We have developed strong research, policy and practice collaborations with other nationally recognized researchers, centers, and programs. These partnerships create synergy and collective impact. Here are some of our most recent research projects that are reaching and benefiting young children, families and early learning practitioners.

Embedded Instruction for Early Learning

Embedded instruction is an approach that promotes child engagement and learning in everyday activities, routines, and transitions. Studies have demonstrated its acceptance by teachers and feasibility for use in the preschool classroom. Maximizing children’s motivation by following their interests, embedded instruction is used to meet children’s needs by providing opportunities to learn and practice important skills in meaningful contexts without disrupting their daily routines. Planning, implementing and evaluating embedded instruction are organized by key practices that guide what to teach, when to teach, how to teach and how to evaluate.

Embedded Instruction Research Projects


About the Project

Overview: The Impact of Professional Development on Preschool Teachers’ Use of Embedded Instruction Practices is funded by the Institute of Education Sciences in collaboration with Vanderbilt University. The project compares several approaches to professional development to determine which are efficacious for helping teachers implement embedded instruction practices with young children with disabilities. Researchers will examine the impact of the intervention on the quality of teachers’ embedded instruction practices, including the number of learning opportunities provided to young children during different types of classroom activities. For the children involved in the study, social and adaptive behaviors and pre-academic, language and literacy outcomes will be evaluated. This study was developed from an earlier IES-funded project.

Participants: More than 108 teachers and 324 preschool children with disabilities in these teachers’ classrooms located in Florida and Tennessee are participating in this study. The Teaching Pyramid system was used with all students in the preschool classroom, the research team specifically targeted children with or at risk for emotional or behavior disorders.

Findings: This project is funded from July 2015 through June 2019, findings will be available after July 2019.

  • Research Collaborators: University of Florida> Patricia Snyder, PI; James Algina, Co-PI; Mary McLean, Co-PI; Brian Reichow, Investigator; Crystal Bishop, project coordinator; Joy Polignano, data manager. Vanderbilt University> Mary Louise Hemmeter, Co-PI; Catherine Corr, project coordinator.

About the Project

Overview: The purpose of this project is to adapt, pilot, and evaluate a professional development package that focuses on embedded instruction for early learning. The project was designed for California preschool teachers serving children with individualized education programs in Fresno and Santa Clara offices of Education, and Los Angeles Unified School District. Embedded instruction involves intentional teaching of individual child learning goals within the context of routine classroom activities, routines, and transitions. The goal is to support teachers to use embedded instruction practices with preschool children with or at risk for disabilities using a variation of the Tools for Teachers, professional development program. The project team is working with local educational agencies within California to support teacher implementation of the practices, building on and strengthening teachers’ knowledge of assessment and curriculum. A key focus will help to help teachers use the Desired Results Developmental Profile assessment to inform planned and intentional embedded instruction practices for children with disabilities.

Participants: Teachers, families, and children in two school districts (Los Angeles Unified and Fresno) and one county office of education (Santa Clara)

Findings: This project is funded from July 2015 through June 2016, findings will be available after June 2016.

  • Research Collaborators: University of Florida> Patricia Snyder, PI, Mary McLean, Co-PI. California Department of Education> Shelia Self, Special Education, California Department of Education.

About the Project

Overview: The EPIC project is focused on an early intervention approach that helps parents and other caregivers provide embedded learning opportunities for infants and toddlers with disabilities during everyday routines and activities. The EPIC approach uses a five-question framework and a practice-based coaching process to guide parents and other caregivers. The purpose of this project is to develop and pilot test a caregiver-implemented intervention approach. This intervention aims to increase the consistency and effectiveness with which caregivers embed learning opportunities in everyday routines so that their infants/toddlers with significant disabilities acquire and maintain critical functional skills. Once developed, the promise of the EPIC approach will be evaluated to examine whether it leads to increased caregiver use of embedded intervention and improved child outcomes.

Participants: 20 multidisciplinary Part C early intervention providers and 50 infants/toddlers with significant disabilities and their primary caregivers.

Findings: This project is funded from June 2013 through May 2016, findings will be available after May 2016.

  • Research Collaborators: Florida State University> Juliann Woods, PI, University of Florida> Patricia Snyder, Co-PI
    University of Illinois-Chicago> Christine Salisbury, Co-PI.


The purpose of the BEST in CLASS is to help teachers gain 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. The collaborative research began as a development and innovation project designed to address the needs of young children who demonstrate persistent and intensive challenging behaviors in early childhood programs, which place them at future risk for developing social, emotional and behavioral disorders. Demonstrating positive outcomes, the researchers received additional funding to advance and adapt their model.

BEST in CLASS Research Projects


About the Project

Overview: The BEST in CLASS Efficacy Study is a four-year randomized controlled trial, funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, examining the efficacy of BEST in CLASS, a tier 2 intervention, designed to provide early childhood teachers with the supports and resources needed to increase their use of effective instructional practices to promote positive teacher-child interactions as well as social and behavioral outcomes for young children who demonstrate significant problem behaviors.

