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Stephanie Cawthon and Carrie Lou Garberoglio are deaf. They have lived the experience—as students and professionals—of working with accommodations and breaking down barriers. Their passion for changing the paradigm of the educational experience in the U.S. for deaf individuals has influenced their work as researchers.

Stephanie Cawthon and Carrie Lou Garberoglio

Stephanie Cawthon and Carrie Lou Garberoglio

Cawthon is the director of a new center in the College of Education that has received a $20 million, five-year grant from the Office of Special Education Programs of the U.S. Department of Education (DOE). It is one of the largest grants awarded by the DOE to support technical assistance and professional development in education.

The center’s goal is to help change the climate, culture and expectations for deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

“We want to increase accessibility, concentrating on the grass roots, and understand why things are happening at a deeper level”

“We want people who are deaf or hard of hearing to have access to more robust services—services that serve the whole person, and that have been, and that have been proven effective. We want to increase accessibility, concentrating on the grass roots, and understand why things are happening at a deeper level,” says Cawthon, an associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and an Elizabeth Glenadine Gibb Teaching Fellow in Education.

The Deaf and Hard of Hearing Institute, which will open in January, will be housed in the College’s Meadows Center’s infrastructure and nationally recognized expertise in translating research into practice.

“Dr. Cawthon will lead a strong collaborative national team of researchers and practitioners. The project is well-positioned to draw upon extensive experience, data-driven research, and scholarship in the field,” says College of Education Dean Manuel J. Justiz.

The center will support colleges and universities that work with organizations and public agencies across the nation to more effectively address postsecondary, vocational, technical, continuing, and adult educational needs of deaf and hard of hearing individuals.

“Ultimately, we seek to change the culture surrounding postsecondary outcomes for deaf individuals and create conditions for success in a way that recognizes and honors their experiences, perspectives, and abilities,” says Garberoglio, project Manager at the Meadows Center and a co-principal investigator on the team.

Currently, best practices for supporting educational outcomes after high school for deaf and hard of hearing individuals have not been studied rigorously or shared broadly, which means that uneven outcomes are common. The new center aims to change that.

The center’s researchers want to increase admittance to, persistence in and completion of college or post-secondary training without remedial coursework, as well as institutional capacity to implement evidence-based practices and strategies. The team also wants to increase the body of knowledge on ways to use technology to promote access and provide accommodations.

Says Cawthon, “I’m proud that we’re bringing together teams of people from education, business, and community organizations, as well as families, in an innovative and useful effort. We want to improve the research and find better ways for individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing to overcome challenges and be successful.”

-Photo by Christina S. Murrey

November 3, 2014

Sharon Vaughn, executive director of the Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk, has received part of a $7.5 million grant that will be used to prepare special education experts to develop intensive interventions for students with persistent, severe academic and behavioral difficulties.

The five-year grant is funded by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), a division of the U.S. Department of Education. Funds will be distributed to seven partner institutions that are part of the National Center for Leadership in Intensive Intervention (NCLII), a new consortium that includes Vanderbilt University, University of Illinois at Chicago, and the University of Minnesota. The funding will support 28 doctoral students nationally.

“As a University of Texas graduate, I am very excited that the talented faculty of UT’s Department of Special Education will be engaged with NCLII,” said Christopher Lemons, assistant professor of special education at Vanderbilt University and co-director of the program. “We are delighted that Sharon Vaughn is serving as the lead representative from UT. Sharon is one of the most respected researchers in our field. Her work has dramatically impacted classroom practice and she is one of the top experts on how to develop and evaluate intensive interventions targeting our neediest students.”

The project is currently recruiting applicants to begin doctoral work in fall 2015. Scholars who are accepted will contribute to the Intensive Intervention Network, a website designed to advance research on and implementation of intensive interventions. The project will provide opportunities for scholars to participate in cross-institutional research activities. In addition, the consortium will allow doctoral students to intern with national centers supported by OSEP, including the Collaboration for Effective Educator Development, Accountability, and Reform; the National Center on Intensive Intervention; and the IRIS Center at Vanderbilt University.

The Middle School Matters Institute, an initiative of the George W. Bush Institute at the George W. Bush Presidential Center, in partnership with The University of Texas at Austin’s Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk at The University of Texas at Austin (MCPER), held its annual summer conference June 17-19.

The Honorable Margaret Spellings

The Honorable Margaret Spellings

Educators and administrators from across the country gathered at UT Austin to learn about research-based practices and school improvement strategies from some of the nation’s leading education experts and researchers. Focused on grades five through eight, the Institute helps school districts improve reading, writing, and math instruction, and uses evidence-based practices to enable students to improve their performance, stay in school, and put themselves on a path to high school graduation.

