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COE research legacy appears secure with new faculty hires

The College of Education's record $42.8 million in external funding for FY16 is extraordinary not just for its magnitude, but also for the extent of new-faculty contributions to that total. Five faculty members hired during the past year combined for some $3.25 million in grants. Their biographies follow, along with a snapshot of their research interests and the projects funded:

Ben Clarke, PhD, joined the tenure-line faculty in the COE this year as an associate professor in the School Psychology program. He has a prolific research background, currently or previously serving as principal investigator on 15 federally funded research grants (totaling approximately $50 million) in the area of mathematics instruction. This research has focused on the development and efficacy testing of intervention programs spanning the K-6 grade spectrum in both traditional and technology based formats. The goal of this work is to build a system of support across grades to enable schools to support students at risk in mathematics as they acquire critical math concepts and advance to being ready for more advanced math content including algebra and related topics. In addition, Clarke’s work has focused on developing assessment materials in the area of early mathematics and number sense to identify students at-risk in the early elementary grades to allow schools to provide services to those students before more serious problems develop. He has published articles and book chapters in the area of mathematics instruction and assessment and developing multi-tiered instructional models in the area of mathematics, including the IES practice guide, “Assisting students struggling with mathematics: Response to Intervention (RtI) for elementary and middle schools.” Clarke was a practicing school psychologist for three years where he led district efforts to implement multitiered instructional models in reading and mathematics.

Clarke recently received funding for a new project, “Project Fusion.” This study will test the efficacy of a first grade mathematics intervention focused on teaching at-risk students critical whole number concepts to ensure all students have a solid foundation of mathematical understanding upon which to build more advanced knowledge. He and colleagues are using a randomized control trial design and assigning students at-risk to a control condition or to receive Fusion in a small group of five students or a small group of two students. The unique design will enable the research team to first investigate whether in general Fusion “works,” and second to specifically determine if there is value added for students to receive Fusion in a smaller small group setting. Interest in this value-added question was driven by Clarke’s desire to ask and answer questions that are directly relevant to the difficult decisions schools face in allocating finite resources to solve educational problems. Work from this grant should help provide information that schools can use to think through options in instructional service delivery models as they build systems of support to enable all children to have a successful start in learning early mathematics.

Hank Fien, PhD, joined the COE in 2015 as an associate professor in the School Psychology program. Fien is also the director of the Center on Teaching and Learning. Much of his recent work has focused on integrating instructional design science with education technology to improve outcomes for students with early learning difficulties. Most recently, he's been interested in developing technology tools that simultaneously accelerate learning for at-risk students, while providing powerful tools to teacher’s to aid their ability to provide differentiated and precise supports to struggling learners in the areas of early literacy and mathematics. With the new grant funded by IES, he and his colleagues will be investigating the efficacy for the Numbershire Level 1 gaming intervention for first grade students with or at risk for mathematics learning disabilities. They will use a series of randomized controlled trials across schools in Oregon, Las Vegas, Nevada, and Boston, Massachusetts areas to determine if Numbershire accelerates early math learning in the treatment condition relative to the control condition. They are also interested in how students’ readiness to learn factors (e.g., self regulation, predisposition towards mathematics) might impact the strength of the Numbershire intervention effect. Finally, they are examining if English language students (EL’s) benefit from the Numbershire intervention commensurately with students for whom English is their primary language. Therefore, they are recruiting schools with a high percentage of EL’s for the current study. Fien believes this work is important as it contributes towards the efforts of the USDOE and research scientists nationally to increase the availability of rigorously tested, evidence-based programs for schools and districts to implement. In addition, finding programs that work for the growing number of EL’s in US schools is of great import.

Joe Nese, PhD, joined the COE in 2011 as a research associate, and was appointed this year as a research assistant professor within the Behavioral Research and Teaching research group. His research involves educational assessment and applied measurement, focusing on developing and improving systems that support teacher decision making by using advanced technologies such as speech recognition and machine learning. Nese recently received a grant from the Institute of Education Sciences for $1.6 million to develop and validate a computerized assessment system of oral reading — Computerized Oral Reading Evaluation, or CORE. Traditional oral reading assessments are quite useful in predicting students’ general reading proficiency. Nese reports that, “Although it only takes a couple minutes to assess one student, it takes a lot of time to test an entire classroom because each student is tested individually.”

CORE would help solve this problem by containing an automated speech recognition engine that scores students’ oral reading so that an entire classroom can be tested at once. In addition, CORE uses an advanced psychometric model to overcome some of the inadequacies of traditional oral reading assessments. Nese hopes that CORE can help alleviate the resource demands of one-to-one testing administration, increase the reliability of fluency scores, and reduce instructional time lost to testing for both teachers and students.

John R. Seeley, PhD, joined the COE as a professor in special education and clinical sciences this past year, after a successful research career at the Oregon Research Institute. Seeley’s research interests focus on emotional and behavioral disorders; behavioral health intervention; research design and program evaluation; and health-related technology. He is especially interested in school-based prevention and treatment of internalizing and externalizing psychopathology. Seeley currently serves as the project director on a 4-year grant funded by the National Institute of Mental Health to develop and validate a diagnostic interview schedule for assessing mental disorders in youth and young adults with intellectual disabilities. If the aims of the project are achieved, the validated assessment approach will contribute to subsequent epidemiological research and clinical practices addressing the mental health needs of individuals with intellectual disabilities. He also currently serves as a co-principal investigator on a 4-year grant funded by the Institute of Education Sciences to conduct a 2x2 randomized controlled trial to evaluate the relative contribution of the school and home components of the Tertiary First Step to Success intervention for K-3rd grade students with externalizing problem behavior. This study will provide information related to the efficacy and cost of adopting, implementing, and sustaining the intervention, as well as strategies for successful scale-up.  By leveraging the school setting to identify students with or at risk for behavioral and mental health problems and provide evidence-based supports to help address their specific needs, Seeley hopes that the long-standing difficulties and societal impact associated with internalizing and externalizing psychopathology can be ameliorated.

Sylvia Thompson, PhD, has been interested in the education of English language learners since she taught English learners (ELs) in elementary schools. As a researcher, her goals are to better understand the development of ELs’ literacy skills across languages, to identify effective instructional practices, and to identify methods that accurately identify ELs with and without learning disabilities. Currently, she is examining the implementation of Response to Intervention (RtI) in dual language schools. RtI model referrals and placement in special education are prompted by low achievement (Artiles, Kozlske, Trent, Osher, & Ortiz, 2010) and ELs perform worse on assessments of literacy, math, and content knowledge than their peers (Donovan & Cross, 2002; Hakuta, Butler, & Witt, 2000; Parrish, et al., 2006). Further, screening measures often do not accurately discriminate among ELLs who score poorly due to a learning disability, lack of language proficiency, a language disorder, or lack of educational opportunity and do not take differences in language proficiency and educational opportunities into account. Through this project, she and her colleagues have been able to examine ELL’s writing samples to identify developmental patterns of ELLs’ English writing and to use this information to track students’ English language development. In addition, they have identified assessments and instructional practices within RTI that lead to more accurate identification of ELs with and without learning disabilities​.