Newest installment of “10 Key” series highlights policies and practices for assessment in schools
November 14, 2017

Experts from The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk (MCPER) and nationally recognized researchers have condensed the knowledge from a broad range of research into 10 practical ideas that states, school districts, and schools can use to improve assessment practices and outcomes.

"10 Key Policies and Practices for Assessment in Schools With Strong Evidence of Effectiveness From High-Quality Research" is a concise document that offers recommendations and examples stated in clear language that are grounded in findings from solid research studies. Topics include school leadership's role in teachers understanding curricula and standards across grades; assessment used to enhance, not just measure, student learning; the frequency of and intervals between tests; strategies to avoid; and more. Also included is a full list of the research studies cited. The document is the eighth installment of MCPER's "10 Key" series, which include similar lists of practical, research-based recommendations for specific topics of interest to educators.

Download "10 Key Policies and Practices for Assessment in Schools" today from the MCPER Library.

Kelly Williams wins spot on Doctoral Student Scholars program through international competition
October 31, 2017

Kelly Williams, a project coordinator and researcher with MCPER, has been selected to join the 10th cohort of Council for Exceptional Children Division for Research Doctoral Student Scholars program. 

Williams is one of 10 scholars selected through an international competitive review process. She will participate in a series of three seminars and online discussions based on this year's inquiry question: "What makes for excellence in special education research?" The program is "designed to foster connections among doctoral students at different universities and to contribute to raising the standard of research in the field ... culminating in a final colloquium that brings students and researchers together in a session dedicated to graduate student development at the annual CEC Convention and Expo," according to the Division for Research website.

She was nominated for the honor by MCPER Executive Director Sharon Vaughn. Williams joins past MCPER winner Deborah Reed, who was selected for the first cohort in 2008.

Brian Bryant serves as co-guest editor for journal’s special issue on technology-based instruction
October 16, 2017

Brian R. Bryant, a fellow and principal investigator with MCPER's Mathematics Institute for Learning Disabilities and Difficulties, was tabbed as a guest editor of a special issue of the journal Assistive Technology.

Bryant and Soonhwa Seok of Texas State University co-edited the special issue, titled "Technology-Based Instruction." In the introduction, Bryant and Seok write of the special issue that "noted scholars contribute research findings designed to add to the growing body of knowledge validating the use of assistive and instructional technology in the classroom."

One article, "Assessing the Acquisition of Requesting a Variety of Preferred Items Using Different Speech Generating Device Formats for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder," is written by Mark O'Reilly, chair of the UT Austin Department of Special Education, and colleagues.

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.”

MCPER receives $1.4 million to develop middle school professional development model
September 20, 2017

The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk (MCPER) has received a $1.4 million grant from the Institute of Education Sciences to develop a professional development model specifically for middle schools.

The model will be developed over two years in collaboration with educators at all three middle schools in San Angelo Independent School District (ISD). Following development, a pilot study will be conducted to test the model’s potential effectiveness on students’ reading performance.

“We are honored to receive this funding from the Institute of Education Sciences,” said Christy Murray, principal investigator of the project. “Our goal is to develop a set of materials and professional development resources that help middle school educators implement powerful, research-based practices and, concurrently, build the capacity of on-campus leaders to sustain those practices over time.”

The grant will extend the work of MCPER’s Middle School Matters project, which was initially funded through The Meadows Foundation, Sid W. Richardson Foundation, The Brown Foundation, and others.

“Thanks to the amazing support of our initial funders, Middle School Matters has developed many wonderful resources, and we’re looking forward to enhancing those resources with the help of some talented educators in San Angelo ISD,” Murray said.

During the 2017–2018 and 2018–2019 school years, San Angelo ISD educators will serve as the experts by partnering with researchers to improve middle school instructional materials and professional development efforts.

Sharon Vaughn, executive director of The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk, highlighted the importance of this collaboration. “The teacher perspective is very important in the development of instructional materials so that we can ensure they are usable and feasible in the classroom,” she said. “Incorporating their ideas will truly connect research to practice.”

Farrah Gomez, San Angelo ISD executive director of schools and school improvement, agrees. “The partnership with Middle School Matters has been invaluable,” Gomez said. “We are excited to continue our work together where the research can be put to practice in our classrooms. The communication and feedback loop between teachers and researchers is a vital part of the process.”

Middle School Matters was founded in 2010 by the George W. Bush Institute, which partnered with MCPER in 2012. Since that time, Middle School Matters has supported more than 100 schools, hosted four conferences, and developed dozens of resources and instructional toolkits.

To learn more about Middle School Matters and download free instructional resources, visit the Middle School Matters website.

MCPER’s Brandy Maynard, Veronica Miller receive Leonard E. Gibbs Award for review on mindfulness
August 16, 2017

MCPER's Brandy Maynard, a fellow in Dropout Prevention Institute, and Veronica Miller, a researcher with the Middle School Matters Institute, received the Leonard E. Gibbs Award for a recent review on mindfulness along with coauthors Michael R. Solis and Kristen E. Brendel.

