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Using positive behavior supports in EBD settings.

Abstract

This paper highlights a collaborative partnership to build the capacity of special education classroom teachers of students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) to use positive behavioral supports (PBS). This yearlong effort consisted of teacher training, classroom observations, and on-site support. For university faculty, specific gaps in the provision of PBS to students with EBD were identified. For classroom educators, knowledge of best practice in the design and implementation of behavior supports with the most challenging of students was enhanced.

Introduction

The shortage of highly qualified teachers in special education has reached crisis proportions (Conroy, 2003; SPeNSE, 2002; U.S. Department of Education, 1991-2001). With special education administrators consistently citing the shortage of qualified applicants as the largest obstacle to filling special education vacancies (SPeNSE), appropriate service delivery for children with special needs has become a major concern. One group likely to be negatively impacted by the shortage of qualified special education teachers are those students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD). The Study of Personnel Needs in Special Education (2002) reported that in comparison to other special education categories, "positions for teachers of students with emotional disturbance seem particularly difficult to fill, and the teachers in those positions, as a group, are less well prepared than their colleagues" (p. 12). Furthermore, SPeNSE cited teachers in programs predominately serving these students as reporting the lowest levels of intent to stay_ in their current classroom settings compared to all other special education personnel. Thus, efforts to both recruit and retain highly qualified special education personnel are especially critical to providing appropriate services to students with EBD.

Adding to the problem of adequately serving students with emotional disturbance is the fact that many states have adopted non-categorical teacher certification in the area of special education. An outcome of this approach is that special education teachers may receive generic training in their preparation programs in order to work with the most likely populations of students with special needs, that is, students with learning disabilities. Thus, in states where certification specific to disability category is not required, service to students with EBD may be delivered by teachers who have little to no specific preparation in areas critical to serving this unique population (Katsiyannis, Landrum, Bullock, & Vinton, 1997). Therefore, even when qualified applicants are hired to fill vacancies, local districts are left to assume the responsibility of providing in-service training to adequately prepare their special education personnel in areas not sufficiently covered within teacher preparation programs.

One avenue to address issues of insufficient teacher preparation and teacher retention in special education has been to provide targeted training through the use of ongoing professional development. Gersten, Keating, Yovanoff, and Harniss (2001) questioned 887 special educators and determined that professional development opportunities played "a critical role in explaining commitment to remain in special education teaching" (p. 560). As well, the SPeNSE (2002) study provided recommendations for promoting teacher quality via professional development. Results from the national study indicated four features as important for consideration by local administrators when planning in-service training for special education personnel. These features were described as the inclusion of ongoing training on a broad range of specified topics, training that was immediately relevant and of high quality, the provision of time for planning and implementation of the training content, and the provision of opportunities for informal assistance. Thus, the purpose of this paper was to highlight the results of our collaborative project to build the capacity of special education teachers in areas essential for serving students with EBD. This collaborative effort over the course of the 2004-05 school year included in-service training in the areas of functional behavioral assessment (FBA), planning and implementation of positive behavior intervention plans (BIP), and progress monitoring with technically adequate measures. Ongoing, high-quality training on PBS was especially relevant given federal mandates requiring states to address professional development needs of special education personnel in the areas of positive intervention strategies. The development and implementation of this project are described herein.

Participants

Thirteen special education teachers serving students with EBD in self-contained classrooms participated in this project. Nine teachers were female (69%) and 4 male (31%). The numbers of teachers employed at the elementary, middle, and high school grade levels were 4 (31%), 2 (15%), and 7 (54%), respectively. The number of years teaching students with emotional and behavioral problems ranged from 2 to 28, with an average of 11.7 years (SD = 9.1). Given that preparation requirements to teach in special education settings in Washington State are non-categorical, teachers are considered qualified to work with students with EBD when they hold an endorsement in the general area of special education. The majority of teacher training programs in Washington State prepare educators to work with students with learning disabilities, rather than those with EBD. Although some teachers of these students have coursework specific to this population, none of the teachers in the present project held categorical certification in the area of EBD. Furthermore, two of the teachers did not hold an endorsement in special education.

Training

Development of the training content was guided by three key sources. First, a needs assessment survey was conducted with special education teachers who served students with EBD in self-contained settings. The survey was comprised of 10 items critical to the design and implementation of positive behavioral supports. Teachers rated their level of prior training on each item by indicating whether they had "no training", "some training", "sufficient training", or "extensive training". Of the 13 respondents, more than half described their level of training as less than "sufficient" in 8 important areas. These areas included designing effective reinforcers and consequences, conducting functional behavioral assessments, creating behavior intervention plans, teaching replacement behaviors, connecting individualized education plans (IEP) to positive behavior intervention plans (BIP), designing aversive therapy plans, and conducting manifestation of determination reviews.

