Research Projects

Ranked among the top 11 private graduate schools and among the top 3 public and private schools in Texas

A  couple of students, standing in front of a whiteboard, working on mathematical equations.

Promoting Algebra Readiness (PAR)

U.S. Dept. of Education

Dr. Ben Clarke (UO)
Co-PIs: Dr. Leanne Ketterlin Geller (SMU) Dr. Gena Nelson (UO)
July 2023 - June 2028

The purpose of Promoting Algebra Readiness (PAR) is to expand the growing but limited body of research on effective middle school interventions. The multi-year study targets foundational fractions content that is needed to ensure access to advanced mathematics, including Algebra. The project’s three major aims include (a) identifying the immediate and long-term effect of PAR intervention on the mathematics outcomes of 6th grade students with or at-risk for MD, (b) identifying what student and interventionist characteristics moderate the PAR intervention effects, and (c) exploring relationships between variables related to the implementation of the PAR intervention, student mathematics outcomes, and end-user characteristics that may lead to and sustain successful implementation of PAR.

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Active Playful Learning logo. Joyful Teaching. Deeper Learning.

Active Playful Learning

Lego Foundation

PI: Dr. Kathy Hirsh Pasaek (Temple University)
Co-PIs: Dr. Annie Wright (SMU), Dylan Farmer (SMU), Toni Harrison-Kelly (SMU)
January 2023 - December 2027

CORE serves as the Texas site lead for a multi-year national study on the impact of Active Playful Learning, funded by the LEGO Foundation. The APL initiative, led by Dr. Kathy Hirsch-Pasaek, has assembled a team of early childhood education researchers and leaders to implement APL coaching in 4 distinct districts to promote learning that is active, engaged, meaningful, socially interactive, iterative, and joyful. States chosen for the study sites include Texas, California, Illinois, and Virginia.

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McNair Scholars walking up the stairs of SMU's Dallas Hall.

McNair Scholars Project

U.S. Dept. of Education

PI: Dr. LaChelle Cunningham (SMU)
October 2022 - September 2027

McNair Scholars Project provides research and other scholarly support to SMU students annually who meet program eligibility criteria. Participants receive academic support services and participate in research and graduate school workshops. Participants also participate in the McNair Summer Research Institute that includes a research methods course and culminates in the execution of an undergraduate research project. The project serves 26 SMU students annually.

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Middle school students are working on laptops together, sharing desk.

RAISE+: Rice Algebra Initiative for Equity and Success

Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors

PI: Dr. Richard G. Baranjuk (Rice University)
Co-PI: Dr. Candace Walkington (SMU)
October 2022 - October 2027

This project seeks to enhance readability and motivation in a grades 7-8 online math learning platform produced by Rice University, RAISE+. We will be conducting studies looking at how textual, symbolic, and visual characteristics of mathematics word problems are associated with student performance, and on motivational scaffolds that personalize learning to students’ out-of-school interests.

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Headstart Logo

Exploring Tarrant County Head Start and Early Head Start Impacts Through Secondary Data

Department of Health and Human Services

PI: Dr. Yusuf Kara (SMU)
Co-PIs: Dr. Annie Wright (SMU), Ms. Dylan Farmer (SMU)
September 2022 – March 2024

This project is funded by the Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. The aim of the project is to better understand what components of Head Start programs effect students’ level of school readiness. More specifically, this study aims to establish evidence for an underlying theory of change; that professional development can increase the quality of Head Start classrooms, family supports can improve family stability and school engagement, and that the interacting effects of these classroom quality and family influences promote child school readiness.

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Upward Bound Math Science Projects in-class learning experience.

Upward Bound Math Science Projects

U.S. Dept. of Education

PI: Dr. LaChelle Cunningham (SMU)
STEM: September 2022 - August 2027
SOAR: September 2022 - August 2027

Upward Bound Math Science is a pre-collegiate program that works with students through high school to prepare for college. Upward Bound Math Science services are similar to Upward Bound and are designed to help students recognize and develop their potential to excel in math and science. Students are provided hands-on learning experiences in classes such as engineering, robotics, biomedical sciences, 3-D printing, and information technology. Two projects (STEM & SOAR) were awarded for the new grant cycle from 2022 to 2027. These two grants serve 124 students primarily in Dallas ISD high schools.

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A young student using a manipulative for teaching spatial reasoning.

Integrating Spatial Reasoning into Early Mathematics: A Design Research Study

American Educational Research Association

PI: Dr. Annie Wilhelm (SMU)
Co-PI: Dr. Robyn Pinilla (SMU)
August 2022 - December 2023

Spatial reasoning skills support students’ mathematical learning and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics career interests, but there is little research on how they are taught in kindergarten through grade two (K-2) classrooms. This exploratory research seeks to understand how K-2 educators teach spatial reasoning to support them in teaching its comprising skills through mathematics. Project outcomes include the development of a conceptual framework designed to support teachers in integrating spatial reasoning skills into their mathematics teaching practices and an understanding of the problem space for future research.

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CORE and Teach for America Postdoctoral Fellow

CORE and Teach for America: Postdoctoral Fellow

PI: Dr. Annie Wright (SMU)
Co-PIs: Ms. Dylan Farmer (SMU), Dr. Yusuf Kara (SMU)
July 2022 – October 31, 2023

SMU's Center on Research and Evaluation (CORE) will work directly with students to utilize the districts career exploration tool- SCOIR, complete college, financial aid and scholarship applications. SMU will collaborate with counselors to plan College Fairs, Summer Melt Prevention Texting Program, attend campus counseling meetings and postsecondary partnerships/ program meetings. CORE is also responsible for tracking and reporting data to the district monthly on students serviced.

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A group of three teachers working and collaborating with one another.

