Researchers have spent decades developing evidence-based interventions to prevent disruptive behaviors that interfere with instruction elementary classrooms. Educators often struggle to fully implement these interventions consistently.
As a result, students’ behavior does not improve. Simply put, students can’t benefit from interventions, even those that are evidence-based, if they don’t receive them.
When students’ behavior doesn’t improve, students are often referred to more intensive intervention, expensive special education services, or more restrictive placements. This outcome could be avoided for many students if educators are provided support to implement less-intensive interventions fully and consistently over time.
Neag School professor of educational psychology Lisa Sanetti has received a $3.7 million grant from the Department of Education Institute of Educational Sciences (IES) to test the efficacy of a theory-driven system for improving intervention implementation in elementary schools.
Sanetti is collaborating with Co-PIs Melissa Collier-Meek and Nedim Yel at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Collier-Meek received her PhD in educational psychology from UConn.
Sanetti’s team will use the Planning Realistic Intervention implementation and Maintenance by Educators (PRIME) system. The group previously designed PRIME through an IES grant and will evaluate its efficacy in this new study working with elementary school teachers implementing behavioral interventions for students with or at risk of disabilities.
“Decades of research and billions of dollars devoted to developing evidence-based interventions to improve student outcomes are not achieving their potential impact due to inadequate implementation,” Sanetti says. “PRIME may provide a feasible, low-cost approach to supporting educators’ intervention implementation and maximizing outcomes for students.”
Previous studies of strategies to support teachers’ intervention implementation lacked theoretical support, meaning how they affected change was unknown making it difficult to generalize and reapply the findings.
PRIME is based on a proven health psychology theory of adult behavior change. The individualized, tiered, consultation system helps teachers move from intending to implement an intervention to actually putting it in place with fidelity over time.
In PRIME, all teachers work with a consultant to make sure the logistics of implementing an intervention are clear and fit the routines and culture of their classroom. It also helps teachers plan around potential barriers by developing solutions to remediate them proactively.
In their previous studies, they found most teachers, after one planning session, were able to fully and consistently implement behavioral interventions for more than two months after the session, resulting in meaningful student improvements.
Some teachers needed more support; those teachers fall into two major camps: those who didn’t have the skills to implement the intervention (skill deficit) and those who had the skills but struggled with consistency (performance deficit).
The researchers found that modeling and role play increased fidelity for those with skill deficits while performance feedback and motivational interviewing increased fidelity for teachers with performance deficits. The group will use this knowledge to target interventions for individual educators in the new study.
Sanetti’s team will randomize three cohorts of teachers from elementary schools around UConn and UMass Boston. They will use a diverse sample of schools of different sizes, demographics, community types, and administrative support. This will allow the researchers to generalize their findings to many types of schools.
The researchers will collect data about intervention fidelity and student outcomes, including disruptive behavior and academic engagement, over the course of the five-year study to determine the efficacy of PRIME.
Sanetti holds a Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research interests include on implementation science, educator wellbeing, and school-based mental health.