Second, passage of recent legislation (e.g., Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004; Elementary and Secondary Education Act--No Child Left Behind legislation, 2002) underscores the need to implement positive behavioral interventions and supports, conduct effective functional behavioral assessments, monitor progress, report progress to parents, and make adjustments to intervention to address any unexpected lack of progress. Third, the extant literature on the professional development needs of teachers of students with EBD highlights the importance of building capacity in the areas of PBS, FBA, and progress monitoring (Katsiyannis, Landrum, Bullock, & Vinton, 1997; SPeNSE, 2002). For these three important reasons, 20 hours of training were developed to build the capacity of special educators to use positive behavioral supports within self-contained programs serving students with EBD. There were 5 designated areas of training. The primary training area was positive classroom management practices including the teaching of behavioral expectations and replacement behaviors. The remaining training areas included assessing functions of behavior, developing positive BIPs that were explicitly linked to the functions of behavior, identifying and implementing research based practices in the area of PBS, and designing data collection procedures to inform instructional decisions.

Measures

Portions of the Teacher Knowledge and Skills Survey (TKSS; Cheney, Walker, & Blum, 2004) were used at pre and post training to measure change in knowledge and skills related to positive behavioral supports. The survey consisted of 25 items with a 5 point response scale (See Appendix A). Teachers rated their level of mastery of knowledge and skill from one (none or little) to five (mastery of knowledge or skill) for each item. Item 9, for example, asks, "I know what functional behavioral assessments are and how they are used to develop behavior intervention plans for students." The teacher would then circle the appropriate number corresponding to their level of mastery with this item.

Training Procedures

Training consisted of ten 2-hour sessions presented by two university faculty members with expertise in the field of emotional and behavioral disorders. Teachers were paid a district negotiated rate for extra pay for extra work for the 20 hours of training. In addition, teachers received payment for up to 4 hours of extra pay for time spent beyond the workday to complete measures requested by the university trainers. University trainers made classroom visitations to support teachers during implementation of the practices presented at the training sessions. In total, 16 classroom visitations took place.

Results

Paired Samples T Tests were conducted between the pre and post-test TKSS (Cheney, Walker, & Blum, 2004) survey scores of participants. Statistically significant growth was found on the overall mean TKSS scores from pre to post (M = 52.38 vs. M = 58.62, z = -2.28, p < .05). Statistically significant gains were found from pre to post on the following TKSS items: modifying curriculum to meet individual performance levels (M = 3.92 vs. M = 4.38, z = -2.12, p < .05); using self-monitoring approaches (M = 3.15 vs. M = 4.15; z = -2.09, p < .05); and using alternative settings and methods to resolve behavioral problems (M - 3.62 vs. M = 4.15, z = -2.11, p < .05).

Discussion

In order to improve the qualifications of teachers serving youth with EBD and to promote teacher retention in the field, professional development should be based on features critical to teacher success in special education settings. In this context, the purpose of this paper was to explain the results of our collaborative partnership to build the capacity of special education teachers of students with EBD to implement positive behavioral supports, conduct functional behavioral assessments, and to monitor progress with technically adequate measures. Given the nature of this collaborative partnership, important lessons were learned both by university faculty and participating special education teachers. First, for classroom educators, knowledge of best practice with regard to design and implementation of PBS with the most challenging of students was enhanced. Specifically, the capacity of teachers to apply positive behavioral supports and use alternative settings and methods to resolve behavioral problems was improved. Second, the capacity of teachers to modify curriculum to meet individual performance levels and use self-monitoring approaches was improved. Although these areas are important skills for all special education personnel, they are especially critical to ensuring appropriate service delivery for students with EBD.

Third, for university faculty, first hand information regarding the challenges to implementing PBS in the public school setting was gained. With the identification of specific gaps in teacher knowledge and skills regarding the provision of PBS to students with EBD, we were able to design training to target the specific needs of participating educators. The four features identified in the national study of special education personnel needs (discussed previously) provided the framework for training activities in this partnership (SPeNSE, 2002). These features guided this partnership in the following four ways. First, professional development was ongoing and included a broad range of specified topics. The needs assessment process used in the present partnership informed the design of the content of the training sessions so that multiple topics from areas identified by teachers of students with EBD as needing further training were included. Second, training was immediately relevant and of high quality. Once areas of need were identified by the partnership participants, training was targeted to bring in evidenced based practices that met their current classroom challenges. Third, training time was allowed for planning and implementation. Time was allowed for the trainers to guide participants as they adapted session materials to best meet the specific needs of their unique classroom situations. Additionally, available time for planning and assistance ensured that those with the least amount of background training (i.e., those teachers without endorsement in special education) received the necessary assistance for correct implementation of the positive behavioral approaches. Fourth, opportunities for informal assistance were included. Visitations to classrooms provided an avenue for giving additional clarification regarding accuracy of implementation of training. Furthermore, informal observations were used to provide acknowledgement for a job well done.

