Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Recognizing School-Based Teams for American Education Week: Team-Initiated Problem Solving (TIPS)

In honor of American Education Week, IES recognizes the many school-based educators and staff who work together to support student learning and growth. This is particularly true for teams working to improve outcomes for students with disabilities. Providing special education requires a team approach with collaboration among a variety of professionals. To this end, school-based teams—teachers, administrators, special education and behavior specialists, and other support professionals—at the elementary level are in a constant process of problem solving. Student needs, ever evolving, are best met using targeted data and evidence-based practices. But how do school teams ensure that they are defining student needs accurately and applying the most effective interventions? In the busy school environment, how can team members best use their meeting time to serve students?

NCSER-funded researchers have been working to measure and support school team efforts through the development of decision-making models and observation tools refined and expanded over the course of more than 15 years. One approach dedicated to training team members and facilitating successful problem-solving meetings has been demonstrated to improve the decisions made by school teams and is now being integrated with student data systems and supported by online tools for staff.

Photo of Dr. Rob Horner

Dr. Rob Horner (University of Oregon) and his team recognized the need for school problem-solving teams to access to student academic and behavioral data and to have a protocol for the effective use of these data. Based on an observational tool, Decision Observation Recording and Analysis (DORA), and a decision-making process developed with a previous NCSER grant, they evaluated the efficacy of Team-Initiated Problem Solving (TIPS). Focused on the school-based team meeting procedures, TIPS helps train school staff to use data to define student problems and develop targeted solutions that draw from existing research but are specific to each student’s unique circumstances and needs. This randomized controlled trial tested the TIPS model with school teams trained in schoolwide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), a systems-level framework that involves implementing multi-tiered, evidence-based practices to improve student social/behavioral and academic outcomes. Results indicated that the teams already had fairly strong foundational meeting procedures (such as use of agenda, minutes, and assigned roles) following the general PBIS training, but after exposure to TIPS training and coaching, school teams were better able to identify precise academic and behavioral problems in the students they observed. The solutions they generated were more targeted and, notably, researchers saw a shift from solutions that focused on changing the student to those that aimed to alter the student’s environment. In addition, teams that participated in TIPS were more likely to implement solutions they developed and their schools had fewer out-of-school suspensions than the schools that had teams in the control group.

Although there were positive effects of the TIPS model, it is important to note that drawing together a team of school staff with diverse specialties and relationships with the student remains a challenge. Together with Dr. Horner, Dr. Erin Chaparro (University of Oregon) is leading an IES-funded project to develop a set of technology tools to facilitate the use of TIPS with problem-solving teams. The project includes both online professional development modules tailored to team members’ needs and an app to assist with meeting protocols and easy access to meeting history and student data. These programs, collectively called the TIPS EdTech tools, are intended to improve team functioning and, by extension, student outcomes. The researchers are currently completing a pilot study to help determine the fidelity of implementing these tools and the promise for positive impacts on team functioning and student outcomes.  

TIPS is now being used in additional research. Dr. Wayne Sailor (University of Kansas) and his research team are focused on school teams’ ability to effectively leverage data to integrate student behavioral and academic supports. This NCSER-funded grant aims to improve school teams’ use of an integrated multi-tiered systems of support, which works to combine behavior and academic services, through the development of a decision support system (DSS). The DSS consists of two parts, one of which is an adaptation of the TIPS model for problem-solving team meetings termed “the meeting engine.” The second component consists of an existing digital system called DataWall, an integrated data system to link education databases, chart data, and build summary reports at various levels (such as school, grade, or student). This research team is currently enhancing DataWall while integrating with TIPS procedures.

Serving students with disabilities requires the skills and collaboration of many different education professionals, such as teachers and special education teachers, administrators, service providers, and paraeducators. The challenge of coordinating the efforts of school-based teams calls for ongoing innovation by both researchers and practitioners. TIPS and its iterations are one evidence-based way of helping to facilitate school staff supports for diverse student needs.

Written by Julianne Kasper, Virtual Student Federal Service Intern at IES and graduate student in Education Policy & Leadership at American University.

