Researchers Awarded $5.7M by the Institute of Education Sciences

With four new grants, researchers from the School of Education and Human Development will be examining a range of topics including full-day pre-kindergarten and cultural and racial equity.

Audrey Breen

With her $1.48M grant, Allison Atteberry, associate professor of education and public policy and director of the EdPolicyWorks research center, in partnership with assistant professor Vivian Wong, is conducting a medium-term follow up on an experiment she conducted a few years ago: a study designed to randomly offer interested parents either a slot for their child to attend one district's well-established half-day pre-K program or a spot in the pilot full-day pre-K. Atteberry’s initial findings suggested that there were sizeable, positive effects on academic outcomes for children by the end of the pre-K year. The question remained, however, whether those effects will persist as the children moved through the elementary grades.

“The question of fade-out is particularly important because offering full-day pre-K is a very expensive policy option, requiring twice the number of classrooms and teachers to accommodate the same number of children,” Atteberry said. “Therefore, if the initial promising effects may not last, a full-day program may not represent the most effective use of education funding, relative to other approaches to how those funds could have been used.”

With this new funding, Atteberry is pursuing her ultimate goal of identifying specific features of early childhood education programming that can produce to a sustained, positive foundation for children's K-12 learning experiences for years to come. 

Schools are increasingly implementing professional development for teachers to develop culturally responsive and equity-driven teaching practices, but the effectiveness of these trainings are often measured by examining student outcomes. Setting up assessments that way overlooks an important step, according to Jessika Bottiani, research assistant professor at Youth-Nex.

“Before we look at impacts on students’ outcomes, we need to assess whether teacher practices are actually changing in the classroom,” Bottiani said.

The Culturally and Racial Equity Sustaining (CARES) Classroom Assessment System is designed to provide a window into that missing link of what is happening in the classroom. With $2M in funding from IES, Bottiani and other Youth-Nex researchers in the PIT CREW lab, will refine and pilot the measure across 12 schools in Virginia and Missouri.

“The hope is that this suite of tools can be useful for research to assess intervention effectiveness, but also in the field to inform administrator planning and teacher’s own professional development,” Bottiani said.

The ultimate goal is that the actionable feedback from these assessments will help teachers hone their skills in cultivating emotionally safe, culturally sustaining, equity-driven, and inclusive classroom climates, which in turn can prevent excessive use of punitive and exclusionary discipline, promote youth safety and wellbeing, and foster youth engagement.

While many school-based social-emotional interventions are designed to improve students’ mental health and overall wellbeing, it is unclear if and how these interventions impact academic outcomes. The Coping Power Program, an evidence-based, social-emotional intervention used in schools to reduce aggressive and disruptive behaviors among students is a well-researched program that may well improve academic outcomes as well as students’ behavioral health. 

With $1.29M in funding, Heather McDaniel, assistant professor and faculty affiliate in the Youth-Nex research center, will lead a team to uncover what academic outcomes are present across 11 randomized control trials of the Coping Power Program (CP) and how these academic outcomes are achieved.

“We are interested in what academic outcomes exist, for whom, and under what conditions, as well as what mechanisms might promote these academic outcomes,” McDaniel said. “Using existing data from 11 studies, rather than just one trial, gets us the sample size we need to dive into the nuance to answer some of these questions.”

McDaniel and her team will work to determine how academic outcomes are improved in students. Is it because of the reduction in aggressive and disruptive behaviors? Is it how the program was implemented?

“For example, we’ll be able to dig into how the intervention was implemented, what student and parent engagement looked like, and how program implementation was related to academic outcomes,” McDaniel said.

Ultimately, McDaniel hopes the team can determine what works for what students under what conditions and how. With this knowledge, the program could be tailored for specific students to benefit in specific ways.

As education researchers work to understand how best to improve students’ life outcomes and to mitigate harms of early life disadvantage, mounting evidence suggests that the results from many education studies are fragile, hard to replicate, and not robust to more general school and student populations of interest.

In an effort to address these challenges, Associate Professor Vivian Wong is using her $900k grant to create ways to support the generalizability and replicability of results from education research. Wong is leading a team that will introduce a new research method for identifying “generalizability boundaries,” which describe conditions under which effects are expected to replicate across systematic variations in participant characteristics, intervention conditions, outcomes, settings, and times.

“Our project develops new research methods to organize and plan multiple studies with independent research teams that will produce rigorous causal evidence about intervention effectiveness that is both generalizable and relevant for decision-makers in education,” Wong said.