Commemorating 20 Years of IES: Sandra M. Chafouleas
Commemorating 20 Years of IES: Sandra M. Chafouleas

Commemorating 20 Years of IES
Sandra M. Chafouleas​, University of Connecticut

Jeremy Stoddard

Wahoo to the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) during this 20th anniversary! I feel particularly nostalgic as I reflect on the twenty-year history as it parallels my own career trajectory. My first IES grant was awarded in 2006, during a period in which IES was solidifying its identity as an education research powerhouse. I fondly remember sitting in the opening session of my first PI meeting as an assistant professor, looking around in awe at the amazing researchers whose work I had studied. Any nervousness that I might have felt in that session was quelled by then director Grover J. (Russ) Whitehurst, when he asked first time awardees to stand up and be acknowledged as important contributors in paving the future of IES. That year also marked my introduction to Jackie Buckley, who also was newly arrived to the National Center on Special Education Research (NCSER) and had been assigned as my program officer. I know - for certain - that our projects over the subsequent two decades have been substantially advanced by Jackie’s engaged contributions. I, along with the many colleagues on our various teams, am tremendously grateful to work under Jackie as well as Emily Doolittle’s guidance. Together, their thoughtful leadership collaboration has successfully advanced the collective portfolio of social, emotional, and behavioral research across NCSER and the National Center for Education Research (NCER).

I am honored to have been awarded grants under NCSER and NCER, within the overarching program of social, emotional, and behavioral context and outcomes. My work has focused on development and validation of assessments for identifying social, emotional, and behavioral risk; evaluating responsiveness to supports critical to learning, health, and well-being; and understanding influences on use of particular strategies. Through this work, I examine the interplay of individual, caregiver, and systems factors as influences. With the support of IES funding (VIABLE, VIABLE-II), I have co-led teams (with T. Chris Riley-Tillman) to develop and evaluate new ways to think about measurement within multi-tiered systems of support. Our measurement projects have established Direct Behavior Rating as a viable option in progress monitoring and screening purposes, and we have been delighted to watch new researchers take on the challenge of further evaluation and adaptations.

A more recently completed exploration project allowed our team (Co-PIs Briesch, McCoach, Dineen) to step back from measurement development to ask how social, emotional, and behavioral measures are actually being used in schools throughout the nation. Our cross-disciplinary team asked critical questions to understand whether intended users were interested and able to use those measures that education researchers were developing, including identifying those policy and practice supports that could serve as facilitators or barriers to successful implementation. One unintended consequence of that project resulted in re-framing the way that we reference the social-emotional, mental health, behavioral space into the term social, emotional, and behavioral (SEB). We thank the many school-based participants in that project who told us the landscape of terminology was confusing, and directed all of us to clarify our language.

More recently, we have been able to bring findings from our projects to inform work being undertaken in Project Enhance (PI Kathleen Lane), a current project funded as part of the Research Networks Focused on Critical Problems of Policy and Practice in Special Education: Multi-Tiered Systems of Support. And our newest project, just kicking off with an outstanding set of new and seasoned collaborators, is bringing work back to measurement as we design and evaluate a whole-child screener. We are excited to take on the challenge of re-thinking the what and how in school-based screening to address issues such as a narrow focus (one screener for each area of risk), deficit-orientation (child as the problem), and informant bias.

On a related note, I find it most rewarding to watch the next generation of education researchers on their journeys, often having been ignited in that quest while working on our projects as undergraduate students, graduate students, or postdoctoral scholars. I am particularly thankful to IES for competitions that support postdoctoral research training, such as Project PBER (with Co-PI Georgi Sugai), as I view this avenue as providing high-return in preparing researchers in ways that cannot be accomplished through graduate training alone.

In summary, I am thankful for the many paths that IES pursues to ensure advancement of education research with impact on educators, students, and their families, including providing research training, establishing funding priorities aligned with pressing needs, or striving to ensure clear policy and practice implications of the resulting work. I am grateful to have been a part of the first 20-year history.