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Tracy James
University Communications

Chuck Carney
IU School of Education

IU research presented at the American Educational Research Association

April 12, 2011

Dozens of Indiana University researchers from different academic departments and campuses participated in the American Educational Research Association conference held in New Orleans April 8-12. The studies below, which are just a sampling of IU research at the conference, address the following topics:

Americans' divided views of college access
Insights into how learning can be transfered to other areas
Graduation rates and students' social engagement
Environmental education: Lessons from Israel
International excellence gaps

Divided views of college access. A study by Indiana University sociologists found that many Americans had inflated views of minority students' opportunities to attend college, yet a large contingent -- around 43 percent of people surveyed -- believed that low income students had fewer opportunities for college access. The study found that Americans have varying beliefs when it comes to college access. A quarter of the people interviewed thought minority and low-income students held a better position than middle-class students when it came to college access. Racial minorities, particularly African Americans, were more attuned to barriers in college access faced by disadvantaged groups. "Understanding these perceptions is important because they have the potential to influence not only educational policy preferences, but also an individual's actions," said Kristin Jordan, co-author of the study "The Blind Side: Americans' Perceptions of Inequalities in College Access." "If you do not think you have the opportunity for a college education, you may not even apply." Qualified students from low-income families were perceived as having less opportunity than other groups, according to the study, while qualified students who were racial or ethnic minorities were perceived as having more opportunities for a college education than other groups. The study was based on an analysis of data from a national survey of around 1,000 adults conducted in 2007 by Public Agenda and by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, which are independent nonprofit research groups. Here are some key findings

  • 43.4 percent said qualified students from low-income families have less opportunity than others to attend college.
  • 26.9 percent responded that qualified minority students have less opportunity than others to attend college.
  • 26.8 percent responded that qualified middle-class students have less opportunity than others to attend college.
  • 24.4 percent reported that qualified students who are racial and ethnic minorities have more opportunity to attend college than others.
  • 19.7 percent responded that students from low-income families have an advantage over others
  • 10.2 percent said qualified students from middle-class families are better off than others when it comes to college access.

Jordan was intrigued by the finding that education levels, particularly whether someone earned a college degree, played little role in perceptions of college access across different social groups. Oren Pizmony Levy, another author of the study, said Americans see education as the 'great equalizer' or the best way to reduce inequality and help all people to become successful. "Therefore, investigating how people think about opportunity to get higher education is important," he said.

For more information, contact co-author Brian Powell, professor of sociology at IU, at 812-855-7624, cell: 812-360-0474 or Top

Computer Keyboard

Helping, not hindering, learning transfer. The ability to take something previously learned and to apply it to a new situation, such as employing a mathematical equation in biology, physics and chemistry topics, is a critical aspect of learning that can be hindered when instructional materials are designed to teach the material in a context too specific to a particular subject or domain. Research by Indiana University cognitive scientists points to the pedagogical effectiveness of computer-based simulations that are grounded in perception and interaction, and emphasize underlying systems rather than situation-specific details.

About the findings:

  • Same goals but different appearance, content. The studies involved experiments that asked college students to solve given tasks with a pair of computer simulations that were very different in appearance and content. When given the same goal to achieve in both simulations, the students took less time to solve the second simulation. "Furthermore, Doctors Day and Goldstone from our lab found that the first simulation's visual, spatial and concrete design features helped students create an apt mental model for use in the second simulation's task," said IU researcher Sarah Manlove, who presented the paper, "Learning With Multiple Representations to Promote Knowledge Generalization and Transfer Across Domains." Manlove's paper draws from studies by IU cognitive scientists Robert Goldstone, Lisa Byrge, and Samuel B. Day.
  • Mismatch helped? Doctoral student Byrge ran another study with Goldstone in which students also used the same simulations. She found that providing a mismatch in the first simulation between students' control of a slider and a visual display element helped student solve the second simulation's task in less time. "This mismatch is thought to have prompted student attention to important underlying dynamics in the learning situation," said Manlove. "Although a lot more research is needed, this particular result is surprising and counters research proposing that visual displays in computer simulations designed for science learning should be congruent with student actions with simulation controls."

The idea of "transfer" as an aspect of cognition has been investigated since the early 20th century. One common stance found is that transfer only happens when the initial learning and transfer situations are similar to each other. However, says Manlove, "clearly students need to be able to transfer prior knowledge to dissimilar domains; this research shows promise for helping us understand factors that contribute to such learning transfer." Goldstone and Day's study, "Analogical transfer from interaction with a simulated physical system," is in press at the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. Goldstone and Byrge's study, "Distinguishing levels of grounding that underlie transfer of learning," was published in Proceedings of the Thirty-Third Cognitive Science Society.

