Key Takeaway: School climate is a critical component for successful school outcomes. The type of engagement occurring between students, faculty, and the community, the level of safety, and environmental factors all affect school climate. With school-wide programs focusing on specific domains, like School-wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports for discipline and social and emotional learning for safety, schools can change the perceptions and overall climate. – Ashley Parnell

A safe, supportive school climate is critical for school effectiveness. From teacher longevity, satisfaction, and stress to student academic achievement, problem behavior, and social-emotional health, the impact of school climate on all stakeholders is well supported by research. 

The association of school climate and key school outcomes supports the need for educators to be concerned with creating and sustaining a healthy school climate. Yet, evidence regarding ways to implement change remains limited and reviews focusing on the effects of intervention to improve school climate have not been conducted.

In this systematic review, Charlton, Moulton, Sabey, and West examined methodological quality and findings from 18 experimental studies evaluating the effects of schoolwide intervention programs on teacher and student perceptions of school climate.

Specifically, school climate refers to the comprehensive social and physical conditions, which involve three critical/core domains (DoE, 2014): 

  • Engagement. Relationships between students, teachers, families, and the broader community.
  • Safety. Schools and school-related activities where students are safe from violence, bullying, harassment, and controlled substance use.
  • Environment. Facilities, resource & technology access, teacher-student ratios, and teacher-student retention.

Researchers summarized and analyzed all available experiential research on the topic while prioritizing the highest quality literature when drawing conclusions.

Evidence identified supports the following key conclusions:

  • Careful, systematic implementation of schoolwide programs is likely to improve multiple domains of school climate, specifically the engagement and environment domains for School-wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (SWPBIS) and social and emotional learning (SEL).
  • Findings suggest that programs targeting specific domains of school climate (e.g.., SWPBIS for discipline, SEL for emotion safety) seem effective in changing perceptions. 
  • School climate improvement is amenable to change. This review identified evidence supporting the malleability of school climate and the finding that schoolwide intervention can improve school climate.

While these findings are encouraging, some limitations and recommendations of the current study as they relate to: a) the quality of literature, b) definitions of independent variables, and c) measures of school climate warrant consideration. 

Summarized Article:

Charlton, C.T., Moulton, S., Sabey, C.V., West, R. (2021). A systematic review of the effects of schoolwide intervention programs on student and teacher perceptions of school climate. Journal of Positive Behavioral Interventions. 23(3), 185-200.

Summary by: Summary by: Ashley M. Parnell—Ashley strives to apply the MARIO Framework to build evidence-based learning environments that support student engagement, empowerment, and passion and is working with a team of educators to grow and share this framework with other educators.

Key Takeaway: In education, we throw around the term evidence-based quite casually, at times without the awareness of whether the evidence we rely on is empirically sound. Bringing clarity to how we ascertain veracity can support our ability to identify high-quality interventions. – Erin Madonna

In this article, Kauffman and Farkas discuss veracity as it pertains to special education, particularly around issues of policy and access to services. The authors outline two types of beliefs that drive educational decisions, Type A or scientifically verifiable beliefs and Type B, opinions or personal assertions which are not scientifically verified. The authors argue that when Type A beliefs have been established as replicable and truthful, they should be given precedence over Type B beliefs when making educational decisions.

In defining Type A and Type B beliefs, the authors provide the example of reading instruction to illustrate the difference between scientific beliefs and those based upon opinion. A Type A belief around reading is that explicit reading instruction of decoding skills works, while a Type B belief around reading is that reading emerges naturally in a literature-rich environment. We know this Type B belief as a “whole language” or a “balanced literacy” approach. The Type A belief has been verified scientifically, replicated, and is determined to be an evidence-based intervention not because we believe it to be, but because it has qualified as such through rigorous testing. This Type A belief can be challenged and reverified or debunked at any point. 

  • A Type A belief is not based on popular opinion, it is based upon the outcome of credible scientific study. 
  • The Type B belief is based upon personal testimonies and is often reinforced by the assertions of an authority figure or by a collective opinion held by a large group. It has not been exposed to the same scientific scrutiny as the Type A belief but is accepted by many because it fits with their personal opinions. This particular Type B belief is based upon flawed research which demonstrates how a Type B belief can be reinforced by data that does not meet the requirements of scientific assessment, but that is accepted anyway, becoming pseudoscience.

With the definition of Type A and Type B beliefs established, the authors go on to discuss practical applications of greater awareness around the two types of belief. “When we claim that something is evidence-based in special education, the matter of Type A belief about it—the empirical evidence—is of enormous consequence.” This is because making educational choices without empirical evidence risks, at best, neutral outcomes and, at worst, potential harm for our students. “Conformity to a personal version of belief, Type B, must not be substituted for a confirmable reality.”

