North­eastern Uni­ver­sity researchers have received a four-​​year, $1.6 mil­lion grant from the U.S. Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion to develop a Web-​​based system for ele­men­tary school teachers to more easily track the progress of chil­dren in their class­rooms with emo­tional or behavior disorders.

Robert Volpe, an asso­ciate pro­fessor in the Depart­ment of Applied Psy­chology in the Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences, is leading the project. He said it addresses a crit­ical need for both teachers and their students—to effec­tively mon­itor the progress of stu­dents in class­rooms nation­wide with behav­ioral dis­or­ders like ADHD or emo­tional dis­or­ders like anx­iety or depres­sion. These issues, he said, affect stu­dents’ learning and increase their risk of drop­ping out of school and other long-​​term neg­a­tive outcomes.

The researchers also envi­sion their Web-​​based system being used to track stu­dent behav­iors that enable aca­d­emic suc­cess, such as study skills, inter­per­sonal skills, moti­va­tion, and social engagement.

Though health pro­fes­sionals and edu­ca­tors have in recent years sought to take a more proac­tive approach to mon­i­toring social behavior and response to inter­ven­tions, Volpe said the methods used to accom­plish this remain anti­quated and cum­ber­some, and data col­lec­tion and man­age­ment is chal­lenging. For example, teachers might be asked to reg­u­larly fill out lengthy assess­ment forms by hand, which is very time-​​consuming and also makes tracking the data inef­fi­cient. Fur­ther­more, he said, there’s the task of moti­vating teachers—whose sched­ules are packed and respon­si­bil­i­ties are many—to par­take in and keep up with this effort.

These older assess­ments only pro­vide snap­shot pic­tures. What you really need to mea­sure a child’s response to inter­ven­tion is a moving pic­ture to observe their response to inter­ven­tion over time,” said Volpe, a cer­ti­fied school psy­chol­o­gist whose research focuses on behav­ioral assess­ment, early-​​literacy inter­ven­tions, and aca­d­emic prob­lems expe­ri­enced by chil­dren with ADHD.

Volpe and asso­ciate pro­fessor Amy Bri­esch, who is also in the Depart­ment of Applied Psy­chology, com­prise the North­eastern team leading the project. They are col­lab­o­rating with Julie Owens, a pro­fessor of psy­chology and co-​​director of the Center for Inter­ven­tion Research in Schools at Ohio University.

With a $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Northeastern professors will develop a Web-based system that teachers can use to more easily track the progress of children with emotional or behavior problems. Photo via Istock

With a $1.6 mil­lion grant from the U.S. Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion, North­eastern pro­fes­sors will develop a Web-​​based system that teachers can use to more easily track the progress of chil­dren with emo­tional or behavior dis­or­ders. Photo via Istock

With this grant, the researchers plan to develop a Web-​​based pro­gram that teachers would access via smart­phone or tablet. The system would prompt teachers at pre­de­ter­mined times to answer ques­tions about stu­dents’ progress. The answers would be based on a Likert-​​type scale—for instance, one end of the scale’s spec­trum will be “never” and the other “always.” The researchers also want to expand the number of psy­cho­log­ical con­structs beyond what pre­vious methods have mon­i­tored; exam­ples of con­structs include atten­tion prob­lems, dis­rup­tive behavior, study skills, and motivation.

Teacher feed­back will be a focal point throughout the project, Volpe said. Approx­i­mately 775 teachers, from kinder­garten to third grade, in urban, sub­urban, and rural schools in Mass­a­chu­setts and Ohio, will par­tic­i­pate in the study. The researchers will lead reg­ular focus groups with the teachers to get ongoing feed­back and will con­vene a sep­a­rate panel of teachers, par­ents, admin­is­tra­tors, and school psy­chol­o­gists and coun­selors. The panel will be pre­sented with drafts of the pro­gram and will weigh in on the system’s user inter­face and whether the pro­gram cap­tures the data they would like to see col­lected and analyzed.

The researchers envi­sion that the mobile system will also pro­vide teachers with useful feed­back and visuals that sum­ma­rize a student’s progress over time and how that progress matches up with any pre­de­ter­mined goals.

The key to devel­oping the most optimal mobile system, Volpe said, will be striking the proper bal­ance between gath­ering the impor­tant data and deter­mining the fre­quency of the sur­veys and the ideal number of ques­tions to ask the teachers without over­whelming them.

One of the dri­ving themes of the study is to make this process easier for teachers,” he said. “We expect to have clear guide­lines on how the data should be collected.

At the end of this project, we’ll have a set of tools that we can use to assess children’s response to the inter­ven­tions they’re receiving in school.”