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Low-Cost, Short-Duration Evaluation of Special Education Interventions

Grants to USA Nonprofits, Agencies, and IHEs to Evaluate
Education Interventions for Special Needs Students

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Institute of Education Sciences (IES)

LOI Date:


Deadline Date:

03/01/18 4:30 PM (Washington, DC Time) Receipt


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Grants to USA nonprofit and governmental research institutions and IHEs to carry out evaluations of special education interventions. Applicants are strongly encouraged to submit a letter of intent by January 11. This program is intended to support rigorous interventions and evaluations that state or local education organizations use to produce educational outcomes for children and youth who are at-risk for a disability within a short period (for example, within a single semester or academic year).

The program will be carried out by research institutions and state or local agencies working together as partners. The evaluations will use randomized controlled trials, regression discontinuity designs, or single-case experimental designs to determine the impact of interventions on education outcomes for infants, toddlers, children and youth, and will rely on administrative data or other sources of secondary data to provide measures of these outcomes.

The Institute views Low-Cost Evaluation projects as a means to obtain rigorous evidence of impact that state and local agencies can use in making timely decisions regarding the scaling-up or revision of education interventions. Such evidence may help state and local education agencies meet their new responsibilities under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in identifying and adopting research-based school improvement practices. Through this grant program, the Institute intends to support education agency decision-making on interventions they implement, contribute to a larger evidence base about the effectiveness of education interventions, and learn more about the value of this type of evaluation and what it can contribute to the field.

The Institute recognizes that Low-Cost Evaluation projects may provide less information than could be obtained from studies with larger budgets and longer timeframes. However, Low-Cost Evaluation projects may provide better evidence than what education agencies currently have available to make decisions, and may identify situations where a larger evaluation should be done before a costly acquisition is made. The Institute recognizes that Low-Cost Evaluation projects fill a specific niche in the evaluation process and are not a good fit for all types of interventions (e.g., multi-year interventions) or situations (e.g., where the necessary data are not available from a secondary source).

The Institute has several grant programs that support research conducted through partnerships between research institutions and state or local agencies. These researcher-practitioner partnerships are intended to address the education agency’s priorities, involve the agency in the design and implementation of the research, and support the agency’s decision-making by providing timely access to the findings. This program, the Low-Cost Evaluation grant program, provides funds for researchers and practitioners to work together to conduct rigorous evaluations of education agency interventions (broadly defined as education practices, programs, and policies) within a short timeframe and using available data.

Applicants may propose to evaluate interventions intended to improve a range of outcomes for children and youth with or at risk for a disability, including infants, toddlers, and children/students in preschool through Grade 12.1 The Institute is not specifying categories of interventions beyond those that can be evaluated in a timely fashion and are of high importance to the agency. Note that the costs of interventions and their implementation are to be covered by the state or local agency; they will not be covered by this grant program.

The evaluations supported under this program are intended, if study designs are well-implemented, to meet What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) standards without reservations. Specifically, applicants must propose randomized controlled trials (RCTs), regression discontinuity designs (RDDs), or single-case experimental designs (SCDs). Within the first year of the project, the intervention must be implemented and the key outcomes should be obtained through administrative data systems or other secondary data sources. Project researchers should acquire the data no later than the first quarter of the second year of the study. In the remainder of the second year of the study, project teams should complete the analysis, provide results to their agency partner, and begin broader dissemination. Because of this schedule, Low-Cost Evaluation projects should not evaluate interventions that extend beyond one academic year or that rely on outcome measures that are not readily available.

Applicants must demonstrate that the intervention will be in operation during the first year of the project and that they will obtain and analyze data from that year (i.e., the study must use prospective data). Evaluating the intervention as it is implemented during the first year of the project ensures that the education agency remains invested in the intervention and that the most recent version of the intervention will be evaluated. Applicants may also propose to include data in their evaluation from years prior to the grant award (i.e., retrospective data) as long as there was an appropriate design employed to measure program effectiveness (e.g., a lottery was used to assign students to program and control group conditions, an RDD-appropriate assignment variable was used, the single-case experimental design includes at least the minimum number of data points and phases). Applicants who wish to analyze solely retrospective data may apply to the Special Education Research Grants program (CFDA 84.324A) for a retrospective evaluation under the Efficacy and Replication goal.

