IES Awards $6.9M for Neag School Research

Professor Michael Coyne with schoolchildren
Michael Coyne, professor of educational psychology, reads with a group of elementary school students. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

The following piece was originally published in UConn Today.

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) announced last week that researchers from the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education have been awarded $6,896,988 over five years for three research projects related to special education. A faculty member from the Neag School of Education is also serving as co-prinicpal investigator on a $3,999,320 project awarded to the University of Kansas.

“Given that the Neag School’s mission is to improve educational and social systems to be more effective, equitable, and just for all,” says Neag School Dean Gladis Kersaint, “federal funding for research focused on key issues in special education aligns seamlessly with our efforts to support educators, policymakers, and students nationwide. We are delighted that these exceptional faculty scholars and their research teams are able to continue advancing important educational research in this realm.”

As the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, IES provides scientific evidence to guide education policy and practice. The organization also shares this information for use by educators, law and policymakers, researchers, the public, and parents. IES administers several highly competitive funding mechanisms, such as those discussed here.

“We are delighted that these exceptional faculty scholars and their research teams are able to continue advancing important educational research in this realm.”

— Dean Gladis Kersaint

Improving Reading and Behavior Outcomes
Two of the UConn Neag School projects that received funding are part of the Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) Network. MTSS is the first research network funded through through one of IES’ four research centers, the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER). The Neag School’s team has been selected to lead this new national initiative.

According to a release from IES, Research Networks like MTSS “focus resources and attention on high-priority issues, creating a structure and process for researchers to advance the field’s understanding beyond what an individual research team is able to do on its own” to strengthen education policies and programs for children with disabilities.

With more than $17 million invested by NCSER in five coordinated projects, the MTSS Network will evaluate educational frameworks with multiple levels of integrated behavioral and academic support for elementary school students. Research projects funded through the MTSS Network will pay particular focus to outcomes for students experiencing or at risk for disabilities.

Professor of educational psychology, Michael Coyne, will serve as principal investigator for one of the Network’s research projects entitled “Evaluating the Impact of Integrated Behavior and Reading Multi-Tiered Systems of Support in Elementary Schools.” Brandi Simonsen and D. Betsy McCoach, both professors in the Department of Educational Psychology, will serve as co-principal investigators. Professors Jennifer Freeman and Devin Kearns, also from Educational Psychology, will serve as co-investigators. The NCSER award will provide $3,999,589 to the UConn research team over five years.

As part of this project, researchers from UConn’s Neag School of Education will evaluate how integrated behavior and reading practices impact outcomes for K-Grade 2 students at 25 schools. Previously conducted research has shown certain reading and behavior practices to be effective for students with learning disabilities or those who are at risk for developing them. This project aims to examine how resources could be employed more efficiently to address the common co-occurrence of reading and behavior difficulties.

At the conclusion of the five-year award period, the UConn research team’s findings are expected to provide educators, policymakers, and fellow researchers with valuable evidence of the impact on integrated behavior and reading practices. This information will help school systems better align resources and support student outcomes.

Fellow Neag School researcher, Sandra Chafouleas, will also collaborate with colleagues from the University of Kansas to test a systems-level framework in a project titled “Enhancing Ci3T: Building Professional Capacity for High Fidelity Implementation to Support Students’ Educational Outcomes (Project ENHANCE).” Chafouleas, a Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, is a co-principal investigator on the five-year, $3.9 million grant which will fund “the first randomized control trial to both test the system’s efficacy and simultaneously provide tools for sustained implementation in schools,” according to a press release from the University of Kansas, the prime award recipient.

Fostering Collaborative Research Efforts
Researchers from UConn’s Neag School of Education not only received this grant as part of the MTSS Network, but were also awarded funding to lead the Network’s activities. Co-principal investigators Michael Coyne and Brandi Simonsen will be joined by fellow Neag School researcher George Sugai, as well as colleagues from the University of Oregon and Florida State University to lead “Multi-Tiered Systems of Support Research Network (MTSS-RN) Leadership Team.” The NCSER award will provide $1,499,572 to the UConn research team over five years to support the necessary organizational oversight for efficient coordination of the five awarded projects. The MTSS Network Lead’s primary responsibilities include administration and coordination of the network, including in-person meetings, the development of a shared vision for the Network, synthesis and dissemination of the final findings at the conclusion of the award period, and coordination of training to help prepare future MTSS researchers for successful careers in the field.

College and Career Readiness
NCSER also awarded $1,398,298 to Allison Lombardi, associate professor of educational psychology. While Lombardi’s project falls under the topic area focused on Transition Outcomes for Secondary Students with Disabilities rather than the MTSS Network, it nonetheless aims to improve outcomes for students with disabilities. “College and Career Readiness for Transition (CCR4T): Development and Validation of a Student Measure” will provide high school educators in Connecticut, Arkansas, Delaware, Massachusetts, and North Carolina with a validated tool for assessing college and career readiness (CCR) for students with disabilities.

While transitioning from high school to postsecondary courses is hard for many students, those with disabilities face even greater challenges. These challenges underprepare them for college-level classes, make them less likely to pursue higher education, and hinder their chances of attaining jobs that require college degrees. Through the CCR4T tool, students will complete a self-assessment to measure their personal perceptions of their own college readiness. The report will supplement existing school data to evaluate areas of need and to help educators make more informed decisions about offering support.

Joining Lombardi as co-principal investigators are Neag School faculty Hariharan Swaminathan, Jane Rogers, and Jennifer Freeman, as well as collaborators from the Portland State University and University of North Carolina, Charlotte.

IES Award Numbers: R324A190012, R324A180020, R324A190170, and R324N190002.