Nature Reviews Psychology spoke with Research & Development Scientist Dr. Lauren D. Kendall Brooks about her journey from a postdoctoral research associate to a research scientist with Assessment For Good.
“My main charge is keeping the science strong in our programme: making sure the decisions that we make are scientifically solid and pushing the field forward…Our stakeholders are Black and/or Latinx students ages 8–13 years, educators, and caregivers. I wanted to be able to directly impact communities in need in a timely manner.”
We are proud of Research and Development Scientist Lauren D. Kendall Brooks, PhD for Assessment for Good, one of our Inclusive R&D programs at Advanced Education Research and Development Fund (AERDF). Thank you to Teresa Schubert at Nature Reviews Psychology for interviewing Dr. Kendall Brooks about her journey from the lab to a career with us in education R&D.
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In this primer, we aim to put forward our current views regarding the points of synergy between equity, executive function, and mathematics education and cognition that are relevant to the EF+Math program. The literature shared herein is not exhaustive, but instead is a high-level overview of aspects of these fields that are relevant to the work of EF+Math, with the intention that the information shared stimulates discussion and innovation at this intersection.Many sources of evidence—including learning science research and teacher expertise—reveal that every child is equipped to excel in mathematics, and yet disparities in mathematics performance still persist.
For instance, children’s understanding of numbers (‘number sense’) predicts later math knowledge and can show measurable differences by socioeconomic status (SES) and race as early as preschool (e.g., Bailey, Siegler & Geary, 2014). Early mathematics knowledge is related to long-term educational outcomes, as well as a person’s career attainment and health outcomes (e.g., Knuth, Stephens, Blanton & Gardiner, 2016; Rittle-Johnson, Fyfe, Hofer, & Farran, 2016). Given that there are no inherent differences in abilities in students from different races/ethnicities or household income levels, observed performance differences are instead likely driven by differences in opportunities to build math abilities given to students from different races/ethnicities or household income levels, with students of color and students in poverty more often held back, offered less challenging math curricula, and held to lower expectations (among other factors) than their peers from higher income households or their white peers (e.g., Carbonara, 2005; Chunn, 1998; Oakes, 1995; Sorhagen, 2013).
Thus, a core, and yet addressable, issue in mathematics education is the need to reduce inequalities between students’ opportunities to learn and to be given opportunities to be challenged in mathematics (e.g., Byrnes & Wasik, 2009; TNTP, 2018). We will support programs that tackle these challenges head-on.Despite structural inequities that perpetuate math performance differences, every child possesses foundational assets that enable them to learn what they deem important to learn. One set of skills associated with success in mathematics is executive functioning (EF) ability.EFs are thought to include three separable, yet interacting processes, often referred to as cognitive flexibility, working memory, and inhibitory/attentional control (Miyake et al., 2000):
• Cognitive flexibility refers to shifting one’s attention between or otherwise managing multiple tasks, goals, rules, or perspectives. An example in mathematics is when a student needs to switch back and forth quickly and easily between solving multiplication and subtraction problems.
• Working memory involves holding and working with information in one’s mind. An example in mathematics is when a student is doing algebra and is holding in mind which steps they completed on one side of the equation and the answer they got so they can balance it on the other side.
• Inhibitory/Attentional control is the ability to focus on the information or tasks that are important or relevant to you and ignoring or inhibiting distractions or behaviors that are not important or relevant to you. An 1. Introduction EF+MATH program | 5 example in mathematics is ignoring irrelevant details when solving word problems and focusing on the information needed to complete the task.
While substantial individual differences in EFs exist, all three components of EF on average have been found to be related to performance on mathematics tasks, and to predict mathematics achievement longitudinally (e.g., Bull & Lee, 2014; Cragg & Gilmore, 2014; Ribner, 2019). Teachers have also observed that EFs are important for math learning based on their experience in the classroom (Gilmore & Cragg, 2014).
