College of Education *
College of Education *
New Doctoral Program in Language and Literacy


Special Education Faculty Offer New Doctoral Program in Language and Literacy

COLLEGE PARK, MD (June, 2015) – Special Education faculty at the College of Education have received a $1.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) for a five-year doctoral training program. Titled “Project ProPELL: Preparing Practice-based Researchers with Expertise in Language and Literacy to Support High-Need Students with Learning Disabilities,” the program will be led by Dr. Rebecca Silverman, Associate Professor of Special Education and director of the Language and Literacy Research Center.

ProPELL aims to address a chronic shortage in higher education faculty who train special education teachers. To do so, the program will augment the College of Education’s doctoral program in Special Education by imparting expertise in language and literacy intervention and assessment and teaching candidates to apply that knowledge to their preparation of pre-service teachers and to practice-based research responsive to students. In the first four years of the program, candidates will sharpen their research skills by participating in ongoing projects conducted by program faculty at local schools in Prince George’s County. ProPELL will provide rich experiences for its scholars through affiliation with the Maryland Language Science Center, research nonprofit SRI Education, and the American Institutes for Research (AIR).

Scholar competencies acquired through ProPELL will include disciplinary knowledge of special education, language, and literacy for high-need students with learning disabilities; research and scholarship skills to implement studies on language and literacy for these students; and leadership and professional knowledge to translate research into practice for policymakers, administrators, and pre- and in-service special education teachers. Upon completion of the program, students will receive a Ph.D. in Special Education.

In addition to Dr. Silverman, co-directing ProPELL faculty members will include Drs. Kelli Cummings, Susan De La Paz, Ana Taboada Barber, and Jade Wexler. Dr. Collin Phillips, Professor of Linguistics and director of the Maryland Language Science Center, will facilitate ProPELL scholars' involvement in the Language Science Fellows Program.

Candidates must have already received a master’s degree upon application to the program. If interested, please contact Dr. Rebecca Silverman at To learn more, visit the ProPELL webpage.

Dr. Rebecca Silverman conducts research focusing on language and literacy development and intervention for children at risk for experiencing difficulty in school. She has led two grants from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and is currently co-investigator on an IES grant. She has also been co-investigator on two grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and a co-director of a leadership preparation grant funded by OSEP. Dr. Silverman recently established the Maryland Language and Literacy Research Center to bring together COE scholars and faculty focused on language and literacy in educational settings.

Dr. Kelli Cummings is an assistant professor in the Special Education program. Her research focuses on the scaling-up of evidence-based practices and interventions in public schools while using data-based program modifications to individualize supports for at-risk students. She has published over 20 peer-reviewed articles on this topic, one-third of which include graduate scholars as co-authors. In addition to her experience leading multidisciplinary research teams with federal funding, Dr. Cummings has worked as a special educator, a school psychologist, and a trainer in both professions.

An associate professor in Special Education, Dr. Susan De La Paz has spent more than fifteen years creating and validating writing curricula in English, history and science, helping teachers meet the needs of students with learning disabilities, struggling, and proficient or advanced learners in middle and high school classrooms. She directed a Teaching American History Grant, was principal investigator on a Struggling Readers and Writers grant from IES, and has received funding from the American Educational Research Association.

Dr. Ana Taboada Barber is an associate professor in the Special Education program. Her research examines cognitive and motivational aspects of reading comprehension with monolingual and second language learners in elementary and middle school. For the last four years, Dr. Taboada Barber has been principal investigator on a federally funded intervention grant that focused on fostering reading comprehension and motivation with struggling middle school students. She has worked as a teacher and a literacy educator, and she brings practical experience as a bilingual researcher to the study of language and literacy.

Dr. Jade Wexler is an assistant professor of Special Education. A former high school special education reading teacher, Dr. Wexler investigates reading instruction across content areas and in supplemental intervention settings for adolescents with reading disabilities and behavior disorders. Dr. Wexler was principal investigator on an IES-funded project on high school reading and dropout prevention, and she has extensive experience directing large-scale intervention studies funded by private foundations and state organizations. She has also conducted several studies in juvenile correctional and alternative school settings. Dr. Wexler has published numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals, and she is a co-author of two books on adolescent literacy and related topics. She frequently consults for federally funded centers such as the National Center on Intensive Intervention, providing professional development for schools and teachers on evidence-based adolescent literacy practices.



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