Low-Cost Evaluation projects are expected to rely on administrative data or other sources of secondary data and grant funds are not to be used to collect primary data. As a result, project teams may not have the data necessary for additional analyses required or recommended under evaluations funded by other Institute grant programs, such as studies of fidelity of implementation, comparison group practice, mediators and moderators, and costs. If the data for these types of analyses are available in the administrative data or other sources of secondary data, applicants are encouraged to propose to use these data, but these types of analyses are not required. If the results of a Low-Cost Evaluation project indicate the need for more in-depth research or longer-term follow-up, the Institute will encourage project teams to apply for a grant under another program, such as the Special Education Research Grants program (CFDA 84.324A) or the Evaluation of State and Local Education Policies and Programs (CFDA 84.305H).

The Institute intends for the results of Low-Cost Evaluation projects to be disseminated within the partner agency and to the practitioner community, the academic community, and the general public. To this end, applicants are required to describe the plans for dissemination of their findings in their applications including the provision of at least one oral briefing and release of one publicly-available written brief before the end of the grant.

Key Attributes of Low-Cost, Short- Duration Evaluation of Special Education Intervention Project:
1. Evaluation of an education intervention implemented by a state or local agency that is intended to have meaningful impacts on education outcomes for infants, toddlers, children, and youth with or at risk for a disability within a single semester or academic year.
2. Project carried out by a partnership between a research institution and a state or local agency.
3. Evaluation uses a randomized controlled trial, regression discontinuity design, or a single- case experimental design.
4. Evaluation relies on administrative data or other sources of secondary data.
5. Results of analysis shared with partner agency and in a written brief for the public during the second year of the project.

General Requirements:

Applications under the Low-Cost Evaluation grant program must meet the requirements set out under the subheadings below, (1) Child/Student Disability, (2) Child/Student Education Outcomes, (3) Authentic Education Settings, (4) Interventions to Improve Child/Student Outcomes in Education, (5) Partnerships, and (6) Dissemination, in order to be sent forward for scientific peer review.

1. Child/Student Disability

All research supported under the Low-Cost Evaluation program must focus on children and youth with or at risk for a disability.

For the purpose of the Institute’s special education research programs, a child/student with a disability is defined in Public Law 108-446, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA), as a child “(i) with mental retardation, hearing impairments (including deafness), speech or language impairments, visual impairments (including blindness), serious emotional disturbance (referred to in this title as ‘emotional disturbance’), orthopedic impairments, autism, traumatic brain injury, other health impairments, or specific learning disabilities; and (ii) who, by reason thereof, needs special education and related services” (Part A, Sec. 602). An infant or toddler with a disability is defined in IDEA as, “an individual under 3 years of age who needs early intervention services because the individual (i) is experiencing developmental delays, as measured by appropriate diagnostic instruments and procedures in 1 or more of the areas of cognitive development, physical development, communication development, social or emotional development, and adaptive development; or (ii) has a diagnosed physical or mental condition that has a high probability of resulting in developmental delay” (Part C, Sec. 632).

The Institute encourages research on children/students with high-incidence and low-incidence disabilities, as well as English learners with disabilities, across topic areas of importance to state and local agencies.

For the purpose of the Institute’s special education research programs, a student at risk for a disability is identified on an individual child basis. If you study children at risk for a disability, present research-based evidence of an association between risk factors in your proposed sample and the potential identification of specific disabilities. The determination of risk may include, for example, factors used for moving children to higher tiers in a Response to Intervention model. Evidence consisting only of general population characteristics (e.g., labeling children as “at risk for disabilities” because they are from low- income families or are English learners) is not sufficient for this purpose. In addition, you should clearly identify the disability or disability categories that the sampled children are at risk of developing.

Students without disabilities may be included in your sample (e.g., an inclusive classroom) if appropriate for the research questions. For example, students without disabilities may be part of the comparison population. If your focus is on education outcomes for children or youth without a disability, you may apply to the Low-Cost, Short Duration Evaluation of Education Interventions grant program (84.305L) run by the National Center for Education Research (NCER).

2. Child/Student Education Outcomes

All research supported under the Low-Cost Evaluation program must address (1) children and youth in the age/grade levels described below and (2) education outcomes of those children and youth, and must include measures of these outcomes.

The Institute is most interested in child/student outcomes that support success in school and afterwards, including: academic and developmental outcomes, social and behavioral competencies, and functional skills.

-For infants and toddlers, the primary outcomes are developmental outcomes pertaining to cognitive, communicative, linguistic, social, emotional, adaptive, functional or physical development.

-For preschool students, the primary outcomes are developmental outcomes (cognitive, communicative, linguistic, social, emotional, adaptive, functional or physical development) and school readiness (e.g., pre-reading, language, vocabulary, early science and mathematics knowledge, social and behavioral competencies that prepare young children for school).

