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College of Education

Innovations in South Carolina Research and Praxis – How it’s done


Collaborate, investigate, analyze, qualify, quantify, mentor, evaluate, inform, implement and influence.

As an integral cog within a Research 1 university, the USC College of Education is committed to advancing educational research and measurement pedagogy through its Office of Program Evaluation, S.C. Educational Policy Center, and the Yvonne & Schuler Moore Child Development Research Center.

These pursuits are what dedicated faculty, students and staff at college are revolutionizing daily. On February 26-27, 2015, these College of Education research leaders* will reveal their findings and outcomes while soliciting discerning feedback at the 27th annual S.C. Educators for the Practical Use of Research (SCEPUR) Conference.

This year’s SCEPUR conference theme is “Innovations in South Carolina Research and Praxis.”  The venue’s intent is not only to provide the most current research but also serve as a setting for educator collaboration and networking. SCEPUR is a network of educational researchers from K-12 education and higher education who share an interest using research to improve education in South Carolina.

SCEPUR President Dr. Lisa Harris, who is a graduate of the college’s Educational Research doctoral program, affirms that, "Educational research impacts teaching and learning in a variety of ways. We also address a wide range of current issues both P-12 schools and colleges of education are facing, including the implementation of Read to Succeed and the new teacher evaluation system."

There will be four sessions over two, six-hour days comprised of panel discussions, paper presentations and sessions, a lecture review, and a symposium in which the College of Education researchers will be featured.


“A Team-based Approach to Quantitative Analysis for Program Evaluation” - Dr. Dickenson will moderate a panel discussion on in which Drs. Lewis and Monrad along with Zhang, Ene, X. Gao, and Prince will illustrate the method their evaluation team used to summarize data from open-ended survey questions given to teachers and students. The Office of Program Evaluation and the South Carolina Educational Policy Center combined their expertise in classroom assessment, performance task assessment and teacher evaluation through qualitative methodologies so as to incorporate the use of assessment results in the classroom.

“A Multilevel Investigation of Factors Influencing Licensing Deficiencies in SC” and “A Multi-faceted Study of Access to Child Care for Low-income Families” - As a USC College Education early childhood psycho-educational assessment expert and incoming president of SCEPUR, Dr. Greer will moderate these two paper sessions. Dr. Knopf is the Principal Investigator of these two projects funded by the South Carolina Department of Social Services to manage the South Carolina Child Care Resource and Referral Network (SC-CCRN) and the South Carolina Child Care Inclusion Collaborative (SC-CCIC). In collaboration with Sherrie Dueno, Director of the SC-CCRN and Heather Googe, Director of the SC-CCIC, Knopf is actively working to strengthen systems that:

  • Provide professional development to childcare providers;
  • Help parents access quality childcare services; and
  • Coordinate efforts throughout the state to leverage existing resources to ensure children with and without special needs receive care that supports early development and learning.  

Knopf is also actively engaged with the Child Care Policy and Practices Research team, which uses state administrative data to answer research questions related to early childhood policy and practices to support positive outcomes.  

 “A Multilevel Investigation of Factors Influencing Licensing Deficiencies in SC” - Pan, Rao, Liu and Tester use a statistically multilevel research technique – Hierarchical Linear Modeling (HLM) – to review the correlation between administrative licensing files with the geographic locations of child care facilities. This research team reveals how the two factors may impact each other.

Pan is building a statistics model and analysis data. Rao’s is developing and maintaining an information system for the SC-CCRN and also involved in the analyses of large scale administrative databases related to early childhood in the state. Liu’s research interests include classroom assessment, structural equation modeling, and meta-analysis. Tester imparts crucial perspective and knowledge from her extensive work with the SC Budget and Control Board’s Integrated Human Services Data Warehouse and the SC Department of Social Services.  While at the Data Warehouse, Tester’s statistical and management roles focused on children and young adults involved with state agencies such as SC Department of Social Services, Department of Education, the Department of Juvenile Justice, Office of First Steps, and projects associated with homelessness.

A Multi-faceted Study of Access to Child Care for Low-income Families” -Selecting the right child care provider is one of the most important decisions a parent can make.  In this study,  Knoph, Tester, Sherlock and Rao will  explore assumptions of availability and access to child care by studying four key factors related to parental choice—(1) Affordability, (2) Accessibility, (3) Availability, and (4) Accommodation. They focus on families with low-income and explore the available administrate subsidy data as it relates to quality care opportunities. By using a multilevel mixed model, the team investigates parental choice for quality child care as it relates to the four key factors to explain the reasons for under-utilization of those subsidies.  Sherlock’s research contributes to this study through his interests in item response theory, hierarchical linear modeling, and statistical programming.

