Research Communications

Ohio University researchers receive $1.5 million for ADHD intervention study 

Project to help teachers manage student behavior in the classroom

ATHENS, Ohio (Aug. 27, 2012)—With support from a new $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Ohio University researchers will investigate how to help teachers implement interventions known to improve educational outcomes for students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The three-year study, which focuses on teachers of elementary school students, is led by Associate Professor of Psychology Julie Owens, with collaboration from Ohio University Professor of Psychology Steven Evans and two Florida International University scientists.

"Historically, there has been a lot of focus on the development of classroom interventions and on testing their effectiveness," Owens said. "What's unique is that we're focusing not just on outcomes, but on the whole process of program implementation and how to support teachers as they use these interventions."

 Julie Owens
Julie Owens

Research has shown that individualized classroom interventions reduce disruptive behavior and improve academic performance among students with ADHD. In one such intervention, called the daily report card, the teacher identifies a set of desired student behaviors and goals for each behavior. Then, the teacher gives the student feedback throughout the day as he or she works towards those goals. Progress is connected to privileges to help motivate the student.

Getting reinforcement for positive behavior is a critical step for the students who show symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity that are inappropriate for their age. Recent research conducted by Owens and colleagues at Ohio University's Center for Intervention Research in School and its Youth Experiencing Success in School (YESS) program has demonstrated that students with the disorder improve incrementally each month the daily report card is used.

Even so, teacher implementation of this intervention and ones like it is highly inconsistent, Owens has found. Teachers have many demands on their time, have varying levels of support available in their school districts and may feel that they lack training and education on the issue.

"On one hand it seems really simple—we have these interventions, we know they work, so let's have teachers implement them," Owens explained. "However, it's not that simple. There are many challenges to implementation. That's what this grant is about. We want to understand the factors that influence a teacher's ability and willingness to implement these interventions and to develop a consultation program that best supports teachers as they do so."

Over the next year, the researchers will consult with principals, teachers and other educational professionals in Athens, Hocking and Gallia counties in southeastern Ohio and Miami-Dade County in Florida to determine the best steps for helping teachers use the daily report card.

In year two, they will work with schools in the same areas to implement those support mechanisms on a pilot basis. Then, in year three, the scientists will conduct a full clinical trial of 60 student-teacher pairs. One group of teachers will get enhanced consultation, educational reading materials and classroom observation and feedback. A control group will receive standard levels of consultation and support.

Funds from the Department of Education grant will be used to pay the teachers and families who participate, and also will support the faculty and graduate students serving as consultants to the teachers in the study.

Once the initial study is complete, the researchers hope to obtain further funding to expand the study to more schools, teachers and students.

When students with ADHD don't receive assistance for their problems, it becomes a public health issue, and a costly one for schools, Owens said. Students with ADHD are at increased risk for grade retention, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, suspensions, expulsions and high school dropout. Educating a student with the disorder costs 10 to 15 times more than educating a typical student. Disciplinary efforts, special education classes, added office referrals and extra student time in a district due to grade retention consume much-needed resources.

"If these interventions can be used more systematically and more effectively, we'll reduce a lot of those costs," Owens said.

Written by Elizabeth Boyle.

Contact: Julie Owens, (740) 593-1074, owensj@ohio.edu; Andrea Gibson, director of research communications, (740) 597-2166, gibsona@ohio.edu.