-For kindergarten through Grade 12 students, outcomes include learning, achievement, and higher-order thinking in the core academic content areas of reading, writing, mathematics, and science measured by specific assessments (e.g., researcher-developed assessments, standardized tests, grades, end-of-course exams, exit exams) and student progression through education (e.g., high school graduation, dropout). A range of student social skills, attitudes, and behaviors may be important to students’ education and post-school success, so important outcomes also include behaviors that support learning in academic contexts. In addition, the Institute is interested in functional outcomes that improve educational results and transitions to employment, independent living, and postsecondary education for students with disabilities.

3. Authentic Education Settings

Proposed research must be relevant to education in the United States (U.S.) and must address factors under the control of the U.S. education system (state or local). To help ensure such relevance, the Institute requires researchers to work within or with data from authentic education settings. Authentic education settings include both in-school settings and formal programs that take place after school or out of school (e.g., early intervention and early childhood special education settings, preschool or infant/toddler/child care settings, natural settings for special education services, after-school programs, distance learning programs, online programs, alternative schools such as those in juvenile justice settings) and are under the control of state or local agencies. Formal programs not under the control of state or local agencies are not considered as taking place in an authentic education setting and are not appropriate for study under the Low-Cost Evaluation program.

4. Interventions to Improve Child/Student Education Outcomes

Interventions proposed for evaluation must be of high importance to the state or local agency partner and aimed at improving outcomes for infants, toddlers, children or youth with or at risk for disabilities. Implementation of the intervention must be completed within the first project year. Therefore, interventions lasting more than one academic year or that are not expected to produce beneficial child/student outcomes quickly should not be proposed for evaluation under the Low-Cost Evaluation grant program.

5. Partnerships

The Low-Cost Evaluation program requires partnerships between research institutions and state or local agencies (i.e., education agencies and other agencies that manage early intervention services) but can also include community agencies and other organizations working with local or state agencies to provide services to children and youth with or at risk for disabilities (see Part I.C. Applicant Requirements). The partnerships must include a Principal Investigator (PI) from the research institution and a PI from the state or local agency. The Institute does not endorse a specific model of research partnerships (for example, see Coburn, Penuel, and Geil, 2013 for a discussion of different models). The Institute envisions that work supported by the Low-Cost Evaluation program will be collaborative from start to finish. Together, the partners are expected to determine the intervention to be evaluated, agree on the evaluation design and its implementation, establish a process to discuss the results as they are obtained, consider the practice and policy implications of the results, and disseminate the full results to multiple audiences (e.g., practitioners, policymakers, and researchers).

The role of each partner may vary within partnerships due to differences in research capacity. Research institutions may take the lead on the evaluation design and analysis, though some state or local agencies may have the capacity to take on large or equal roles in this work. State or local agencies are expected to take the lead on identifying the intervention to be evaluated; play an important role in determining whether and how the evaluation design is actually implemented in the authentic education setting; and have at least an equal role in discussing the results, their implications, and their dissemination. Relevant decision-makers from across the agency are expected to take part in this process as are other key stakeholders. Education agencies are also expected to ensure that the intervention is implemented and the administrative data for the evaluation are collected using funds not provided by this grant. To maintain the objectivity of the research, personnel involved in the evaluation design, implementation of the evaluation, and data analysis at all partner organizations are expected to be independent of the development, distribution, and implementation of the intervention.

6. Dissemination

Low-Cost Evaluation projects are intended to aid state and local education agencies in making decisions regarding their education interventions as well as advance scientific knowledge and theory on learning, instruction, and education systems in order to provide solutions to the education problems in our nation. To this end, the Institute is committed to making the results of Institute-funded research available to a wide range of audiences. For example, the Institute has a public access policy that requires all grantees to submit their peer-reviewed scholarly publications to the Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) and that requires grantees to share final research data from causal inference studies no later than the time of publication in a peer-reviewed scholarly publication.

To ensure that findings from the Low-Cost Evaluation grant program are shared with all interested audiences, the Institute also requires all applicants to present a plan to disseminate project findings in Appendix A: Dissemination Plan of the application. Applications that do not contain a Dissemination Plan in Appendix A will be deemed noncompliant and will not be accepted for review.

Dissemination plans should be tailored to the audiences that may benefit from the findings. In your dissemination plan, you should:
-Identify the audiences that you expect will be most likely to benefit from your research (e.g., state policymakers and program administrators, state and local school system administrators, school administrators and school staff, parents and students, other education researchers).
-Discuss the different ways in which you intend to reach these audiences through the major publications, presentations, and products you expect to produce.

