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News from October 2017

Texas Center for Learning Disabilities shifts focus to adolescents struggling to read
October 5, 2017

Reading experts have effective strategies to help many of the youngest children who struggle to read, but that work has been less effective with older students. Those whose first language isn’t English are especially difficult to teach.

The Texas Center for Learning Disabilities, a multidisciplinary research center led by the University of Houston (UH) that includes The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk (MCPER), will tackle the issue with an $8.4 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

The competitively awarded federal grant is the third for the center since it was established in 2006 to address learning disabilities from a variety of disciplines. Jack Fletcher, chair of the UH Psychology Department and principal investigator for the grant, and some of his collaborators have spent the past 25 years addressing learning disabilities involving reading and math.

The center, which includes researchers from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and MCPER at The University of Texas at Austin, is overseen by the UH Department of Psychology and the Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistics, led by UH psychology professor David Francis.

Francis has long worked on issues involving minority-language speakers, known as English learners. He will work on this project along with professors Elena Grigorenko and Arturo Hernandez, associate professor Paul Cirino, and research assistant professors Jeremy Miciak and Pat Taylor, all with the UH Department of Psychology; associate professor Jenifer Juranek of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston; and Executive Director Sharon Vaughn, Assistant Director Greg Roberts, and assistant professor of psychology Jessica Church-Lang, all with MCPER.

The center has led some of the key breakthroughs in understanding learning disabilities, including the following:

  • A fundamental shift in how a disability is identified, making diagnostic decisions only after intervention rather than simply because a student’s achievement test score is lower than the score on an intelligence test would predict
  • Evidence that early intervention can dramatically reduce the number of students who struggle to read
  • Demonstration that learning to read prompts new neural networks in the brain

The work is the result of “team science,” Fletcher said, an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the classification, early intervention, and remediation of learning disabilities. It includes the use of brain imaging, in addition to work in public school classrooms in Houston and Austin.

Grigorenko’s work spans both developmental psychology and molecular genetics. Her arrival at UH in 2015 added a genetic component to the center’s work, allowing it to delve more deeply into the epigenetic response to intervention and to address the central question the center seeks to answer: Why do some children pick up reading easily and others struggle? And when children struggle, what can help them succeed?

Working with older students is a natural evolution, Fletcher said, because researchers have established effective interventions for the early grades, although not all schools use them. Middle schoolers who are English learners often have trouble reading even when their spoken command of English is good, he said.

But it’s unclear how a variety of factors—economic disadvantage, language proficiency, and learning disabilities—interact to cause the problem.

Students in the project—English learners who meet school benchmarks for English proficiency—will receive intervention to improve reading skills, and researchers will collect information through brain imaging and genetic and cognitive testing.

“This is real team science,” Fletcher said. “Lots of people from different disciplines are working together to bring science to education.”

Tags: Reading Institute  Texas Center for Learning Disabilities 

News from July 2017

New project to examine practices for improving reading comprehension and reducing anxiety
July 10, 2017

The National Institutes of Health has awarded researchers at The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk and Boston University a $2.9 million, 5-year grant to investigate practices for improving reading comprehension and reducing reading anxiety of fourth- and fifth-grade students with reading difficulties.

The grant will allow MCPER Executive Director Sharon Vaughn and Amie Grills of Boston University to build on their previous research investigating the relation between reading difficulties and reading anxiety and approaches to improving reading performance and reducing anxiety. Their previous research demonstrates a high prevalence of anxiety among children experiencing reading difficulties. To address this problem, Grills and Vaughn conducted a pilot study examining the effects of a reading intervention program that featured strategies for reducing anxiety. Their research findings provide preliminary evidence that significant reductions in anxiety occur when students receive anxiety-management instruction within a reading intervention.

Over the next 5 years, the researchers will further develop and test an integrated approach in a randomized clinical trial with students in Texas and Massachusetts. Students randomized to receive the intervention will participate for 2 consecutive years beginning in fourth grade. Instructional practices for reducing anxiety will focus on three core areas: (1) recognizing feelings and understanding how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are related; (2) practicing various relaxation and stress-management skills; and (3) recognizing anxious and unhelpful thoughts and changing them. These practices will be embedded within reading intervention lessons found in previous studies to improve student decoding and reading comprehension outcomes. The project team will evaluate the effects of the reading and anxiety practices by examining student performance on reading and socioemotional measures.