Participants: 186 early childhood teachers and 469 preschool children, were divided into an intervention group and a control group. All children attended state and federally funded pre-kindergarten programs and were identified to demonstrate significant problem behavior.

Findings: Results indicated that BEST in CLASS teachers demonstrated significantly higher levels of classroom organization, emotional support, and instructional support and higher levels of self-efficacy in comparison to control teachers. BEST in CLASS children demonstrated significantly lower levels of teacher reported conflict, lower levels of challenging behaviors, and significantly higher levels of teacher reported closeness, positive interactions, task orientation, and social skills in comparison to control children. The average effect size for the key outcome measures is at the medium level.

  • Research Collaborators: University of Florida> Maureen Conroy, PI,  James Algina, Co-PI, Crystal Ladwig, project coordinator. Virginia Commonwealth University> Kevin Sutherland, Co-PI, Maria E. Gyure, project coordinator.

About the Project

Overview: The BEST in CLASS – Elementary study is a three-year development and innovation research project, funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, to develop and examine preliminary outcomes of a classroom-based targeted intervention implemented by early elementary school teachers (K – 2nd grade) to support students in their classrooms who engage in high levels of challenging behaviors. The model includes; 1) Training and coaching teachers using evidence-based instructional practices appropriate for early elementary school classrooms to support students’ social skills and behaviors that are conducive to learning. 2) A home-school component to support communication between teachers and families focused on students’ academic and behavioral needs.

Participants: Kindergarten, first- and second-grade teachers (26 in Year 1; 10 in Year 2; 30 in Year 3), students in these teachers’ classrooms identified through a two-stage screening process (20 in Year 2; 60 in Year 3), and families of these students (5 in Year 1; 20 in Year 2; and 60 in Year 3).

Findings: This project is funded from July 2015 through June 2018, findings will be available after June 2018.

  • Research Collaborators: University of Florida> Maureen Conroy, Co-PI. Virginia Commonwealth University> Kevin Sutherland, PI, Bryce McLeod, Co-PI.

Overview: BEST in CLASS-Web is an intervention targeting young children identified as being at-risk for emotional/behavioral disorders. Past research indicates that BEST in CLASS is effective at improving teachers’ use of evidence-based instructional practices as well as reducing chronic challenging behaviors in children who are at-risk and increasing their desirable social, emotional and educationally related outcomes. The current BEST in CLASS intervention is designed to be delivered face-to-face in early childhood classrooms. Although this delivery model meets the needs of some programs and teachers, it also has limitations and may not meet the needs of all early childhood programs and teachers. The goal of this project is to increase the accessibility, flexibility, usability, and scalability of the BEST in CLASS intervention by developing a web-based version that can be used efficiently and effectively by early childhood teachers’ working with young children engaging in chronic problem behavior.

Participants: 36 early childhood teachers and 72 children who are at risk for emotional/behavioral disorders in Head Start and state-funded pre-kindergarten programs in Florida and Virginia

Findings: This project is funded from August 2016 through July 2019, findings will be available after July 2019.

  • Research Collaborators: University of Florida> Maureen Conroy, PI, Walter Leite, statistician. Virginia Commonwealth University> Kevin Sutherland, Co-PI., Maria Gyure, project coordinator. Oregon Research Institute> Edward Feil, Co-PI.

Building Caregiver Competence and Skills

Caregivers, as a constant presence in a child’s life, are the most important facilitators of learning and have the greatest influence on a child’s development is critical. Research points to the early years as a critical period for caregivers to learn how to create responsive caregiver-child interactions that promote optimal child development. Early intervention approaches enhancing caregiver’s responsivity and capacity to support children’s development have been shown to improve both caregiver and child outcomes.

Caregiver Skills and Training Projects


About the Project

Overview: The Treatment of Feeding Problems in Children with Autism study concerns the potential impact of feeding, eating and any resulting nutritional problems for children with ASD whose development is already compromised by a range of deficits. Limited treatment literature suggests behavioral interventions can be effective in addressing the array of feeding problems in this population. However, interventions have been delivered in highly specialized settings (inpatient or day treatment centers that have feeding experts on staff) with little parental involvement. This two-site project developed an 11-session behavioral parent training program for feeding problems to specifically address feeding problems in young children with ASD in outpatient settings, which may be more widely accessible and efficient than inpatient or day treatment.

Participants: 50 children with ASD, age 2-7 years, and their caregivers.

Findings: Primary outcomes will measure changes in the child’s mealtime behavior. Other outcomes will center on changes in parent-child interactions.

  • Research Collaborators: University of Florida> Cynthia Johnson, PI, University of Pittsburgh> Alexandra DeMand and University of Rochester> Emily Foldes

About the Project

Overview: For children with autism spectrum disorder there is general agreement that intervention in the preschool years can reduce the long-term disability. However, preschool interventions often focus on the child leaving parents to manage the child’s behavior on their own. Although the role of parents as partners in the treatment team is universally acknowledged, few studies have tested parent-based interventions and large-scale interventions are non-existent This study was designed to evaluate whether parent training would be superior to parent education for reducing behavioral problems such as tantrums, noncompliance, aggression, and self-injury in children with ASD.