Your dissemination plans must include:
-An agency-wide oral briefing that includes stakeholders from across the education agency.
-A written brief available free to the public. The brief should be written for a non-technical audience and should include the research questions, methodology, main results, policy implications, and possible next steps.
-A plan for distributing this brief within the agency, to other interested agencies, to the public, and to ERIC.

Stronger applications will also include other means of dissemination, for example:
-Joint presentation by personnel from both the research institution and the education agency on the results of the project at a practitioner conference.
-Joint presentation by personnel from both the research institution and the education agency on the results of the project at an academic conference.
-A toolkit or guide for other education agencies offering recommendations on how to conduct a similar study.
-An article for publication in a practitioner journal.
-An article for publication in a research journal.
-Online forms of dissemination, such as posts, webinars, and podcasts.

The Institute considers all types of findings from Low-Cost Evaluation projects to be potentially useful to researchers, policymakers, and practitioners, and expects dissemination to include:
-Findings of a beneficial impact on student outcomes: these support the wider use of the intervention and a more in-depth further evaluation.
-Findings of no impacts or negative impacts on student outcomes: these are important for decisions regarding the ongoing use and wider dissemination of the intervention, further revision of the intervention and its implementation, and revision of its theory of change.

GrantWatch ID#:

GrantWatch ID#: 182601

Estimated Size of Grant:

These evaluations are to be conducted for $250,000 or less.

Term of Contract:

Evaluations are to be completed within two years.

March 2018 competition projects may start between July 16 - September 17, 2018.


  • City or township governments
  • County governments
  • For profit organizations other than small businesses
  • Independent school districts
  • Nonprofits having a 501(c)(3) status with the IRS, other than institutions of higher education
  • Nonprofits that do not have a 501(c)(3) status with the IRS, other than institutions of higher education
  • Private institutions of higher education
  • Public and State controlled institutions of higher education
  • See RFP and/or Grant Guidelines for full eligibility
  • Special district governments
  • State governments

Additional Eligibility Criteria:

Applications under the Low-Cost Evaluation grant program must meet the requirements set out under (1) Eligible Applicants and (2) Principal Investigator and Authorized Representative in order to be responsive and sent forward for scientific peer review.

Eligible Applicants:

-At a minimum, applications must include a research institution and a U.S. state or local agency proposing to work together in partnership.

-Applicants that have the ability and capacity to conduct scientific research are eligible to apply as the research institution partner(s). These include, but are not limited to, nonprofit and for-profit organizations and public and private agencies and institutions, such as colleges and universities, and research firms.

The U.S. agency partners may include:

-State education agencies such as education agencies, departments, boards and commissions that oversee early learning, elementary, and secondary education. The term state agencies includes U.S. territories’ education agencies and tribal education agencies.

-Local education agencies that are primarily public school districts2 and may also include county or city agencies that have primary responsibility for infant and child care, early intervention services, or preschool.

-Intermediate districts (sometimes called service districts) that provide services to multiple districts but do not have decision-making authority over implementing programs and policies cannot serve as the agency partner. Applications that include them will need to include one or more districts that have decision-making authority as the agency partner.

-Non-public organizations that oversee or administer schools (e.g., charter or education management organizations) can apply as long as they include the state or local education agency with oversight of the schools they manage as an agency partner.

-Individual schools or groups f schools that do not form a school district are not eligible to apply as the local education agency partner. In the case that a single school is recognized as a local education agency, they are eligible to apply as the agency partner, but the Institute notes that reviewers may consider the work less significant than projects that involve education agencies having multiple schools.

-Other state or local agencies, including state or local health agencies and state agencies overseeing child care or early intervention services.

-The Institute encourages the proposed partnerships to include other organizations that can contribute to the successful outcome of the work such as other state or local agencies (e.g., juvenile justice programs, social services, early intervention services, child or infant care, preschool), community organizations, parent organizations, and teacher and staff organizations.

To help demonstrate a working partnership, the Institute recommends that the key research institution(s) and the state or local agency(s) forming the partnership to submit a joint Letter of Agreement (placed in Appendix E of the application), rather than separate letters, documenting their participation and cooperation in the partnership and clearly setting out their expected roles and responsibilities in the partnership. Any other institution involved in the proposed partnership should submit a separate Letter of Agreement.