“This is a very exciting opportunity to conduct a relatively unique approach to better understanding whether we can both reduce anxiety and improve reading outcomes for students with significant reading problems," Grills said.

For more information about this project, visit the project webpage.

Tags: Reading Institute  Improving Reading and Reducing Reading Anxiety Among Students With Reading Difficulties 

News from November 2016

Project STRIVE making an impact on Texas teachers and students
November 2, 2016

MCPER’s Strategies for Reading Information and Vocabulary Effectively (STRIVE) project is collaborating with school districts in Central and South Texas to provide professional development and research-based instructional materials to fourth-grade teachers.

Over the course of the large-scale, 3-year research study, more than 200 fourth-grade teachers from more than 80 schools will receive training on practices to improve reading and social studies knowledge, reaching more than 5,000 students.

To date, fourth-grade teachers from 25 elementary schools have attended interactive training on the STRIVE lessons in preparation for implementing the practices in their classrooms this year. Anchored to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), the STRIVE lessons incorporate evidence-based reading practices targeting reading comprehension, vocabulary, and social studies content knowledge. In addition to the initial training, STRIVE teachers participate in several follow-up study team meetings to reflect on and discuss instructional practices.

Teachers are beginning to see the fruits of their labor. "I am already seeing positive changes in my students," said Emi Anderson, a fourth-grade teacher at Hirsch Elementary School in San Antonio. “The program has improved their ability to share and constructively question their classmates' ideas. My students are using the STRIVE reading and collaborative learning skills in other subjects, too."

Building on a prior Institute of Education Sciences Goal 2 intervention development grant, MCPER researchers will measure and compare the effects of STRIVE relative to a control condition to examine the efficacy of the professional development. The large number of students participating provides strong statistical power and reliability.

In the meantime, those involved with the program suggest that STRIVE is having a positive impact. "There is really a positive buzz about STRIVE in San Antonio ISD,” said District Administrator Ramses Escobedo. “The teachers participating in the project have said it is going well, and additional schools have asked to participate in STRIVE next year."

For more information, visit the STRIVE project page.

Tags: Reading Institute  Strategies for Reading Information and Vocabulary Effectively (STRIVE) 

News from October 2016

Mini-lessons, research briefs to support struggling students are now available online
October 24, 2016

The Targeting the 2 Percent project has developed two series of resources to develop educators’ instructional effectiveness with students with learning disabilities and difficulties.

The project created a set of mini-lessons structured around the five essential components of reading instruction that can be used with students in kindergarten to grade 5 whose data show a need in a specific component.

Also, professors and researchers in the field wrote 11 research briefs to support evidence-based instructional practices. Topics include the five essential components of reading, grouping practices, peer supports, instructional considerations for dyslexia, English language learners, and literacy instruction for students with autism.

For more information and to download the mini-lessons and research briefs, which were developed with the support of the Texas Education Agency, visit the Targeting the 2 Percent project page.

Tags: Reading Institute  Targeting the 2 Percent 

News from February 2016

Eunsoo Cho, MCPER colleagues win Samuel A. Kirk Award for journal’s best research article of 2015
February 25, 2016

Eunsoo Cho, a postdoctoral fellow in MCPER's Reading Institute, has been honored as the lead author of a prestigious journal's best research article of 2015.

"Cognitive Attributes, Attention, and Self-Efficacy of Adequate and Inadequate Responders in a Fourth-Grade Reading Intervention" won the Samuel A. Kirk Award for 2015, which recognizes the best research article in the journal Learning Disabilities Research & Practice. Cho's co-authors included MCPER researchers Garrett Roberts and Philip Capin, Associate Director Greg Roberts, Executive Director Sharon Vaughn, and Jeremy Miciak of the University of Houston.

For a description and full citation of the article, visit the MCPER Library. For more information or to obtain the article, visit the journal's website.

MCPER's Sarah Powell won the Kirk Award in the practice category.

