Sunday, July 8, 2018

Elementary School Principals’ Biggest Concern: Addressing Students’ Behavior and Emotional Problems

The Solution? Project ACHIEVE’s Multi-Tiered, Evidence-Based Roadmap to Success

[For the entire Blog Message, CLICK HERE]


   While most students and staff are off on vacation and not thinking about homework and teaching, many administrators are still on the job.  And without the daily focus on immediate tasks, to-do’s, and trouble spots, these administrators often use their summer “simmer” time thinking about ways to resolve their most pressing problems.

   In order to gain some insight into these “problems,” the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) recently conducted its once-every-ten-year survey of a representative sample of elementary school principals across the country.

   [CLICK HERE for a Link to the Report]

  The most-relevant survey question here asked respondents to separately rate their concerns—along a five-point scale from “Extreme” to “None”—with over 20 different student-related areas.

   The Table below identifies those areas where 50% or more of the principals rated their concerns at the top of the scale—as either “Extreme” or “High.”  The NAESP synthesized a number of these items, as well as some additional highly-rated items from this question, and concluded that:

Students’ social, emotional, and behavioral status was “the top-ranked concern for 2018 responding principals. . . (including) addressing the increase of students with emotional problems. Among those issues identified were the management of student behavior, student mental health issues, absenteeism, lack of effective adult supervision at home, and student poverty. In contrast, none of the student-related issues were identified as a major concern in 2008.”

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Addressing Principals’ Most Pressing Concern: 

Project ACHIEVE’s Evidence-Based, Multi-Tiered Social-Emotional Learning/Positive Behavioral Support System

   In order to directly address the most-pressing concerns voiced in the NAESP survey, this Blog describes Project ACHIEVE’s Social-Emotional Learning/Positive Behavioral Support System (SEL/PBSS).  Project ACHIEVE’s SEL/PBSS is an evidence-based model (through the U.S. Office of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) that has been implemented in thousands of schools across the country with consistent and clearly documented student, staff, and school success.

An Overview of Project ACHIEVE

   Project ACHIEVE is a comprehensive preschool through high school continuous improvement and school effectiveness program that has been implemented in urban, suburban, and rural districts across the country since 1990.  Project ACHIEVE was recognized by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Service’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) as an evidence-based model prevention program in 2000.  Its effectiveness has also been recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP, 2003); the Collaborative for Academic, Social, Emotional Learning (CASEL, 2002); and other national, regional, and state groups. 

   Project ACHIEVE is now listed on SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP), and its implementation blueprints, procedures, and strategies are embedded into its well-defined components that maximize school and district success across an assortment of ESEA/ESSA and IDEA-required outcomes.

   Between 2003 and 2015, Project ACHIEVE was implemented on a statewide basis in Arkansas through the Arkansas Department of Education’s (ADE) State Improvement and State Personnel Development grants (SIG and SPDG, respectively).  These grants were awarded to the ADE by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). 

   Directed by the author, these grants resulted, during that time, in Project ACHIEVE being designated as the ADE’s primary school improvement model for all of the Focus schools in the state—through its successful ESEA Flexibility application with the U.S. Department of Education.  Concurrently, Project ACHIEVE was used as the Department and state’s official PBIS and MTSS approaches.
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Project ACHIEVE’s SEL/PBSS System

   Because the same psychologically-based science of individual, group, and systems-level behavior, that targets and results in students’ social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health self-management, is at the foundation of its practices, Project ACHIEVE’s SEL/PBSS system addresses a host of proactive goals and problematic conditions in a unified and integrated way.

   This means that districts and schools implement a single evidence-based model, rather than (a) multiple, potentially-competing (as well as time-consuming, exhausting, and expensive) unaligned programs, or (b) frameworks that lack sound science-to-practice implementation guidance, or that encourage people to “choose-your-own-strategies”—a recipe that often results in chasing symptoms and not real problems, or choosing activities by convenience and not causality.