The Principal Investigator:

Applications must include at least one Principal Investigator (PI) from a research institution and at least one PI from a state or local education agency. When you discuss the PIs in your application, it is helpful to the reviewers to identify which partner they represent.

The partnership must choose one PI (either the PI from the research institution or partner agency) to have overall responsibility for the administration of the award and interactions with the Institute. This PI is the individual who has the authority and responsibility for the proper conduct of the research, including the appropriate use of federal funds and the submission of required scientific progress reports. This person should be identified on the application as the Project Director/Principal Investigator. All other Principal Investigators should be listed as Co- Principal Investigators (Co-PIs).

The PI and a Co-PI (representing the research institution and the education agency) will attend one meeting each year (for up to 2 days) in Washington, DC, with other grantees and Institute staff. The project’s budget should include this meeting. Should either the PI or Co-PI not be able to attend the meeting, he/she may designate another person whom is key personnel to attend.

The Authorized Organization Representative:

The Authorized Organization Representative (AOR) for the applicant institution is the official who has the authority to legally commit the applicant to (1) accept federal funding and (2) execute the proposed project. When your application is submitted through, the AOR automatically signs the cover sheet of the application and, in doing so, assures compliance with U.S. Department of Education policy on public access to scientific publications and data as well as other policies and regulations governing research awards (see Part II.B: Additional Award Requirements).

Pre-Award Requirements:

Applicants that are being considered for funding following scientific peer review are required to provide further information on their proposed research activities before a grant award is made (see Part II.B). For example, you will be required to provide updated Letters of Agreement showing access to the secondary data sets you have proposed to analyze. You may be asked for additional information about your Research Plan and Dissemination Plan. If significant revisions to the project arise from these information requests they will have to be addressed under the original budget.

Pre-proposal Conference:

The Institute of Education Sciences has developed this series of on-demand webinars for those interested in FY 2018 funding opportunities. The webinars are presented by staff from the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) and the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and resources include presentations, transcripts, and closed-caption video recordings.

The webinars may be accessed here:

The following webinar recordings are available:

Low-Cost, Short-Duration Evaluation of Education and Special Education Interventions:

IES Application Process:

IES Basic Overview of Research Grants:

IES Grant Writing Workshop:

New Applicants to IES:

Public Access and Data Sharing:

Pre-Application Information:

The Institute asks potential applicants to submit a Letter of Intent prior to the application submission deadline. Letters of Intent are optional but strongly encouraged by the Institute.

If you submit a Letter of Intent, the Program Officer will contact you regarding your proposed research. Institute staff also use the information in the Letters of Intent to identify the expertise needed for the scientific peer review panels and to secure a sufficient number of reviewers to handle the anticipated number of applications.

Applications must be submitted electronically and received no later than 4:30 PM, Washington, DC time on the relevant due date (either August 3, 2017 or March 1, 2018) for the competition you plan to submit to through the Internet using the software provided on the website.

August 2017 Competition:
-Letter of Intent Due: June 22, 2017
-Application Due no later than 4:30 PM (Washington DC time): August 3, 2017
-Applicants Notified: By January 2, 2018
-Possible Start Dates: January 2 – March 1, 2018

March 2018 Competition:
-Letter of Intent Due: January 11, 2018
-Application Due no later than 4:30 PM (Washington DC time): March 1, 2018
-Applicants Notified: By July 16, 2018
-Possible Start Dates: July 16 - September 17, 2018

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Contact Information:

Before starting your grant application, please review the funding source's website listed below for updates/changes/addendums/conferences/LOIs.

Kimberley (Kim) Sprague, Ed.M.
(202) 245-8464

CFDA Number:


Funding or Pin Number:


URL for Full Text (RFP):

Geographic Focus:

USA: Alabama;   Alaska;   Arizona;   Arkansas;   California;   Colorado;   Connecticut;   Delaware;   Florida;   Georgia;   Hawaii;   Idaho;   Illinois;   Indiana;   Iowa;   Kansas;   Kentucky;   Louisiana;   Maine;   Maryland;   Massachusetts;   Michigan;   Minnesota;   Mississippi;   Missouri;   Montana;   Nebraska;   Nevada;   New Hampshire;   New Jersey;   New Mexico;   New York City;   New York;   North Carolina;   North Dakota;   Ohio;   Oklahoma;   Oregon;   Pennsylvania;   Rhode Island;   South Carolina;   South Dakota;   Tennessee;   Texas;   Utah;   Vermont;   Virginia;   Washington, DC;   Washington;   West Virginia;   Wisconsin;   Wyoming