IES Funds Innovations Across the Age Spectrum for Students with ADHD

Nearly 10% of all children in the United States have at one time been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—over 6 million children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As the name implies, ADHD can lead children to have primary problems with attention, hyperactive behavior, or both. Over the past two years, NCER and NCSER have awarded more than $12 million to four projects focusing on children and youth with ADHD through their primary grant competitions, from preschool to high school.

Comparing Virtual and In-Person Sessions for Parents of Young Children

Photo of George DuPaulPhoto of Lee KernDeveloped with NCSER funding, the Promoting Engagement with ADHD Pre-Kindergartners (PEAK) program has preliminary evidence of positive impacts on parent and child outcomes. Building on these findings, Principal Investigators (PIs) George DuPaul and Lee Kern are now testing the efficacy of the intervention with both face-to-face and online delivery methods. PEAK gives parents information on ADHD and a host of strategies, including behavioral management and response, reading and math skill development, and communication with school personnel to aid in the transition to kindergarten. The research team is comparing the face-to-face version, online version, and a control group without PEAK to determine the efficacy of the intervention and comparative efficacy between each method of delivery. They will also determine whether effects are maintained for up to 24 months after the end of the parent sessions.

English Language Learners (ELLs) in Early Elementary Grades

Photo of Nicole Schatz

PI Nicole Schatz and her team are addressing a gap in existing research: very few interventions for the development of language and reading skills in ELL students are tailored to those who also have disabilities, particularly for ELL students with behavior disorders such as ADHD. Their 2021 NCSER-funded study will examine whether language and behavioral interventions, delivered independently or combined, improve learning outcomes for kindergarten and first grade ELLs with or at risk for ADHD. The research team will examine the impact of one of these three interventions: 1) an educational language intervention involving small-group, interactive reading; 2) a behavioral classroom intervention; and 3) a combined intervention in which students receive both the language intervention and the behavioral classroom intervention.

Academic and Social Effects of Sluggish Cognitive Tempo (SCT) in Elementary and Middle School

Photo of Stephen Becker

SCT is an attention disorder associated with symptoms similar to ADHD, such as excessive daydreaming, mental confusion, seeming to be "in a fog,” and slowed behavior/thinking. In this recent extension of PI Stephen Becker’s initial NCER grant, he explores how SCT is associated with academic and social impairments over development. The research team will collect measures of student engagement and organization, withdrawal and social awareness, and contextual factors like student-teacher relationship and school climate. The yearly observations will follow cohorts of 2nd-5th graders through their 5th-8th grade years, half with and half without SCT.

Peer Support from Upperclassmen for 9th Graders with ADHD

Photo of Margaret Sibley

Sometime in adolescence, there tends to be a shift from the influence of parents and teachers to the influence of peers. With their recent grant from NCER, researchers Margaret Sibley and Joseph Raiker will be testing Sibley’s peer-intervention program, Students Taking Responsibility and Initiative through Peer-Enhanced Support (STRIPES). Developed with IES funding, STRIPES was designed to support students with ADHD by leveraging successful peer influence to address organization, time management, and planning. Supervised by a campus staff member, 11th and 12th grade students who have demonstrated academic and social competencies mentor 9th grade students with ADHD. These older peers are trained to help with goal setting, strategies for completing homework and organization, and maintenance of skills once the program is finished.

Stay tuned for findings and lessons learned from these newly funded studies.

Written by Julianne Kasper, Virtual Student Federal Service Intern at IES and graduate student in Education Policy & Leadership at American University.

Disrupting the Status Quo to Support Latino Students from Immigrant Families

Driven in part by massive demographic shifts in the U.S. population, education and social behavioral research has increasingly attended to the growing diversity of the student population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Latinos accounted for more than 50% of the U.S. population growth between 2010 and 2020. While the country’s white population is shrinking, the Latino population grew by 23% in the last decade and now makes up almost 19% of the U.S. population. Although the raw numbers are worthy of attention, the change rate—and what it means for how schools and other systems serve students—may be even more important, especially given that the K12 education system is not built to accommodate such rapid demographic shifts.