Project STAIR 2.0: Supporting Teaching of Algebra: Individual Readiness

U. S. Dept. of Education, Institute for Education Sciences, Institute of Education Sciences (IES)

PI: Dr. Erica Lembke (University of Missouri)
Co-PIs: Dr. Leanne Ketterlin Geller (SMU),
Dr. Sarah Powell (University of Texas at Austin)
July 2022 - June 2025

The goal of Project STAIR 2.0, a COVID relief funded project, is to support the research to accelerate pandemic recovery in Special Education. In Year 1 of the project, teachers are randomly assigned to receive intense coaching or light coaching on the use of data-based individualization (DBI) when teaching students with specific learning disabilities in mathematics.

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Middle schools students working with robotics

Collaborative Research: Research on Integrated STEM Self-Efficacy (RISE): A Study of Elementary Preservice Teachers including Noyce Scholars

National Science Foundation (NSF)

Award Number: DUE-2151045
PI: Dr. Jeanna Wieselmann (SMU)
Co-PIs: Dr. Deepika Menon (University of Nebraska, Lincoln), Dr. Sarah Haines (Towson University), Dr. Sumreen Asim (Indiana University Southeast)
June 2022 - May 2027

Research on Integrated STEM Self-Efficacy (RISE) will study the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) integration of elementary teachers who experienced ten different teacher preparation programs across the U.S. The project will investigate links between integrated STEM teaching self-efficacy, teacher preparation and development opportunities, teaching effectiveness, and teacher retention. It will also build a community of elementary teachers focused on improving their STEM teaching and support their ongoing professional learning.

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Screenshot of Enigma The Lost Words of Atlantis mobile literacy app and GeoGebra classroom mathematics-learning environment

Learning Through Gaming: VR and AR Can Address COVID-19 Learning Loss for Underserved Students in DISD and the West Dallas STEM School

U.S. Dept. of Education

PI: Dr. Anthony Cuevas (SMU)
Co-PIs: Dr. Candace Walkington (SMU),
Dr. Corey Clark (SMU)
June 2022 - February 2024

SMU's Simmons School of Education and SMU Guildhall have joined together with the Dallas Independent School District to address COVID learning needs in Math and Literacy for underserved students in Dallas with collaborative virtual reality and personalized game-based learning. This initiative will develop and test a model for collaborative virtual learning in the West Dallas STEM School (WDSS) to address learning needs in mathematics and literacy using virtual reality (VR) and game-based learning, with the goal of expanding the program throughout Dallas ISD.

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Dr. Dominique J. Baker

To Borrow a Phrase: An Investigation of the News Media's Role in Racialized Student Loan Policy Communication

Russell Sage Foundation (RSF), Spencer Foundation, National Academy of Education

PI: Dr. Dominique Baker (SMU)
June 2022 - August 2024

Dr. Baker will analyze newspaper articles to determine how often, if at all, news media outlets use words or phrases that convey ideas about race and racism when writing about student loans. Multiple studies, including Dr. Baker’s own research, confirm that Black college students bear the consequences of high student loan debt while earning less than their peers for many reasons, including labor market discrimination and centuries of deliberate policy making decisions in the US. This project will focus on policy communication through the media to help ensure that the public and policy actors do not rely on decontextualized and race-neutral media to inform their understanding of student loan debt and potential solutions.

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Students in school chemistry labratory learning about properties of gases.

Upward Bound Classic Projects

U.S. Dept. of Education

PI: Dr. LaChelle Cunningham (SMU)
Classic I & III: September 2022 - August 2027
Classic II: June 2022 - May 2027

Upward Bound is a pre-collegiate program that works with students through high school to prepare for college by providing academic support services. Upward Bound support services include high school course tutoring, preparation for SAT and STAAR, high school and initial college course advising, financial aid and scholarship application assistance, and career planning. Three projects (Classic I, II, & III) were awarded for the new grant cycle from 2022 to 2027. These three grants serve 225 students primarily in Dallas ISD high schools.

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Claire Trotter conducting an ultrasound

Alterations to Cardiovascular Control in Females with Multiple Sclerosis at Rest and During Stress

American Heart Association

PI: Dr. Scott Davis (SMU)
Co-PI: Ms. Claire Trotter (SMU)
May 2022 – April 2023

The primary purpose of this project is to gain a mechanistic understanding of blood pressure dysregulation at rest and during sympathoexcitatory stress in females with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Approximately one million people in the United States are estimated to be living with MS. MS is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and females are about 3 times more likely to have MS. Specifically, females with MS have a higher rate of myocardial infarction and cardiovascular disease mortality than males with MS. Therefore, identifying abnormalities in cardiovascular control in females with MS is important to mitigate the disproportionate influence of sex on disease outcomes. This study is directly aligned with the American Heart Association’s mission of helping people live longer and healthier lives in part because understanding dysfunctional cardiovascular control in females with MS will increase longevity and health in this large clinical population.

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The word philanthropy spelled out in Scrabble letters

Advancing Evaluation in Philanthropy

Walton Family Foundation

PI: Dr. Annie Wright (SMU)
Co-PI: Rachel Johns (SMU)
January 2022 - May 2025

CORE is partnering with the Walton Family Foundation to launch The Advancing Evaluation in Philanthropy Fellowship program to help support the next generation of evaluators working in philanthropy. The two-year-long fellowships will focus on developing professionals of color and utilizing more culturally responsive evaluation designs. With the support of the Walton Family Foundation, CORE will be able to help Fellows gain rigorous and real-world experience in research and evaluation in philanthropy.

