Evidence-Based Educational Interventions

This paper provides an overview of evidence-based educational interventions (EBEIs) and associated practices in school psychology. The profession has, for some time, embraced scientific principles and procedures across areas of professional practice, including diagnosis and classification, assessment, prevention and intervention, consultation, and research and program evaluation. More recently, the profession has embraced evidence-based prevention and intervention practices, intending to implement them in schools. However, doing so requires addressing multiple scientific and practice agendas, including preservice and in-service professional development, systemic school change to promote prevention and intervention program implementation, comprehensive models of mental health and educational services, and the sustainability of evidence-based practices.

Five issues need to be addressed for significant progress to occur in the evidence-based practice movement: (a) practice-research networks should be developed in school psychology; (b) intervention research methodology must be expanded to take into account practice contexts of EBEI implementation; (c) practice guidelines could be developed to facilitate implementation of EBEIs in practice settings; (d) professional development opportunities must be created for practitioners, graduate faculty, and researchers; and (e) collaborative partnerships must occur across the diverse groups involved in the EBEI movement, especially those involved in generating the scientific database of EBEIs.

Consideration of the scientific basis of school psychology interventions and practices is important because schools are the largest provider of child mental health services. Furthermore, growing evidence shows a reciprocal relationship between academic problems and disabilities and mental health problems. Thus, a scientific basis for school psychology prevention, intervention, and related practices seems essential to the promotion of students’ academic success and mental health.

Following developments in evidence-based medicine, clinical psychologists developed a task force to review “empirically validated” treatments for child and adult mental health problems.

The scientific foundation of school psychology can be evaluated by examining practices in both graduate training programs and the practice of psychology in schools.

Graduate Programs

We surveyed graduate programs in school psychology to determine what they are teaching about EBEIs, to investigate their integration of EBEI training, and to understand any barriers to such training. Results of survey indicated:

– A relatively low percentage of school psychology graduate training directors were familiar with the EBEIs included in the survey. When averaging across all interventions listed, 29% of directors reported being “not familiar,” 30% reported being “somewhat familiar,” and 41% reported being “familiar” with the EBEIs.

– Exposure to the EBEIs occurred more frequently in coursework than in practice experience. When averaging across all EBEIs, 41% of directors reported that graduate students received “no exposure,” 39% reported students received “exposure,” and 30% reported students received “experience” with the EBEIs listed.

– Lack of time was rated the most serious challenge to EBEI training.

– A high percentage of training directors reported that students were taught to apply the criteria developed by professional organizations in psychology and education when evaluating intervention outcome research.

A number of interventions considered evidence based by the training directors fell outside the EBEIs incorporated in the survey. Some of these interventions have a weak evidence base.

No formal requirement within school psychology training programs mandates teaching EBEIs, but the commitment to include scientifically supportable interventions in the curriculum will probably grow. Moreover, a number of graduate training programs embrace a scientist-practitioner model and are the most likely to embrace an evidence-based practice framework in future graduate training.

Evidence-Based Practices In Schools

Several recent surveys of evidence-based practices in schools do not paint a very positive picture. A study of the prevalence of substance abuse curricula in U.S. schools showed that many middle schools continue to implement curricula that are either untested or ineffective.

Another study investigated school psychologists’ use of research in practice and the barriers to using research. Knowledge of effective intervention strategies and their use were closely matched, and respondents indicated they would like to use the strategies with greater frequency. Limited time was the top barrier to the use of all strategies. However, for cognitive behavior strategies and social skills training, practitioner training and the ability to adapt interventions to the school setting were significant factors limiting use; lack of support was indicated as a significant barrier to consulting with teachers, suggesting that some systemic support issues may be important.

Professional Standards And Influences On Practice

No formal requirements have made knowledge and use of EBEIs and practice guidelines prerequisites of licensure and credentialing. The major professional groups involved in licensure and credentialing currently do not mandate this level of practice, and national school psychology organizations do not mandate EBEI training as part of graduate program accreditation. Many textbooks used in graduate school psychology programs and publications of the National Association of School Psychologists promote a scientific perspective.

Psychology Practice

Five strategies may promote EBEIs:

1. Develop a practice-research network in school psychology.

2. Promote an expanded methodology for evidence-based practice that takes into account EBEIs in practice contexts.

3. Establish guidelines that school psychology practitioners can use in implementing and evaluating EBEIs in practice.

4. Create professional development opportunities for practitioners, researchers, and trainers. Forge partnerships with other professional groups involved in the EBEI movement.

The purpose of the strategies is to establish a link between research and practice that will help us better understand the effectiveness of interventions and promote their adoption and sustainability.

Looking Ahead: Barriers and Promising Trends

The study of graduate training programs revealed lack of time as one of the most serious obstacles to training in EBEIs. More efficient methods of adding EBEIs to existing coursework and enhancing faculty’s skills must be found. When formulating competency-based training agendas, program organizers must thoroughly integrate field supervisors and other clinical faculty who are involved in direct supervision of school psychology graduate students. The 3-year curriculum of specialist-level training represents another time constraint. Many doctoral-level programs have more options for incorporating EBEIs and related practices into courses.

A high percentage of trainers and students appear to be knowledgeable for evaluating research. Increasingly, it will be important for graduate students to be exposed to the coding systems. Understanding these criteria will promote understanding and selection of appropriate EBEIs.

It will also be important to examine not only interventions and prevention programs identified as evidenced based by the task forces but also other interventions and programs with a strong educational and prevention focus. Professional groups must disseminate information to school psychology trainers to help them select EBEIs. Students who receive EBEI instruction in graduate school should master these programs within a competency-based framework, ensuring that students acquire the skills in a practice context.

Finally, a promising direction in establishing EBEIs in school settings is adoption of multiple levels of intervention programs. Three-tiered systems of prevention are promising because students can progress through a series of interventions before receiving traditional services such as special education. It is critical to teach faculty and graduate students strategies for systemic change in schools so that such systems can be adopted. Such content will facilitate the adoption and sustainability of evidence-based practices and interventions.