evaluation team to conduct the randomized controlled trial within the context of a routine school environment. The research team recently concluded the study, reporting preliminary findings of significant positive impact of the intervention on teacher report of student social skills, behavioral regulation, emotional regulation, cognitive regulation, and executive functions, as well as student self-report of problem-solving knowledge. Ultimately, these changes in student behavior can lead to decreases in referrals for student discipline.

Headshot of Jeong Hoon Choi

On broader, systems-level, Jeong Hoon Choi (University of Kansas) is testing a program, Resources Aligned and Integrated for Student Equity, that may help combat disproportionate exclusionary disciplinary practices. This intervention helps educator teams use data to better align and integrate general and special education resources to help students whose needs are not met through the universally and additionally provided instruction of the school. Embedded within a multi-tiered system of supports model, the intervention helps systematize team processes and decisions for those students with the most complex needs. Grade-level educator teams will participate in training, practice, and coaching to implement the practices, and the school district will receive technical assistance to help them sustain the intervention in their schools. The randomized controlled trial aims to determine whether schools receiving this intervention have better student academic and well-being outcomes, including reduced office discipline referrals and suspensions.

Headshot of Kent McIntosh

Kent McIntosh and Erik Girvan (University of Oregon) are addressing disproportionate disciplinary practices through more of a racial equity lens with a training targeting implicit bias among teachers. Project ReACT is a professional development program in which teachers are trained and coached over time to (a) identify specific situations where implicit bias likely occurred in discipline decisions by examining their own school discipline data with school leadership, (b) revise current discipline processes to better meet the needs of students from underserved and over-excluded groups, and (c) design strategies for teachers to minimize implicit bias in school discipline decisions. The research team assessed how exclusionary discipline rates changed in racially and ethnically diverse urban and rural elementary schools in several districts across the country. Using a randomized controlled trial, matching schools based on existing levels of inequities, the research team found that schools receiving the intervention experienced significant decreases in racial disparities in school discipline and office referrals for Black students.

NCSER investments in these projects demonstrate the commitment to finding effective, evidence-based solutions for improving behavior problems, and therefore reducing school discipline rates, for students with disabilities. While research continues to strive toward improving equity in this area, school leaders can also follow the guidelines issued by the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights and Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services to ensure fair treatment and access to services for students with disabilities regarding disciplinary measures.

This blog was authored by Isabelle Saillard, student volunteer for NCSER and undergraduate at the University of Virginia. Jackie Buckley is the program officer for NCSER’s Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Competence portfolio.

Spotlight on FY 2023 Early Career Development Grant Awardees: Supporting Latine Transborder Caregivers and Their Young Children with or at Risk for Autism

NCSER continues its series spotlighting the recently funded Early Career Development and Mentoring Grants Program principal investigators with an interview with Ana Dueñas, assistant professor in special education at San Diego State University. Dr. Dueñas is conducting research aimed at improving outcomes for Latine transborder caregivers and their young children with or at risk for autism. We are pleased that this blog also honors Hispanic Heritage Month

How did you become interested in studying early intervention for Latine children on the autism spectrum?

Headshot of Ana Dueñas

As a first-generation Mexican cis-gender woman who was raised in a bicultural transborder community alongside the San Diego/Tijuana border, I learned to navigate a shifting identity—speaking English and Spanish fluently to feel accepted by both communities and managing schooling and housing across borders. Like many other children of Mexican immigrants, I served as a translator, social worker, and advocate for my parents. These experiences, along with my sensitivity to the unique needs of this population, inform how I approach community-engaged research. I am also very aware of how the biases that my education and training in special education and applied behavior analysis influence my approach to intervention research, particularly in light of the history of deficit-driven rhetoric and a medical model of disability in these fields. I aim to be mindful of the power differential that is often associated with higher education, social class, and researcher institutions in my interactions with the families I support.

My interest in building partnerships with Latine caregivers of children with autism began 10 years ago. Earlier in my career, I was a social worker for the California Regional Centers, a non-profit organization that provides services, advocacy, and support to individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. There I gained firsthand awareness of the behavioral health disparities faced by historically minoritized families (delayed diagnosis and access to culturally relevant services). Now, as a junior faculty member and researcher, I bring these experiences to my work and hope to form genuine relationships with the Latine community to better inform autism intervention research.

What are some of the unique challenges and needs of your study population?

I hope to understand these issues in depth more throughout this project. What we know from the literature about the Latine community more broadly is that they face significant disparities in access to timely diagnosis and treatment for their autistic children. This racial disparity is exacerbated in rural communities, or “service deserts” like the Imperial Valley of California, where this project is situated. The transborder community as a subgroup of the larger Latine community has very specific needs that may create a mismatch in evidence-based practices. Some points of mismatch are logistical and environmental—living and working across borders—which may lead to limited compliance, attendance, or engagement in intervention. Other points of mismatch may occur because Latine families may have a history of working with staff that lack cultural competence and therefore have few positive experiences receiving early intervention services. Further, though my project doesn’t focus on families who are undocumented, transborder families may be dealing with unique issues related to immigration status—threats of deportation, housing insecurity, and limited access to physical and mental healthcare. 

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

Through my research, I hope to address the behavioral education disparities among marginalized populations, as they undermine the quality of life and opportunities for autistic children and their families, particularly among families exposed to vulnerable circumstances. My study addresses one small component of the many disparities that occur across a continuum from identification to treatment to improve the match between evidence-based interventions and the specific needs of marginalized individuals. Many interventions were developed with minimal input from ethnic and/or racially marginalized communities. Though there continues to be an implementation fidelity versus cultural adaptation debate, without sensitivity and responsiveness to the unique needs of communities, interventions may fail to be adopted. In my work, I begin with an assessment to ensure that the intervention is relevant to community needs and desires.

What advice do you have for other early career researchers?

Don’t give up. Understand and harness your value. Follow your instinct. Seek mentorship.

Ana Dueñas demonstrates passion and meaningful personal connection to her research. We are excited to follow her work and see what lies ahead in her academic career trajectory in special education.

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