SMU Honors Jill Allor by Naming Her a Distinguished University Professor

Distinguished University Professor Jill Allor, Ed.D, Department of Teaching and Learning

Provost Elizabeth Loboa has named Teaching and Learning Professor Jill Allor a Distinguished University Professor for her excellence in teaching, researching, and community service. Allor is one of two SMU faculty members recognized this year for the highest levels of academic achievement.

The honor is based on recommendations from deans and endorsed by the Office of the Provost. The University Distinguished Professorships were created in 1982 by SMU’s Board of Trustees to celebrate outstanding faculty members, who receive cash awards of $10,000 per year and are appointed for a five-year rolling term.

Since arriving at SMU in 2004, Professor Allor has developed and maintained a highly productive research agenda across a broad range of topics within her field: structured literacy tutoring for elementary readers, alternative assessment models for students with intellectual disabilities and below average IQs, and approaches for promoting literacy among pre-school level readers.  She is a former special education teacher whose research is school-based and focuses on reading acquisition for students with and without disabilities, including students with learning disabilities and intellectual disabilities.

She has published 31 peer-reviewed journal articles and seven book chapters. During her time at SMU she has received $7 million dollars in external research funding and has presented at 65 conferences.

Professor Allor has taught a broad range of courses, including literacy, assessment, quantitative methods, curriculum/instruction, and special education.  She has also supervised Simmons’ doctoral students through dissertation.

Throughout her SMU career, Allor has maintained a strong commitment to service – to Simmons, SMU and the national community. In Simmons, for example, she served as chair of the Department of Teaching and Learning for nine years.

Allor received her Ed.D. in special education with an emphasis on reading and reading disabilities from Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. Prior to arriving at SMU in 2004, she held faculty appointments at Florida State University and Louisiana State University.

Learn more about her work here:

 

 

Dominique Baker Delivers Evidence Brief on Pandemic Strategies for EdResearch Recovery Project

Dominique Baker, Ph.D., Education Policy and Leadership

The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University and Results for America announced the new EdResearch for Recovery Project, which will provide rapid-turnaround evidence briefs from top researchers to help answer the most pressing education-related questions from policymakers, educators, parents and other advocates as they respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

As part of the project launch, the Annenberg Institute and Results for America released the first three evidence briefs, one of which is co-authored by Simmons Assistant Professor Dominique Baker with Sade Bonilla (University of Massachusetts at Amherst) and Celeste K. Carruthers (University of Tennessee at Knoxville. The brief   synthesizes ways to support and guide students moving into their post secondary education.

“This project responds to a direct ask from education decision makers to better synthesize research in ways that respond to the needs of the moment,” said Nate Schwartz, Professor of Practice at Brown University’s Annenberg Institute. “Starting with a series of crowdsourced questions from leaders at the state and district levels, we enlisted some of the nation’s leading researchers to develop rapid-response briefs that clearly lay out the evidence base to guide current decision making.”

The project is supported by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

 

 

 

 

 

Pavlakis and Richards Receive Spencer Grant to Expand Research on Homeless Students during Pandemic

 As COVID-19 hits all regions of the country, Education Policy and Leadership professors Alexandra Pavlakis, Ph.D. and Meredith Richards, Ph.D. believe the pandemic has deep implications for homeless students, a population they have been researching in Houston, where a large displacement of people began with Hurricane Harvey.
 A new Spencer Foundation grant of $50,000 allows them to examine how the two disasters are shaping homeless students and families, and the practices of school and community providers. They are paying particular attention to geography because of how COVID-19 manifests in low income areas.
 “We employ a novel mixed-method research approach informed by principles of environmental justice and geospatial techniques, and incorporate them into a qualitative case study of COVID-19 and homelessness in Houston,” Pavlakis and Richards say.  “It is imperative that this research be conducted now to support schools, communities, and homeless families in the midst of this double crisis.”

 Pavlakis and Richards work with SMU Simmons post-doctoral fellow Kessa Roberts, Ph.D., and with partners, Houston ISD and the Houston Education Research Consortium. In addition to the Spencer Foundation, the Moody Foundation and SMU’s University Research Council support the research.

Associate Professor Meredith Richards, Assistant Professor Alexandra Pavlakis, and Simmons post-doctoral fellow Kessa Roberts conduct research on homeless students in Houston ISD.