Participants: 180 preschool-age children with PDD participated in a five-site study that compared parent training to psychoeducation. Eligible subjects were randomly assigned to receive either Parent Training or Psychoeducational Intervention over 6 months.

Findings: For children with ASD, a 24-week parent training program was superior to parent education for reducing disruptive behavior on parent-reported outcomes, although the clinical significance of the improvement is unclear. The rate of positive response judged by a blinded clinician was greater for parent training vs. parent education.

  • Research Collaborators: University of Florida> Cynthia Johnson, PI, and a consortium of experienced investigators from leading autism research programs including; Emory University, Indiana UniversityOhio State University, University of PittsburghUniversity of Rochester and Yale University.

Overview: Zambia, among the world’s poorest countries, faces many challenges, particularly for children with developmental disabilities. This interdisciplinary project, funded by a College Research Investigation Fund (CRIF), seeks to adapt, translate and evaluate the World Health Organization’s Caregiver Skills Training in Zambia. The primary aims are, firstly to systematically adapt an evidence-informed intervention developed by the WHO for children with developmental disabilities and their caregivers. Secondly, to gather data about its acceptability, feasibility and social validity, including the comparative utility of two different delivery formats of the intervention. Over the course of the study, preliminary data on child and caregiver outcomes also will be collected. Brian Reichow, Ph.D., a University of Florida Global Fellow who is leading the project, is also receiving $4,000 to support the international collaboration from the UF International Center Global Fellows program.

Participants: Researchers are working with local facilitators to recruit 10 caregivers of young children with developmental disabilities at Namwianga Mission in Zambia for participation in this pilot study.

Findings: This project is funded from August 2016 through August 2017, findings will be available after August 2017.

  • Research Collaborators: University of Florida> Brian Reichow, PI, Patricia Snyder, Co-PI, Marylou Behnke, Co-PI.

Measurement Tools

Evidence-based instructional practices delivered by teachers in classrooms have demonstrated positive effects for young children with problem behavior. Efforts to implement and evaluate the evidence-based programs for preschool children with behavioral challenges across diverse early childhood classrooms face a number of implementation and evaluation barriers. One of these barriers is the lack of treatment integrity measures designed to assess implementation of evidence-based practices in early childhood classrooms.

Measurement Projects


Overview: The purpose of this project is to develop observational and teacher self-report treatment integrity measures designed to characterize the implementation of evidence-based instructional practices delivered by teachers in early childhood classrooms that target the social, emotional and behavioral outcomes of preschool children. In Phase I, the research team will develop and refine the treatment integrity measures, establishing score reliability and validity (content, construct). During Phase II, researchers will evaluate the generalizability and sensitivity of the integrity measures. The team will evaluate the utility of the observational measure during Phase III. The products of this project will include fully developed and validated observational and teacher self-report treatment integrity measures designed to characterize the implementation of evidence-based programs delivered by teachers in early childhood classrooms.

Participants: 120 early childhood classrooms across urban cities in Virginia participating in an existing BEST in CLASS efficacy trial are also participating in this study. Phase I will include approximately 60 children and 20 teachers. Phase II will include approximately 120 children with problem behavior and 40 teachers. Phase III will include 72 children and 72 teachers.

Findings: This project is funded from September 2014 through August 2018, findings will be available after August 2018.

  • Research Collaborators: University of Florida> Maureen Conroy, PI, Patricia Snyder, Co-PI, James Algina. Virginia Commonwealth University> Bryce McLeod, PI, Kevin Sutherland, Co-PI.


The Pyramid Model for Supporting Social Emotional Competence in Infants and Young Children is a positive behavioral intervention and support framework early educators can use to promote young children’s social and emotional development and prevent and address challenging behavior. Pyramid Model practices were identified through a systematic review of the research on classroom promotion, prevention, and intervention practices that have been associated with positive social-emotional outcomes and decreases in challenging behavior in young children with and without disabilities.

Pyramid Model Projects


About the Project

Overview: This research evaluates whether a comprehensive, classroom-wide preschool intervention system, called Teaching Pyramid, promotes social skills, reduces challenging behavior, and enhances the school readiness of young children with and without disabilities. A randomized controlled trial will be used to study the efficacy of the Teaching Pyramid system. Classrooms will be randomly assigned to the Teaching Pyramid system or to implement practices as usual. Targeted children will be assessed before, during, and immediately after intervention. Other children in the classroom will be assessed pre- and post-intervention. Information on the fidelity of intervention implementation and changes in teacher practices and classroom quality will be collected in intervention and comparison classrooms. Researchers also will observe the preschool classrooms during the year following intervention implementation to evaluate whether teachers sustain implementation of the Teaching Pyramid system without support from the researchers.

Participants: Approximately 80 preschool classrooms in Tennessee and Florida will participate. While the Teaching Pyramid system will be used with all students in the preschool classroom, the research team is specifically targeting children with or at risk for emotional or behavior disorders in these classrooms.

Findings: This study concluded in March 2016. Findings will be available after June 2016.

  • Research Collaborators: University of Florida> Patricia Snyder, James Algina; Vanderbilt University> Mary Louise Hemmeter; University of South Florida> Lise Fox