Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Why School-based Mental Health?

In May 2021, we launched a new blog series called Spotlight on School-based Mental Health to unpack the why, what, when, who, and where of providing mental health services in schools. This first post in the series focuses on the why by discussing three IES-funded projects that highlight the importance of these services.

Increasing access to needed services. A primary benefit of school-based mental health is that it can increase access to much-needed services. A 2019 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) indicates that 60% of the nearly 4 million 12- to 17-year-olds who reported a major depressive episode in the past year did not receive any treatment whatsoever. What can be done to address this need? One idea being tested in this 2019 efficacy replication study is whether school counselors with clinician support can provide high school students a telehealth version of a tier-2 depression prevention program with prior evidence of efficacy, Interpersonal Psychotherapy-Adolescent Skills Training (IPT-AST). Through individual and group sessions, the IPT-AST program provides direct instruction in communication and interpersonal problem-solving strategies to decrease conflict, increase support, and improve social functioning.   

Improving access to services for Black youth. Social anxiety (SA) is a debilitating fear of negative evaluation in performance and social situations that can make school a particularly challenging environment. The connection between SA and impaired school functioning is likely exacerbated in Black youth who often contend with negative racial stereotypes. In this 2020 development and innovation project, the research team aims to expand Black youth’s access to mental health services by improving the contextual and cultural relevance of a promising school-based social anxiety intervention, the Skills for Academic and Social Success (SASS). Through community partnerships, focus groups, and interviews, the team will make cultural and structural changes to SASS and add strategies to engage Black students in urban high schools who experience social anxiety.

Reducing stigma by promoting well-being. The second leading barrier cited by adolescents for not seeking mental health treatment include social factors such as perceived stigma and embarrassment. One way to counteract these barriers is to frame intervention in more positive terms with a focus on subjective well-being, a central construct in positive psychology. In this 2020 initial efficacy study, the research team is testing the Well-Being Promotion Program in middle schools in Florida and Massachusetts. In 10 core sessions, students low in subjective well-being take part in group activities and complete homework assignments designed to increase gratitude, acts of kindness, use of signature character strengths, savoring of positive experiences, optimism, and hopeful or goal-directed thinking.

These three projects illustrate why we need to carefully consider school-based mental health as a logical and critical part of success in school, particularly as we navigate the road to helping students recover from disengagement and learning loss during the coronavirus pandemic.  

Next in the series, we will look at the what of school-based mental health and highlight several projects that are developing innovative ways to support the mental health of students and staff in school settings.


Written by Emily Doolittle (Emily.Doolittle@ed.gov), NCER Team Lead for Social Behavioral Research at IES

 

Partnering with Practitioners to Address Mental Health in Rural Communities

IES values and encourage collaborations between researchers and practitioners to ensure that research findings are relevant, accessible, feasible, and useful. In 2017, Dr. Wendy Reinke, University of Missouri, received IES funding to formalize the Boone County School’s Mental Health Coalition by strengthening their partnership and validating the Early Identification System (EIS) to screen for social, emotional, behavioral, and academic risk among K-12 students in rural schools. Building on these successes, Dr. Reinke now leads the National Center for Rural School Mental Health (NCRSMH), a consortium of researchers leading efforts to advance mental health screening and support in rural communities.

Bennett Lunn, a Truman-Albright Fellow at IES, asked Dr. Reinke about the work of the original partnership and how it has informed her efforts to build new partnerships with other rural schools around the country. Below are her responses.

 

What was the purpose of the Boone County Schools Mental Health Coalition and what inspired you to do this work?

In 2015, our county passed an ordinance in which a small percent of our sales tax is set aside to support youth mental health in our community. As a result, the schools had visits from many of the local mental health agencies to set up services in school buildings. The superintendents quickly realized that it would be wise to have a more coordinated effort across school districts. They formed a coalition and partnered with researchers at the University of Missouri to develop a comprehensive model to prevent and intervene in youth mental health problems. The enthusiasm of our school partners and their willingness to consider research evidence to inform the model was so energizing! We were able to build a multi-tiered prevention and intervention framework that uses universal screening data to inform supports. In addition, we were awarded an IES partnership grant to help validate the screener, conduct focus groups and surveys of stakeholders to understand the feasibility and social validity of the model, and determine how fidelity to the model is related to student outcomes. The EIS is now being used in 54 school buildings across six school districts as part of their daily practice. 

