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IES Grant

Title: AFIRM for Paraeducators: Paraeducators' Use of Evidence-Based Practices to Increase Goal Attainment for Students with Autism
Center: NCSER Year: 2023
Principal Investigator: Sam, Ann M. Awardee: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Program: Educators and School-Based Service Providers      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years (07/01/2023 - 06/30/2025) Award Amount: $799,999
Type: Development and Innovation, Pilot Only Award Number: R324A230140

Co-Principal Investigators: Dykstra Steinbrenner, Jessica; Odom, Samuel

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to conduct a pilot study to test the promise of the AFIRM (Autism Focused Intervention Resources and Modules) for Paraeducators (AFP) program for increasing the use and fidelity of evidence-based practices (EBPs) among paraeducators and the goal attainment of elementary-aged students with autism. The increases in the prevalence of autism diagnoses and the number of paraeducators providing instruction in special education has created a need for preparing these educators to use EBPs with students with autism. AFP was developed with prior IES funding to address this need. AFP is a professional development program for paraeducators designed to be delivered by special education teachers in the classroom. Although the intervention has shown evidence of feasibility, its potential efficacy has not been established. Thus, the purpose of this project is to conduct a pilot test to examine the promise of AFP for improving teacher and paraeducator self-efficacy; teacher supervision of paraeducators; paraeducator EBP use and fidelity; and students’ goal attainment, behavior, and autism symptoms.

Project Activities: The research team will conduct a randomized controlled trial, randomly assigning schools to either AFP or a business-as-usual control condition. Teachers, paraeducators, and students will be assessed at the beginning and end of the school year and EBP use and fidelity will be assessed throughout the year.

Products: The products of this project will include knowledge of whether AFP improves teacher, paraeducator, and student outcomes. 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 project will take place in elementary schools in North Carolina.

Sample: Participants will include 24 special education teachers and 24 of their paraeducators who provide instruction to students with autism in self-contained or inclusive programs. The study will also include 72 students with autism (3 per teacher/paraeducator dyad).

Intervention: AFP consists of initial introductory workshops about autism, roles and relationships of paraeducators and supervising teachers, and providing or receiving supervision. The workshops are provided through a combination of online, interactive modules as well as in-person training. There are also five EBP learning cycles that focus on reinforcement, prompting, time delay, visual supports, and peer social engagement. The procedural features of the EBP are introduced through the online interactive modules, then the teacher plans for and models the practice for the paraeducator. Under the teachers’ supervision, paraeducators then implement the practice with their students with autism and the teacher provides performance feedback. This cycle is repeated for each of the five EBPs. The teacher will receive coaching and support from an AFP facilitator (research staff).

Research Design and Methods: Using a randomized controlled trial design, programs will be randomly assigned to the intervention or to a business-as-usual (BAU) control condition. Participating teachers, paraeducators, and students will participate in the intervention for one school year. Measures of teacher, paraeducator, and student outcomes will be collected pre- and post-intervention, at the beginning and end of the school year. Fidelity of EBP implementation and EBP use will be assessed throughout the year. During Year 2, the research team will analyze data to test the promise of the intervention for improving teacher, paraeducator, and student outcomes. The potential moderating role of program quality will also be explored along with the intervention’s social validity.

Control Condition: Teachers and paraeducators in programs assigned to the control condition will receive typical school and district professional development and engage in business-as-usual instruction and supervision. They will have access to the publicly available AFP online modules, but they will not receive the introductory workshops or the EBP learning cycles with facilitator support.

Key Measures: For paraeducators EBP fidelity will be assessed using measures adapted from the AFIRM EBP implementation checklists used in previous studies. Distal paraeducator outcomes, including self-efficacy and frequency and quality of EBP use will be assessed using the Teacher Self-Efficacy for Students with Autism Scale and the EBP-Use, respectively. For teachers, their perceptions of supervising paraeducators and their self-efficacy will be assessed using the Survey for Teachers Supervising Paras and the Teacher Self-Efficacy for Students with Autism Scale, respectively. The primary student outcome, progress on IEP goals, will be assessed using the Goal Attainment Scale. Additional student outcomes, including classroom behavior and autism symptoms will be measured using the Direct Behavior Rating and the Social Skills Improvement System, respectively. Researchers will use the Autism Program Environment Rating Scale-Preschool Elementary to measure the program environment. The AFP Implementation Profile will be used to assess fidelity of implementing AFP. AFP teachers and paraeducators will also complete the User Rating Profile-Intervention to assess social validity.

Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers will use a linear mixed models analysis to examine the impact of APR on teacher and paraeducator outcomes. For student outcomes, a hierarchical linear model, with students nested within teacher/paraeducator dyads, will be used. In addition, they will conduct an exploratory moderator analysis to examine whether program quality at pretest moderates the intervention’s impact on teacher, paraeducator, and student outcomes. Fidelity of implementation and social validity will be examined descriptively.

Cost Analysis: The total per student and per paraeducator costs of implementing AFP per will be assessed using the ingredients method. Cost effectiveness will be analyzed based on the effect size differences for AFP and business-as-usual paraeducator EBP fidelity of implementation and also student outcomes.

Related IES Projects: Supporting Paraprofessionals' Use of Evidence-Based Practices for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (R324A170028)