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SREE 2022 Annual Meeting

When I read the theme of the 2022 SREE Conference, “Reckoning to Racial Justice: Centering Underserved Communities in Research on Educational Effectiveness”, I was eager to learn more about the important work happening in our community. The conference made it clear that SREE researchers are becoming increasingly aware of the need to swap individual-level variables for system-level variables that better characterize issues of systematic access and privilege. I was also excited that many SREE researchers are pulling from the fields of mixed methods and critical race theory to foster more equity-aligned study designs, such as those that center participant voice and elevate counter-narratives.

I’m excited to share a few highlights from each day of the conference.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Dr. Kamilah B. Legette, University of Denver

Dr. Kamilah B Legette masked and presenting at SREE

Dr. Kamilah B. Legette from the University of Denver discussed their research exploring the relationship between a student’s race and teacher perceptions of the student’s behavior as a) severe, b) inappropriate, and c) indicative of patterned behavior. In their study, 22 teachers were asked to read vignettes describing non-compliant student behaviors (e.g., disrupting storytime) where student identity was varied by using names that are stereotypically gendered and Black (e.g., Jazmine, Darnell) or White (e.g., Katie, Cody).

Multilevel modeling revealed that while student race did not predict teacher perceptions of behavior as severe, inappropriate, or patterned, students’ race was a moderator of the strength of the relationship between teachers’ emotions and perceptions of severe and patterned behavior. Specifically, the relationship between feelings of frustration and severe behavior was stronger for Black children than for White children, and the relationship between feelings of anger and patterned behavior showed the same pattern. Dr. Legette’s work highlighted a need for teachers to engage in reflective practices to unpack these biases.

Dr. Johari Harris, University of Virginia

In the same session, Dr. Johari Harris from the University of Virginia shared their work with the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools. Learning for All (LFA), one Freedom School for students in grades 3-5, offers a five-week virtual summer literacy program with a culturally responsive curriculum based on developmental science. The program aims to create humanizing spaces that (re)define and (re)affirm Black students’ racial-ethnic identities, while also increasing students’ literacy skills, motivation, and engagement.

Dr. Harris’s mixed methods research found that students felt LFA promoted equity and inclusion, and reported greater participation, relevance, and enjoyment within LFA compared to in-person learning environments prior to COVID-19. They also felt their teachers were culturally engaging, and reported a greater sense of belonging, desire to learn, and enjoyment.

While it’s often assumed that young children of color are not fully aware of their racial-ethnic identity or how it is situated within a White supremacist society, Dr. Harris’s work demonstrated the importance of offering culturally affirming spaces to upper-elementary aged students.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Dr. Krystal Thomas, SRI

Dr. Krystal Thomas presenting at SREE

On Thursday, I attended a talk by Dr. Krystal Thomas from SRI International about the potential of open education resource (OER) programming to further culturally responsive and sustaining practices (CRSP). Their team developed a rubric to analyze OER programming, including materials and professional development (PD) opportunities. The rubric combined principles of OER (free and open access to materials, student-generated knowledge) and CRSP (critical consciousness, student agency, student ownership, inclusive content, classroom culture, and high academic standards).

Findings suggest that while OER offers access to quality instructional materials, it does not necessarily develop teacher capacity to employ CRSP. The team also found that some OER developers charge for CRSP PD, which undermines a primary goal of OER (i.e., open access). One opportunity this talk provided was eventual access to a rubric to analyze critical consciousness in program materials and professional learning (Dr. Thomas said these materials will be posted on the SRI website in upcoming months). I believe this rubric may support equity-driven research and evaluation, including Empirical’s evaluation of the antiracist teacher residency program, CREATE (Collaboration and Reflection to Enhance Atlanta Teacher Effectiveness).

Dr. Rekha Balu, Urban Institute; Dr. Sean Reardon, Stanford University; Dr. Beth Boulay, Abt Associates

left to right: Dr. Beth Boulay, Dr. Rekha Balu, Dr. Sean Reardon, and Titilola Harley on stage at SREE

The plenary talk, featuring discussants Dr. Rekha Balu, Dr. Sean Reardon, and Dr. Beth Boulay, offered suggestions for designing equity- and action-driven effectiveness studies. Dr. Balu urged the SREE community to undertake “projects of a lifetime”. These are long-haul initiatives that push for structural change in search of racial justice. Dr. Balu argued that we could move away from typical thinking about race as a “control variable”, towards thinking about race as an experience, a system, and a structure.