NCES data show that, although there has been overall progress in improving high school graduation rates, the nation’s Latino student dropout rate is 65% higher than White students and almost 40% higher than Black students. Only 20% of Latinos aged 25 to 29 have obtained a college degree—the lowest degree attainment rate of any racial/ethnic subgroup. Growing evidence shows that the disparities in college participation among Latino and first-generation college students may become even more pronounced as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage.

Since 2015, with the support of two IES-funded NCER grants, my team of colleagues and I have led work designed to challenge and innovate how schools support the positive development and college access and success for Latino students from immigrant families. Our Juntos Project was designed to create a new intervention model working directly with teachers, school leaders, and parents of Latino middle school students. The goal of the project was to address common challenges confronting immigrant families as they navigate the U.S. education system, to use effective strategies for recognizing and transforming teacher bias, and to create a school climate that centers equity leadership and builds authentic family-school partnerships—all with the promise to improve academic and school success for Latino students. The second project, Project LEAPS (Latino Education After Public School), which is currently underway, extends the model we developed in Juntos by working with teachers, parents, and school counselors to support the postsecondary readiness (and ultimately the college access and success) of Latino students as they transition from middle school to high school.

Through this work, we continue to learn important lessons about how to be disruptive given that current approaches have too often failed to make a lasting impact on nurturing the academic success and positive behavioral health of Latino students. Here are a few of those lessons:

Parents are the most important teachers in a child’s life. As much as education researchers and professionals attend to the role educators play in student life, our approach is designed to capitalize on the strengths of Latino families and the deep cultural value of familismo, which prioritizes dedication, connectedness, and loyalty to family, as essential targets of our intervention. Notwithstanding the influence of adult agents inside the education system, parents (that is, all of the adults in a child’s life who play a major role in raising them) play the most important and sustained role in raising healthy children. Although the education system frequently frames parents and home environments as “the problem” when considering the challenges of underserved students, data from the NCES National Household Education Survey show that parents of students of color are as likely or more likely to be engaged in their children’s education (for example, checking on homework completion, monitoring school performance) than their white peers. This is especially true for Latino parents, including those who are Spanish speaking and those who have low educational attainment themselves.

Move from a deficit framing to an asset framing. Undoubtedly, many Latino students and their families experience challenges as they navigate the education system. However, many of these challenges are not of their making. The fact that we can mark disparities in educational outcomes and access to higher education by race/ethnicity, poverty, rurality and other factors should be a source of outrage. None of these demographic characteristics should be correlated with school success or can legitimately be described as causal. The true causes stem from deeply rooted inequities embedded in the education system. One way to shift away from a student or family deficit framing is to focus on a more interesting question: What makes students, families, schools, and communities thrive in the face of difficult circumstances? The answers to this question can help us leverage assets that too often go untapped in service of student success.

Attend to within-group variation. Like other racial/ethnic groups, Latinos are not monolithic. Comparative designs in which outcomes for Latino students are contrasted with White students or students from other groups often contribute little to nuanced understandings about how variables linked to these group identifications might explain differences in outcomes. Ample research shows that within-group variation among Latinos on factors such as country of origin, nativity, generational history, language, time in U.S. residency, context of reception for immigrants, and acculturation level are more important in understanding the nature of risk and protection around academic and social behavioral adjustment than are between-group differences. In designing intervention programs for the families and students we serve, our goals are to understand these sources of variation and carefully attend to them in our development work.  


This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see here and here) showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. As part of our Hispanic Heritage Month blog series, we are focusing on Hispanic researchers and fellows, as well as researchers that focus on the education of Hispanic students.

Charles Martinez (@c_martinez) is the dean of the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin, a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, and the founding director of the Texas Center for Equity Promotion. He is a first-generation college graduate and a third-generation Mexican American. His Project LEAPS co-investigators are Heather McClure, University of Oregon, and Elma Lorenzo-Blanco, University of Texas at Austin.

This guest blog was produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council.

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