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IES Grant

Title: An Efficacy Study of the School-based National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders Model (NPDC)
Center: NCSER Year: 2015
Principal Investigator: Odom, Samuel Awardee: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Program: Educators and School-Based Service Providers      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (7/1/2015-6/30/2019) Award Amount: $3,498,529
Type: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R324A150047

Purpose: This project assessed the efficacy of a widely used professional development model that promotes program quality, teachers' use of evidence-based practices (EBPs), and positive outcomes for elementary school students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The study responds to a national need to prepare teachers to implement effective, research-based educational programs to improve behavioral, social, and academic outcomes for students with ASD.

Project Activities: The researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial with 60 elementary schools to determine the impact of the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorder (NPDC) model on teacher and student outcomes. Researchers trained and supported teachers and school-based teams to provide appropriate and individualized interventions using EBPs to participating students and assessed intervention effects on a variety of outcomes, including program quality, teacher EBP use and fidelity, and student progress on individualized goals.

Key Outcomes: The main findings of this project, as reported by the principal investigator, are as follows:

  • For inclusive programs, ASD program quality was significantly higher for intervention schools as compared with control schools. For special education programs in schools, there was not a significant difference between intervention and control schools, although the effect size was substantively important and favored the intervention schools.
  • Teachers in the intervention schools used significantly more EBPs with their students and demonstrated greater confidence and fidelity in using EBPs compared to teachers in the control schools.
  • Students in the intervention schools made significantly greater gains on their individualized goals than those in control schools.
  • There were no significant treatment effects on standardized student measures.
  • Results from the cost analysis showed that the total cost of implementing the model was approximately $14,788 per school (assuming about 8 students need the intervention per school) and $1,804 per student (including training to implement the Autism Program Environment Rating Scale; APERS).

Structured Abstract

Setting: The study took place in 60 elementary schools in North Carolina. These schools were distributed across urban, suburban, and rural areas.

Sample: School staff (such as teachers, related service providers, administrators) at the intervention schools participated in the NPDC professional development model for 1 year. Approximately 8-10 students (kindergarten through grade 5) with ASD participated per school (total of 532 students in both inclusive and non-inclusive programs).

Intervention: The professional development model that served as the treatment condition in this study was developed by the NPDC, has been used by agencies in 12 states, and is being used to train hundreds of teachers in the United States and other countries. The model consists of forming a team at the school building level to assess program quality, using program quality information for program improvement, developing measurable student goals, linking goals to EBPs, and implementing these practices to achieve student goals. In addition, teachers are offered professional development (an online course and participation in an intensive summer workshop). A significant feature of this model is the coaching and feedback provided by research staff and local district personnel.

Research Design and Method: Using a cluster randomized controlled trial, participating schools were randomly assigned to either the treatment or control condition. Data were obtained via school records, online assessment, and direct assessment in the beginning and end of the year-long implementation to determine whether the NPDC model led to improved outcomes for teachers and for students with ASD.

Control Condition: Schools in the control condition engaged in services as usual. They also received awareness training about ASD and obtained a profile of the quality of the ASD program at their school based on the Autism Program Environment Rating Scale (APERS).

Key Measures: The APERS, Evidence-Based Practice Inventory (EBPI), and researcher-developed assessment of fidelity of EBP use were used as the service provider measures. The Psychometric Equivalence Tested Goal Attainment Scale served as a measure of proximal student outcomes. A battery of standardized assessments that measure social, communication, academic, and behavioral outcomes served as the distal student outcome measures, including the Academic Performance Rating Scale, Social Skills Improvement System rating scale, Children's Communication Checklist-2, Repetitive Behavior Scale, and Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale-2nd Edition. An implementation index was used to track implementation of the model in NPDC and control schools.

Data Analytic Strategy: A multilevel hierarchical linear model was used to determine intervention impacts on school-, teacher-, and student-level outcomes. The team used a mediational analysis to determine the relative association between quality of EBP use and student outcomes. Correlational analyses were used to explore the association between systems variables and intervention implementation. Exploratory and descriptive analyses of the association between observed fidelity and outcomes were also conducted. The team also conducted a cost analysis to determine the costs of implementing the program per school and per student.

Related IES Projects: Comparison of Two Comprehensive Treatment Models for Preschool-Aged Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders and Their Families (R324B070219); Center on Secondary Education for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (CSESA) (R324C120006)


ERIC Citations: Find available citations in ERIC for this award here.

Publicly Available Data: Data are archived on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Dataverse website: All files are available upon request and completion of a data use agreement.

Project Website:

Products and Publications

Journal articles

Morin, K. L., Sam, A., Tomaszewski, B., Waters, V., & Odom, S. L. (2020). Knowledge of Evidence-Based Practices and Frequency of Selection Among School-Based Professionals of Students with Autism. The Journal of Special Education, 55(3), 143–152.

Nowell, S. W., Tomaszewski, B., Steinbrenner, J. R., Sam, A. M., & Odom, S. L. (2022). Use of the Children's Communication Checklist-2 in School-Aged Students with Autism: A Psychometric Analysis. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 52(9), 4089–4099.

Odom, S. L., Hall, L. J., & Suhrheinrich, J. (2020). Implementation Science, Behavior Analysis, and Supporting Evidence-Based Practices for Individuals with Autism. European Journal of Behavior Analysis, 21(1), 55–73.

Sam, A. M., Cox, A. W., Savage, M. N., Waters, V., & Odom, S. L. (2020). Disseminating Information on Evidence-Based Practices for Children and Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder: AFIRM. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 50(6), 1931–1940.

Sam, A. M., Odom, S. L., Tomaszewski, B., Perkins, Y., & Cox, A. W. (2021). Employing Evidence-Based Practices for Children with Autism in Elementary Schools. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 51(7), 2308–2323.