SMU’s Moody School of Graduate Studies Awards Dissertation Fellowship to Simmons’ Mellado De La Cruz

Veronica Mellado De La Cruz, Ph.D. student, Simmons School of Education and Human Development

Veronica Mellado De La Cruz, a Ph.D. student in Simmons, has been awarded a 2020-21 Moody Dissertation Fellowship from the Moody School of Graduate and Advanced Studies. Her award of $30,000 will help her research her dissertation topic that focuses on early reading assessments in English and Spanish for emerging bilingual students. She is one of four Moody Dissertation Fellows this year.

Her proposed work is an extension of a larger, and now complete, Institute of Education Science-funded project exploring brief, published tests for effectively measuring kindergartners’ early literacy growth and efficiently predicting reading difficulties (PI Nathan Clemens; Co-PI Stephanie Al Otaiba).

“When I joined the project and as my training in the Ph.D. program progressed, I began to formulate questions about whether scores on first language early literacy skills might be helpful to educators who use these data for instructional decisions,” she says.

Professor Stephanie Al Otaiba, dissertation advisor, says Mellado De La Cruz  has had extensive training experiences at SMU through a doctoral training grant, the National Center for Leadership on Intensive Intervention, and workshops on learning different analytic methods. “She has already authored and co-authored several publications in peer-reviewed journals, and has made presentations at national conferences,” she says. “Veronica is likely to go on to have a position in educational research for the vulnerable population of students with intensive intervention needs.”

Mellado De La Cruz received her B.A. in Psychology from SMU in 2007, and says that years later when she developed an interest in education research, she reached out to Simmons faculty. Her contact with them lead her to apply for the doctoral program.”I am a Pony through and through!,” she adds.

 

 

 

Gándara Examines Higher Ed Access at Public Institutions with Performance-based Funding Policies

Assistant Professor Denisa Gándara, Dept. of Education Policy and Leadership, looks at performance-based funding (PBF) policies, intended to improve college completion by linking state funding for public colleges and universities to performance measures, and sees if this causes institutions to restrict student access.

In her latest study, published in AERA’s Educational Researcher, she uses a difference-in-differences design and institution-level data from 2001 to 2014 to examine whether 4-year, public institutions become more selective or enroll fewer underrepresented students under PBF.

Her findings suggest that institutions subject to PBF enroll students with higher standardized test scores and enroll fewer first-generation students. PBF models tied to institutions’ base funding are more strongly associated with increased standardized test scores and enrollment of Pell students.

Gándara co-wrote the study with Indiana University’s Amanda Rutherford.

Houston Education Research Consortium Releases Report by Pavlakis and Richards on Homeless Students

A new report by Simmons professors Alexandra Pavlakis and Meredith Richards details how homeless students in Houston ISD are faring educationally. Released by the Houston Education Research Consortium at Rice University, the report makes clear that homeless students are at an elevated risk of a range of adverse educational outcomes, and the findings also highlight the complexity of the relationship between homelessness and student outcomes. Pavlakis and Richards looked at students who were homeless from 2012-13 to 2016-17, the years immediately preceding Hurricane Harvey.

Some of the key findings include:

  • Students experiencing homelessness were more likely to drop out of school than their matched, non-homeless peers.
  • Students who were homeless four and five years tended to have higher attendance than students who were homeless for shorter periods of time.
  • Unaccompanied youth had substantially lower attendance than accompanied homeless students, and less likely to pass the STAAR exams than accompanied homeless students.
  • Where students sleep matters. Attendance gaps were large for unsheltered students and students in motels.
  • Interestingly, homeless students tended to perform better on STAAR exams than their matched peers. This could hint at the potential value of educational supports and resources inherent in McKinney-Vento Act or provided at shelters or drop-in centers for homelessness. However, homeless students were also somewhat less likely to take STAAR tests—particularly in math.

Pavlakis and Richards also make recommendations on what the school district might consider to improve student outcomes. Simmons post doctoral fellow Kessa Roberts, Ph.D. assisted with the research. The Moody Foundation and SMU’s University Research Council supported the research. This is a long-term project for the researchers.

Click here for the report.

 

Simmons professors Alexandra Pavlakis and Meredith Richards look at research information with Kessa Roberts, post doctoral fellow.