Indeed, one study found that teachers’ ratings of students’ EF abilities predicted gains in mathematics skills over an 8 month period (Fuhs, Farran, & Nesbitt, 2015), though it’s probable that teacher expectations of both mathematics and EF skills may be correlated and thus predictive of math performance. Mathematics requires all three components of executive function: thinking flexibly, holding and updating important information in working memory (e.g., Fuchs et al., 2008; Raghubar et al., 2010), and inhibiting misconceptions and irrelevant information or rules (e.g., Cragg et al., 2017; Gomez et al., 2015).
We intend to support education product development teams to radically rethink design assumptions and biases in current ways of working, in the service of racial equity and anti-racism. This resource may be especially salient for organizations that have publicly spoken out about their commitments to Black and Latinx students and educators. The EF+Math Program has been encouraged by the significant and widespread advocacy for social change focused on race. We believe it is aligned with the program’s primary objective—to rework research and development (R&D) as inclusive and anti-racist—an urgent imperative for education product developers across the research, non-profit and for-profit spectrum working to increase racial equity.
We share readings and resources provided to participants in the Facilitated Team Development process (a track we created to allow individual participants to find team members and co-create multi-disciplinary EF+Math proposals together). Please use these resources as background material as you generate your proposal for the Prototyping track of the EF+Math program. The lists are not meant to be exhaustive but rather help provide relevant perspectives and background materials for you to generate big ideas at the intersection of equity, executive functions, and mathematics.
This EF+Math insights report shares promising preliminary findings from EF+Math’s portfolio of 10 teams, each made up of students, educators, researchers, and developers who collaborate through a unique Inclusive Research and Development (R&D) approach. EF+Math teams are working to understand the promise of research-informed mathematics learning approaches in grades 3–8, designed and developed with students and teachers, that combine executive function (EF) skills, conceptual understanding and multi-step problem solving, and equity.
These teams are in the third year of a five-year R&D cycle to design, develop, implement, research, and evaluate mathematics learning approaches and new research tools. Preliminary data suggest many of our approaches are improving mathematics learning, and we are simultaneously increasing knowledge of the relationship between mathematics learning and EF skills.
The report highlights that when educators and students are involved at every stage of the research and development process, learning approaches become more relevant to the classroom, are designed for straightforward implementation, and are adaptable to different contexts. By centering equity and inclusion from the beginning of the R&D process, we can shift towards a culture of equity and create a transformative ripple effect across the educational community.
At Reading Reimagined, we envision an American education system in which all students are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and beliefs necessary to be proficient readers, thus enabling them to advocate for themselves, their families, and their communities as they lead lives of limitless opportunity. Is it possible to eradicate illiteracy as a country? We believe we can do it by unlocking the great reader in every child.
Learning to read is a complicated undertaking, involving many different processes and skills. This includes decoding, vocabulary knowledge, inferencing, and much more. An existing research base provides important evidence for how students become strong readers, but too often that research is not translated into instructional materials. Moreover, important gaps remain in our understanding of how to best support students, especially our priority students, who have yet to achieve reading proficiency.
Despite significant effort and investment over the last decade, the American reading crisis is getting worse, not better. Currently, only one-third of American children demonstrate proficiency in reading. Our education system has fallen even further short for Black, Latino, and Native American students and students of all races experiencing poverty. It doesn’t have to be this way.
“Are we honoring student and teacher voices, honoring their perspectives, honoring the push back, honoring the expertise that they bring, in ways that are advancing and shifting a paradigm around product development?”
EF+Math Associate Director of Inclusive R&D Partnerships Adam Smith speaks with EF+Math Executive Leadership Council Member Maxim Vickerie, MS on how teams of educators, researchers, and product developers collaborate and co-design inventions that improve math learning through increasing executive functioning skills.
Both joined Megan A. Sumeracki for a conversation on equity-centered mathematics learning, executive function skills, and our Inclusive Research and Development approach during this episode of The Learning Scientist. EF+Math is one of three Inclusive R&D programs with AERDF.
