Special Education Faculty and Meadows Center Go Back to the BASICs of Academic Support

Nathan Clemens

Associate Professor Nathan Clemens along with a team of Special Education faculty and representatives from The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk have received a $4 million grant to be distributed over five years from the Institute of Education Sciences for “Project BASIC: Behavior and Academic Supports: Integration and Cohesion.”

Starting this fall, the Project BASIC team will work with approximately 1,200 second- and third-grade students within Texas elementary schools who have or are at-risk for reading, math, and behavior-related disabilities.

Over the next five years, they will build adaptive interventions to improve elementary school students’ academic and behavioral outcomes by integrating strategies that enhance students’ self-regulation and academic engagement within reading and math interventions.

“Academic and behavioral problems co-occur at high rates,” says Clemens, principal investigator. “The presence of academic difficulties is highly predictive of behavioral difficulties in the future, and vice-versa. Students with co-occurring learning and behavior problems often have the most severe difficulties and highest risk for negative outcomes.”

Schools have commonly approached academic and behavior support separately and without sufficient integration despite the frequent co-occurrence of learning and behavioral difficulties. Project BASIC will look at how learning and behavior skills reinforce one another and create pathways for behavioral and academic support to be coherently and seamlessly integrated within classroom instruction.

This approach will focus specifically on students’ self-regulation skills and academic engagement, which refers to students’ ability to sustain their attention to the teacher or an assigned activity. Academic engagement is an important keystone behavior that stands at the intersection of learning and behavior and has a direct bearing on school success.

“Our approach focuses on enhancing a single behavior, academic engagement, that is highly supportive and facilitative of learning,” Clemens explains. “When students are engaged they are listening, working, and participating in class activities. Engagement is typically incompatible with disruptive behaviors, thus contributing to a positive classroom climate. We believe that focusing on a behavior like academic engagement may represent a more practical, and potentially more powerful, approach to integrating academic and behavior support.”

Together the team will use a Sequential Multiple Assignment Randomized Trial (SMART) to evaluate whether embedding these behavioral self-regulation strategies within increasingly intensive reading and math interventions will have positive effects on struggling students’ reading and math skills, academic engagement, classroom functioning, and teacher-student relationships.

“The SMART design will allow us to investigate sets of variables and assessment practices that provide the best information for making data-driven decisions to intensify intervention for academic skills or behavior,” says Clemens.

In addition to Clemens, the project will be executed by Sharon Vaughn, Greg Roberts, and Assistant Professor Christian Doabler as co-principal investigators, Assistant Professor Jessica Toste as co-investigator, Jennifer Wick Schnakenberg as project director, and various consultants from universities nationwide.