Limitations

At least two possible limitations in the current collaborative partnership should be considered when interpreting the results. First, participants were not explicitly required by their district to implement the practices highlighted in training sessions. Instead, teachers were encouraged to implement practices through the provision of individualized feedback during training sessions as well as via individual classroom visitations and on-site feedback from the trainers. Furthermore, it should be noted that 2 of the 13 participants did not request classroom support. Thus, one cannot conclude that the gains in teacher knowledge and skills in the area of PBS found in the present partnership actually changed classroom practices. Second, because participation in the project was voluntary, it may be that the current participants were not representative of typical educators who teach in self contained settings for students with EBD. Perhaps these volunteers differed from their peers in that they were more willing to examine their current practices in working with students with EBD and to make adjustments to address gaps in their knowledge and skills related to planning and implementation of positive behavioral supports. Thus, gains found in the present study are not generalizable and must be interpreted with caution.

Implications

Preparing high quality teachers to serve students with behavioral challenges in self-contained settings requires teacher preparation programs that provide specialized training in areas critical for the success of this student population. The factors that inhibit the ability of districts to both hire and retain special education teachers who are fully prepared to meet the unique needs of students with EBD are teacher shortage and lack of training specific to behavioral challenges (SPeNSE, 2002). Thus, local education agencies are put in the untenable position of hiring personnel who may hold the "necessary" certification in special education, yet are under-prepared to successfully meet the needs of their students. The ultimate result of this practice is that students with EBD may be at heightened risk of not receiving adequate service delivery of their "free and appropriate public education" as guaranteed through the provision of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004). Ongoing professional development that can address the gaps in teacher knowledge and skills necessary for working in settings serving youth with EBD is critical. We must approach our teachers of students with EBD with an understanding of the extraordinary services they provide and nurture these teachers through the provision of ongoing training to ensure that they are fully prepared to meet the unique needs of youth with EBD.

Conclusions

In sum, it would behoove local education agencies to adopt practices important to the retention of special education teachers of students with EBD in their current teaching placements such as the provision of on-site support. As described in this paper, collaborative partnerships between university personnel and special education teachers can be used to heighten awareness of specific training needs of district personnel. From this awareness, targeted training and support systems can be designed to allow a pathway for districts to address the immediate training needs of their teachers serving one the most difficult student populations. It is hoped that this approach will prepare both teachers and students for increased success.

Appendix A

Sample Items from the Teacher Knowledge and Skills Survey (Cheney, Walker, & Blum, 2004) Knowledge Items

1. I know our school's policies and programs regarding the prevention of behavior problems.

2. I understand the role and function of our schoolwide discipline team.

3. I know our annual goals and objectives for the schoolwide discipline program.

4. I know our school's system for screening with students with behavior problems.

5. I know how to access and use our school's pre-referral teacher assistance team.

Examples of Skill Items

Rate how effectively you use these strategies in your teaching practice:

1. Approaches for helping students to solve social/interpersonal problems.

2. Using self-monitoring approaches to help students demonstrate behavioral expectations.

3. Methods for teaching the schoolwide behavioral expectations/social skills.

4. Collaborating with the school's student assistance team to implement student's behavior intervention plans.

5. Selecting and using materials that respond to cultural, gender or developmental differences.

6. Using data in my decision-making process for student's behavioral programs.

Printed with permission from the first author of this measure; a full version of the survey may be accessed by contacting the first author at dcheney@u.washington.edu

References

Cheney, D., Walker, B., & Blum, C. (2004). Teacher knowledge and Skills Survey, V. 2.0. Seattle, WA: University of Washington.

Conroy, M. A. (2003). Availability of special education teachers: Trends and issues. Remedial and Special Education, 24(4), 246-253.

Gersten, R., Keating, T., Yovanoff, P., & Harniss, M. (2001). Working in special education: Factors that enhance special educators' intent to stay. Exceptional Children, 67(4), 549-567.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) of 2004, PL108-446, 20 U.S.C. [subsection] 1400 et seq.

Katsiyannis, A., Landrum, T. J., Bullock, L., & Vinton, L. (1997). Certification requirements for teachers of students with emotional or behavioral disorders : A national survey. Behavioral Disorders, 22, 131-140.

U. S. Department of Education (1991-2001). Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington, DC: Author

U.S. Department of Education. Office of the Under Secretary. (2002). No child left behind: A desktop reference. Washington, DC: Author.

U. S. Department of Education (2002). The study of personnel needs in special education. Retrieved January 15, 2006, from http://www.spense.org.

Kathleen Beaudoin, University of Washington, Tacoma

Gregory J. Benner, University of Washington, Tacoma

Rich Knuth, University of Washington, Tacoma

Beaudoin, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Education Program, University of Washington, Tacoma; Benner, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Education Program, University of Washington, Tacoma; and Knuth, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Educational Administration Program, University of Washington, Tacoma
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Author:Knuth, Rich
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Sep 22, 2006
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