Tags: Reading Institute  Texas Center for Learning Disabilities 

News from November 2015

Survey targets educators’ perspectives on instructional support and professional development needs
November 17, 2015

The Texas Education Agency and The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk are conducting a survey to learn more about teachers’ perspectives on the literacy development of all learners and preferences for professional development. The information gathered will guide the development of training modules and classroom resources designed to assist teachers in the transition from state assessments based on modified standards to the general state assessment, the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR®). More information on this initiative is available on the Targeting the 2 Percent project webpage.

Educators who work with students in grades kindergarten to grade 5 are encouraged to complete the short survey.

To ensure that we hear from as many stakeholders as possible, we also ask that you forward this message to other possible participants.

Tags: Reading Institute  Targeting the 2 Percent 

News from May 2014

Colleen Reutebuch selected to attend Summer Research Training Institute on Cluster-Randomized Trials
May 12, 2014

Colleen Reutebuch, a director of MCPER's Reading Institute and principal investigator in the Language for Learning Institute, has been selected to attend the 2014 Summer Research Training Institute on Cluster-Randomized Trials from July 7 to 17 in Evanston, Illinois. The eighth annual event, hosted by the Northwestern University Institute for Policy Research and supported by the National Center for Education Statistics, aims to "increase the national capacity of researchers to develop and conduct rigorous evaluations of the impact of education interventions. The course sessions will provide intensive training on planning, implementing, and analyzing data for cluster-randomized trials," according to the event website.

Tags: Reading Institute Language for Learning Institute 

News from April 2014

MCPER postdoctoral fellow Eric Oslund accepts assistant professor position at Middle Tennessee State
April 30, 2014

Congratulations and best of luck to Eric Oslund, postdoctoral fellow in MCPER's Reading Institute, who has accepted an assistant professor position at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. Oslund will begin his work in the interdisciplinary Ph.D. in literacy studies program within the Department of Elementary and Special Education on August 1.

Tags: Reading Institute 

News from March 2014

Four MCPER alums accept new positions at universities, research center
March 7, 2014

MCPER congratulates and wishes the best of luck to Farah El Zein, Audrey Leroux, Kristie Metz, and Michael Solis as they begin new positions at universities across the country and a research center overseas.

El Zein, a graduate research assistant with MCPER's Autism Spectrum Disorders Institute, has accepted a senior research associate position at the Awsaj Center for Education Research and Development in Doha, Qatar. Leroux, a graduate research assistant with the MCPER Reading Institute, has accepted an assistant professor position at Georgia State University in Atlanta. Metz, a former graduate research assistant with the Reading Institute, is completing her internship and will begin a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Solis, also a researcher with the Reading Institute, has accepted an assistant professor position at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Tags: Autism Spectrum Disorders Institute Reading Institute 

News from October 2013

Lisa McCulley leads workshops for California teachers on PACT strategies
October 22, 2013

MCPER's Lisa McCulley recently answered a request to lead a workshop in California on how to implement the research-based strategies developed as part of the Promoting Adolescents' Comprehension of Text (PACT) project—and the response has been very positive.

"You were a sensation," wrote Dr. Ruth Nathan, chair of McCulley's sessions from October 18 to 20 at Asilomar 62, an annual conference held in Pacific Grove, California. "And not only because of the thoughtful PACT protocol that you so beautifully took us through, but for your 'boots on the ground' knowledge that brought research-based and proven practice to teachers tired of being lectured to, teachers tired of Ivory Tower expertise with little classroom experience being forced on them in daylong workshops...and tired because so many of them have too many students (some as high as 39) in their very diverse classrooms. What a breath of fresh air!"

Conference organizers in California learned of the PACT intervention and its proven effects from "Improving Reading Comprehension and Social Studies Knowledge in Middle School," a paper in Reading Research Quarterly detailing a study that the What Works Clearinghouse recently found to "meet evidence standards without reservation." Nathan requested someone with teaching experience and work in the classrooms involved with PACT to lead four sessions and an "Around the Hearth" discussion. McCulley fit the bill. Before joining MCPER, McCulley was a secondary language arts and reading teacher for 21 years. For PACT, she both develops the intervention and supports teachers.

For more information, visit the PACT project page.

Tags: Reading Institute  Promoting Adolescents’ Comprehension of Text