“De-tracking Freshman Year Algebra I to Close the Achievement Gap: Mastering Mastery Learning” - Instruction and Teacher Education Associate Professor Dr. Jeffries is the primary researcher and is joined by Blythewood High School Department Chair for Mathematics Dr. Hope Reed on this investigation.  Their research explores the mastery learning method in 9th grade Algebra I CP to improve achievement for students who enter high school without pre-algebra skills. They examine this group of students and correlate their progress despite the lack of a state approved course that teaches pre-algebra skills at the high school level.  This pilot program is being tested at one South Carolina high school in one of the state’s largest districts. Based on the outcome of this study, Jefferies and Reed identify inequities for students most likely to experience challenges with academic achievement and reveal solutions that will ultimately help those students.

Jefferies has conducted and directed numerous studies on culturally relevant pedagogy across the curriculum and taught in higher education for over 20 years. Reed is National Board Certified teacher who has taught high school mathematics for over 20 years. Together, Jefferies and Reed hope to implement this program at other high schools within South Carolina to close the achievement gap.


Validity and Reliability: An Arts Assessment Story” - Over the course of 13 years, assessment developers have tested the validity and reliability of the South Carolina Arts Assessment Program (SCAAP) to provide technically sound assessments aligned to the South Carolina Academic Standards for the Visual and Performing Arts. This presentation details how the SCAAP assessments, arts educators and school district personnel can authentically evaluate their arts programs and measure their students’ arts achievement.

Researchers Drs. Burgess and Lewis along with students Zhang, Fan, and Jiang have taken measures to ensure that their assessment on the state’s arts education is both valid and reliable in providing accurate and trustworthy information. Annual assessment results are reported to participating schools that serve as an advocacy tool for quality arts instruction; whereas, results are also shared with the state to allocate grant money for programming in arts education.   

Burgess researches structural equation modeling, Rasch modeling, classroom assessment, performance assessment, and survey studies. Lewis interests include arts education/assessment, the use of assessment results in the classroom, qualitative methodologies, and issues of race, equity, and social justice in education. Zhang focuses on classroom assessment, performance tasks assessment and teacher evaluation. Fan specializes in quasi-experimental design, classroom assessment, and language and literacy studies. Jiang researches performance assessment and classroom assessment.

A Literature Review on Professional Development for Early Care and Education Workforce” - Over the past several years, the field of Early Childhood Care and Education has focused on the promise of Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS). This framework improves the quality and potency of child care services in helping young children reach optimal levels of development. A key feature of QRIS is the infrastructure and interventions to support professional development of the Examination for the Certificate of Competency in English (ECCE) workforce. Despite continued increases in state and federal investment in professional development initiatives, little research has been conducted that investigate the real impact of these initiatives.

Wang’s literary review will illustrate how federally sponsored technical reports on projects of professional development provided for early care and education workforce has been used to inform her research and intervention design. She will specifically identify the research methods utilized in response to different professional development goals and outcomes. The design of her research requires careful consideration of the professional development services’ goals, type of support, duration, intensity and outcome due to the fact that the service delivery model is intentionally individualized to meet the unique needs of each child care program.

“Barriers to Retaining Mentors in Rural, High Poverty Areas” - This research is a qualitative case study that explores factors influencing the attrition of mentors in rural areas. Mentoring initiatives and programs have proliferated throughout schools in an effort to provide students with positive role models, increase graduation rates, and improve overall perform. 

Dr. Jeffries partners with SC State University Assistant Professor and Visions Counseling and Career Center CEO Dr. Sharon Givens on this paper session. Both educators focus on ethnic diversity that will augment social justice instructional support to practicing educators throughout South Carolina. They propose that insights gained from this study might enable educators and administrators to refine their existing mentoring programs in order to sustain relationships between protégés and mentors. In doing so, they might avoid the harm that ending the mentoring relationships prematurely may cause the protégés.  Drs. Jefferies and Given’s study contributes to a better understanding of mentoring and the mentors' assessment of the value and efficacy of mentoring relationships as a tool for helping young people develop effective academic and social skills.

“Breaking Barriers of Resistance: Destabilizing Binaries in Higher Educational Spaces” - Diversity studies with an emphasis on power dynamics within multicultural classrooms is Curriculum and Instruction (emphasis in Curriculum Studies) doctoral candidate Campbell’s passion. Campbell is also an adjunct instructor for USC’s Women’s and Gender Studies Program.