   As such, some of the most important areas addressed by Project ACHIEVE’s integrated, science-to-practice SEL/PBSS system are:

·       School safety and prevention,
·       Positive school culture and classroom climate,
·       Classroom discipline and management,
·       Student engagement and self-management,
·       Social Skills training and teaching 21st Century SEL/Soft Skills
·       Productive student interactions in cooperative and project-based groups,
·       Student trauma and trauma-sensitive practices,
·       Teasing and bullying,
·       Harassment and physical aggression,
·       Chronic student absences and school/class tardiness,
·       Office discipline referrals and suspensions/expulsions,
·       Disproportionality and retiring zero tolerance policies, and
·       Preventing and responding to students’ mental health status and needs.

   To accomplish this integration, Project ACHIEVE’s multi-tiered SEL/PBSS approach starts by helping teachers with classroom management, student engagement, and the development of an explicit student motivation and behavioral accountability matrix.  Added to this is a social skills curriculum where teachers teach students, from preschool to high school, the interpersonal, social problem-solving, conflict prevention and resolution, and emotional control and coping skills that they need for individual, peer, classroom, and school success.

   When students do not respond, need additional help, or require more strategic or intensive attention, the multi-tiered system uses data-based functional assessment approaches to determine the underlying causes of students’ challenges, and links the results to the implementation of relevant services, supports, strategies, and interventions.  These are implemented along a continuum involving classroom-based consultation by related services staff (e.g., counselors, school psychologists, special education teachers, social workers) through individual cognitive-behavior therapy by  school-based mental health professions.

   This entire system involves a whole school approach that focuses on positive, safe, proactive, supportive, and consistent school climates and settings; and building school and district capacity such that the entire process is embedded in everyone’s day-to-day interactions and the continuous improvement process of the school and district. 

   In these ways, virtually all of the NAESP principals’ highest concerns are simultaneously addressed in an effective and efficient way—without years of training and waiting for the most-needy students to receive services.
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Project ACHIEVE’s SEL/PBSS Goals

   The ultimate SEL/PBSS goal is to maximize all students’ social, emotional, and behavioral competence and self-management.  Simultaneously, there are a number of complementary student, staff, and school goals. 

   These goals are guided by a scaffolded preschool through high school Social-Emotional Competence, and Physical-Mental Health-and-Wellness scope and sequence that is created and individualized by each district and its schools at the beginning of the SEL/PBSS initiative.

   Ultimately, success depends on seamlessly coordinated whole-district and whole-school approaches—embedded in their respective and ongoing continuous improvement processes—that include students, staff, administration, and parents working together to build and reinforce (a) positive, safe, supportive, proactive, and consistent school climates and settings; and (b) school and district capacity, competence, and independence. 

   As noted above, the SEL/PBSS system involves the following broader comprehensive goals:

Student Goals:

   Student social, emotional, and behavioral competency and self-management as demonstrated by:

·       High levels of effective interpersonal, social problem solving, conflict prevention and resolution, and emotional coping skills and behaviors by all students;

·       High levels of critical thinking, reasoning, and social-emotional application skills and behaviors by all students; and

·       High levels of academic engagement and academic achievement for all students.

Staff Goals:

·       High levels of effective instruction and classroom management across all teachers and instructional support staff; and

·       High levels of teacher knowledge, skill, and confidence relative to analyzing why students are academically and behaviorally underachieving, unresponsive, or unsuccessful, and to implementing strategic or intensive academic or behavioral instruction or intervention to address their needs.

School Goals:

·       High levels of the consultative resources and capacity needed to provide functional assessment leading to strategic and intensive instructional and intervention services, supports, strategies, and programs to academically and behaviorally underachieving, unresponsive, or unsuccessful students;

·       High levels of parent and community outreach and involvement in areas and activities that support students’ academic and social, emotional, and behavioral learning, mastery, and proficiency;

·       High levels of positive school and classroom climate, and low levels of school and classroom discipline problems that disrupt the classroom and/or require office discipline referrals, school suspensions or expulsions, or placements in alternative schools or settings; and

·       High levels of student success that result in high school graduation and post-secondary school success.
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The SEL/PBSS Blueprint, Science-to-Practice Components, and Comprehensive Outcomes

   Project ACHIEVE’s SEL/PBSS strategies are implemented in a series of carefully-sequenced steps that typically occur over a four-year period, and are embedded in a district’s and schools’ strategic planning processes and ongoing school improvement activities. 

