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IES Grant

Title: Writing in Students With Language-Based Learning Disabilities (WILLD)
Center: NCSER Year: 2020
Principal Investigator: Koutsoftas, Anthony Awardee: Seton Hall University
Program: Reading, Writing, and Language Development      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (07/01/2020 - 06/30/2024) Award Amount: $1,399,230
Goal: Development and Innovation Award Number: R324A200046

Co-Principal Investigator: Puranik, Cynthia

Purpose: Students with language-based learning disabilities (LLD) have poor writing outcomes, especially with word and sentence level writing skills that negatively impact discourse level writing. Thus, direct strategy-based instruction for word and sentence level writing skills is just as important as discourse level writing instruction. The purpose of this project is to develop an intervention that targets word, sentence, and discourse level writing skills in students with language-based learning disabilities (LLD). It will be administered as part of individualized education plan (IEP) special education or related services provided by special educators (SEs) or speech language pathologists (SLPs). The project will provide evidence of the promise of the intervention, Project WILLD, (Writing in Students with LLD) on writing outcomes in students with LLD.

Project Activities: The researchers plan to iteratively develop Project WILLD writing intervention. In Year 1 they will develop the intervention materials, have the content validated by experts, obtain feedback from educators who conduct practice lessons after short instruction, and collect data on usability. In year 2, the intervention will be delivered by researcher staff during non-instructional time or after school in a field trial with about 20 students. The intervention will be revised and implemented for low or non-responders and then field tested with about 5 students. The professional development materials will be further refined. In year 3, a pilot study will be conducted with approximately 10 SEs and SLPs delivering the intervention at schools with approximately 50 students. The final year will include the analysis of costs of implementing the intervention and finalizing the intervention materials to be made available on a project website.

Products: Products include a fully developed Project WILLD intervention for improving writing outcomes for students with LLD, evidence of promise of the intervention for improving student outcomes, and a cost analysis for implementing the intervention. The project will also result in peer-reviewed publications and presentations as well as additional dissemination products that reach education stakeholders such as practitioners and policymakers.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The research will take place in elementary schools in New Jersey that serve 4th and 5th grade students.

Sample: The participants will include 50 students with LLD who qualify for special education services under the qualifying categories of Specific Learning Disability or Speech Language Impairment and 16 educators (SEs and SLPs who work with students with LLD).

Intervention: The project will develop a language-based intervention to improve writing outcomes in students with LLD. Written cohesion is the focus of the intervention as it has word, sentence, and discourse level implications for improving writing. The intervention will incorporate well-accepted educational practices for working with students with special education needs including explicit and direct instruction, strategy-based instruction (including metacognitive, metalinguistic, self-regulatory) and integration of spoken and written language. At the word level, the intervention will focus on cohesive ties. At the sentence level, the intervention will focus on sentence expansion, combining, and complexity strategies. At the discourse level, the intervention will focus on constructing cohesive paragraphs. As part of informative writing, students must express opinions, provide arguments, or explain difficult concepts, each of which can be developed within a paragraph.

Research Design and Methods: This project involves an iterative developmental design. In Year 1, qualitative feedback will be obtained as part of the development and logistical testing of the intervention. In year 2, two iterations of the intervention will be administered to students with LLD using within subjects' pre-test post-test design. In year 3, an underpowered efficacy pilot study will be conducted by SE and SLP educators who will be randomly assigned to treatment or business as usual conditions.

Control Condition: The control condition for the pilot study will be business as usual small group IEP special education instruction provided by SEs or SLPs.

Key Measures: The student outcome measures include norm-referenced standardized measures of oral language (Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals, Fourth Edition), academic achievement in reading and writing (Woodcock-Johnson IV Tests of Achievement-IV), and a researcher developed proximal measures developed in year 1 of the project will be used to quantify sentence combining and complexity skills. In addition, macrostructure and microstructure writing measures will be used to collect data from student writing samples. Data will be collected from SEs and SLPs using fidelity observation measures and satisfaction surveys to measure of intervention delivery fidelity and user satisfaction. Data will also be collected on costs of implementing the intervention.

Data Analytic Strategy: The researchers will use a 2-level, multilevel ANCOVA model to test for the primary impact of the intervention and will serve to facilitate testing of moderation and mediation models to explain for whom and why the intervention worked. Cost analysis for implementing the intervention will be conducted following the ingredients method including personnel, material, and facility costs associated with the treatment and BAU comparison conditions.