Portland, Ore. — K-12 assessment and research organization NWEA released today results of a yearlong study examining the effectiveness of a reading fluency intervention targeting struggling middle school readers from historically marginalized populations or those living in poverty. The study was funded by the Reading Reimagined program of the Advanced Education Research and Development Fund (AERDF, pronounced like air-diff), and provided a specific reading fluency protocol along with professional learning to sixth grade teachers in a large, urban U.S. school district in 2022-23.
The findings point to strong outcomes, including:
- Students who scored below the 50th percentile on the Capti Assess Reading Efficiency subtest demonstrated a statistically significant positive difference between the pre- and post-tests after experiencing the protocol.
- Teachers noted observing a positive impact from the protocol on students’ reading abilities, specifically for those students who previously performed below the grade-level expectations for reading.
“Reading fluency is essential for effective reading comprehension at any age, but it’s especially critical once students go from ‘learning to read’ to ‘reading to learn,” said Laura Hansen, Director of Academic Services at NWEA. “Unfortunately many students leave elementary school still not proficient in reading, and that creates a significant barrier to their ability to learn across subjects. Most middle and high school teachers are not trained in the teaching of foundational reading skills (e.g., phonemic awareness, phonics) to address this problem.”
At the center of the study was a new, easy-to-implement protocol for secondary school teachers to use to help increase reading fluency of their students. What makes the protocol easy-to-implement is that teachers can use it with text from any subject matter and do not need any training in reading pedagogy. While the study focused on grade 6, the protocol is designed for use from grade six on. The protocol leveraged Repeated Reading, as well as language strategies at the word and sentence level, and student engagement via culturally relevant passages and goal setting. Most formal reading instruction ends once students leave elementary school, but national data show that almost 70% of eighth graders are not considered proficient in reading based on 2022 test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as The Nation’s Report Card. Having researched tools like the protocol featured in this study is a step forward in addressing the challenge of struggling readers past the elementary years, especially those from historically marginalized populations and/or those living in poverty.
“Reading Reimagined is urgently pursuing solutions for foundational literacy skill instruction for students in grades 3-8, who often still need, but rarely receive, ongoing direct instructional support to achieve lasting reading proficiency,” said Reading Reimagined’s Executive Director Rebecca Kockler. “NWEA’s fluency protocol is one of many tools that Reading Reimagined has already and will continue to make freely available to all educators seeking to support their students’ literacy development. We are excited to see it being used in classrooms across the country.”
Read the full report at https://www.nwea.org/resource-center/resource/increasing-fluency-in-middle-school-readers/
NWEA® (a division of HMH) is a mission-driven organization that supports students and educators in more than 146 countries through research, assessment solutions, policy and advocacy services, professional learning and school improvement services that fight for equity, drive classroom impact and push for systemic change in our educational communities. Visit NWEA.org to learn more about how we’re partnering with educators to help all kids learn.
Advanced Education Research & Development Fund (“AERDF” pronounced air-diff) is a national nonprofit R & D organization launched in 2021.
AERDF builds ambitious, inclusive three to five year programs with educators, researchers and developers, aimed at tackling major and persistent teaching and learning challenges that disproportionately affect Black and Latino students and students experiencing poverty in grades PreK-12.
Each AERDF program builds on existing community-driven evidence and expertise as well as learning science to translate fundamental insights into usable knowledge, useful practices, equitable approaches and transformative tools for education practitioners and students. EF+Math was launched successfully by Dr. Melina Uncapher in 2019, and served as a demonstration program that tested the core theory of action that helped launch AERDF, which has since launched two additional programs in 2021 — Assessment for Good and Reading Reimagined. Additional programs are also under consideration, for this year and beyond.
FOR AERDF Contact: Yasmene Mumby, Communications Director, firstname.lastname@example.org
Oakland, CA: The Advanced Education Research and Development Fund (AERDF) today announced that Auditi Chakravarty will assume the role of CEO, starting on April 3, 2023. Chakravarty succeeds founding CEO Stacey Childress, who steered the successful transition from a demonstration program at NewSchools Venture Fund in 2019 to a standalone nonprofit research and development (R&D) organization launched in July 2021.