 

Were there advantages to operating in a partnership to validate the screener?  

The main benefit of working in partnership with school personnel is that you learn what works under what circumstances from those directly involved in supporting students. We meet every month with the superintendents and other school personnel to ensure that if things are not working, we can find solutions before the problems become too big. We vote on any processes or procedure that were seen as needing to change. The meeting includes school personnel sharing the types of activities they are doing in their buildings so that others can replicate those best practices, and we meet with students to get their perspectives on what is working. In addition, the university faculty bring calls for external funding of research to the group to get ideas for what types of research would be appropriate and beneficial to the group. Schools are constantly changing and encountering new challenges. Being close to those who are working in the buildings allows for us to work together in forming and implementing feasible solutions over time.

 

What advice do you have for researchers trying to make research useful and accessible to practitioners? 

Be collaborative and authentic. Demonstrate that you are truly there to create meaningful and important changes that will benefit students. Show that your priority is improving outcomes for schools and students and not simply collecting data for a study. These actions are vital to building trust in a partnership. By sharing the process of reviewing data, researchers can show how the research is directly impacting schools, and practitioners have an opportunity to share how their experience relates to the data. A good way to do this is by presenting with practitioners at conferences or collaboratively writing manuscripts for peer reviewed journals. For example, we wrote a manuscript (currently under review) with one of our school counselor partners describing how he used EIS data in practice. Through collaboration like this, we find that the purpose and process of research becomes less mysterious, and schools can more easily identify and use practices that are shown to work. In this way, long-term collaboration between partners can ultimately benefit students!

 

How does the work of the original partnership inform your current work with the National Center for Rural School Mental Health? 

We are bringing what we have learned both in how to be effective partners and to improve the model to the National Center for Rural School Mental Health. For instance, we are developing an intervention hub on our Rural Center website that will allow schools to directly link evidence-based interventions to the data. We learned that having readily available ideas for intervening using the data is an important aspect of success. We have also learned that schools with problem solving teams can implement the model with higher fidelity, so we are developing training modules for schools to learn how to use the data in problem solving teams. We will be taking the comprehensive model to prevent and intervene with youth mental health and using it in rural schools. We will continue to partner with our rural schools to continuously improve the work so that it is feasible, socially valid, and important to rural schools and youth in those schools.


 

Dr. Wendy Reinke is an Associate Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of Missouri College of Education. Her research focuses on school-based prevention interventions for children and youth with social emotional and behavioral challenges.

Written by Bennett Lunn (Bennett.lunn@ed.gov), Truman-Albright Fellow, National Center for Education Research and National Center for Special Education Research

IES Supported Intervention “INSIGHTS Into Children’s Temperament” is Featured at the 2021 ED Games Expo

The ED Games Expo is an annual showcase of game-changing innovations in education technology developed through programs at ED and across the federal government. Since 2013, the Expo has been an in-person event at venues across Washington, D.C. Because of COVID-19, the 2021 Expo will be an entirely virtual experience from June 1 to 5.

This year, the Expo will showcase more than 160 learning games and technologies and feature 35 different virtual EdTech events of interest to a broad audience of viewers. See the Agenda for the lineup for the Ed Games Expo.

 

ED Games Expo: Featuring INSIGHTS into Children’s Temperament

INSIGHTS into Children’s Temperament, an IES-supported intervention, is being featured at the Expo this year. INSIGHTS supports children’s social-emotional development and academic learning by helping teachers and parents see how differences in children’s behavior might reflect temperament/personality. Children work with the INSIGHTS puppets and learn that other children and adults react differently to the same situation due to their temperaments. IES has supported two randomized controlled trials (RCTs, the “gold standard” for claims of impact) of INSIGHTS – one in New York City and the other (ongoing) in rural Nebraska. Evidence from the NYC RCT and a longitudinal follow up indicate that children who participate in the INSIGHTS program during early elementary school experience better academic and social behavioral outcomes immediately following participation in the program, and these positive impacts persist into middle school. 

