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IES Grant

Title: Examining the Executive Function-Stress Loop and its Association with Student Outcomes: Implications for Middle Schoolers with or At Risk for Emotional and Behavioral Disorders
Center: NCSER Year: 2019
Principal Investigator: Cumming, Michelle Awardee: Florida International University
Program: Early Career Development and Mentoring      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (08/01/2019–07/31/2023) Award Amount: $499,992
Type: Training Award Number: R324B190030

Mentors: Frazier, Stacy; Zelazo, Philip; McKown, Clark

Purpose: The Principal Investigator (PI) will conduct a program of research focused on improving the social, emotional, and academic outcomes of students with or at risk for emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD). In addition, the PI will participate in mentoring and training activities to develop knowledge and skills related to longitudinal research designs, the assessment of executive functions (EFs) and classroom quality, and grant writing. Understanding mechanisms through which behavior and academic problems develop and escalate has significant implications for programming for students with EBD who, despite school-based services, experience persistent negative outcomes. Theory and research highlight the following potential mechanisms: (1) school-based stressors, (2) ineffective stress regulation, and (3) deficits in neurocognitive processes known as EFs. Despite the developmental significance and malleability of EF, few researchers have examined EF or associations among school-based stress, student EF, and stress regulation (EF-Stress Loop) for students with EBD, especially during middle school—a period of active EF maturation and high stress and stress reactivity. The PI will address this gap by conducting a longitudinal study to examine how the EF-Stress Loop and classroom quality relate over time to behavioral and academic outcomes of middle schoolers with or at risk for EBD.

Research Plan: The purpose of the research plan is to better understand the pathways to the onset and intensification of behavior and academic problems for middle school students with EBD. The PI will conduct a longitudinal study with two cohorts of students with EBD in self-contained settings, students with or at risk for EBD in general education settings, and students without disabilities (approximately 300 total). Students will be followed from the beginning of 6th grade to end of 7th grade. In Years 1 and 2 (Cohort 1), the PI will collect data on students' cool EF (EF that is used during neutral situations, such as daily learning), hot EF (EF that is used to regulate in situations that are motivationally or emotionally significant, such as peer pressure), school-based stress, stress regulation, and academic and behavioral outcomes over four time points (fall and spring of both years). The PI will also collect observational data on classroom quality, including individual teacher-student interactions and class-wide interactions, in self-contained classrooms. In Years 3 and 4, this data collection procedure will be repeated for Cohort 2. The PI will use structural equation models to (1) explore the longitudinal relationships among the EF-Stress Loop and academic and behavioral outcomes of students with or at risk for EBD compared with peers without disabilities, and (2) examine the effects of classroom quality on the EF-Stress Loop for students with EBD in self-contained classrooms.

Career Plan: Through a career development plan, the PI intends to build (1) skills in longitudinal design, data collection, analysis, and interpretation; (2) knowledge and skills for assessing hot executive functions; (3) expertise in measuring and evaluating classroom quality; and (4) capacity to develop competitive grant proposals. To accomplish these goals, the PI will receive guidance from mentors, statistical experts, and an advisory board of expert researchers. The PI will also participate in a course on how to handle missing data, receive training on measuring classroom quality, attend workshops related to longitudinal research and randomized controlled trials, and participate in grant-writing webinars.