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Simmons teacher working with middle school students using fraction manipulatives

Project SCALE

U.S. Dept. of Education, Office of Elementary & Secondary Education, Education Innovation and Research (EIR) Program; Award No: S411B210032

PI: Dr. Leanne Ketterlin Geller (SMU)
Co-PIs: Dr. Sarah Powell (University of Texas, Austin), Dr. Erica Lembke (University of Missouri)
December 2021 - December 2026

Project SCALE is a project funded by US Department of Education as a replication study based on an in-school mathematics intervention, Fraction Face-Off (FFO, Fuchs et al., 2013) which was determined to have moderate evidence of effectiveness with 4th graders by the What Works Clearinghouse. In addition to replicating the study with 4th graders, this project will also investigate the differences between in person and virtual training for interventionists, and the efficacy of FFO with 5th – 8th grade students experiencing mathematics difficulties as a Tier 2 intervention. The research will be hosted in the urban, suburban, and rural geographies surrounding the three partner universities: Southern Methodist University; University of Texas, Austin; and University of Missouri.

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Logo for LIME: Leaders Investigating Mathematics Evidence

Personnel Preparation in Mathematics Special Education

U.S. Dept. of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP)

PI: Dr. Sarah Powell (University of Texas, Austin)
Co-PIs: Dr. Leanne Ketterlin Geller (SMU); Dr. Erica Lembke (University of Missouri)
November 2021 - October 2026

The LIME (Leaders Investigating Mathematics Evidence) is a project funded by the Office of Special Education Programs to create the next generation of researchers and leaders with PhDs in special education with a focus on mathematics. It will provide tuition and stipend support, travel to conferences, and research support for twelve scholars for four years of doctoral studies. The program will be hosted at three universities: University of Texas, Austin; Southern Methodist University; and University of Missouri.

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Professor Dominique Baker in classroom.

Test-Optional Admissions Policy Equity Outcomes

Gates Foundation, University of Maryland

PI: Dr. Julie Park (University of Maryland)
Co-PI: Dr. Dominique Baker (SMU)
November 2021 – September 2023

The study will examine the impact test-optional admission policies in higher education had on college access and equity during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 1,800 colleges and universities used test-optional admission policies in the Fall of 2020, according to estimates provided by the non-profit National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest). Led by the University of Maryland, Dr. Baker will look at whether the move to alter admission policies improved college access or equity during the pandemic.

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Person working on laptop computer

Collaborative Research Group-Based Cloud Computing for STEM Education Project

National Science Foundation (NSF)

Award Number: 1615207
PI: Dr. Anthony Petrosino (SMU)
September 2021 – August 2023

The project takes a design-based research approach to creating and studying technologies and materials that support generative teaching and learning in STEM. Sites associated with a nationally recognized and expanding approach to STEM teacher preparation and certification will serve as incubators and testbeds for the project’s innovation and development efforts. Computational thinking, including agent-based modeling, and simulation across STEM domains as well as geo-spatial reasoning about personally meaningful learner-collected data will provides an important scientific foundation for the project. This will be achieved by developing a highly-interactive and group-optimized, browser- and cloud-based, device-independent and open-source architecture and by integrating and extending leading computational tools including the NSF-funded NetLogo Web agent-based modeling language and environment. The project will also achieve this outcome by publishing its technology-mediated activities and materials in the public domain and by capturing extensive qualitative and quantitative data on the intensity and nature of use of these technologies and materials. Collectively, the project will foster the growth of educational infrastructures to enable the dissemination and effective adoption of generative teaching and learning in STEM.

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The Educational Talent Search senior dinner group photograph.

Educational Talent Search Projects

U.S. Dept. of Education

PI: Dr. LaChelle Cunningham (SMU), Project LAUNCH, Project LIFT
September 2021 - August 2026

Educational Talent Search (ETS) identifies and assists high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds who have the potential to succeed in higher education. ETS program staff provide academic advising, career planning and guidance, and mentoring services to students. The program is designed to support students as they graduate from high school and transition to college. ETS staff also assist students complete financial aid applications and manage the college application process. The program serves a total of 1,000 students annually between two projects (Project LAUNCH and Project LIFT).

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Monitor display showing computer code.

Work-Learn: Using Microinternships to Leverage Scalable Learning for STEM Workforce Development Among People Experiencing Homelessness

National Science Foundation (NSF)

PI: Dr. Michelle Friend (University of Nebraska @ Omaha)
Co-PI: Dr. Alexandra Pavlakis (SMU)
September 2021 - August 2024

Researchers at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and Southern Methodist University will investigate the efficacy of a Work-Learn model for providing individuals experiencing homelessness with the skills and scaffolding that will enable them to enter the job market. The research team will examine the impact of integrating micro-internships with online courses targeting computer science skills for homeless adult learners and analyze the interaction among group dynamics and learner success and barriers and successful learning outcomes. The research goal is to test the efficacy of the Work-Learn model in supporting the ability of people experiencing homelessness to complete a MOOC and successfully transition to information technology (IT) sector jobs. To achieve this goal, the researchers will investigate four research questions: (1) How can the Work-Learn model incentivize learners and support persistence in completing learning tasks and challenges? (2) Do peer learning structures work as effectively with persons experiencing homelessness as with traditional MOOC students? (3) What learner attributes and experiences are associated with success? and (4) How does industry partnership support re-training of persons experiencing homelessness for IT jobs? The research team will develop and implement course modules, in a peer learning context, addressing computational thinking, COBOL, and Python that enable learners to learn by doing in a MOOC environment. They will engage homeless shelter staff and private-sector partners to support skills development and paid micro-internship placement. The team will investigate how these partnerships function to support this population of learners and how learners’ well-being is impacted. The research results will inform interventions that employ scalable technology to re-skill or up-skill adults who do not necessarily have access to workforce training tailored to high-demand and financially stable technology jobs and careers.

The project is supported by the EHR Core Research Program that funds STEM education research projects focused on STEM learning and learning environments, broadening participation in STEM fields, and STEM workforce development.