   Critically, the time and the activities in the four-year blueprint are only guideposts.  Some districts or schools are able to accomplish their SEL/PBSS activities with a different sequence of steps and activities and in less time.  Others take more time.  The four-year timeframe, however, is geared more to building the capacity of the district and its schools so that they can continue without outside consultation or support.

   Critically, students who need immediate social, emotional, behavioral, or mental health services or supports are addressed immediately in the needs assessment process, and then the initial implementation activities.

   The remainder of the Blog describes, in detail, the SEL/PBSS Implementation Blueprint, its five interdependent Science-to-Practice Components, a number of the related implementation activities, and the comprehensive outcomes that districts and schools have achieved when the process is implemented with integrity and strategic intensity.

[For the entire Blog Message, CLICK HERE]


   The National Association of Elementary School Principals’ survey gives us some important insight into the most-pressing concerns in our schools today.  Critically, my interactions, consultations, and visits with schools across the nation at the secondary level tell me that they have the same concerns about students’ social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health status.

   The bottom line to all of this, however, is that districts and schools need to use evidence-based science-to-practice systems that have been field-tested and flexibly applied in diverse settings and situations across the country. . . 

. . . that are implemented on-site with consultants (not just district-employed school staff who have been trained by “the experts” for a handful of days) who are experienced in the multi-tiered services, supports, and interventions needed by their current students.

   We hope that you read the entire Blog message describing this model—one that effectively addresses the most significant concerns of principals across the country.

   Many districts and schools are funding Project ACHIEVE’s SEL/PBSS implementation with a blend of ESEA/ESSA (Chapter IV and I, especially), IDEA, and state funds.  We are happy to discuss your district or school needs at any time by phone or videoconference.

   What do you think?

[For the entire Blog Message, CLICK HERE]

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Learning from Another Gates Failure: It’s Not Just the Money—It’s What You Accomplish With It

How to Spend Your ESEA Title IV Money Wisely

[CLICK HERE for the Full Version of this Blog]

   With all of the new research, new curricula, new software, and new “ways to do things”—most educators do not have the time to effectively evaluate what is real (evidence-based, successful, and applicable) and what is illusion (marketed, ineffectively researched, and invalid).  Indeed, they do not have the time to objectively determine what approaches are scientifically sound, and then what sound approaches can be appropriately applied to their settings, situations, and students.

   Today, I want to talk about how money is used in education.

   And my ultimate message is:  It is not how much money we have. . . It’s how we use it, what we use it on, and what we accomplish with it. . . relative to students’ academic and social, emotional, and behavioral outcomes.

   And even though educators often tell me that they do not have enough money to fund what they need (and, I understand), I want to remind us all that even when we had (have) plenty of funds, our outcomes were (are) not impressive.

   Examples?  Look at the student-focused outcomes when districts received their millions of dollars of Reading First funds in the mid-2000s. . . when they received their millions of dollars of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds in 2009. . . and when they received their millions of dollars of School Improvement Grant (SIG) funds thereafter.
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Today’s Reminder:  It’s Not About the Money
   Last week, an evaluation of the Gates Foundation published the results of its $212 million multi-year effort to improve the effectiveness of teachers while increasing student achievement in three large school districts (Memphis, TN; Pittsburgh, PA; Tampa, FL) and one charter school consortium in California.  With the required district investments, the total cost of the initiative was $575 million.

   The bottom line?  The evaluation, conducted by the RAND Corporation and the American Institutes for Research (AIR), found that student graduation rates, the achievement of students in general, and the achievement of low-income and minority students specifically were largely unaffected.

   These poor results fall on the heels of the Gate Foundation’s mid-2000’s “Small Schools initiative” that similarly did not impact student achievement or graduation rates.
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   So what have we learned from this and other large-sum (but, from my perspective, largely na├»ve) educational initiatives?

   Beyond the fact that “It’s not about the money,” we have learned that:

·       Change requires a multi-tiered science-to-practice blueprint that is anchored in organizational and systems, social and group, cognitive and learning, developmental and ecological, and normal and abnormal psychology.

