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IES Grant

Title: Peer Support and Peer Network Interventions to Improve Peer Relationships and School Engagement
Center: NCSER Year: 2010
Principal Investigator: Carter, Erik Awardee: Vanderbilt University
Program: Transition Outcomes for Secondary Students with Disabilities      [Program Details]
Award Period: 06/01/2010 – 05/31/2014 Award Amount: $2,279,679
Goal: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R324A100391

Purpose: Secondary students with severe intellectual disabilities often have difficulty gaining access to the social and academic experiences that can better equip them for life after high school. Current research suggests that social interactions between students with intellectual disabilities and their peers without disabilities may promote academic, functional, and social skill development, improve social competence and friendship development, and improve quality of life. Despite the adoption of more inclusive service delivery models to promote social interaction, these efforts have not been informed by empirically validated strategies. Therefore students' inclusive experiences are often marked by social isolation and limited engagement; opportunities for meaningful peer interactions are often elusive for students with disabilities. The purpose of this project is to evaluate the efficacy of two peer interaction interventions (peer network and peer support) for improving outcomes for students with severe intellectual disabilities.

Project Activities: The researchers will conduct a randomized controlled trial of two interventions targeting students with severe intellectual disabilities. Students in three consecutive cohorts will be randomly assigned to one of the two treatment conditions (peer network or peer support) or a business-as-usual comparison condition. Data collection activities include direct observations of participants, interviews, surveys, and multiple measures of student skills.

Products: The products of this project include evidence of the efficacy of peer support and peer network interventions for high school students with severe intellectual disabilities, published reports, and presentations.

Setting: The research will take place in 10 high schools across 9 districts in Wisconsin.

Population: The sample will be comprised of 150 students with severe intellectual disabilities.

Intervention: The study will investigate the efficacy of two fully developed interventions: peer support and peer network. The peer support intervention involves one or more peers without disabilities providing social and/or academic support to a student with severe disabilities within an inclusive classroom. Support provided to special needs students includes collaboration on assignments, encouraging involvement and interactions, reviewing work, and offering feedback. The peer network intervention involves target students being matched with a peer group of four to six students. Peer networks establish regular meetings and promote the target student's involvement in school activities.

Research Design and Methods: A randomized control trial design is being used, with students randomly assigned to one of the two experimental conditions (peer support and peer network) or the control conditions on an individual basis. Peer students will be recruited by participating teachers based on prior interactions, relevant activities and interests, and the educational needs of the target student. Peer students will be given guidance on appropriate peer roles, coordinating schedules with the target students, and strategies for promoting and maintaining a strong peer network. Data collection of study participants takes place before, during, and after the intervention and is followed by delayed measures in subsequent semesters.

Control Condition: The comparison group will receive typical educational services (business-as-usual), which frequently involves one-to-one paraprofessional support for the students.

Key Measures: Data collection approaches include direct classroom observations, skill assessments, teacher and parent reports, interviews, and record reviews. The measures to be used include the Multiple Option Observation System for Experimental Studies, Social Skills Improvement System, Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale-2, Goal Attainment Scaling, and the School-based Social Network Form.

Data Analytic Strategy: Student outcome data will be analyzed using a two-level (student and school) hierarchical linear model which combines the three study cohorts across time. For research questions focusing on delayed effects, a similar two-level data analytic strategy will be used with the outcome data collected six months after intervention. Interviews will be recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed using constant-comparative procedures to examine the feasibility, practicality, acceptability, and outcomes associated with the two intervention strategies.

Related IES Projects: Project Summer: Improving Summer Employment and Community Inclusion Outcomes for Transition-Age Youth with Disabilities (R324S060023)

Publications from this project:

Carter, E. W., Asmus, J. M., & Moss, C. K. (2013). Fostering friendships: Supporting relationships among students with and without developmental disabilities. The Prevention Researcher, 20 (2), 14–17.

Carter, E. W., Asmus, J., Moss, C. K., Cooney, M., Weir, K., Vincent, L., Born, T., Hochman, J., Bottema-Beutel, K., & Fesperman, E. (2013). Peer network strategies to foster social connections among adolescents with and without severe disabilities. Teaching Exceptional Children, 46 (2), 51–59.

Bottema-Beutel, K., Lloyd, B., Carter, E. W., & Asmus, J. (2014). Generalizability and decision studies to inform observational and experimental research in classroom settings. American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 119, 589–605. doi: 10.1352/1944–7558–119.6.589

Carter, E. W., Asmus, J. M., & Moss, C. K. (2014). Peer support interventions to support inclusive education. In J. McLeskey, N. Waldron, F. Spooner, & B. Algozzone (Eds.), Handbook of research and practice for effective inclusive schools (pp. 377–394). New York, NY: Routledge.

Asmus, J. A., Carter, E. W., Moss, C. K., Born, T. L., Vincent, L. B., Lloyd, B. P., & Chung, Y. (in press). Social outcomes and acceptability of two peer-mediated interventions for high school students with severe disabilities: A pilot study. Inclusion.

Carter, E. W., Asmus, J., Moss, C. K., Amirault, K. A., Biggs, E. E., Bolt, D., … & Wier, K. (in press). Randomized evaluation of peer supports arrangements to support the inclusion of high school students with severe disabilities. Exceptional Children.

Carter, E. W., Moss, C. K., Asmus, J., Fesperman, E., Cooney, M., Brock, M. E., … & Vincent, L. B. (in press). Promoting inclusion, social relationships, and learning through peer support arrangements. Teaching Exceptional Children.

Feldman, R., Carter, E. W., Asmus, J., & Brock, M. E. (in press). Presence, proximity, and peer interactions of adolescents with severe disabilities in general education classrooms. Exceptional Children. doi: 10.1177/0014402915585481