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News from August 2016

In new article, Write for Texas director advocates for policy that supports research-based practices
August 18, 2016

A recent article by Write for Texas Director Ellie Hanlon in Texas Lone Star, a publication of the Texas Association of School Boards, features ways that school board members can influence classroom teaching practices to improve student writing.

Emphasizing that change requires commitment at all levels, “The Write Stuff: How to Create a Cadre of Strong Readers and Writers in Texas” engages school board members to consider focusing policy discussions and agendas on the importance of research-based instructional practices. The article supports board members to become knowledgeable about expectations for student writing skills at various grade levels and encourages them to look for evidence of strategies that promote reading and writing in all content areas.

The article also points readers to MCPER's 10 Key Writing Practices for All Schools, which includes practical, research-based recommendations and grade-level descriptions of student skills. The resource is part of the 10 Key series, which distills the latest research findings into concise, one-page top 10 lists of the most important things that should be in place in every school.

The backbone of Write for Texas continues to be its network of almost 100 dedicated writing coaches in more than 200 schools across the state. These site-based staff members design and deliver professional development to support classroom teachers, instructional and content specialists, and campus and district administrators to provide opportunities for all students to read, write, and discuss a wide variety of genres throughout the school year. In addition to planning a reprise of the regional summer institutes for 2017, Write for Texas will continue to develop resources to support educators at all levels to implement the guiding principles of effective writing instruction. 

Write for Texas 

Nancy Lewis to present on cost analysis in intervention research
August 11, 2016

UPDATE: The presentation is now available online. Read the original announcement below.

MCPER's Nancy Lewis will deliver a presentation titled "Understanding Cost Analysis in Intervention Research" from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. on August 24 in Room 324 of UT Austin's Sanchez Building. 

The following description is from a flyer for the event: "Funders are increasingly interested in researchers determining the costs associated with their educational interventions. This brief introduction to cost analysis will describe the differences between cost analysis, cost-effectiveness analysis, and cost-benefit analysis to help you determine which type of cost study is most appropriate for a given intervention. The steps involved in conducting a cost study, including determining costs and combining them with effects or benefits, also will be briefly discussed, along with ways that the findings of a cost study can be used for decision-making."

Emile Elementary book study program changes mindsets, sees results
August 8, 2016

The Texas Literacy Initiative (TLI) and Emile Elementary School in Bastrop have developed a book study program for teachers that goes beyond reading and responding—instead creating a culture-changing, high-impact professional learning community that has seen real results.

Emile Elementary Principal Jennifer Hranitzky, TLI State Literacy Liaison Jennifer Greene Gast, and TLI District Literacy Liaison Angeline Vrbsky developed the program for Mindsets in the Classroom: Building a Culture of Success and Student Achievement in Schools by Mary Cay Ricci during a summer brainstorming session. As a part of its campus improvement plan, Emile Elementary chose the book for its 2015–2016 book study.

In the book, Ricci focuses on how to implement a “growth” mindset (versus a “fixed” mindset) in the classroom. This idea comes from the research of Carol Dweck. According to Dweck’s Mindset website, “In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits ... [and] that talent alone creates success—without effort. In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

Emile teachers met monthly on Mondays after school. Gast or Vrbsky demonstrated one instructional strategy at each meeting, and teachers participated in activities in an interactive notebook for each chapter. At the end of the program, teachers had a notebook that highlighted the main points of each chapter and the staff appointed “mindset mentors” who will use their notebooks to guide new teachers through Mindsets in the Classroom.

As teachers began to put this new knowledge into practice, the effects could be seen.

“We found students who began the year below level in reading making gains and no longer pushing reading materials away in frustration,” Hranitzky said. “They have built persistence and are more likely to ask for the harder problems when given an option of choices.”

The numbers back up Hranitzky’s observations. Several areas have seen marked improvement, including the following from the first-grade Texas Primary Reading Inventory.

