To help these students and their families start the educational journey on sure footing, University of Florida Professor Maureen Conroy is working with researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University to retool a social and behavioral intervention they originally developed in 2008 for preschoolers, called BEST in CLASS.
“The early years of school are critical for future success,” said Conroy, the Anita Zucker Professor in Early Childhood Studies at UF. “BEST in CLASS is about helping teachers gain the knowledge, tools and supports needed to build positive early learning experiences for their students, including improving teacher-student relationships that promote positive engagement in learning opportunities.”
Conroy is a professor of special education and early childhood studies in the UF College of Education and co-director of the Anita Zucker Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies. A co-principal investigator in the study, she once again is teaming with her colleague, Professor Kevin Sutherland of VCU, who was awarded nearly $1.5 million by the National Center for Education Research at the Institute of Education Sciences to lead the project.
Their recently completed efficacy trial of BEST in CLASS for 3- and 4-year-olds in early childhood programs in Florida and Virginia demonstrated positive outcomes for nearly 200 teachers and 500 children and their families. The findings will help guide the researchers’ adaptation to meet the needs of children advancing from preschool into early elementary grades and their families.
The new study will be extended to about 60 teachers and 80 students in kindergarten through second grade in an inner city school district near Richmond, Virginia. The students’ families, who are also a part of the study, will participate through a family involvement component and ongoing home-school partnerships with participating teachers.
Over the first year, researchers will develop BEST in CLASS-Elementary training and coaching materials for supporting teachers’ use of evidence-based instructional practices addressing students’ social and behavioral needs in their classrooms. Feedback from teachers and families also will aid the researchers in refining BEST in CLASS for this next age group.
After training and coaching materials are developed, a pilot program in the second year will test the materials with 30 teachers who will work with students identified as having social and behavioral difficulties in their classrooms. Based on year-two results, the model will be refined and further tested in the third year with participation from another group of teachers, students and their families.
The study findings will allow researchers to measure and evaluate the effects of BEST in CLASS-Elementary teachers’ use of effective instructional practices with targeted students, and how well they are partnering with families.
Researchers also will gain a comparison of how well their intervention addresses the social, behavioral and academic skills for the targeted students in their classrooms.
“Our ultimate goal is to improve teacher-student interactions and relationships in these classrooms, both of which are linked to improved student outcomes,” Sutherland said. “We’re thrilled that we have an opportunity to take what we’ve learned about implementing this promising program in early childhood settings and adapt it for use in elementary school settings.”