Improving Children's Educational Outcomes by Advancing Assessment and Intervention Practices: An Overview of the Special Series

Article excerpt

Abstract. This article reviews the studies making up this special topic issue on state of the art research in academic and behavioral assessment and intervention. Each unsolicited research study illustrates scientific advances in assessment and intervention practices that have direct implications for improving children's educational outcomes. A case is made that scientific improvements in our field serve as the primary mechanism for improving practice and this article attempts to high-light features of the studies that are directly related to reformed methodological and statistical techniques.

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The necessity of improving children's educational outcomes has become a matter of national consequence. Perhaps the most recent supporting evidence can be found in the No Child Left Behind Act (P.L. 107-110), which sets standards for children's grade-level achievement and measures progress accordingly. Similarly, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997 (P.L. 105-117) mandated, in some instances, the use of functional behavioral assessment (FBA) and positive behavioral supports to improve children's behavioral outcomes. Recently, a number of initiatives have focused on improving children's academic, behavioral, and physical outcomes by recommending additional educational and social policy reforms (Department of Health and Human Services, 2001; President's Commission on Excellence in Special Education, 2002; The Teaching Commission, 2004). Within the field of school psychology, similar appeals have been made. For example, in the proceedings from the 2002 Conference on the Future of School Psychology (School Psychology Review, 32; School Psychology Quarterly, 14), five outcome areas were prioritized: (a) improved academic competence for all children; (b) improved social-emotional functioning for all children; (c) enhanced family-school partnerships and parental involvement in schools; (d) more effective education and instruction for all learners; (e) increased child and family services in schools that promote health and mental health and are integrated with community services (Dawson et al., 2003/2004).

Although legislative, social policy, and discipline-specific reform efforts are theoretically related to improving children's outcomes, none provide a causal mechanism. As argued by many in the educational and psychological fields, scientific reform may be the primary mechanism for improving children's educational outcomes. Only through improved methodological and statistical practices can we unequivocally determine what works, for whom, and under what conditions (Raudenbush, 2005). Within the past 6 years, rapid changes in methodological practices have been advocated, including improving our standards for testing and assessment (AERA, APA, & NCME, 1999), developing guidelines for identifying effective educational practices (U.S. Department of Education, 2003), and advancing our knowledge of evidence-based interventions (Kratochwill & Stoiber, 2000). Parallel improvements have been promoted to reform statistical practice and improve the effectiveness of research and research communication (Fidler et al., 2005). These efforts include reporting effect sizes and statistical power (APA, 1994), discussing the clinical significance of results (Kazdin, 1999), and reporting confidence intervals (Cummings & Finch, 2001; Wilkinson & Task Force on Statistical Inference, 1999).

The articles contained in this special topic issue of School Psychology Review exemplify scientific advances in assessment and intervention practices that have direct implications for improving children's educational outcomes. Not only does each unsolicited article represent state of the art research in academic and behavioral assessment and intervention, each article is either directly related to reformed methodology and statistical practice, or will serve as an impetus for improving the effectiveness of school-based research in the near future. …