In the review, Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Improving Cognition, Academic Achievement, Behavior and Socioemotional Functioning of Primary and Secondary Students, the authors found that mindfulness-based interventions have a statistically significant positive effect on cognitive and socioemotional processes for students, but that they do not improve behavior or academic performance.  

Read more about it on the Campbell Collaboration website.

MCPER receives $1.2 million grant to prepare doctorates for leadership in special education
August 14, 2017

Dr. Diane Pedrotty Bryant at MCPER has received a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education for doctoral leadership preparation in intensive interventions for students with learning disabilities and emotional/behavioral disorders.

The aim of this 5-year grant is to recruit and prepare a cohort of highly qualified doctoral graduates for leadership positions in special education.

The focus of the grant is on intensive interventions as a critical dimension of doctoral preparation. A research-to-practice leadership model will be employed to provide in-depth analysis of intensive interventions, particularly as they pertain to academic and behavioral interventions.

Doctoral leaders will be prepared to (a) participate on research teams to contribute to the growing database on intensive interventions, (b) understand and implement intensive interventions for individuals with disabilities, (c) understand and implement a data-based individualization process to customize intensive interventions to maximize student growth, (d) understand the cultural and linguistic issues related to using intensive interventions with culturally and linguistically diverse students, and (e) understand and contribute to policy issues related to intensive interventions.

Doctoral leaders and scholars will assume positions in institutions of higher education, professional development, state education agencies, and local education agencies to serve as catalysts to effect change.

Bryant will serve a principal investigator of the program with MCPER's Sharon Vaughn and Nathan Clemens as co-principal investigators. The program will begin on January 1, 2018.

For more information, see the Doctoral Leadership: Multitiered Systems of Support website.

MSMI publishes article with guidance for educators on developing effective, long-term innovations
August 11, 2017

In a new article, Middle School Matters Institute Principal Investigator Christy Murray, Assistant Director David Barrett, and School Support Coach Veronica Miller provide guidance for middle school educators seeking innovative solutions to systemic problems.

"Planting the Seeds of Innovation: Four Steps to Build Capacity for Long-Term Innovation" appears in the August issue of AMLE Magazine, published by the Association for Middle Level Education. In the article, the authors convey the importance of grounding innovations in solid research, thus providing a strong foundation and increasing the confidence for an effective impact on student outcomes. Additionally, the authors emphasize the need for long-term planning and strategic implementation.

The article also points readers to MSM’s field guide, a collection of research-based principles and practices deemed essential for middle school success.

For more information on MSMI’s work, visit the Middle School Matters website.

MCPER to create science program with focus on second-graders with, at risk for learning disabilities
August 7, 2017

MCPER has been awarded a $2.5 million, 4-year federal grant to launch the Scientific Explorers project, which will design and test a science program for the full range of second-grade learners, including those with or at risk for learning disabilities in mathematics, reading, and science.

The goal of the Scientific Explorers program, funded by the National Science Foundation Discovery Research PreK–12 program, is to lay an early foundation for science learning, drawing upon the disciplinary core ideas and cross-cutting concepts related to Earth’s Systems in the Next Generation Science Standards. The project also will develop and test an accompanying science assessment. In year 4, the project will conduct a pilot study of the program and assessment in 40 second-grade classrooms in Texas and Virginia. 

MCPER's Christian Doabler is the project's principal investigator. Sarah Powell of MCPER, Victor Sampson of the UT Austin College of Education, and Bill Therrien of the University of Virginia are the co-principal investigators. MCPER's Greg Roberts and Anna-Mari Fall are the project’s methodologists.

"A robust understanding of disciplinary core ideas and practices in science is necessary for obtaining jobs in the STEM fields," Doabler said. "Yet, few effective instructional tools exist for the science classroom."

For more information, visit the Scientific Explorers project webpage.

New project to develop read-aloud tools to improve literacy and math skills of children ages 3 to 6
August 3, 2017

MCPER researchers Sarah Powell and Sharon Vaughn have received a $1 million grant from the T.L.L. Temple Foundation to develop and use math and reading read-alouds with young children.

The 5-year project, Interactive Read-Alouds for Prekindergarten and Kindergarten to Improve Literacy and Numeracy Skills, will aim to improve the read-aloud practices of caregivers and teachers of children ages 3 to 6. A read-aloud is when an adult reads aloud to a child and engages the child in discussion and exploration as the reading occurs.

“Many parents and teachers read story books aloud to young children, but books about early math concepts are used infrequently,” Powell said. “With this project, we aim to improve typical routines with read-alouds so that teachers and parents not only focus on reading but also discuss math vocabulary and math content with young children.”

One aim of the T.L.L. Temple Foundation, based in Lufkin, Texas, is to address low rates of educational attainment in East Texas. With this grant, the researchers will work with caregivers and teachers in East Texas to increase home and school literacy and numeracy discussions and activities.

The project will design a set of research-based practices that will be useful and effective for caregivers and teachers throughout Texas, ensuring that youngsters will be more prepared for kindergarten and beyond. 

“We are so proud to be working with the T.L.L. Temple Foundation to better outcomes in early literacy and numeracy,” Vaughn said. “We consider it a huge honor to have received this grant and are very grateful for their support.”

For more information, visit the project webpage.