First Grade: Percentage of Students Scoring Proficient on the TPRI
  Beginning of the Year Middle of the Year Gain
Phonological Awareness 62% 84% 35%
Graphophonemic Knowledge 65% 85% 31%
Word Reading 18% 52% 189%
Fluency 38% 72% 89%
Comprehension 25% 66% 164%

One student in particular started the year with high levels of anxiety but later embraced the idea that her learning was tied to how hard she worked, not how “smart” she was—key to a growth mindset. By the end of the school year, she had been on the A/B Honor Roll twice and asked the teacher for paperwork to apply for gifted-and-talented screening.

Across the campus, teachers reported hearing “I can’t do this” less this past year, Hranitzky said. “Our pre-K students even embrace that they have to work hard to grow their brain.”

Best of all, the ideas from the book study and the culture it created didn’t end after the monthly meetings. Emile Elementary now holds ongoing mindset-related read-aloud lessons in the classroom and has held two family literacy nights.

“Teachers need to take their mindset seriously,” said Christina Phillips, a prekindergarten teacher at Emile. “Anyone working in the school environment can have such a powerful effect on students if only they have the right mindset.”

Tags: Vaughn Gross Center  Texas Literacy Initiative 

Write for Texas launches its third program year
August 5, 2016

The Write for Texas project, entering its third year, has extended its reach to more than 200 schools in 100 districts across the state.

Since its beginnings in late 2013, Write for Texas has made significant strides in improving academic writing instruction in the secondary grades. An alternative to formulaic writing instruction, the project offers a series of online professional development resources aimed at integrating reading and writing activities across all content areas.

Additionally, the project supports schools and districts across the state with a cadre of more than 100 professional writing coaches. Participants tout this collaborative network as one of the greatest strengths of the project, providing opportunities for individual teachers to align their instruction with research-based practices and streamline their approach to teaching writing.

The 27 project sites, including all 20 regional education service centers and seven university-based national writing projects, will continue effecting change at the local level. Additionally, regional Summer Institutes are expected to continue in 2017, where coaches design and deliver professional development specific to the needs of educators in their respective service areas.

For more information, view the promotional video below and visit the Write for Texas external website.


Write for Texas 

Middle School Matters Institute unveils new website
August 1, 2016

MCPER’s Middle School Matters Institute (MSMI) has launched a new website designed specifically for educators:

The new site has a user-friendly interface for anyone looking to improve middle grades education, especially the following:

  • District and school leaders
  • Curriculum facilitators
  • Instructional coaches
  • Department chairs
  • Classroom teachers

Educators and researchers can access the Middle School Matters Field Guide and the accompanying resources that translate research into action in the following areas:

  • Research-based instruction
  • Student supports that enhance learning
  • Informed decision-making

Additionally, the website features ready-to-use instructional toolkits and implementation tools.

For more information, view a brief introductory video or contact MSMI.

Tags: Middle School Matters Institute 

News from June 2016

Middle School Matters Institute to provide summer professional development in San Angelo
June 22, 2016

MCPER’s Middle School Matters Institute (MSMI) is collaborating with San Angelo Independent School District in San Angelo, Texas, to provide professional development for teachers, paraprofessionals, instructional coaches, counselors, and administrators who serve students in fourth to ninth grades.

The “Summer Learning-palooza” will be a conference-style event with sessions featuring San Angelo’s lead educators and MSMI’s national experts in reading (Deborah Reed, University of Iowa), writing (Tanya Santangelo, Arcadia University), and mathematics (Sarah Powell, The University of Texas at Austin). Sessions will be held in the morning and afternoon on June 29 and August 4 and will provide participants with hands-on, practical, research-based strategies that can be immediately implemented in the classroom.

Registration is free and open to all school districts in Texas. For more information, contact Matt Kimball at or 325–947–3838 (extension 718).

As an extension of the “Learning-palooza,” MSMI’s David Barrett will work with leadership teams from San Angelo’s three middle schools—Lee, Glenn, and Lincoln—to develop implementation goals and plans that will facilitate translating the research presented into practice. This work will build upon San Angelo’s implementation of Middle School Matters principles and practices from the past 2 years. Since 2014, San Angelo has been selected twice to participate in the Middle School Matters program (funded by the George W. Bush Institute) and receive intensive professional development and support to build its capacity in reading, writing, and mathematics instruction and intervention.