·       You can’t focus on just one facet in the educational equation. . . student achievement is impacted by a multi-tiered understanding of effective and targeted curriculum and instruction as interfaced with the individual and groups needs of struggling students.

·       Change occurs through professional development that focuses on teacher skills and sustained implementation, and that effective and ongoing mentoring and coaching is required, along with supervision, evaluation, feedback, and administrative action (the latter, if needed).

   And so, have schools learned “their evidence-based lessons?”

   In many cases. . . apparently not.

   Not if we look at the significant number of schools that continue to use approaches that are either invalid (e.g., mindfulness), or that do not substantially contribute to student achievement (e.g., growth mindset approaches).

   Not if we look at districts and schools (“If it’s free, it’s for me”) who have implemented the PBIS Framework pitched by the federally-funded Positive Behavioral Support and Interventions (PBIS) National TA Center . . . without reading (or understanding, or attending to) the U.S. Department of Education-commissioned study that completely questions its impact and utility.

   And, not if we look at districts and schools adopting the heavily-marketed, but research-thin (if not nonexistent), restorative justice approaches.
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The Next Funding Opportunity:  ESEA’s Title IV

   This year’s Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants (Title IV of The Elementary and Secondary Education Act—ESEA) received a huge increase from Congress this past year—from $400 million during the 2017-18 school year, to $1.1 billion for the 2018-19 school year.  

   Providing districts with a great deal of discretion relative to targeting specific areas, Title IV funds can be used across a wide range of programs to make students safer, healthier, and more well-rounded, or to enhance the role of technology in learning.

   This Blog message goes on to discuss:

·       What ESEA says Title IV funds can be used for
·       How the Title IV funds need to be distributed across the program areas described immediately above
·       How districts are planning to use their Title IV funds, according to two recent national surveys

   In the latter area, it appears that some districts, once again, will invest their money, professional development time, student support services, and focus and attention on programs (like PBIS, and non-evidence-based SEL or bullying approaches) that will not be as successful as other evidence-based practices that have been integrated into field-tested and well-documented science-to-practice implementation blueprints.

[CLICK HERE for the Full Version of this Blog]
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   Finally, this Blog suggests that educators, who are now making plans for their Title IV funds, consider Project ACHIEVE as an evidence-based and field-tested alternative in the Title IV areas of: (a) school safety positive school climate, (b) PBIS and social-emotional learning, (c) bullying and violence protection, and (d) student engagement and trauma-informed classroom

   Project ACHIEVE is listed on (since 2001) on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services’ (SAMHSA) National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices.  It was the ESEA School Improvement model, as well as the PBIS and MTSS models, for the Arkansas Department of Education for 13 years under its State Personnel Development Grant (SPDG).  And, it has been implemented in schools in every state in the nation for over 35 years.

   Educators wanting to learn more about Project ACHIEVE can view one or more of the free national webinars that were delivered during the past school year:

·       A Guide to Strategic Planning, Shared Leadership, and Student Success  [Creative Leadership Solutions; with Dr. Doug Reeves]

·       Fixing MTSS: The Keys to Successful Multi-Tiered Academic and Behavioral Interventions [Creative Leadership Solutions; with Dr. Doug Reeves]

·       Planning Your Multi-Tiered (MTSS) Services for Next Year by Analyzing Your Current Students' Needs Today [Creative Leadership Solutions; with Dr. Doug Reeves]

·       Building Academic and Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Progress for All Students  [PresenceLearning]

·       SEL: Critical Steps to Implementing a Comprehensive School-Wide Evidence-Based Program [Illuminate Education; with Dr. Chris Balow]

·       Decreasing Disproportionate Discipline Referrals through a Behavioral Accountability System that Work [Creative Leadership Solutions; with Dr. Doug Reeves]

·       Conducting Quarterly Student Achievement Review (Q-STAR) Meetings: An Early Identification & ESSA Progress Monitoring Approach [Illuminate Education; with Dr. Chris Balow]

[CLICK HERE to view these Webinars on-line]

    What do you think?