The authors connect the concept of veracity with social justice when they discuss the impact of Type B beliefs on public policy, including the belief of “over-representation of certain racial or ethnic groups” in special education. With only partial veracity, amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) aimed at addressing the belief that “over-representation” is occurring have denied Black students badly needed services. “When a social policy or the fate of an individual is in question, as is often the case in special education, then Type A truth matters a great deal.” 

Educators must look beyond the fads or popular movements in education and seek out information about whether the interventions they plan to implement are based upon a Type A belief or a Type B belief. Part of this process for the individual is being willing to adjust their practice if new empirical evidence demonstrates that a previously held belief is not in fact a Type A belief. Adaptability and commitment to relying on scientific evidence provide the best opportunity for delivering a high-quality educational experience for our students. Allowing for external pressures to influence our choice of intervention without evidenced veracity is problematic. 

The authors are careful to express that Type B beliefs can positively influence education. They make clear that Type A and Type B beliefs may not always be in conflict. When one’s personal beliefs allow them to “make better sense of the objective world and/or provide moral guidance or a star to steer by,” that Type B belief can provide the motivation to advocate for special education services or improved policy. The point is not to abandon all Type B beliefs but to become conscious of how they influence our decisions as educators and to always check our Type B beliefs against available evidence before acting upon them. 

Summarized Article:

[Kauffman, J. M., & Farkas, G. (2021). Veracity in Special Education. Exceptionality, 1-14. DOI: 10.1080/09362835.2021.1938066]

Summary by: Erin Madonna—Erin philosophically aligns with the MARIO Framework’s deeply rooted conviction that all learners are capable, and she firmly believes in MARIO’s commitment to the use of evidence-based practices drawn from the field of current multidisciplinary research.

Key Takeaway: The implication of this study for educators is that utilizing peer-mediated interventions, within academic, SEL, and executive function lessons, is once again proven an evidence-based approach to increasing academic gains. Peer-mediated interventions may also have positive indirect effects on social-behavioral outcomes. —Erin Madonna

The primary purpose of this meta-analytic study by Moeyaert et al. (2019) was to contribute to the body of evidence addressing peer-tutoring’s impact on academic skill growth and social-behavior outcomes. This particular analysis investigated the direct and indirect effects of peer tutoring on students at risk of low achievement and students with disabilities, resulting in statistically significant implications for special education practice. 

The majority of the study participants were students with behavior disorders (36.59%), followed by students at risk or low achieving (29.1%), students with autism spectrum disorders (13.39%), students with learning disabilities (11.91%), students with intellectual disabilities (6.86%), and students who were deaf (1.95%). Of the 46 studies included, 13 focused on classwide peer-tutoring, 12 looked into reciprocal peer-tutoring models, and 21 reviewed the effects of non-reciprocal peer tutoring. Four moderators were factored into the analysis, including gender, age, study quality, and disability. 

Both the direct effects on academic performance and the indirect effects on social-behavior outcomes were measured. 

A large and statistically significant intervention effect size was noted for academic outcomes with social outcomes also seeing large effect sizes, just not to the magnitude of the academic results. While not statistically significant, there was some evidence found that the impact of the peer-mediated intervention may increase over time for academic skills. This trend was not observed for social-behavior outcomes. 

Peer-mediated interventions were found more effective for older students, age 10 and older. The gender effect was also observed to be large, indicating that peer-mediated interventions may be more impactful for female students than for male students. When moderating for disability, the largest effect size noted for academic skills was in the participant group identified as at-risk or low achieving. Students with learning disabilities saw the greatest indirect impact on social-behavioral outcomes. 

“For both academic and social outcomes, peer tutoring is less effective for children with intellectual disability.”

The authors conclude by addressing some limitations and implications of their study: 

  • There was significant variability between the social outcomes measured in the included studies. As a result, comparison of the social-behavior outcomes is more challenging than comparisons of academic skill development. This is a potential avenue for future research to explore further.
  • Alternative models of peer-mediated interventions, specifically addressing peer interaction, may have more impact on social-behavior outcomes than peer tutoring focused primarily on academic skills.
  • “Educators seeking to address the academic and social-behavioral outcomes of students with disabilities may wish to combine more than one type of peer-mediated interventions to concurrently improve the student’s academic and social-behavioral skills.”
  • “Further research is needed to determine the maintenance of the effects of peer tutoring and to establish whether the effects generalize to other outcomes.”

Despite the limitations “practitioners can consider peer tutoring as an evidence-based approach for improving the level or trend in students’ academic skills and level of students’ social-behavioral outcomes.”

