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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Student homelessness is on the rise nationally, and roughly 10 percent of all U.S. homeless students live in Texas. To see how this growing student population is faring educationally, professors Alexandra Pavlakis, Meredith Richards, and postdoctoral fellow Kessa Roberts are engaged in long-term research with the Houston Independent School District, the seventh-largest district in the country. The number of homeless students there rose to approximately 30,000 after Hurricane Harvey, and many have not recovered.
Working with the school district and Houston Education Research Consortium (HERC) at Rice University, Pavlakis, Richards, and Roberts want to know how homeless students are doing relative to non-homeless students. They are examining attendance, discipline, achievement, and attainment. Part of what they are seeing is that outcomes depend on factors such as where students sleep at night, and if they are on their own or accompanied by adults.
They just concluded their first phase of research, which involves quantitative analysis, and their report comes out in the spring.
As a commitment to the project, their research team created and distributed a bilingual directory of community resources to homeless families in the school district. The Moody Foundation and SMU’s University Research Council support the research.
Denisa Gándara, assistant professor of higher education in the Department of Education Policy and Leadership, is one of ten finalists for the William T. Grant Scholars Program. Early career researchers submit proposals for five-year research and mentoring plans designed to expand their skills and knowledge. Applicants are nominated by their institutions.
The ten finalists will be interviewed in February 2019 and four to six Scholars will be announced in March. Those selected will each receive $350,000 over five years and participate in annual meetings. The Scholars Program began in 1982 and has a rich history of supporting the development of early-career researchers in the social, behavioral, and health sciences.