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IES Grant

Title: Smooth Sailing: Teacher-Directed Intervention to Improve Outcomes for Young Children with ASD in General Education Classrooms
Center: NCSER Year: 2018
Principal Investigator: Blacher, Jan Awardee: University of California, Riverside
Program: Autism Spectrum Disorders      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (07/01/2018 - 06/30/2022) Award Amount: $1,399,991
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R324A180105

Co-Principal Investigator: Eisenhower, Abbey

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to develop and test a professional development program for general education teachers who work with students with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in early elementary school. The program will be designed to improve general education teachers' readiness to work with students with ASD, including their ASD knowledge, student-specific knowledge, self-efficacy to teach children with ASD, appropriate student expectations, and the quality of their relationships with parents. In turn, these gains will lead to improved relationships between teachers and their students with ASD and improved social, behavioral, and academic outcomes for students. Although students with ASD are increasingly integrated into general education classrooms, general education teachers rarely receive training in ASD and many feel ill-equipped to teach students with ASD. Additionally, results of a previous IES-funded Exploration study showed that teachers often experience difficulty establishing positive relationships with students with ASD and their parents. The current project's goal is to develop a program that improves teachers' effectiveness in instructing and interacting with students with ASD and that ultimately results in social, behavioral, and academic gains for these students.

Project Activities: The research team will iteratively develop and test the intervention across three phases. In Phase 1, feedback from focus groups of teachers and paraprofessionals, and additional consultation with select teachers, will be used to gather feedback on barriers, changes, and ideas for enhancing the program. The program will be revised based on this feedback. In Phase 2, the research team will collect information on the program's feasibility, usability, and preliminary promise through two single-case design studies. In Phase 3, the program will be pilot tested in a quasi-experimental, matched comparison group study to determine its promise for improving teacher and student outcomes post-program and at 3-month follow up.

Products:  This project will result in a fully developed program designed to improve general education teachers' readiness to teach students with ASD, student-teacher relation­ships, and student outcomes. Products will also include peer-reviewed publications and presentations.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The research will take place in elementary schools in California and Massachusetts.

Sample:  Phase 1 research activities will include approximately 20 general education kindergarten through 2nd grade teachers and paraprofessionals. In Phase 2, approximately eight general education teachers and eight of their students with ASD will participate in the single-case design studies. For the pilot study, the sample will include 30 teacher-student dyads.

Intervention: The project will result in a professional development program with three components: (1) a set of online training modules that provide information on ASD, strategies for managing behaviors and symptoms in the classroom, guidance in making accurate attributions for children's challenging behaviors, strategies for forming close and low-conflict relationships, and direct instruction techniques; (2) a teacher-as-interviewer training on how to conduct relationship-building interviews with parents of students with ASD; and (3) a Time2Connect component, which involves training and coaching to support teachers in conducting daily one-on-one relationship-building interactions with students with ASD. Teachers will engage in each component sequentially, enabling them to apply the knowledge gained from the online modules to conduct interviews with parents and to conduct relationship-building activities with students with ASD.

Research Design and Methods:  In Phase 1, the research team will conduct focus groups with general education teachers and paraprofessionals to gather feedback on barriers, changes, and ideas for enhancing the program. They will also select teacher consultants to participate in additional interviews. These teachers will include ones who were particularly helpful in initial focus groups as well as new teachers. Teacher consultants will review and try each part of the program and reflect on its usability, feasibility, and social validity. Throughout Phase 1, the research team will revise the program based on this feedback. In Phase 2, two single-case multiple-probe design studies will be conducted to assess the program's feasibility, usability, and preliminary promise for improving student-teacher relationships. In Phase 3, the program will be pilot tested in a quasi-experimental matched comparison group study to determine its promise for improving teacher knowledge and skills; student-teacher relationships; and students' social, behavioral, and academic outcomes at the conclusion of the program and a 3-month follow up. Participating teachers will be matched based on the size of their school, years of teaching experience, and grades taught.

Control Condition:  For the Phase 3 pilot study, teachers in the control condition will continue their typical instruction.

Key Measures: Feasibility, usability, and acceptability will be assessed using focus groups and a researcher-developed usability and feasibility survey. Fidelity will be assessed using a variety of methods, including system usage data from the online platform as well as researcher-developed fidelity checklists (teacher self-report and observational). Teacher outcomes related to knowledge of ASD, self-efficacy for teaching students with ASD, expectations of student ability and behavior, student-specific knowledge, and parent-teacher relationship quality will be assessed using existing and newly-developed teacher-reported measures. Student-teacher relationship quality will be measured via observational ratings on the Individualized Classroom Assessment Scoring System (inCLASS) and through teacher-report on the Student Teacher Relationship Scale (STRS). In the behavioral domain, students' compliance and on-task behavior will be assessed using the Teacher Report Form (TRF) and the inCLASS respectively. Academic engagement will be assessed with the Academic Engagement Scale, and students' social skills will be measured using the Social Skills Improvement System (SSIS-T) and the inCLASS.

Data Analytic Strategy: During the development of the intervention, focus group and interview data will be analyzed using an inductive approach based on grounded theory to identify themes, and findings will be used to guide changes and enhancements to the professional development program. Data from the single-case design studies will be analyzed using visual analysis to determine effects of each program component on teacher-student relationship quality. Researchers will also calculate between-case standardized mean effect sizes. Quantitative data on feasibility, usability, social validity, and fidelity surveys will be analyzed descriptively. After evaluating baseline equivalence between the intervention and comparison groups, the pilot study will use analyses of covariance and effect sizes to evaluate the promise of the program in improving teacher, student, and relational outcomes.

Related IES Projects: Successful Transition in the Early School Years for Children with Autism (R324A110086)