Article Summarized:

Moeyaert, M., Klingbeil, D. A., Rodabaugh, E., & Turan, M. (2019). Three-level meta-analysis of single-case data regarding the effects of peer tutoring on academic and social-behavioral outcomes for at-risk students and students with disabilities. Remedial and Special Education, 0741932519855079.

Summary by: Erin Madonna— Erin philosophically aligns with the MARIO Framework’s deeply rooted belief that all learners are capable, and she firmly believes in MARIO’s commitment to the use of evidence-based practices drawn from the field of current multidisciplinary research.

Key Takeaway: In addition to implementing the best interventions for students who are qualified for learning support, providing effective learning strategies needed to avoid the misidentification of English language learners (ELLs) in special education has never been more crucial. Implementing six effective vocabulary acquisition strategies (VAS) within the frameworks of self-regulated and multimedia learning may not only have promising effects on the language acquisition of ELLs but it may also prevent ELLs being falsely identified for special education eligibility. —Michael Ho

Ortogero and Ray (2021) searched, gathered, and analyzed eight research articles to examine the research question: In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, what recent vocabulary acquisition strategies (VAS) are feasible for e-learning and effective in reducing the over-representation of ELLs in special education?

Here are the major takeaways:

  • Nearly 12% of English language learners were identified as having a disability in 2016.1 This has prompted educators to use technology effectively to teach a second language; integrate the second language into content areas; use the first language to teach the second language; and focus on other language learning strategies, such as vocabulary acquisition strategies (VAS).
  • Vocabulary acquisition is essential among English language learners because they need to constantly acquire the meaning of unknown words when speaking, listening, reading, or writing. Having a strong literacy foundation is a prime indicator of academic success among English language learners.
  • “The following VAS for ELLs were found to be effective: (1) using L1 (first language) to teach L2 (second language), (2) Content and Language Integrated Learning, (3) designing culturally relevant activities in both L1 and L2, (4) pre teaching vocabulary multimodally using explicit word learning strategies, (5) multimedia use, and (6) promoting self-regulation.” Ultimately, these strategies can be taught in an online learning mode and may prevent the overrepresentation of English language learners in special education.
  • During and even after the COVID-19 pandemic, the six VAS strategies work best in the Self-Regulated Multimedia Cognitive Learning Model, which balances the use of technology and multimedia with self-regulation. It begins with pre-teaching vocabulary using explicit word learning strategies, followed by content and language integrated learning and culturally relevant learning activities. By using L1 to teach L2, the students’ vocabulary acquisition will be further enhanced. Ortogero and Ray (2021) mention “Implementing the six effective VAS within the frameworks of self-regulated and multimedia learning may have promising effects on educators continuing their efforts of effectively instructing ELs (English learners) amid an increased e-learning culture.”
  • Many stakeholders worry about the potential detrimental effects of learning through technology. In order to address this issue, self-regulation skills, such as setting goals and monitoring one’s learning, need to be emphasized during online learning.2 Ortogero and Ray (2021) refer to Huebeck’s 2020 study3 and emphasize that “teaching and promoting self-regulation skills can help curb technology’s distracting features and lead to a culture of learning English as a second language amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has driven educators to embrace technology.”

This study had some limitations. First, the search methods were only conducted by the first author, and the eight studies reviewed used self-reporting instruments only. In addition, a few studies did not indicate whether all instruments used were in the participant’s first language. Other VAS learning strategies related to the Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP), such as using open questions, wait time, and code-switching, were also not included.

Experimental studies examining the effects of VAS on English language learners is recommended for further research, in order to address response bias. Comparing the effects of various native languages may explain why certain VAS are more effective than others. Finally, the effects of VAS pre, during, and post COVID-19 could determine the impact the pandemic has had on English language learners.

Summarized Article:

Ortogero, S. P., & Ray, A. B. (2021). Overrepresentation of English Learners in Special Education Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic. Educational Media International, 1-20.

Summary by: Michael Ho — Michael supports the MARIO Framework because it empowers learners to take full control of their personalized learning journey, ensuring a impactful and meaningful experience

Research author Shawna P. Ortogero, Ph.D., was involved in the final version of this summary.

Additional References:

  1. National Center for Education Statistics. (2018). English language learner (ELL) students enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools, by home language, grade, and selected student characteristics: Selected years, 2008-09 through fall 2016. Institute for Education Sciences.https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d18/tables/dt18_204.27.asp
  2. Pintrich, P. (2000). The role of goal orientation in self-regulated learning. In M. Boekaerts, P. Pintrich, & M. Zeidner (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation (pp. 451–502). Elsevier Inc. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-012109890-2/50043-3
  3. Huebeck, E. (2020, June 3). How did COVID-19 change your teaching, for better or worse? See teachers’ responses. Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2020/06/03/how-did-covid-19-change-your-teaching-for.html