In her paper session, Campbell addresses issues surrounding curriculum development—specifically how complex ways, theory, practice, and policy work as systematic components. She believes that tensions among theorists, practitioners, and policy makers often set the stage for tensions within schools and classrooms. These tensions can create barriers regarding what curriculum should be taught and for what purpose(s).  A re-examination of purpose is needed to ensure that each educational institution, each classroom, encompasses an ethos of opportunity for each individual student. In order to accomplish this difficult task, it is imperative to have a clear understanding of the connection among theory, practice, and policy.

Campbell dismantles binary thought and dialogue within the classroom by examining the “grey” area between a starting-point, mid-point, and end-point of a theory. Pulling from Patricia Hill Collins’ both/and approach, Campbell examines ways binary thought and dialogue hinder learning and how taking a both/and approach not only benefits practitioners but students as well. Campbell contends that by taking a both/and approach to curricula, it will help confront important societal issues through its implications towards discourse, practice, and policy. 


“Universal Screening of Social/Emotional Behavior: Investigations in the Early Childhood Environment- Recently, the scope of Response to Intervention (RtI) efforts has been expanded to include behavioral health in early childhood where the focus is to identify and assist students at-risk for behavioral and/or emotional problems. The purpose of this symposium is to share research related to universal screening of behavior. Drs. Greer and DiStefano, educational research and measurement students Jiang, Liu, and Pan with Educational Psychology doctoral candidate McGuire will present four interrelated studies to better inform schools, administrators, and teachers involved with or considering RtI for behavioral intervention. 

Greer is co-investigator on a federally-funded project for the validation of a behavioral screener for preschool-age children.  He also teaches courses on special education assessment. DiStefano’s research interests include structural equation modeling, Rasch modeling, measurement theory, and all things psychometric. Jiang, McGuire, and Pan advance their research insights from the Preschool Screening Project whereas, Liu contributes her assessment acumen and structural equation and Rasch modeling disciplines. 


“Research and Evaluation from South Carolina Reading First and Lessons Learned” - As South Carolina moves forward with the implementation of the Read to Succeed legislation, it is important to reflect on lessons learned from earlier reading initiatives in the state.  The presenters of this paper presentation – Drs. Dickenson, Monrad, and Johnson and their students Ene, Z. Guo and Leighton along with SC Educational Policy Center’s Visiting Research Associate Ishikawa – have been involved in research and evaluation connected with multiple reading initiatives including SC READS, the SC Reading Initiative, and the federally funded SC Reading First (SCRF) Initiative. Their paper related to this presentation includes a synthesis of literature, evaluation findings, and research results based on the SCRF model. They highlight various studies investigating reading achievement of students who participated in the SCRF Initiative from 2004-2010, which can be used to inform school programming under Read to Succeed.

Presenters share their key findings to inform best practices that will improve state-wide reading instruction including:

  • Utilization of implementation measurement tools based on the School Reading Implementation Plans and association with achievement outcomes;
  • Ensuring fidelity to progress monitoring and intervention services to accelerate achievement growth of struggling readers; and
  • Monitoring summer loss through fall and spring assessment and addressing summer loss through summer literacy programming by the school and community.

Dickenson provides evaluation services on projects funded by federal and state sources and has held positions with the Department of Statistics and the USC Office of Institutional Assessment and Compliance. Her research interests include multilevel modeling, quasi-experimental designs, and item response theory. Monrad who trains graduate students in the departments of EDLP and Educational Research, shares her primary research on program evaluation, policy research, school climate, literacy, and school reform. Johnson who teaches courses related to educational research, classroom assessment, survey methodology, program evaluation imparts his research in assessment and evaluation that has been extensively published in such journals as Applied Measurement in Education, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, Assessing Writing, The American Journal of Evaluation, and Teaching and Teacher Education. He is co-author of Put to the Test, Assessing Literacy in the Classroom, Assessment Is Essential, and Assessing Performance: Developing, Scoring, and Validating Performance Tasks. Ishikawa is a Data Scientist in Advanced Analytics working for the multinational media conglomerate Publicis Groupe. He has been a consultant to businesses in the online education, hospitality, and wireless telecommunication industries, and served as the Director for Statistical Analyses and Programming at the South Carolina Education Oversight Committee.