 

During the 2020 ED Games Expo, Sandee McClowry and her team performed an INSIGHTS lesson at the Kennedy Center to hundreds of attendees, including children, students, and families. INSIGHTS will be featured in this year’s ED Games Expo in three ways.

  • Tuesday, June 1 at 8PM Eastern: There will be an “ED Games Expo Kick Off Show” hosted by the puppets from the INSIGHTS intervention and the characters from the Between the Lions children’s television program. All of the characters will share information about the ED Games Expo while having a lot of fun and hijinks on a road trip to Washington, DC.  The Show will be introduced by the Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, and will also feature cameo appearances by IES, ED, and government team members.
  • Wednesday, June 2 from 9PM to 9:45PM Eastern: Sandee McClowry will be hosting a Master Class for Educators. The event will introduce all of the INSIGHTS friends, including Coretta the Cautious, Gregory the Grumpy, Fredrico the Friendly, and Hilary the Hard Worker. The video will provide practical guidance to educators on how to deliver the intervention in a classroom. The event will conclude with a rich and engaging discussion with expert practitioners about how INSIGHTS addresses the social and emotional learning of children, educators, and parents. Click Here to access the YouTube broadcast of the Master Class and set a reminder to watch on June 1.
  • Materials from INSIGHTS, including puppets that can be printed out and professional development resources for educators, will be available to try out during the Expo and in the month of June.

 

For URL links to watch the ED Games Expo Kick Off Show and Master Class for Educators, See the Agenda. For more information and on how to access the resources INSIGHTS intervention, see the website.


Written by Emily Doolittle (Emily.Doolittle@ed.gov), NCER Team Lead for Social Behavioral Research at IES

 

Spotlight on School-based Mental Health

This May as we recognize National Mental Health Awareness Month, schools around the country are welcoming students and educators back for in-person instruction after more than a year of remote or hybrid teaching and learning. One issue schools must consider during this transition back is the increase in mental health concerns among adults, young adults, and adolescents this past year. Here at IES, we support research that explores, develops, and tests innovative, field-initiated approaches to support mental health in schools and classrooms. This new IES blog series will explore school-based mental health by looking at IES-funded research that helps answer the five Ws:

 

  • Why school-based mental health? The first blog in the series will consider the benefits of school-based mental health such as providing increased access to services, especially for children of color, and potentially counteracting the stigma some associate with mental health treatment.

 

  • What can schools do to support the mental health of their students and staff? The second blog in the series will highlight several projects that are developing innovative new ways to provide mental health services in school settings.

 

  • When during the school day can schools implement these mental health practices so that they do not compete with the academic/instructional goals of school? The third blog in the series will highlight a variety of projects that delve into the implementation challenges inherent to providing school-based mental health services and support.

 

  • Who in the school should implement these mental health practices? The fourth blog in the series will explore the critical scale up challenge for schools of having staff with adequate time who can be appropriately trained to provide mental health supports to students.

 

  • Where can these mental health practices be implemented? The final blog in the series will investigate the implementation challenges of different education settings (PreK, elementary, middle, high school, postsecondary) for school-based mental health programs and practices.  

 

See these blogs for more information about some of the school-based mental health research supported through the two IES research centers, the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER).  


Written by Emily Doolittle (Emily.Doolittle@ed.gov), NCER Team Lead for Social Behavioral Research at IES

 

Copy, Paste, Transpose: Math Anxiety Is More Common than You Think

This blog is part of our “What Does This Mean for Me” series and was written by Yuri Lin, a virtual intern for NCER.

 

As an undergraduate student who just completed my required math courses, my days of struggling with math are still fresh in my mind. I know the feelings of shame and anxiety when I struggle to solve math problems, and I know I am far from the only person who has experienced this. I have friends who have blanked on exams and tutored middle schoolers who have experienced the same brand of math anxiety, just a handful of years removed, transposed into different classes.