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Logo for Seeing the World through a Mathematical Lens

Seeing the World through a Mathematical Lens

National Science Foundation, Advancing Informal STEM Learning

Award Number: DRL 2115393
PI: Dr. Candace Walkington (SMU)
Co-Pis: Dr. Anthony Petrosino (SMU), Dr. Koshi Dhingra (WalkSTEM); Dr. Cathy Ringstaff (WestEd), Elizabeth Stringer (SMU)
August 2021 - July 2026

This 5-year project draws on research on informal math learning, problem-posing, and culturally sustaining pedagogies to conduct cycles of participatory design-based research on technology-supported math walks. Dr. Candace Walkington serves as PI and leads the project team that is conducting research on a location-based mobile app for informal mathematics learning. This research takes place at 9 informal learning sites and involves iteratively designing an app (Mathfinder App) in which learners can view and contribute to an interactive map of math walk “stops” at these sites (Dallas Arboretum, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Zoo, Frontiers of Flight Museum, the GEMS Camp, the Girl Scouts STEM Center of Excellence, St. Phillips School and Community Center, Twelve Hills Nature Center and Voice of Hope Ministries). Learners will be able to select locations and watch short videos or view pictures with text that describe how mathematical principles are present in their surroundings. For example, learners could use the app to discover how a painting by a local Latino artist uses ratio and scale, or how a ramp in downtown was designed with a specific slope to accommodate wheelchairs. Research studies will also examine the impact of having learners create their own math walk stops at local informal learning sites, uploading pictures, descriptions, and linking audio they narrate, where they make observations about how math appears in their surroundings and pose interesting questions about STEM ideas and connections they wonder about.

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Chalkboard with beaker and textbook

Science Teachers' Experiences Learning about African American English

The Spencer Foundation

PI: Dr. Quentin Sedlacek (SMU)
July 2021 - December 2024

Racial discrimination is illegal in the United States. However, linguistic discrimination is not similarly prohibited, even though some common beliefs about language are deeply rooted in racism. In recent decades, scholarship that critically examines the relationships between language, race, and racism has had transformative effects on language arts education. However, comparatively little work has explored the effects that critical linguistics can have in science education. This study, funded by a grant from the Spencer Foundation, will explore the influence of critical linguistics in science education by investigating the sensemaking of current and prospective K-12 science teachers as they learn about African American English (AAE) in their teacher education coursework. AAE is a well-documented language variety historically associated with African American communities in the United States. Research on AAE has played a central role in the development of sociolinguistics, and many universities now offer courses which assign readings about AAE. These texts sometimes employ strategic essentialism to debunk racist stereotypes and raise awareness of the ways in which language ideologies reproduce systemic racism. However, some scholars have expressed concerns about strategic essentialism; while it may help to foster critical language awareness, it may also inadvertently reinforce problematic beliefs about racial identity. Essentialist beliefs about race are already a topic of considerable concern in science education. It is therefore crucial to understand how science educators make sense of information about AAE in their teacher education coursework. This study will use repeated-measures surveys and interviews to investigate science teachers’ sensemaking and racial ideologies. Findings will provide practical and theoretical insights to help science teacher educators reap the benefits of critical linguistics while avoiding the pitfall of reifying essentialist ideologies of race.

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SMU Simmons West Dallas STEM School Project

West Dallas STEM School Project, (Phase II)

Toyota Foundation

PI: Dean Stephanie Knight (SMU)
July 2021 - February 2025

A generous gift from the Toyota USA Foundation has enabled SMU Simmons, Dallas ISD, the West Dallas community, and Toyota to form a partnership to open the West Dallas STEM School. Opened for 7th and 8th grade in August of 2021, the School features inquiry-based, industry-informed STEM curriculum and will have co-located wraparound community services that include extracurricular academic programming and student and family counseling. Pre-Kindergarten through 1st grade will open in 2022 and a new grade will be added each year thereafter, until the School serves pre-K through 8th grade students.

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Parenting holding baby while researching on computer

Best Place for Working Parents - Study Phase

The Miles Foundation

PI: Dr. Annie Wright (SMU)
CO-PIs: Rachel Johns (SMU) and Dylan Farmer (SMU)
June 2021 - June 2023

CORE is partnering with the Best Place for Working Parents and The Miles Foundation to understand and document how BPWP’s Top 10 Policies are implemented across varied business environments and what effects the policies may have on both employee and business outcomes

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Three elementary aged school reading book together.

Evaluation of Tarrant County Literacy Interventions

The Morris Foundation

PI: Dr. Annie Wright (SMU)
Co-PIs: Dylan Farmer (SMU), Jillian Conry (SMU)
May 2021 - December 2023

Center on Research and Evaluation (CORE) is serving as an evaluation partner to The Morris Foundation (TMF) in order to examine associations between literacy enrichment programming and student outcomes for Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) students in the early grades (K-3). Using student-level data from FWISD as well as dosage and other programming data from the literacy programs, the resulting series of reports for TMF will contextualize student literacy development for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years.

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Laptop-based virtual consultation between coach and teacher.

Preparing Teaching Candidates to Enact Transformative Teaching Practices: A Program Level Design-Development Study

Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation

PI: Dr. Melissa Wetzel (University of Texas @ Austin)
Co-PI: Dr. Annie Wilhelm (SMU)
January 2021 – December 2023

The overarching goal for this grant is to study our collaborative efforts to improve teacher candidates’ field experiences, across seven Texas teacher preparation programs. Our objective is to develop a protocol and research-based practices for coaching in virtual settings; as the contexts of clinical field experiences in teacher education shifted during the pandemic. We are also studying how improvement science methods have supported our collaborative work.

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The Enigma Lost Words of Atlantis game logo and splash screen.