Tags: Middle School Matters Institute 

News from May 2016

MCPER developing state’s new Literacy Achievement and Reading to Learn Academies
May 25, 2016

MCPER is developing the research-based content for the statewide Literacy Achievement Academies and Reading to Learn Academies, part of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's literacy initiative through the Texas Education Agency. 

The Academies will provide evidence-based professional development targeting kindergarten and grade 1 teachers beginning this summer and grades 2–5 teachers next summer. UT's Institute for Public School Initiatives is heading up the rollout of the training.

For more information, see the UT College of Education news story.

UT teaching awards recognize MCPER Directors Beretvas, Cawthon
May 25, 2016

The University of Texas at Austin has awarded MCPER Directors Tasha Beretvas and Stephanie Cawthon with prestigious teaching honors.

Beretvas, a member of the MCPER Board of Directors, received the Outstanding Graduate Teaching Award. Cawthon, the director of the MCPER Deaf and Hard of Hearing Institute, is a new member of the Provost's Teaching Fellows program.  

For more information, see the UT College of Education news story.

Tags: Deaf and Hard of Hearing Institute 

News from April 2016

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Institute adds two new fellows
April 25, 2016

Tom Humphries and Poorna Kushalnagar have joined MCPER's Deaf and Hard of Hearing Institute as its newest institute fellows.

Humphries is associate professor and associate director of the Teacher Education Program as well as associate professor in the Department of Communication at the University of California, San Diego. One strand of his current work focuses on how "talking culture" among Deaf people in recent history informs our understanding of cultural processes and how meaning circulates. In addition, he has developed a teacher training curriculum that uses a new construct: the application of indigenous bilingual teaching practices to classrooms of deaf children. He has published two widely used American Sign Language textbooks, Learning American Sign Language (Allyn & Bacon, 2004) and A Basic Course in American Sign Language (TJ Publishers, 1980). He is co-author (with Carol Padden) of Deaf in America: Voices From a Culture (1988) and the newly released Inside Deaf Culture, both from Harvard University Press. He received his Ph.D. in cross cultural communication and language learning from Union Graduate School. 

Kushalnagar is a research associate professor in the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science at the Rochester Institute of Technology. She received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) pediatric research loan repayment award and research supplement to promote diversity in health-related research for her postdoctoral training at the University of Washington. She served as a research fellow for an NIH Institutional National Research Service Award in community-based participatory research at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. She also participated in a 2011 NIH and National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Summer Institute on Applied Research in Child and Adolescent Development. Kushalnagar is the principal investigator of two active NIH grant awards (R01 and R15). She has extensive experience in conducting and supervising educational and neuropsychological assessments with deaf and hard of hearing students. Kushalnagar received her B.A. in psychology from Gallaudet University and her M.A. in psychology and Ph.D. in developmental psychology from the University of Houston. She will deliver a MCPER-sponsored talk titled "Promoting and Measuring Health-Related Quality of Life Outcomes in Deaf Youth and Adults" from noon to 2 p.m. on May 4 in Room 310 of UT Austin's Sanchez Building

Tags: Deaf and Hard of Hearing Institute 

New fellow Poorna Kushalnagar to present on patient-reported outcomes in deaf youth and adults
April 25, 2016

Poorna Kushalnagar, one of two new Deaf and Hard of Hearing Institute fellows, will present "Promoting and Measuring Health-Related Quality of Life Outcomes in Deaf Youth and Adults" from noon to 2 p.m. on May 4 in Room 310 of the Sanchez Building.

Kushalnagar is a research associate professor in the Chester F. Carlson ​Center for Imaging Science at the Rochester Institute of Technology. The following is from the event description: "Incorporating patient-reported outcomes (PROs) in research with patients who are deaf and use American Sign Language is essential for early symptom detection and prevention. This talk provides insight on the importance of using well-developed and validated PROs to assess the deaf patient's experience that are seldom captured during clinician-based evaluations, summarizes the methodological steps to develop generic and deaf-specific PRO measures, and discusses challenges related to integrating PROs into research and clinical practice with deaf youth and adults."

Tags: Deaf and Hard of Hearing Institute