 

 

Simmons School Ranked in Top 25 of Private Schools by U.S. News and World Report

A significant rise in rankings places SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development in the top tier of graduate education schools according to the 2021 U.S. News & World Report, released online March 17. Simmons’ new ranking of 63 for public and private graduate schools of education leaps over last year’s 105.

Only two Texas universities rank higher than SMU Simmons–UT Texas at Austin and Texas A&M at College Station. Among national private universities, Simmons is in the top 25. Rankings were assessed for 255 schools.

“Our faculty members understand the importance of collaborating and focusing on research that improves educational outcomes for all students,” said Leon Simmons Endowed Dean Stephanie L. Knight. “I am proud of them and their incredible productivity. They continue to raise the bar for scholarship and consistently translate their research into practice.”

“We are a very young school that was established at SMU in 2005.  Despite our youth and our relatively small size, the ranking demonstrates that we are nationally competitive and that our contributions to research are significant,” she added.

For ranking education schools, U.S. News & World Report considers measures of academic quality, including faculty resources, student selectivity, doctoral degrees granted, in addition to peer assessment scores and research activity.

 

 

Gándara Discusses Pluses and Minuses of Performance-based Funding for State Colleges and Universities

Assistant Professor of Higher Education Denisa Gándara, SMU Simmons

The Conversation, a journalistic publication focusing on academia, interviews Denisa Gándara, assistant professor of higher education in Simmons, about performance-based funding for state colleges and universities.

She points out there is a resurgence in tying state funding to graduation rates because of a renewed interest in college completion. The Great Recession also pushed state legislators to ask higher education institutions to do more with less.  The question is, does performance-based funding work?

“I call performance-based funding policies the “zombies of higher education,” she says. “I say this because they seem to be the higher education policies that no amount of evidence can kill.” Read more on why she believes the approach does not work.

Gándara first published a paper on the topic in the Journal of Higher Education, May 2019.

Walkington and Howell Look at Support Systems in Community Colleges for Students Under-Prepared in Math

Simmons Teaching and Learning’s Candace Walkington teaches a class in Harold Clark Simmons Hall on the SMU Campus.

Simmons Associate Professor Candace Walkington and North Central Texas College’s Elizabeth Howell collaborated on research that examines the support systems in community colleges for students who are under-prepared in math when they enrolled. Their article is published in the Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice.

The study looks at two 5-year longitudinal data sets of community college students to explore factors associated with successful outcomes in developmental mathematics. Additional linear regression models examine the time required to complete developmental coursework. Tutoring has a strong association with positive student outcomes, as do full-time enrollment and developmental mathematics coursework grades. Implications for developmental mathematics programs in community college settings are discussed.

Dominique Baker Receives AERA and Spencer Foundation Grants

Dominique J. Baker, assistant professor of education policy, has been awarded an American Educational Research Association (AERA) research grant and a Spencer Foundation small research grant.

The AERA research grant will provide $25,000 to examine the effect of a Texas state policy designed to increase college completion and limit college student debt by incentivizing students to take fewer classes unrelated to their degree (excess semester credit hour policies).

In Texas, public institutions may charge in-state students up to the full out-of-state price once students gain credits above a certain level.

This policy is designed to discourage students from taking classes not needed for graduation while encouraging colleges to create more streamlined pathways to a degree. Prior research suggests that these types of policies may encourage students to simply borrow more instead of focusing on graduating more quickly. These types of policies may also affect transfer students if their transfer credits do not count toward their degree program, but do count toward the overall number of cumulative credits they are allowed to pursue.

The Spencer small research grant will provide $50,000 for Baker to investigate whether Texas community college districts show evidence of racial gerrymandering. Some scholars have found evidence of racial gerrymandering in K-12 attendance school zones across the United States. However, little research has focused on how district boundaries are created for community colleges. This project will use several different geospatial techniques to produce evidence on whether racial gerrymandering exists, and whether boundaries alleviate or worsen segregation in community colleges.

While both research projects focus on Texas as case studies, these policies exist in several other states.  Baker aims to provide scholars, policymakers, and the public with evidence on the extent to which inequities are embedded within state higher education policies on course-taking behaviors, and in the creation of community college districts.

She will begin work on both studies in 2020.