Math anxiety has been defined as discomfort or nervousness that arises when thinking about doing math or while doing math. In some cases, math anxiety could interfere with one's ability to do math and could lead to lower mathematics achievement. This phenomenon occurs broadly across all age and grade levels, including teachers and adults, and has been estimated to peak in middle and high school. To learn more, I asked four IES-funded researchers to share their discoveries about math anxiety and their advice for students, parents, and math educators.

 

Sian Beilock, PhD (@sianbeilock), is a cognitive scientist and the eighth President of Barnard College at Columbia University. Her research focuses on brain and body factors that affect performance anxiety.

An Exploration of Malleable Social and Cognitive Factors Associated with Early Elementary School Students' Mathematics Achievement

Key Finding: Math anxiety starts early. We focused specifically on children at the start of formal schooling and found that some reported fear and apprehension around math. 

Advice for Parents: For parents, I would stress that it is important not to paint a picture of "some people are good at math and others aren't." We can all get better at math. When parents say things to their children like, "It’s okay; I am not a math person either," even though they are trying to comfort their kids, it sends a very strong signal that some people can do math, and some can't. The result is that kids who are anxious about math avoid it, and an unwanted anxiety-achievement cycle is created.

 

Jeremy Jamieson, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Rochester. His research focuses on the physiological and psychological impacts of stress, as well as how to manage stress responses to promote resilience.

Exploring Stress Responses in the Classroom and Reappraising Stress to Facilitate Academic Performance

Key Finding: Math anxiety is not just a psychological problem but also has important consequences for biological functioning. Community college students who reported higher levels of math anxiety also had unhealthy perceptions of stress and lower levels of testosterone (a performance-enhancing hormone) on days when they had to take a math test.

Advice for Students: Feeling stressed and anxious about math shows that you care, and those feelings of stress and anxiety do not mean one is “not good” at math. In fact, you can even use the stress you feel about math to help meet difficult challenges. Your body evolved stress responses to mobilize resources and help you perform. When you believe stress is a tool to help achieve difficult goals, your body will respond with a challenge response (which is like excitement) to assist you in reaching new heights.

 

Leigh McLean, PhD, is an Assistant Research Professor at Arizona State University. Her research focuses on teacher-student interactions in classroom environments and how these interactions affect teacher and student outcomes.

Exploring Elementary Teachers' Feelings, Beliefs, and Effectiveness across Mathematics, Science, and Literacy

Key Finding: When teachers are more math-anxious, so are their students. Importantly, when teachers enjoy teaching math and feel more efficacious in their math teaching, student math anxiety decreases and engagement increases. When teachers and parents have math anxiety, children can pick up on this anxiety, and it can impact both how children feel about math themselves and how they perform in math.

Advice for Math Educators: We would advise anyone who is in a role where they are teaching children math to be aware of their own math-related feelings, especially anxiety. Kids will not only pick up on the content adults teach them but also on the emotional signals adults give off. If a caregiver or teacher is experiencing math anxiety, they could try to find ways to increase their own math enjoyment and confidence, and this would likely benefit children’s learning.

 

Lindsey Richland, PhD (@lerichland), is an Associate Professor at the University of California, Irvine. Her research focuses on children’s development of mathematics thinking and cognitive skills, as well as teacher best practices to support this development.

Drawing Connections to Close Achievement Gaps in Mathematics

Key Finding: State math anxiety, which describes how much anxiety a student feels in a particular situation, changes a lot as students learn to solve problems that require higher order thinking. This suggests that it is not always helpful to make generalizations about trait anxiety, which is believed to be a fairly stable characteristic in individuals.  Instead, it may be more effective to develop specific interventions or learn more about problem types that can affect math anxiety.

Advice for Math Educators and Students: When you’re feeling anxious, you may have worries running through your mind that can distract your attention. One of the best ways to make sure you don’t lose out on learning is to use visual cues to help access information you need. When doing a math problem, write down all your work, rather than trying to do steps in your head. Use prior worked examples to help solve new problems. Teachers can do the same–make sure students have a visual record of classroom instruction that they can return to if their mind wanders or provide worked examples to help students learn new problem-solving techniques. 

 


Written by Yuri Lin, intern for the Institute of Education Sciences’ National Center for Education Research and a Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics major at UCLA.