Proceedings from a Working Meeting on School Readiness Research: Guiding the Synthesis of Early Childhood Research. Childrens behavior problems

12/15/2009

While most of the studies in the ISRC consortium have highlighted childrens reductions in their risk for manifesting behavior problems, only two of the seven teams have submitted evidence of significant impact of intervention in this domain. These two studies include Project REDI, reporting reductions of childrens aggression by teachers (d = -.28) and by parents (d = -.13, at trend level of significance) (Bierman et al., in press-a).  These findings are similar to those yielded by the CSRP team, suggesting significant reductions in childrens externalizing and internalizing problems as reported by teachers, and trend-level reductions in childrens observed aggressive disruptive behavior in the classroom (Raver et al., revised and resubmitted).  Review of the PCER final report suggests that there were null impacts on childrens behavior problems in the pre-Kindergarten year, with point estimates of program impact using the SSRS Problem Behaviors Scale) reported to be small in magnitude and signed in inconsistent directions. Of concern is the finding that one intervention (Project Approach) appears to have yielded evidence of negative impact on childrens behavior problems in the Kindergarten year, with children in the treatment group showing significantly higher numbers of behavior problems than the control group. It is important to highlight however that that finding has not been replicated in any of the other 20 studies in the two consortia.

Mechanisms of improvement in childrens socioemotional development through improvement in the quality and quantity of instruction

How were these child-focused program impacts achieved? Consistent across all interventions reviewed was a clear emphasis on multi-day trainings for teachers, followed by extensive coaching support and attention to fidelity of implementation. Some studies (but not others) have also published findings of proximal improvement in classroom practices as a result of the implementation of the interventions planned. That smaller set of studies is reviewed below.

Findings from My Teaching Partner suggest that teachers who received web-based consultancy as well as web-based access to information on ways to improve instructional strategies made significant improvements in their classroom practices, as compared to teachers with access to web-based information, only (Pianta, Mashburn, Downer, Hamre, & Justice, submitted). Teachers in the treatment group were found to show significant gains in sensitivity, language modeling, and quality of instructional support to students, as compared to teachers in the control group. Effect size estimates are reported and therefore must be understood in terms of change over time: The investigators report unstandardized regression coefficients of B = .07 to .09 per unit of time (30 days). Briefly, this means that treatment group programs averaged .42 to .54 of a point gain (on the CLASS 7-point scale) relative to programs in the control group, in a six month period.  Importantly, gains were substantially larger for programs with very high proportions of poor children enrolled in their classrooms (see figures).

Similarly, Project REDI targeted teachers generalized classroom practices and induction strategies as well as their use of SEL curricular lessons to increase the level of emotional support and contingency to childrens emotional and social experiences (Bierman et al., in press-b; Bierman, personal communication, May 2008). Teachers use of emotion coaching and improvements in overall classroom management and behavioral support were significantly improved by the REDI intervention (Domitrovich et al., revised and resubmitted). Importantly, results from the REDI team suggest that these changes in classroom processes were powerful predictors (and likely mediators) of childrens language and socioemotional gains (Bierman et al., presentation). From a congruent theoretical framework, CSRP aimed to improve childrens self-regulation and opportunities for learning by increasing teachers use of emotionally supportive classroom practices where teachers maintained clear, firm yet warm patterns of limit-setting (see Raver et al., 2008). In contrast to project REDI, no specific child-focused curricula on emotional language or self-awareness were specifically targeted in CSRP. Findings from the CSRP intervention suggested that classroom climate was significantly benefited (d = .52 to d = .89). CSRP findings of intervention impact on positive classroom climate support the hypothesized mechanism of influence for intervention-enrolled childrens observed gains in self-regulation, relative to their control group enrolled counterparts.

Findings from some of the PCER studies provide sparse but congruent evidence of improved emotionally supportive classroom processes as a result of intervention. The University of Virginia team, for example, targeted both teachers increased use of language-rich classroom activities and the complexity of the language that teachers use when conversing with children (Pence, Justice, & Wiggins, in press). Analyses of the impact of this intervention suggest that teachers made changes in their activities most quickly, but were able to improve the quality of their conversations (described as a relational process) with the children in their classrooms, also (Pence et al., in press).  Ramey et al. (submitted) also primarily targeted teachers language and literacy instruction using two different levels of coaching (weekly and monthly) in the Building Language for Literacy intervention trial, but also collected independent observations of teachers time spent engaged in emotionally less supportive practices such as placing restrictions on children and negative/harsh treatment of children.  In the report included for this review, the investigators chose not to analyze whether difference between intervention conditions on these measures were statistically significant (see pp. 21), but inspection of the means on both measures suggests that point estimates of differences between the groups appear to favor treatment assigned classrooms.

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