Chakravarty joins AERDF in the midst of rising national momentum for greater adoption of education R&D as our education systems seek to make gains following the Covid-19 pandemic. A recent $40M allocation to the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and a proposal of $45M in new funds to IES contained within President Biden’s FY2024 budget are signs of increasing attention on this emerging field. Speaking to Chakravarty as a leader for this time, AERDF Board Co-chair and Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Jim Shelton said “Auditi’s deep expertise in leading ambitious education innovation will add an important perspective to the national discussion on how to utilize advanced education R&D, as other sectors have, to imagine and build expeditiously toward optimal learning experiences for our students.”
“Auditi’s leadership in the education innovation field will be pivotal in elevating our ‘inclusive R&D’ model as an engine of innovation serving our priority students,” says Dr. Melina Uncapher, chief of research and development at AERDF and founder of its demonstration program EF+Math.
As a former educator and leader who fiercely embraces academic potential in students of all identities and abilities, Chakravarty has built successful products and services that have reached classrooms across the country. From her time as a high-school English teacher to most recently as Senior Vice President of Learning and Assessment at College Board, Chakravarty knows the impact well-designed instruction and assessment can have in the classroom and on students’ lives.
She has built and launched instructional programs in senior roles at Kaplan and subsequently within College Board’s AP, Springboard, and Pre-AP programs, where her focus was driving AP access and readiness. She holds a BA in English and a master’s degree in education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
As AERDF approaches two years since its launch, Chakravarty is excited by what she sees as the organization’s unique strength – breaking down the silos between the research, education and product development sectors to identify and collectively build toward teaching and learning solutions that improve student well-being and academic outcomes. Chakravarty shared “as legions of advocates work together to shape the future of education R&D, I am excited about a role for AERDF to orchestrate stronger collaboration, efficiency and momentum, driven in part by ongoing learning within our Inclusive R&D programs.”
Chakravarty knows that education R&D, at its core, is about identifying rigorous research-based levers that show us what works for our nation’s students and from that learning, building new products and programs that meet the needs of students and educators. “Auditi has deep experience with and respect for the role of a robust research agenda within an iterative, inclusively-led and rapid cycle R&D environment like we have at AERDF,” said AERDF Board Co-chair and President of the Spencer Foundation Dr. Na’ilah Nasir. “I’m confident her leadership will help serve as a bridge for the too-often siloed communities of researchers, PreK-12 practitioners and product and program developers.”
Chakravarty is eager to step up at this moment of opportunity. Her first priorities are a listening orientation within the AERDF community, focused learning on the biggest opportunities and challenges within AERDF and across the sector, and continuing the commitment to create learning environments for all children to thrive, particularly Black and Latino students and students of all races experiencing poverty, who have been historically and systematically excluded from equal opportunity in education.
“Recruiting a long-term CEO has always been the plan, following what was a successful incubation and launch under the NewSchools umbrella,” said Founding CEO Stacey Childress, who transitioned out of AERDF in December. “I’m thrilled for what Auditi’s leadership means for the organization’s next chapter and I look forward to supporting a smooth transition.”
Chakravarty will join the AERDF team on April 3 and soon begin dialogue with organizational allies and sector leaders whose experience and perspectives are critical to AERDF’s success in the ecosystem. Join AERDF’s Community Garden to stay informed of the organization’s ongoing work and to engage with topics of interest.
About the Advanced Education Research and Development Fund (AERDF): AERDF is a national nonprofit R&D organization launched in 2021 that builds ambitious, inclusive three to five year programs with education practitioners, researchers and developers, aimed at tackling major and persistent teaching and learning challenges that disproportionately affect Black and Latino students and students of all races experiencing poverty in grades Pre-K-12. Each program builds on existing community-driven evidence and expertise as well as learning science to translate fundamental insights into usable knowledge, useful practices, equitable approaches and transformative tools for education practitioners and students. EF+Math was launched successfully by Dr. Melina Uncapher in 2019, and served as a demonstration program that tested the core theory of action that helped launch AERDF, which has since produced two additional programs in 2021 – Assessment for Good and Reading Reimagined. Additional programs are also under consideration, for this year and beyond.