UT Special Education Professors Awarded $11 Million for Research
Spring and summer 2015 saw tremendous support for special education research at the College of Education. Four research projects within the Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk (MCPER) were awarded federal grants totaling more than $11 million. Professor Mark O’Reilly, chair of the Department of Special Education, says, “I am delighted with the recent and continued success of our faculty to attract highly competitive research funding. These outstanding achievements further affirm the top-ranked status of the department.”
The awards demonstrate national recognition and support for ideas and research that have the potential to improve practices in math and literacy as well as learning disabilities for students at risk.
Sarah Powell: Helping kids with math difficulty solve word problems
The U.S. Department of Education awarded a four-year, $3 million grant to Sarah Powell, assistant professor in the Department of Special Education, to study ways to help students better solve word-problems in math. Powell’s colleague, Professor Marcia Barnes, will assist with the grant-funded research.
Being proficient at solving word problems is necessary for successful math performance, but many students are not adequately prepared. That is especially true for students who find mathematics to be difficult. These students demonstrate significantly lower word-problem performance and make significantly more errors when solving word problems than peers without difficulty in math. Powell’s study will assess the effectiveness of word-problem equation-solving tutoring on improving performance in these students.
Each year, the researchers will recruit 150 Austin-area third-graders who have difficulty in math and assign them to one of two math-tutoring programs or keep them in their usual school environment. These conditions will allow Powell and her team to isolate the effects of equation-solving instruction within word-problem instruction and compare the results with traditional classroom teaching. Over a three-year period, 450 students will participate in the study.
Elizabeth Swanson: Discovering the impact of teacher professional development on fourth grade vocabulary, comprehension
Senior Research Associate Elizabeth Swanson will lead a new $3.5 million, four-year federal grant to gauge the effectiveness of different professional development models aimed at vocabulary and reading comprehension instruction in fourth-grade content area classes. UT Meadows Center Executive Director Sharon Vaughn and Associate Director Greg Roberts will be co-principal investigators. Funding is through the National Center for Education Research.
In each research year of the new project, Examining the Efficacy of Differential Levels of Professional Development for Teaching Content Area Reading Strategies, 60 Austin ISD fourth-grade teachers and their students will participate. Teachers will attend an annual conference at UT Austin where they will learn the vocabulary and comprehension components to use in their classrooms over the course of the school year.
The project will measure and compare the effectiveness of professional development versus a control condition in the first year, then compare different types of professional development in subsequent years.
“These efficacy grants are exceedingly competitive. These young scholars are amazing assets to the Meadows Center, the Department of Special Education and The University of Texas at Austin. I look forward to learning more about how the findings from their research influence our knowledge and practice in schools,” Vaughn says.
Sharon Vaughn: Improving literacy, engagement and school completion among at-risk English learners
Vaughn will be the principal investigator for a $3.5 Institute for Education Science Goal (IES) 3 grant to launch a four-year project to improve literacy, increase engagement and prevent dropout among at-risk high school English learners. The project, Preventing Dropout Among At-Risk Youth: A Study of Project GOAL With English Learners, will provide small-group reading instruction and a dropout prevention program to high school English learners who are struggling readers and are at risk of dropping out of school.
Says Vaughn, “This study aims to investigate the efficacy of a reading and dropout prevention program separately and in combination on the reading and school retention outcomes of students with significant reading problems.”
The interventions will be provided to students in their 9th- and 10th-grade years, and follow-up measures of cognitive and behavioral outcomes will be collected during their 11th- and 12th-grade years.
Diane Pedrotty Bryant: Training doctoral students in learning disabilities and behavioral disorders
UT Mathematics Institute Director Diane Pedrotty Bryant will be the principal investigator on a new project to train doctoral students in learning disabilities and behavior disorders. Meadows Center Executive Director Sharon Vaughn will be a co-principal investigator on the project. The two received a $1.2 million, five-year grant from the Office of Special Education Programs within the U.S. Department of Education.
The purpose of the project is to prepare five highly qualified doctoral graduates to bridge the gap between research and practice by becoming leaders who are well-trained in multitiered systems of support for students with learning disabilities and behavior disorders. The project will use a research-to-practice leadership model that engages the collaborative efforts of faculty in the UT College of Education’s Department of Special Education, professional development and policy leaders at the Meadows Center and the Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts, and Texas school district leaders.