Advancing Intervention Research in School Psychology: Finding the Balance between Process and Outcome for Social and Behavioral Interventions

Article excerpt

Intervention research in school psychology documents the effect of social and behavioral interventions in schools: whether they work, for whom they work, and how well they work. Although studying child outcomes from school interventions is essential, it is equally important to understand how those interventions were developed, implemented, and disseminated. Recent scholarship suggests interventions are most promising when they fit their implementation contexts and are delivered well with existing resources (Fixsen, Naoon, Blase, Friedman, & Wallace, 2005; Forman, Olin, Hoagwood, Crowe, & Saka, 2009; Hoagwood & Johnson, 2003). Promising interventions fulfill their potential when they are adopted, implemented with fidelity, sustained in the settings for which they were intended, and scaled up to new settings or wider populations (Aarons, Hurlburt, & Horwitz, 2011; Wandersman et al., 2008). Journal special issues have begun to articulate implementation and dissemination processes (e.g., Horwitz & Landsverk, 2011; Schaughency & Erwin, 2006; Saul et al., 2008), yet it remains rare to document the systematic and collaborative processes underlying the development of programs to improve academic, behavioral, and psychosocial outcomes for children in schools.

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In the past decade, funding priorities, program announcements, and commission reports emanating from the National Institute of Health (2009a, 2009b), Institute of Medicine (2007), Institute of Education Sciences (2011), and other organizations have targeted the pressing issue of reducing the gap between research and practice (National Advisory Mental Health Council's Workgroup on Child and Adolescent Mental Health Intervention Development and Deployment, 2001; New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, 2003). These initiatives have fueled the drive to create a stronger science base on how to install effective interventions that target the development of children and youth in schools. In the current special series, we suggest broadening the intervention research spotlight to include a clear set of process research priorities in school psychology, including intervention development as well as implementation and dissemination, to complement outcome research goals.

Expanding research priorities to include process is important for two reasons. First, it is a way of illuminating the contextual characteristics and interactions that influence the development, adaptation, and implementation of school-based interventions to improve the likelihood of dissemination to new settings. Second, it reinforces the critical importance of systematic and collaborative research to specify what happens during the stages of the prevention science research cycle before outcome evaluation and during scale-up efforts (Kellam, Koretz, & Moscicki, 1999; see Figure 1). Elucidating a framework for intervention research within a developmental paradigm that explicitly targets these early and late phases of implementation will increase the ability of school psychology as a discipline to develop, implement, and disseminate effective and sustainable social and behavioral programs for diverse school contexts.

The goals of the introduction to this special series are threefold. First, we aim to set intervention process research within a broader theoretical and empirical framework. We do so by drawing upon theories and models across disciplines. Second, we propose that although this research may be conducted with designs and data similar to those employed in outcome studies, more often the methodological approach is less traditional, prioritizing a balance of methodological rigor and community responsiveness. Third, the articles in this series highlight practical applications. Specifically, these studies provide examples of research findings informing decisions about content, delivery, and training/consultation for social and behavioral interventions at different stages in their evolution. …