Dr. Balu noted the necessity of mixed methods and participant-driven approaches to serve this goal. Along these same lines, Dr. Reardon felt we need to consider system-level inputs (e.g., school funding) and system-level outputs (e.g., rate of high school graduation) in order to understand disparities in opportunity, rather than just focusing on individual-level factors (e.g., teacher effectiveness, student GPA, parent involvement) that distract from larger forces of inequity. Dr. Boulay noted the importance of causal evidence to persuade key gatekeepers to pursue equity initiatives and called for more high quality measures to serve that goal.

Friday, September 23, 2022

The tone of the conference on Friday was to call people in (a phrase used in opposition to “call people out”, which is often ego-driven, alienating, and counter-productive to motivating change).

Dr. Ivory Toldson, Howard University

Dr. Ivory Toldson at a podium presenting at SREE

In the morning, I attended the Keynote Session by Dr. Ivory Toldson from Howard University. What stuck with me from Dr. Toldson’s talk was their argument that we tend to use numbers as a proxy for people in statistical models, but to avoid some of the racism inherent in our profession as researchers, we must see numbers as people. Dr. Toldson urged the audience to use people to understand numbers, not numbers to understand people. In other words, by deriving a statistical outcome, we do not necessarily know more about the people we study. However, we are equipped with a conversation starter. For example, if Dr. Toldson hadn’t invited Black boys to voice their own experience of why they sometimes struggle in school, they may have never drawn a potential link between sleep deprivation and ADHD diagnosis: a huge departure from the traditional deficit narrative surrounding Black boys in school.

Dr. Toldson also challenged us to consider what our choice in the reference group means in real terms. When we use White students as the reference group, we normalize Whiteness and we normalize groups with the most power. This impacts not only the conclusions we draw, but also the larger framework in which we operate (i.e., White = standard, good, normal).

I also appreciated Dr. Toldson’s commentary on the need for “distributive trust” in schools. They questioned why the people furthest from the students (e.g., superintendents, principals) are given the most power to name best practices, rather than empowering teachers to do what they know works best and to report back. This thought led me to wonder, what can we do as researchers to lend power to teachers and students? Not in a performative way, but in a way that improves our research by honoring their beliefs and first-hand experiences; how can we engage them as knowledgeable partners who should be driving the narrative of effectiveness work?

Dr. Deborah Lindo, Dr. Karin Lange, Adam Smith, EF+Math Program; Jenny Bradbury, Digital Promise; Jeanette Franklin, New York City DOE

Later in the day, I attended a session about building research programs on a foundation of equity. Folks from EF+Math Program (Dr. Deborah Lindo, Dr. Karin Lange, and Dr. Adam Smith), Digital Promise (Jenny Bradbury), and the New York City DOE (Jeanette Franklin) introduced us to some ideas for implementing inclusive research, including a) fostering participant ownership of research initiatives; b) valuing participant expertise in research design; c) co-designing research in partnership with communities and participants; d) elevating participant voice, experiential data, and other non-traditional effectiveness data (e.g., “street data”); and e) putting relationships before research design and outcomes. As the panel noted, racism and inequity are products of design and can be redesigned. More equitable research practices can be one way of doing that.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Dr. Andrew Jaciw, Empirical Education

Dr. Andrew Jaciw at a podium presenting at SREE

On Saturday, I sat in on a session that included a talk given by my colleague Dr. Andrew Jaciw. Instead of relaying my own interpretation of Andrew’s ideas and the values they bring to the SREE community, I’ll just note that he will summarize the ideas and insights from his talk and subsequent discussion in an upcoming blog. Keep your eyes open for that!

See you next year!

Dr. Chelsey Nardi and Dr. Leanne Doughty


Navigating the Tensions: How Could Equity-Relevant Research Also Be Agile, Open, and Scalable?

Our SEERNet partnership with Digital Promise is working to connect platform developers, researchers, and educators to find ways to conduct equity-relevant research using well-used digital learning platforms, and to simultaneously conduct research that is more agile, more open, and more directly applicable at scale. To do this researchers may have to rethink how they plan and undertake their research. We wrote a paper identifying five approaches that could better support this work.

  1. Reframe research designs to form smaller, agile cycles that test small changes each time.
  2. Researchers could shift from designing new educational resources to determining how well-used resources could be elaborated and refined to address equity issues.
  3. Researchers could utilize variables that capture student experiences to investigate equity when they cannot obtain student demographic/identify variables.
  4. Researchers could work in partnership with educators on equity problems that educators prioritize and want help in solving.
  5. Researchers could acknowledge that achieving equity is not only a technological or resource-design problem, but requires working at the classroom and systems levels too.

