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College of Education Awarded $5.7 Million Grant for Research on School Safety

By: Cienna Madrid   Published 7:40 am / October 9, 2017

Group photo in front of the B

From left to right: Hannah Calvert, Lindsey Turner, Katie Bubak-Azevedo, Kelli Burnham and Carl Siebert. Not pictured: Teri Lewis.

Students learn best in environments that are safe and supportive, and the College of Education (COED) at Boise State University is committed to helping schools in Idaho to create settings that allow all students to succeed.

A team from COED has been awarded a four-year research grant totaling $5.7 million from the Comprehensive School Safety Initiative, which is funded by the National Institute of Justice. The project will finalize and pilot the Idaho Rural Implementation Model for Schoolwide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (SWPBIS), which is specifically designed to meet the unique needs of rural schools.

Research has shown that SWPBIS can be extremely effective for improving educational outcomes, including grades and scores on academic achievement tests. It also can promote improved attendance, fewer disciplinary referrals, and improved school climate and perceived safety. However, because of the size and location of rural schools, they often do not have access to the training, resources and supports necessary to implement comprehensive changes in their student support systems. This is where the Idaho Positive Behavior Network steps up to serve schools across the state.

Once designed, the model will be tested with a randomized controlled trial in 40 schools. A focus of the project is on understanding factors associated with the implementation of positive school-wide changes, and the outcomes for students.

“This record research grant award for the College of Education provides national renown for this important work, and it highlights the value of connecting research faculty with practitioners to inform what works in education,” said Rich Osguthorpe, dean of the College of Education. “Combining our college’s research expertise with behavioral interventions and support expertise in the Center for School Improvement and Policy Studies proved to be a winning formula for securing the type of support that can truly make a difference in schools.”

The project will be led by Katie Bubak-Azevedo, director of the Idaho Positive Behavior Network housed in the COED’s Center for School Improvement and Policy Studies, and Lindsey Turner, director of the Initiative for Healthy Schools and a research professor in COED. Co-investigators who will work with Bubak-Azevedo on the implementation component include Kelli Burnham, the technical assistance coordinator at the Idaho Positive Behavior Network, and Teri Lewis, a national expert and consultant in SWPBIS. Co-investigators who will work with Turner on the research component include Hannah Calvert, a postdoctoral fellow at the Initiative for Healthy Schools, and Carl Siebert, an assistant professor of curriculum, instruction and foundational studies.

“This is such an exciting opportunity,” Bubak-Azevedo said. “Not only will we be learning what truly works in rural schools, but we will simultaneously be setting up Idaho educators and students for success. Our goal is to build sustainable systems that are effective and positive, through capacity building where our team becomes unnecessary but remains available.”

Turner explained that the use of a randomized controlled trial (RCT) is particularly important in this work, because of its status as the “gold standard” in social and behavioral sciences.

“Using an RCT allows us to rigorously examine the impact of this strategy to improve educational outcomes,” Turner said. “This is particularly important because it allows educational policy to be based on data about what really works. These studies are expensive but are crucial for improving the evidence base, and we are grateful for the generous support from NIJ.”

The study design was developed to allow the results to be included in the What Works Clearinghouse, which was established by the U.S. Department of Education to be the definitive resource for evidence-based educational decision making.