Educational Research and Measurement students Ene, Z. Guo, and Leighton are all doctoral candidates who contribute divergent yet supporting insight to this presentation. Ene focuses on projects related to school climate, summer learning loss, and magnet programs. Leighton’s research interests include factor analysis, hierarchical linear modeling, program evaluation, and investigating school climate. And, as research assistant, Z. Guo is integrally involved with the SC Educational Policy Center’s ongoing programs.

A Confirmatory Factor Analysis of Test Anxiety in Chinese College Students” - This study investigated the factor structure of test anxiety in Chinese college students as assessed with Sarason’s Reactions to Tests (RTT) scale (1984). Participants for this study were 498 college students majoring in electronics and engineering from North University of China. Confirmatory Factor Analysis (CFA) was employed to examine alternative models of the RTT scale. Results indicated that the three-factor model and the four-factor model yielded similar results and appeared to fit better than the unidimensional model. Most importantly, this study will help lead researchers to validate the test anxiety construct in a different cultural background.

The four-factor model, which aims to measure Tension, Worry, Test-Irrelevant Thinking, and Bodily Symptoms, was suggested due to a smaller ECVI index and higher internal consistency among the four dimensions. The study results are congruent to those from the previous research. This suggests that the RTT model structure proposed from studies on students in western culture could be generalized to Chinese culture. Fan‘s research interests include quasi-experimental design, classroom assessment, and language and literacy studies. Burgess and Liu lend their prior research experience and findings to this study to inform professors, researchers, as well as student service providers in providing college students the means to effectively manage test anxiety in order to improve test performance.

The mission of the college is to contribute to the high achievement of all learners through well-designed educational experiences that foster growth in ethical behavior, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creativity and problem-solving.  Such partnerships with government agencies; P-12 educators, schools, and districts; families; professional organizations; and other institutions of higher education advance the college’s teaching, engagement, research, and service. The SCEPUR conference clearly illustrates the college’s research achievements through the immersion of dynamic learning opportunities that support growth and excellence vested in educational outreach and innovative instructional methods.

Please congratulate these 26 College of Education SCEPUR conference participants*:


Dr. Tammiee Dickenson – Office of Program Evaluation director

Dr. Christine DiStefano – Educational Research and Measurement associate professor

Dr. Fred Greer, Ph.D. – Educational Studies research assistant professor

Dr. Rhonda Jeffries – Curriculum Studies associate professor

Dr. Robert L. Johnson – Educational Research professor

Dr. Herman T. Knopf – Yvonne & Schuyler Moore Child Development Research Center research director and an Instruction and Teacher Education associate professor

Dr. Ashlee A. Lewis – Office of Program Evaluation research assistant professor

Dr. Diane Monrad – South Carolina Educational Policy Center director


Yin Burgess – Educational Research and Measurement Program doctoral student

Dawn Campbell – Curriculum and Instruction Ed.D candidate and USC’s Women’s and Gender Studies Program adjunct instructor

Mihaela Ene – Educational Research and Measurement Program doctoral student and a S.C. Educational Policy Center research associate

Xumei Fan –Educational Research and Measurement Ph.D. candidate and an Office of Program Evaluation graduate research assistant

Zhaoxia Guo – Educational Research and Measurement doctoral student and a S.C. Educational Policy Center research assistant

Xia Guo – Educational Research and Measurement doctoral student and S.C. Educational Policy Center research assistant

Ning (Ginger) Jiang –Educational Measurement and Research graduate student and a graduate research assistant on the Preschool Screening Project with the Office of Program Evaluation

Elizabeth Leighton – Educational Research and Measurement doctoral student and S.C. Educational Policy Center research associate.

Jin Liu –Educational Research and Measurement Ph.D. candidate

Lauren McGuire – Educational Psychology first year Ph.D. candidate and a graduate research assistant for the Preschool Screening Project in Richland 1 School District

Fan Pan –  Educational Research and Measurement second year student and a Child Development Research Center research assistant for the Preschool Screening Project

Glenn Prince – Educational Psychology doctoral student in the program and an Office of Program Evaluation research assistant

Phillip Sherlock – Educational Research and Measurement doctoral candidate and a Yvonne & Schuyler Moore Child Development Research Center research assistant

Wenjia Wang – Early Childhood Education 3rd year doctoral student & Yvonne & Schuyler Moore Child Development       Research Center graduate research assistant


Tomonori Ishikawa – S.C. Educational Policy Center visiting research associate

Vasanthi Rao – Child Development and Research Center research associate working with S.C. Child Care Resource & Referral

Diana M. Tester – Yvonne & Schuyler Moore Child Development Research Center research associate and policy analyst

Xiaofang Zhang – Office of Program Evaluation research associate


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