Manlove can be reached at and 812-855- 9211. Top

Students' social engagement can affect graduation rates. IU School of Education researchers presented findings that indicate the way students interact within a school community inside and outside of the classroom has an impact on how well they perform academically. The researchers find that groups of students who work often with others different from themselves and participate more frequently in after school events are associated with better graduation rates. "We found that student social engagement is a predictor of school-level high school graduation rates," said Ethan Yazzie-Mintz, project director of the High School Survey of Student Engagement (HSSSE) conducted by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy (CEEP). Yazzie-Mintz presented the findings with David Rutkowski, assistant research scientist at CEEP. The good news, said Yazzie-Mintz, is that schools can take action to improve this area of student life. "Social engagement is associated with several critical factors that are within the purview of schools to shape and improve." "Investigating the Connection between Student Social Engagement in School and Student Achievement" reports findings from an analysis of 86 public schools participating in HSSSE in 2009. HSSSE research is aimed at understanding the gap between what student expectations are, how the schools perform as a whole, and graduation rates. HSSSE started in 2004 as an outgrowth of the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), a project of the Center for Postsecondary Research at IU focused on postsecondary students. You can read the most recent HSSSE report here:

To speak with Yazzie-Mintz contact Chuck Carney at 812-856-8027 and Top

Environmental education: Lessons from schools in Israel. An Indiana University study examining the adoption of environmental education by schools in Israel, measured by Green School Certification, found that school change was assisted by community-based grassroots efforts, not just 'top-down' school policy. It also found that some types of schools were more likely to adopt the earth-friendly changes than other types. IU Sociologist Oren Pizmony Levy, lead author of the study, said the findings have implications for U.S. schools. "Programs of environmental education certification for schools are on the rise worldwide," Pizmony Levy said. "Given the United Nations declared 2005-2014 as the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, this paper might offer ways to transform schools with regard to sustainable development."

Here are some findings:

  • Primary schools and state-secular schools were more likely to adopt the environmental education changes than secondary and state-religious schools. Open-ended interviews with Israeli principals suggest the primary schools and state-secular schools have more "soft" or flexible curriculum that enables the incorporation of environmental education.
  • Socioeconomic background of students in schools did not influence the likelihood of a school getting a Green School Certificate. Pizmony Levy said this means that environmental education is available for all children, regardless of their background.

Educators, activists and policymakers have been interested in implementing environmental education concepts and programs in schools for at least 40 years. The recent idea of developing a certification program for 'green school', which is inspired by environmental standards in the business world, typically requires schools to address three areas -- teaching about environmental issues, developing pro-environment behavior, and civic participation. In Israel, less than 8 percent of schools had awarded Green School Certification in the six years that the program had been available. In the U.S. about 1 percent of schools, of just under 400, are registered in the Eco-School Program . Since the mid-1990s the Foundation for Environmental Education, based in Europe, has implemented the Eco-Schools Program in more than 50 countries, linking tens of thousands of schools. In the U.S. this program has been coordinated by the National Wildlife Federation since 2008.

Pizmony Levy can be reached at 812-219-0826 and Co-author of the study is Dafna Gan, an environmental educator working with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. Top


Photo by Donya Maleto

Print-Quality Photo

International excellence gaps. IU School of Education researchers have found that like in the U.S., international "excellence gaps" persist, although some gaps may be closing. The excellence gap is the achievement gap separating the highest performing students in certain demographic groups across the world. The AERA presentation," Trends in Excellence Gaps: a 12-Year, International Perspective," builds on a U.S. assessment of these learning gaps published last year by analyzing data from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS). The researchers report that at least in some groups, the learning gaps may be getting smaller. "In many educational systems, the gaps between girls and boys percentages are shrinking," said Leslie Rutkowski, assistant professor in the IU School of Education's Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology. "That suggests that policy interventions to level the playing field, so to speak, between the educational opportunities and outcomes of boys and girls might be starting to bear fruit." He added, "With critical and persistent shortages in jobs that require advanced levels of mathematics and science skills, understanding trends in mathematics and science excellence gaps is unquestionably important." Rutkowski authored the paper with David Rutkowski, assistant research scientist at the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy (CEEP), and Jonathan Plucker, the center's director. Plucker co-authored last year's comprehensive CEEP study of student achievement test results from every state, "Mind the (Other) Gap!: The Growing Excellence Gap in K-12 Education." The new paper similarly studies 16 national education systems from across the globe using TIMMS data to look at the international excellence gap -- the difference in the proportion of students in different demographic groups who score at the advanced level on student achievement tests.

Rutkowski can be reached at Top

For additional assistance, contact Tracy James, IU Office of University Communications, at 812-855-0084 and