We hope that this paper (Navigating the Tensions: How Could Equity-Relevant Research Also Be Agile, Open, and Scalable?) will provide insights and ideas for researchers in the SEERNet community.

Read the paper here.


Evidentally is a finalist in the XPRIZE Digital Learning Challenge

The XPRIZE Digital Learning Challenge encourages applicants to develop innovative approaches to “modernize, accelerate, and improve effective learning tools, processes and outcomes” for all learners. The overarching goal of this type of research is to increase equity by identifying education products that work with different subgroups of students. Seeing the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) move in this direction provides hope for the future of education research and our students.

For those of you who have known us for the last 5-10 years, you may be aware that we’ve been working towards this future of low-cost, quick turnaround studies for quite some time. To be completely transparent, I had never even heard of XPRIZE before IES funded one of their competitions.

Given our excitement about this IES-funded competition, we knew we had to throw our Evidentally hat into the ring. Evidentally is the part of Empirical Education—formerly known as Evidence as a Service (EaaS)—that has been producing low-cost, quick turnaround research reports for edtech clients for the past 5 years.

Of the 33 teams who entered the XPRIZE competition, we are excited to announce that we are one of the 10 finalists. We look forward to seeing how this competition helps to pave the road to scalable education research.


AERA 2022 Annual Meeting

We really enjoyed being back in-person at AERA for our first time in a few years. We missed that interaction and collaboration that can truly only come from talking and engaging in person. The theme this year—Cultivating Equitable Education Systems for the 21st Century—is highly aligned with our company goals, and we value and appreciate the extraordinary work of so many researchers and practitioners who are dedicated to discovering equitable educational solutions.

We met some of the team from ICPSR, the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research, and had a chance to learn about their guide to social science data preparation and archiving. We attended too many presentations to talk about so we’ll highlight a few below that stood out to us.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

On Thursday, Sze-Shun Lau and Jenna Zacamy presented the impacts of Collaboration and Reflection to Enhance Atlanta Teacher Effectiveness (CREATE) on the continuous retention of teachers through their second year. The presentation was part of a roundtable discussion with Jacob Elmore, Dirk Richter, Eric Richter, Christin Lucksnat, and Stefanie Marshall.

It was a pleasure to hear about the work coming out of the University of Potsdam around examining the connections between extraversion levels of alternatively-certified teachers and their job satisfaction and student achievement, and about opportunities for early-career teachers at the University of Minnesota to be part of learning communities with whom they can openly discuss racialized matters in school settings and develop their racial consciousness. We also had the opportunity to engage in conversation with our fellow presenters about constructive supports for early-career teachers that place value on the experiences and motivating factors they bring to the table, and other commonalities in our work aiming to increase retention of teachers in diverse contexts.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Our favorite session we attended on Friday was a paper session titled Critical and Transformative Perspectives on Social and Emotional Learning. In this session, Dr. Dena Simmons, shared her paper titled Educator Freedom Dreams: Humanizing Social and Emotional Learning Through Racial Justice and talked about SEL as an approach to alleviate the stressors of systemic racism from a Critical Race Theory education perspective.

We tweeted about it from AERA.

Another interesting session from Friday was about the future of IES research. Jenna sat in on a small group discussion around the proposed future topic areas of IES competitions. We are most interested in if/how IES will implement the recommendation to have a “systematic, periodic, and transparent process for analyzing the state of the field and adding or removing topics as appropriate”.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

On Saturday morning, there was a symposium titled Revolutionary Love: The Role of Antiracism in Affirming the Literacies of Black and Latinx Elementary Youth. The speakers talked about the three tenants of providing thick, revolutionary love to students: believing, knowing, and doing.

speakers from the Revolutionary Love symposium

Saturday afternoon, in a presidential session titled Beyond Stopping Hate: Cultivating Safe, Equitable and Affirming Educational Spaces for Asian/Asian American Students, we heard CSU Assistant Professor Edward Curammeng give crucial advice to researchers: “We need to read outside our fields, we need to re-read what we think we’ve already read, and we need to engage Asian American voices in our research.”

After our weekend at AERA, we returned home refreshed and thinking about the importance of making sure students and teachers see themselves in their school contexts - Dr. Simmons provided a crucial reminder that remaining neutral and failing to integrate the sociopolitical contexts of educational issues only furthers erasure. As our evaluation of CREATE continues, we plan to incorporate some of the great feedback we received at our roundtable session, including further exploring the motivation that led our study participants to enter the teaching profession, and how their work with CREATE adds fuel to those motivations.

Did you attend the annual AERA meeting this year? Tell us about your favorite session or something that got you thinking.