The Richard E. Shores TECBD strand on research in emotional behavioral disorders 2010.
It is not easy to do research in EBD. There have been and continue to be issues around the definition and characteristics, identification, varying prevalence estimates, settings in which EBD students are best served, as well as how the behavior and learning of EBD students can or should be measured and analyzed. These issue can and do pose considerable challenges to the researcher. Yet, given that EBD students are often the least well understood and some of the most problematic students with whom teachers, therapists and parents interact, the need for scientific analyses and empirically informed practices is paramount. Thus, the purpose of the Shores Research Strand was and remains two-fold: to honor and, reinforce those who pursue applied research with EBD children and youth, and by doing so, hopefully encourage others to pursue such research. Following Dick's retirement, several of us who were influenced by him felt it was important to continue his efforts and for the last few years we have coordinated the strand. Following Dick's lead we have sought to have both prominent and developing researchers share their research along a variety of specific topics. Too, we have sought presenters that might either provide very systematic, clearly delineated analyses as well as those that might bring to light new and intriguing findings. A signal aspect of this strand is that the presentations occur successively throughout a day. The sessions are capped by a discussion session in which a panel of established researchers in EBD react to the papers and the issues they raise and the attendees at the day's sessions are highly encouraged to engage in the discussion. Though it occurs late in the day this discussion is always well attended and the participation by presenters, discussants and audience is vigorous and enlightening.
The papers in this year's special Shores Strand section of Education and Treatment of Children are good examples of the diversity of topics, analyses, and perspectives on EBD as well as research approaches and stages of research. For example, the paper by Alter, Brown and Pyle reports on a much-needed area of educational research with EBD students, a strategy-based intervention to increase the math word problem solving. Academically-related behavioral problems are common among students with EBD. As Alter and colleagues note, there is a relative paucity of math teaching research for this population and their study provides an excellent example of the use of single-subject methodology to begin to address this need and the basis for systematic replication.
Though addressing a different topic, Hawken's paper describes a point in EBD research in which an empirically validated and well-established intervention, the Behavior Education Program (or Check-in Check-out) is systematically analyzed in terms of how its effects may be altered by the function of students' challenging behaviors. Although the study's outcomes were somewhat mixed regarding how assessed behavior function operated, the study did replicate BEP's overall reductive on student office referrals and BEP received positive social validity ratings. Both the Alter et al. and Hawken papers are also notable for their documentation of treatment integrity, an increasingly recognized essential component of applied research in general and behavioral research in particular.
Chafouleas' paper represents a point further along the research continuum. It describes a program of research on the Direct Behavior Rating Scale to develop a formative methodology for assessing EBD students' behavior challenges that is reasonably accurate, technically sound, and classroom-efficient. Assessments of this type for classroom behavior that can be used by practitioners are critically needed. Chafouleas provides an excellent account of how she and colleagues have systematically pursued this goal by various research steps and methodologies. Additionally, she outlines the next steps in validating this measurement technology for its inclusion into a problem-solving, tiered approach to behavior screening and progress monitoring.
While Alter et al., Hawken's and Chafouleas' papers detail systematic analyses of particular interventions or assessment technology, the paper by Kern, Evans and Lewis goes further and reports on the development of a comprehensive assessment and intervention package for adolescents. As they described it, Kern et al used a "multiphase", "iterative" process that will eventually lead to clinical efficacy trials of a manualized package. In pursuit of these ambitious ends, Kern and colleagues employed a range of strategies: literature reviews, stakeholder interviews, direct observations, resource mapping, questionnaires, assessment development and evaluation, field testing and fidelity checks of interventions by school personnel under typical conditions with students having internalizing and externalizing behavior challenges, and replication of the manualized assessment and intervention package across schools in three different states. Such a broad, systematic empirical effort to develop and test a comprehensive intervention package is an impressive endeavor and clearly needed in the field of EBD.
The final paper is that by Scott, Alter & Hirn who detail an observational descriptive study of teacher and student behavior in instructional contexts. Scott et al's paper could have led this introduction as well as served as its endpoint. Observational descriptive analyses have a history in special education and related disciplines, but Scott et al's paper has several distinguishing points. First, it continues and expands existing research by applying observational technology across elementary and secondary environments simultaneously to compare and contrast those settings. Second, this nascent study is part of larger plan by the investigators, a very ambitious research agenda to directly and objectively describe important teacher and student behaviors and interactions, how those behaviors might differ for students with and with emotional-behavioral disorders. Scott et al's plan is to expand the number of subjects and schools to evaluate generality of their findings as well as understand moderating variables, some of which they know now and others which they may delineate in expanding their research. Scott et al seek not just to describe current ecology and behavioral characteristics, but to use these data to guide analyses of how and what to teach teachers and students and improve education. In this way, Scott et al's research is at once systematic replication and exploratory, an approach through which the Shores strand can generate collegial and scientific discussion, and in turn, inform that research.
Each of these papers on its own clearly exemplifies the goals of the TECBD research strand. Taken together these papers also provide an impetus for both seasoned researchers and those whose research careers are just developing. We expect that these papers will at least point out the value in addressing the needs of EBD students, their teachers, and families via different research methods and tactics. They show that current questions are answered and new ones are posed through an analysis of data and a commitment to the application of science to human behavior. Thank you, Dick Shores, for setting the example.