The goals of the conference included sharing knowledge related to the research base of the 13 content dimensions included in the Middle School Matters Field Guide, including reading, performance management, and dropout prevention. Attendees learned how to implement these research-based practices and apply this new knowledge to develop implementation plans for the coming school year.

Conference participants included the program’s eight new Tier II schools, as well as four schools from last year’s cohort. Breakout workshop sessions addressed vocabulary and comprehension strategies to support content area learning, implementing research-based practices in mathematics, and improving student success in the middle grades.

Middle School Matters Conference attendees

Middle School Matters Conference attendees

The conference concluded with a special announcement that the Bush Institute now declares three of last year’s schools, including two from Texas, Middle School Matters Showcase Schools. These schools have observed increases in student attendance, positive behavior, and scores on standardized tests.

An additional highlight of the conference was an appearance by Margaret Spellings, former secretary of education to President George W. Bush and president of the George W. Bush Presidential Center. Spellings conducted a roundtable discussion with administrators and education experts, including MCPER Executive Director Sharon Vaughn.

“It’s been terrific to work with Sharon these many years,” said Spellings. “She and her colleagues have made a huge difference not only in Texas but all over the country.”

Vaughn’s praise for Spellings was equally glowing. “I have so much admiration for Margaret Spellings,” she said. “I’ve been working with her on education initiatives for 17 years, and she launched many of our Texas education initiatives. She gets things done.”

The discussion focused on how the Middle School Matters Institute’s work can be most effectively administered to make positive changes in all schools. Spellings discussed how a switch from craft-based to evidence-based education could be a key.

MCPER Executive Director Sharon Vaughn

MCPER Executive Director Sharon Vaughn

“It’s about teachers,” Spellings said. “It’s unique because teachers are our largest input in the process, and we’re providing intense professional development that helps change the way they practice.”

While a great deal of time and effort is focused on grades K-3, middle school is often treated as a way station en route to high school. The roundtable attendees agreed that middle school should be treated as importantly as foundation grades.

“These research-based practices have helped,” Vaughn said of the Institute’s school improvement strategies. “Grades five through eight have been a soft spot because we haven’t had the research. Now we have it. What’s really fun is how it brings research to life in the classroom.”

– Jason Gelt, jgelt@austin.utexas.edu

Hot on the heels of being named a Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow by the National Academy of Education (NAEd), Sarah Powell has scooped up another honor. The first-year assistant professor in the College of Education’s Department of Special Education was one of four Texas university faculty selected as a Greater Texas Foundation Faculty Fellow.

The three-year program provides each fellow with a $30,000 per year grant to support a research agenda aligned with the foundation’s mission to support postsecondary preparation, access, and completion for Texas students.

After being nominated through an invitation-only nomination process, Powell was asked to participate in a competitive proposal process in which she was required to demonstrate significant potential in and commitment to a career in research and teaching at the postsecondary level.

“The Greater Texas Foundation Faculty Fellowship provides me with the opportunity to extend my interest in algebraic development to students at the college level,” said Powell. “During the three-year project, I plan to work with college students with math disabilities or difficulties, a sample of students that is rarely studied. I want to learn how the math performance and math experiences of college students contribute to preparation for and success in college.”

In addition, Powell was required to identify a mentor to assist her throughout the three-year fellowship. Powell selected Sharon Vaughn, executive director of The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk.

“As Dr. Vaughn is one of the best empirical researchers in special education, I feel very fortunate that she agreed to be my mentor over the next three years,” said Powell. “Under her direction, I am confident I can get my project up and running and complete it successfully.”

In a recent survey, Austin Independent School District teachers, reading coaches, and administrators reported that the Texas Literacy Initiative has significantly improved student literacy.

The Texas Literacy Initiative (TLI) is a professional development and technical assistance project launched by The Meadows Center at UT’s College of Education. The initiative works to improve school readiness and success in language and literacy of disadvantaged students, and it has benefited more than 20,000 Austin ISD students since it was implemented two years ago.

In November 2013, AISD’s Department of Research and Evaluation conducted a survey of 297 teachers, 51 literacy coaches and reading specialists, and 48 administrators.

Across the board, AISD educators reported being well supported in their efforts to improve students’ reading outcomes. In the survey, 93% of teachers and 94% of reading coaches said that their campus administrators supported their TLI work, and 83% of administrators reported that they received “the support I need” from district-level TLI staff.