Using Pre-Assessment to Customize Adult Literacy Game-Based Learning

Dollar General Family Literacy Foundation

PI: Dr. Corey Clark (SMU)
Co-PIs: Dr. Anthony Cuevas (SMU), Dr. Diane Gifford (SMU)
January 2021 - December 2026

In 2015, SMU joined with Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT) to participate in the Barbara Bush Adult Literacy XPRIZE and develop a game-based mobile application that would change the way low literate adults would learn to read. In 2019, our team of literacy experts, instructional designers, artists, programmers, and game designers won the XPRIZE Grand Prize and Achievement Prize for having the highest gains in literacy among English Language Learners (ELL) from the 109 teams from 15 different countries that participated. Our team developed Codex: The Lost Words of Atlantis, a game where the learner is a great adventurer traveling around the world experiencing new cultures and history while uncovering the secrets of Atlantis. The player finds artifacts and relics and then decodes the cryptic Atlantean language into English. The game is an interactive and engaging story that is fun, while grounded in learning science. We built the game to meet the core concerns and requests that were identified by our focus group. Three focal concepts were integrated into the game: (1) Increase the learner’s knowledge about the world while learning to read, (2) Provide a sense of accomplishment throughout the learning experience, and (3) Help remove the self-consciousness learners often feel when engaging with adult literacy curriculum. In the end, Codex was able to produce over a year’s worth of learning within 9 months through a phone-based video game that utilized adaptive cognitive load theory and difficulty analysis to transform an existing literacy curriculum into game-based learning activities that increased players' engagement and learning.

SMUs team will use this newest grant to continue the development of the application and launch its newest iteration of the game-based curriculum, Enigma. This game will push literacy skills past Codex’s 1st & 2nd and incorporate a pre-assessment tool to customize the learner’s education path in the game. The assessment will allow for identification of literacy gaps for each learner, thus allowing the game to adapt each learners’ specific needs. The incorporation of pre-assessment and customizable gameplay will allow learners to quickly move past areas where they currently have mastery and thus help keep a high engagement within the game. As part of this study, a user reporting and visualization interface will be created to help track and show participants engagement and literacy gains throughout their game play.

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Group of school kids reading for education

Developing Computational Tools for Model-Based Oral Reading Fluency Assessments

U.S. Dept. of Education, Institute of Education Sciences (IES)

PI: Dr. Akihito Kamata (SMU)
Co-PIs: Dr. Cornelis Potgieter (Texas Christian University); Dr. Joseph Nese (University of Oregon); Dr. Yusuf Kara (SMU)
August 2020 - July 2023

The project will develop computational tools (R package and a Shiny app) for estimating sentence, passage, speed, and accuracy parameters for ORF assessment data based on the model-based approach. Ultimately, the project aims that the model-based approach to ORF assessment data developed by the previous and current projects would be widely applied by educational researchers who utilize ORF assessment scores in their research and ORF assessment programs who report ORF scores to teachers, parents and students to improve the validity and reliability of ORF scores for better use of ORF scores in classrooms. The project will also develop web-based tutorials for supporting applied researchers who use the R package and Shiny app.

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Multi-color map of continental USA

Equity and Effectiveness of State Higher Education Funding Policies

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

PI: Dr. Kelly Rosinger (Penn State University)
Co-PIs: Dr. Dominique Baker (SMU), Dr. Justin Ortagus (University of Florida), Dr. Robert Kelchen (Seton Hall University)
August 2020 - April 2023

The grant will support a two-year project that will focus on three main policy issues: how states fund colleges, funding disparities among community colleges, and how states fund students through financial aid. In addition to compiling detailed data from a nearly two-decade period related to those policy issues, the research team will also examine how variations in state funding approaches shape college outcomes, particularly among low-income and racially minoritized students.

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Exploring Collaborative Embodiment for Learning (EXCEL): Understanding Geometry through Multiple Modalities

Exploring Collaborative Embodiment for Learning (EXCEL): Understanding Geometry through Multiple Modalities

U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences (IES)

PI: Dr. Candace Walkington (SMU)
August 2020 - July 2024

This project explores collaborative embodiment in the domain of geometric reasoning, leveraging Augmented Reality (AR) technology. AR is a technology that allows the layering of virtual components onto the physical world, such as projecting a three-dimensional hologram of a cylinder atop a real-world desk. Embodiment encompasses the idea that students can learn mathematics using physical motions, gestures, and their perceptions of objects and shapes. Theories of collaborative embodiment, i.e., theories that account for multiple people working together in an embodied way, are needed that take into account the multi-learner nature of mathematics classrooms, and how learners can jointly embody mathematical ideas using different tools and representations. Recent advances in multi-user instructional technology, namely shared holographic AR or shAR, allow for new and important hypotheses about collaborative embodiment to be tested. ShAR is AR technology where multiple learners can view and manipulate the same holograms together at the same time – in our case, holograms of different geometric shapes and solids. We hypothesize that different modalities for math learning (like a hologram, a set of physical manipulatives, a dynamic geometry system (DGS) on a tablet, or a piece of paper) have different affordances, including the degree to which they can represent dynamic transformations, can represent objects and operations in 3 dimensions, can support joint attention, and can provide situational feedback. This project is developing an experimental platform modeled after the Flatland novella, a piece of mathematical fiction from the 1800s about an imaginary world run by geometric shapes, to test our hypotheses. This platform will facilitate data collection from students, situate experimental tasks in an engaging narrative story, and allow for researchers to control key experimental variables. Our overarching research questions are: How do different modalities for collaborative embodiment, particularly shAR, impact student understanding of geometric principles? How are these effects mediated by gesture, language, and actions, and how are they moderated by student and task characteristics? This project is a collaboration between the Department of Teaching and Learning at SMU, the Guildhall at SMU, the Department of Educational Psychology at UW Madison, and a software company GeoGebra who will create the AR geometry environment.

