Research Spotlight: Kathrin Maki

Q & A with Kathrin Maki, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the School of Special Education, School Psychology, and Early Childhood Studies

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

My work focuses on the identification of learning needs and development of academic skills for children with learning difficulties and disabilities. Specifically, my work centers on two interconnected lines of research through examination of: (a) methodologies used to identify children with learning difficulties and disabilities, and (b) academic interventions and data-driven decision making to ensure all children receive appropriate academic support in schools.

In my first line of research, I am investigating how school psychologists use and weigh assessment data to identify students with learning disabilities. My colleagues and I are also examining how school psychologists’ perspectives on and potential biases about learning disabilities may affect the identification decisions they make to better understand decision making and ultimately improve decisions for students.

In related work, with colleagues at Ball State University and the University of San Diego and supported through a Department of Education Javits grant, I am studying assessment and instructional support practices for students who may be identified as twice exceptional – that is, students who may be gifted/talented and have a disability. We are developing novel assessment measures, a curriculum, and decision-making frameworks for students who may be gifted/talented and have a reading disability given evidence of misidentification generally and under-identification of minoritized students specifically.

In my second line of research, I am also engaging in a systematic line of research on math anxiety in elementary students. My colleagues and I are investigating the individual student (e.g., working memory) and environmental (e.g., math tasks) factors that may facilitate math anxiety and its negative relationship with math performance. We are particularly interested in whether timed tasks elicit math anxiety. Within this line of work, results from an early career grant showed that timed tasks did not elicit math anxiety, but that students reported higher levels of math anxiety on complex math problems than on simple math problems. I am currently working on a project funded by the UF Research Opportunity Seed Fund with UF colleagues to further examine the relationship between timed tasks and math anxiety using eye tracking and galvanic skin response (GSR) receptors to measure students’ visual attention and emotional arousal during math tasks.

What is the broader impact of your research?

Development of academic skill proficiency is imperative, with research documenting relations among children’s elementary reading and math skills and later educational attainment, employment status, and lifelong wage earning. As a result, children’s development of foundational academic skills is essential to support positive educational and life outcomes. Through my research, I seek to improve use of evidence-based and data-driven practices in schools to improve academic outcomes for students with learning disabilities and other academic difficulties.

Research has consistently shown significant issues with learning disabilities identification. Thus, increased understanding of identification methods and procedures along with educators’ decision making can lead to improved identification practices in schools. Improved assessment procedures and identification decision making can lead to appropriate service provision for students in need of academic support as well as equitable systems for all students.

My research on academic intervention practices and data-driven decision making in schools promotes implementation of evidence-based reading and math interventions in schools, which is imperative given the large number of students demonstrating reading and math needs in schools. As an example, students with math anxiety are more likely to experience lower math performance, which negatively correlates with educational and career outcomes. This work can positively influence school systems and students so that all children and youth receive appropriate and equitable academic support in schools, which is critical to maximize academic engagement and promote positive educational and life outcomes.

What other research topics are you interested in?

I am also interested in intervention dosage, particularly in advancing our operationalization of dosage beyond time spent in intervention. My work also investigates proximal conceptualizations of intervention dosage (i.e., opportunities to respond).