An impressive 98% of administrators reported that TLI improves student literacy at their school. A substantial majority (81%) of teachers noted that TLI reading coaches are important to the academic success of their students.

TLI’s emphasis on data-informed decision-making is one of the factors driving improvement in student achievement. Data meetings helped 87% of teachers “drive my instruction to support the needs of my students.” One surveyed teacher explained that a benefit of meeting with reading coaches is “…being able to sit down and review the data showing student progress and being able to work together to collaborate on different activities that will help support our students’ learning.”

Teamwork and collaboration play key roles in TLI’s success. With a high number of AISD schools and educators involved, the implementation plan depends on consistent communication across the school sites and strong professional learning communities.

The Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts at The University of Texas at Austin works closely with the leadership at AISD to develop effective grant implementation teams and prepare literacy coaches to support teachers in meeting their instructional goals. As Marissa Campbell, the reading coach at Guerrero Thompson Elementary School, said, “Often, I feel my job enters uncharted territory—yet the [TLI] training and support help me find my path.”

To ensure that best practices for instruction, professional development, and community involvement are consistently employed, similar surveys and student data reporting will continue to track TLI’s progress in the district.

Sharon Vaughn, Executive Director of The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk

Dr. Sharon Vaughn, an internationally acclaimed reading expert and executive director of The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk (MCPER), has been honored with the University Co-op Robert W. Hamilton Book Awards program’s very prestigious Career Research Excellence Award.

Vaughn, who is the H.E. Hartfelder/Southland Corp. Regents Chair in Human Development, is the first female ever to win the award and only the second winner from The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education.

The Research Excellence Award, which is accompanied by $10,000, is given to a UT Austin faculty member or staff researcher who has maintained a superior research program across many years.

In addition to serving as the Executive Director of MCPER, Vaughn also is a professor in the Department of Special Education and director of the Center’s Reading Institute and the Dropout Prevention Institute. She serves on the board of directors for the college’s nationally renowned Vaughn Gross Center for Reading and Language Arts as well.

“Nationally, among literacy and education scholars, Dr. Vaughn’s name is virtually synonymous with reading research and instruction,” said Manuel J. Justiz, dean of the College of Education. “She’s a pioneer in the development and implementation of intervention practices designed to prevent literacy difficulties and improve reading and writing abilities in some of our most in-need student populations – her impact in this area is unprecedented. The College of Education is incredibly fortunate to have someone so highly accomplished.”

At MCPER, over which Dr. Vaughn presides, faculty from a variety of disciplines in addition to education conduct research on autism spectrum disorders, literacy, dropout prevention, English language learners, math learning disabilities, and response to intervention.
Recently Vaughn and colleagues were selected to partner with the George W. Bush Institute and, with a $2.6 million grant, launch the Middle School Matters Institute. The Institute will focus on translating research into practice in middle schools and will address struggling learners’ needs in several core subjects.

In 2010, under Vaughn’s leadership the Center secured the largest grant the College of Education has ever received – $20 million from the Institute of Education Sciences – and what is thought to be the largest grant ever awarded to any college or school of education.
In total, Vaughn has been responsible for around $60 million in funding since she joined the College of Education.

Currently, she is principal investigator on several Institute of Education Sciences, Texas Education Agency and U.S. Department of Education research grants as well as a major National Institute for Child Health and Human Development grant which is allowing her to investigate response to intervention in students with reading difficulties.

During her more than three decades of scholarship, Vaughn has been recognized with numerous honors, including:

  • Distinguished Researcher Award from the American Educational Research Association
  • UT Austin’s Dean’s Distinguished Faculty Award
  • Special Education Research Award from the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC)
  • Jeannette E. Fleischner Award for Outstanding Contributions in the Field of Learning Disabilities from the CEC
  • Albert J. Harris Award from the International Reading Association
  • Lifetime Achievement Award from The Institute for Literacy and Learning
  • J. Lee Wiederholdt Award from the Council for Learning Disabilities

She has authored more than 35 books that have informed instructional design and other other researchers’ scholarship. She has also written more than 250 research articles. In addition, she has been editor-in-chief of the Journal of Learning Disabilities and serves on the editorial review boards for 10 different journals that focus on individuals with disabilities.

“This Career Research Excellence Award is such a fitting tribute to Dr. Vaughn’s stature in the field of education,” said Justiz. “And it is a wonderful way to say ‘thank you’ to her for working so diligently to make sure that all children have an opportunity to learn.”

Photos by: Christina S. Murrey