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Children working on reading assignments in classroom environment.

Measuring the English Language Vocabulary Acquisition of Latinx Bilingual Students (Project MELVA-S)

U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences (IES)

PI: Dr. Doris Baker (University of Texas, Austin)
Co-PIs: Dr. Akihito Kamata (SMU); Dr. Eric Larson (SMU); Dr. Cara Richards-Tutor (California State University, Long Beach)
August 2020 – July 2024

The purpose of this project is to develop an online formative assessment that measures the science vocabulary knowledge of Latinx bilingual students (LBS) with different levels of English and Spanish language proficiencies. Results from the assessments can be used to progress monitor students, help teachers differentiate language and vocabulary instruction, and provide additional science vocabulary supports within a Response-to-Intervention approach.

This project will produce an online formative assessment system – the Measuring the English Language Vocabulary Acquisition of Latinx Bilingual Students (MELVA-S). The team will produce 24 equivalent alternate forms of MELVA that can be used by teachers to assess their student initial status and growth of vocabulary knowledge and a preliminary report that can be used by teachers to differentiate instruction and provide additional vocabulary and language development support around science topics.

To build the system, the research team will (a) develop assessment content and items; (b) build the interface, the speech recognition system (SRS), and the automated scoring system (AS); (c) develop a psychometric model that accurately estimates vocabulary item parameter and student vocabulary abilities; and (d) carry out three validation studies.

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Students reading books for education in school classroom

A Comprehensive Measure of Reading Fluency: Uniting and Scaling Accuracy, Rate, and Prosody

U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences (IES)

PI: Dr. Joseph Nese (University of Oregon)
Co-PIs: Dr. Akihito Kamata (SMU; PI for subcontract to SMU); Dr. Eric Larson (SMU); Dr. Rhonda Nese (University of Oregon); Dr. Leilani Saez (University of Oregon)
July 2020 – June 2024

This project will develop a tablet application to administer the CORE ORF assessment, by integrating a locally optimized automatic speech recognition (ASR) engine and an automated scoring algorithm by applying a machine learning model to score accuracy, speed, and prosody. This project will develop an automated scoring system to measure, unite, and scale the speed, accuracy, and prosody of ORF for students in grades 2 to 4. Research has shown that prosody explains variance in reading comprehension beyond rate and accuracy; however, current ORF assessments neglect the measurement of prosody. This project can increase the reliability and validity of decisions made from ORF scores, resulting in better identification of students in need of reading interventions, and better evaluation of those interventions.

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Project Intensity

Examining the Efficacy of Friends on the Block: An Intensive Early Literacy Intervention for Elementary Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disability (Project Intensity)

U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences (IES)

PI: Dr. Jill Allor (SMU)
Co-PI: Dr. Stephanie Al Otaiba (SMU)
July 2020 - June 2025

The purpose of Project Intensity is to conduct a randomized control trial (RCT) in schools in Alabama and Texas to evaluate the initial efficacy of Friends On The Block ( a comprehensive text‐based early literacy intervention written by professors Dr. Jill Allor, Dr. Stephanie Al Otaiba, and Dr. Jennifer Cheatham, to enhance the reading and language outcomes of participating students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Specifically, 240 students with IDD will be randomly assigned to a literacy intervention treatment condition (Friends on the Block (FOTB)) or a business‐as‐usual (BAU) control condition. Students in the treatment condition will receive the intervention from Project Teachers across two academic years. In addition to examining treatment effects on reading and language outcomes, we will explore moderators (e.g., IQ, SES) of the treatment. Friends on the Block is a comprehensive early literacy intervention designed to be inclusive and address the specific challenges and strengths of students with IDD; it includes a range of customizable and motivating materials comprised of: (1) a researcher‐developed book series, (2) explicit lessons that provide extensive opportunities for students to integrate skills and apply them in a meaningful context, and (3) multiple learning games to support practice and review. The books include narrative stories about the main character, Sam, and his friends on the block and related expository texts. The FOTB program is flexible and customizable, so teachers can adjust the pacing and instructional activities to meet the needs of various learners, particularly those with intensive needs, such as students with IDD.

Primary Research Questions

1. Do students who participate in FOTB demonstrate greater reading outcomes compared to students who participate in BAU reading instruction?

2. Do students who participate in FOTB demonstrate greater language outcomes compared to students who participate in BAU reading instruction?

For any questions please contact Dr. Miriam Ortiz the coordinator for Project Intensity.

Dr. Jill Allor and Dr. Stephanie Al Otaiba acknowledge a financial interest in the Friends on the Block books and curriculum. Any inquiries should be directed to the Office of Research Compliance at Southern Methodist University.

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Dr. Al Otaiba and Dr. Rivas Research Photo

Project GROW: Growing Vocabulary Knowledge to Support Comprehension Development through a Kindergarten Dialogic Read-Aloud Intervention

U.S. Dept. of Education, Institute of Education Sciences (IES)

PI: Dr. Stephanie Al Otaiba (SMU)
Co-PI: Dr. Brenna Rivas (SMU)
July 2020 – June 2024

Simmons faculty members Stephanie Al Otaiba, Ph.D. and Brenna Rivas, Ph.D. received a development grant from the Institute for Education Sciences ($1,399,721). The purpose of the grant is to design a read-aloud intervention to improve kindergartners’ social and emotional vocabulary and their listening comprehension. The team will develop and field test 16 book units featuring multi-cultural characters and settings. They plan a mixed methods approach to ascertain the feasibility and promise of the intervention for kindergarteners in low-income schools. 

Al Otaiba holds the Patsy and Ray Caldwell Centennial Chair in Teaching and Learning. She and Rivas have collaborated over the past eight years on several projects related to literacy interventions and response to intervention funded by IES and the National Institutes of Health. They are joined by post-doctoral researcher Jennifer Stewart, Ph.D., a recent Simmons graduate, to support the project.

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Middle school teacher sitting with group of kids doing math work.

The Noyce Scholars Program, Dallas

National Science Foundation (NSF)

Award #1950246
PI: Dr. Scott Norris (SMU Dedman College)
Co-PIs: Dr. Annie Wilhelm, Dr. Candace Walkington (SMU Simmons School)
July 2020 - June 2026

The Dallas Noyce Scholars Program is a partnership between Southern Methodist University (SMU) and the Dallas College School of Education to create a community-focused pathway for mathematics teacher preparation in the Dallas community. The intent of this program is to allow qualified students with a sincere desire to teach in high-need schools to benefit from an exceptional learning opportunity at SMU with $30,000 in scholarship funding from the National Science Foundation, and possible additional scholarship funding from SMU. While the primary thrust of the grant is scholarship funding, we are simultaneously studying how different features of the program impact teacher preparation and retention.

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Mixed-reality avatar middle-school children on Mursion platform.

Replication Research to Improve the Preparation of Teachers

Robertson Foundation

PI: Dr. Julie Cohen
Co-PIs: Dr. Annie Wilhelm (SMU); Dr. Vivian Wong (University of Virginia); Dr. Jair Aguilar (University of Texas -Rio Grande Valley)
June 2020 - May 2023

The project includes a series of replication studies to be conducted over three years, across the three institutions in the network. The first study design focuses on whether effects of coaching replicate across three teacher training programs with diverse teacher candidate and setting characteristics. The second study examines whether coaching supports are as effective across different MRS scenarios, including “parent engagement,” “setting classroom norms,” and “feedback.” Combined, these studies will address questions about “what works” in promoting teacher learning in MRS, as well as help us understand under “what conditions” and “for whom” these interventions are most effective.

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Dr. Alexandra Pavlakis, Dr. Meredith Richards, Dr. Kessa Roberts

Student Homelessness in the Context of COVID-19 and Natural Disasters

Spencer Foundation, Moody Foundation, American Institutes for Research, and Sam Taylor

PI: Dr. Alexandra Pavlakis (SMU), Dr. Meredith Richards (SMU)
Co-PI: Dr. Kessa Roberts
March 2020 – June 2023

Pavlakis, Richards and Roberts are working in collaboration with the Houston Independent School District and the Houston Education Research Consortium at Rice University to explore the intersectional effects of two catastrophic disasters, COVID-19 and Hurricane Harvey, on students in Houston, Texas, living in homelessness. The research will help the district better understand the impact of these disasters and how they shape both the experiences of students and the practices of the school and community providers that serve them.

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Simmons YWAC Research in person meeting in Houston 2021

CORE Ongoing Evaluation of the Dallas Young Womens Initiative

Texas Women’s Foundation

PI: Dr. Annie Wright (SMU)
Lead Personnel: Anupama Shekar (SMU)
January 2020 - December 2023

The Center on Research and Evaluation (CORE) is conducting a participatory, developmental, and formative multi-year evaluation and research study of the Texas Women’s Foundation Dallas Young Women’s Initiative (Dallas YWI) Program. Working closely with Fellows, CORE has co-reported individual and collective benefits to the young women of color participating in the program and how their advocacy and leadership around local and national issues has led to better outcomes for other young women of color in our community. The Dallas YWI program has expanded to Houston and CORE serves in a lead evaluator role.

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Minecraft landscape

POLYMATH: Polycraft Multi-user Anthropomorphic Testbed for Hybrid Systems

U.S. Department of Defense (DOD)

PI: Dr. Eric Kildebeck (University of Texas at Dallas)
Co-PIs: Dr. Candace Walkington (SMU), Dr. Eric Bing (SMU), Dr. Anthony Cuevas (SMU)
November 2019 - May 2023

This grant will examine using Polycraft World – a Minecraft mod - to create geometry puzzles. Puzzles will incorporate spatial reasoning tasks where students or agents arrange and manipulate blocks, fencing, and other objects to solve problems about geometric principles like area, volume, perimeter, reflection, and rotation. Data will be collected where students work cooperatively in teams to solve these puzzles either on a laptop in the digital Polycraft World, or in a live-action, full-sized “arena” where they manipulate actual foam bricks and pieces of fencing to discover problem solutions. Students’ actions when solving the tasks will be analyzed and coded, and gestures, speech, and actions on objects will be carefully extracted from video footage. We will also use physiological sensors to continuously detect learner states as they engage in problem solving. Later stages of the grant will involve using videos of learners solving the geometry puzzles to train an artificial intelligence agent to solve the same problems, and then will introduce different kinds of novelty into Polycraft World to disrupt problem-solving processes and foster creative thinking.

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Dr. Geller, Dr. Clark, and Dr. Larson sitting next to computer showing Minecraft.

Integrating Human Computer Interaction, Machine Learning, Game Design, and Educational Assessment in a STEM+C Curriculum

National Science Foundation (NSF)

Award #1933848
PI: Dr. Corey Clark (SMU)
Co-PIs: Dr. Leanne Ketterlin Geller (SMU), Dr. Eric Larson (SMU)
September 2019 - August 2023

National Science Foundation has awarded Corey Clark, Ph.D., Leanne Ketterlin Geller, Ph.D. and Eric Larson, Ph.D. a $1.5 million four year grant to research teaching computer science and computational thinking via Minecraft. Efforts to increase intrinsic interest in math and data science have proven difficult to apply evenly across gender, race, and socio-economic factors. This research project will assist in creating a more stable, ethical, and inclusive data science workforce by broadening the interest in data science to a more diverse population of students. This research spans the fields of game design, human computer interaction, machine learning, curriculum design and educational assessment by integrating essential computer science standards directly into Minecraft. The game and infrastructure produced through this research will serve as a vital computing resource for middle and high school educators that will be sustained beyond the current project.

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Young children and instructor collaborating on a workbook

Validation of the Equity and Access Rubrics for Mathematics Instruction (VEAR-MI)

National Science Foundation (NSF)

PI: Dr. Jonee Wilson (University of Virginia)
Co-PIs: Dr. Anne Garrison Wilhelm (SMU)
July 2019 - July 2023

In this four-year project, funded by the National Science Foundation (Award #1908481), we are studying elementary and middle-school mathematics instructional practice to address the challenge of supporting the increasingly diverse population of students to access and equitably participate in rigorous mathematical activity. Over the four years, researchers from North Carolina State University (NC State) and Southern Methodist University (SMU) will be collaborating to validate the EAR-MI, a new measure developed to capture practices aimed to support marginalized students in gaining access and more equitably participating in mathematics classrooms. Though the EAR-MI has great potential to support teacher educators and educational researchers in identifying, evaluating, and supporting the development of these practices, before promoting the use of the EAR-MI, it is important that the EAR-MI be validated to be used in particular ways so that claims and inferences drawn from using it are warranted. The study draws on Kane’s (2016) “argument-based approach to validity” in systematically building an argument for the validity of the EAR-MI.

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Students raising hands in math class with teacher looking on

Understanding How Elementary Teachers Take Up Discussion Practices to Promote Disciplinary Learning and Equity

James S. McDonnel Foundation

PI: Dr. Lynsey Gibbons (University of Delaware)
Co-PI: Dr. Anne Garrison Wilhelm (SMU)
Co-PIs: Andrea Bien, Eve Manz, Catherine O’Connor, Beth Warren, Ann Rosebery, Eli Tucker-Raymond (Boston University and TERC)
January 2018 - December 2024

In this 5 year project, we are focused on understanding how elementary teachers use discussion practices in their classrooms, across content areas. In the first phase, we are interested in describing teachers’ practice and understanding teachers’ decision-making. In the second phase, we will focus on designing learning opportunities for teachers to leverage their existing strengths to improve their discussion practice as they aim to support disciplinary learning and equity.

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Lindsey Perry, Research Assistant Professor & Leanne Ketterlin Geller, Professor, Texas Instruments Endowed Chair

Measuring Early Mathematical Reasoning Skills: Developing Tests of Numeric Relational Reasoning and Spatial Reasoning National Science Foundation

National Science Foundation (NSF)

Award No. 1721100
PI: Dr. Leanne Ketterlin Geller (SMU)
September 2017 - February 2024

National Science Foundation logoThe primary purpose of the Measuring Early Mathematical Reasoning Skills project, funded by the National Science Foundation, is to develop the Measures of Mathematical Reasoning Skills system comprised of two universal screening tools: Tests of Numeric Relational Reasoning (T-NRR) and Tests of Spatial Reasoning (T-SR). These screeners will measure students' abilities in two foundational and predictive mathematics constructs, numeric relational reasoning and spatial reasoning, in Grades K-2. These screeners will assist teachers in understanding and monitoring their students' numeric relational reasoning and spatial reasoning abilities, leading to informed instructional decisions and curricular interventions.

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Dr. Amy Richardson and Dr. Jeanna Wieselmann

Raising Texas Teachers Inside Strong Communities

The Charles Butt Foundation

PI: Dr. Amy Richardson (SMU)
Co-PI: Dr. Annie Wilhelm (SMU)
September 2017 – December 2024

This grant will provide scholarships of $8,000 to 10,000 to a unique cohort of up to 10 pre-service teachers undergraduate and graduate teacher preparation programs in the Department of Teaching and Learning each year for a four-year period. As part of the grant, the graduate students (pre-service teachers) and program director in the department will participate in all of the working group meetings sponsored (and underwritten) by the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation. Teachers will be recruited into this program from the SMU undergraduate community and from the Dallas area. The project is aligned with the vision and mission of the department in strengthening its teacher preparation pipeline and in building a state-wide network for SMU Simmons among other Institutes of Higher Education.

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Gentleman wearing VR goggles in demonstrating surgery similator

Comparison of Traditional vs. Virtual Simulation-enhanced Training for Scaling the Cervical Cancer Surgery in Zambia

King’s College London, Medical Research Council

PI: Dr. Eric Bing (SMU)
Co-PI: Dr. Tony Cuevas (SMU)
April 2017 - Ongoing

The Virtual Reality Surgery Simulator project aims to reduce the time and cost required to train surgeons by using an innovative virtual reality simulation designed to run on off-the-shelf video gaming equipment. The immersive surgery simulator is designed to help trainees acquire the psychomotor skills, sensory acuity, and cognitive planning required to perform complex surgical tasks. When combined with clinical training, this technology has the potential to significantly reduce the time and cost of achieving surgical proficiency in resource-constrained settings.

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Young student reading a book

Research, Data Collection and Analysis using the CLASS® Tool

Dallas Independent School District (DISD)

PI: Dr. Annie Wright (SMU)
Co-PI: Dylan Farmer (SMU)
September 2015 - Ongoing

Dallas ISD’s Early Learning Department and SMU’s Center on Research and Evaluation (CORE) are engaged in a longitudinal research-practice partnership aimed at supporting quality early childhood educational experiences. CLASS observations are conducted by CORE, and rapid feedback of actionable data is allowing the Early Learning Department, instructional specialists and campus leadership to provide targeted coaching to early elementary teachers (PreK to 2nd grade). This ongoing data collection also allows CORE to document how quality is changing semester over semester and year over year and to document the longer-term implications of sustained early childhood quality for student outcomes.


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