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Stakeholders Voices: Defining Needs of Students with

Emotional and Behavioral Disorders Transitioning


between School Settings

Rohanna Buchanan
Oregon Social Learning Center

Rhonda N. T. Nese
University of Oregon

Miriam Clark
Oregon Social Learning Center

ABSTRACT: Students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) too often do not receive adequate
services or care in their school settings, particularly during transitions in educational placements. In
addition, school support teams often struggle with creating transition plans that honor the needs of
students with input from key stakeholders responsible for supporting student success. This article
presents findings from the information-gathering phase of an iterative project that aims to develop a
support program for students with EBD transitioning from day-treatment schools to district schools. We
conducted 5 semistructured, qualitative focus groups with parents and teachers to explore needs
during students transitions between school settings. Five themes emerged from the focus groups: (a)
consistent, behavior-specific feedback and positive reinforcement are vital to sustaining learned
prosocial skills; (b) students benefit from regular opportunities to learn and practice social skills; (c)
transition programming should emphasize communication between school and home; (d) routines at
home and school should be coordinated; and (e) parents need support at school meetings. We will use
findings from this study to develop a multifaceted intervention that aims to support students, their
caregivers, and their teachers during transitions between the aforementioned types of schools.

An estimated 10%13% of school-age stu- academic achievement in terms of earning


dents have emotional and behavioral disorders lower grades, failing more courses, and being
(EBD; Epstein, Kutash, & Duchnowski, 1999; expelled or dropping out of high school at
Forness, Freeman, Paparella, Kauffman, & higher rates (Bradley et al., 2008; Bullock &
Walker, 2012; Forness, Kim, & Walker, 2012), Gable, 2006; Nelson et al., 2004; Reid, Gonza-
and estimates of how many students will have lez, Nordness, Trout, & Epstein, 2004; U.S.
EBD during their lifetime range from 25% Department of Education, 2014).
46% (Forness, Freeman et al., 2012; Forness, Students with EBD are increasingly inclu
Kim et al., 2012). Though research shows that ded in public education settings (U.S. Depart-
students with disabilities now have more ment of Education, 2007), yet the majority of
school-based opportunities for growth than in such students are placed in noninclusive set-
past decades, students with EBD have experi- tings at least part of the day. According to the
enced less progress than students from other 36th Annual Report to Congress on the Imple-
disability groups (Bradley, Doolittle, & Barto- mentation of the Individuals with Disabilities
lotta, 2008; U.S. Department of Education, Education Act (U.S. Department of Education,
2014). Specifically, when compared with other 2014), 43% of students with EBD are served
students with disabilities receiving special in mainstream classrooms a minimum of 80%
education services, students with EBD tend to of the day, 18% are in mainstream classrooms
have more teacher-reported externalizing and 40%79% of the day, about 21% are in main-
internalizing behavior problems (Bradley et al., stream classrooms less than 40% of the day,
2008; Lane, Carter, & Glaeser, 2006; Nelson, and 13% attend separate schools. Despite these
Benner, Lane, & Smith, 2004) and show lower diverse placements, researchers and practitioners

Behavioral Disorders, 41 (3), 135147 May 2016 / 135


generally agree that students with EBD need Vorndran, 2003; Marshall & Mirenda, 2002;
extra treatment and intervention supports that Park, Alber-Morgan, & Fleming, 2011). Given
they are not currently receiving (Bullock & that parents spend the most time with their
Gable, 2006; Forness, Kim et al., 2012; Kern, child, their knowledge would be a great asset
Hilt-Panahon, & Sokol, 2008; Lane & Carter, to the childs support (Marshall & Mirenda,
2006; Wagner & Davis, 2006). In fact, Kern 2002). Understanding the familys values, strug-
et al. (2008) suggested that students with EBD gles, and desires is imperative for effective col-
receive worse care than children from any laboration with teachers and other school staff
other disability group because they are often members (Park et al., 2011). Unfortunately,
placed in large schools even though they implementing such methods and interventions
would benefit more from small learning envir- in school settings is challenging. For example,
onments and individualized services (Wagner teachers often lack the training or the time to
& Davis, 2006). be adequately trained (Elliott & Mihalic, 2004;
Transitions can be a source of added stress Ingersoll & Dvortcsak, 2006; Kern et al.,
and increased behavioral problems, yet they 2008). In addition, tensions arise because par-
are commonplace for students with EBD, who ents often feel excluded from care (Crawford &
make transitions between special education Simonoff, 2003; Park et al., 2011). We designed
classrooms and inclusive classrooms as well the current study to fill the gaps in the research
as to and from special placements such as resi-
about the needs and experiences of students
dential or day-treatment schools (DTS). In addi-
transitioning between DTS and DS settings for
tion, transitions from elementary to middle
the purpose of designing an intervention to
school, middle school to high school, and
address transitioning students needs.
then to adulthood also present challenges
(Lane & Carter, 2006; Wagner & Davis,
2006). Very little research is available on transi- Purpose and Research Questions
tions from DTS to district schools (DS) for stu-
dents with EBD. Gagnon and Leone (2006) In this article, we present findings from the
examined transitions from DTS and residential information-gathering phase of an Institution of
treatment elementary schools into elementary Education Sciences (IES)-funded intervention
schools. Among other findings, these authors development project. Findings from this phase
reported that approximately 50% of treatment will inform the development of a support pro-
schools in their sample had no designated per- gram for students with EBD transitioning from
son assigned to follow up with the students DTS settings to DS settings. In the current study,
after they were discharged, 25% had a part- we conducted a series of focus groups to col-
time person, and the other 25% had a full- lect data that will help us better understand
time person assigned to that role. needs of students with EBD, their parents, and
Many have noted the need for more their teachersas well as the context in which
research about students with EBD, along with families and educators seek to implement evi-
the challenges to implementing effective sup- dence-based practices for students with EBD.
ports. For example, in a call for more research According to Marshall and Mirenda (2002),
on effective intervention programs to support giving key stakeholders the opportunity to
students with EBD, Lane and Carter (2006) inform the intervention process promotes the
highlighted the myriad issues youth with EBD social validity of the intervention. Using a focus
face in school. Specifically, family involvement group protocol, we explored issues facing two
is lacking in decision making for the youth. On key stakeholder groups: parents and teachers.
the basis of prior research findings, Wagner and The following three research questions guided
Davis (2006) proposed that interventions for the development of the focus group protocol:
students with EBD should create meaningful
relationships, involve both students and their 1. What are the needs of students with EBD
families while planning for transitions, and use during the transition process from DTS to
a holistic approach to students well-being. DS settings?
The literature is clear that programs focusing 2. What are the needs of parents of students
on collaboration between the school and with EBD, and what supports do they want
the family are most effective (Blue-Banning, for their children and for themselves during
Summers, Frankland, Nelson, & Beegle, 2004; the transition process from DTS to DS
Greenberg et al., 2003; Kuhn, Lerman, & settings?

136 / May 2016 Behavioral Disorders, 41 (3), 135147


3. What are the needs of teachers of students or more races (5%). The DTS serves 16 small
with EBD, and what supports do they want and midsized school districts. The DS teachers
for their students, for parents, and for them- were from two different rural school districts
selves during the transition process from served by the DTS. At school A, 54% of stu-
DTS to DS settings? dents qualified for free or reduced price lunch
and students identified as America Indian/Alas-
On the basis of a review of the pertinent lit-
kan (4%), Hispanic (12%), White (81%), or two
erature on students with EBD and our own
or more races (3%); at school B, 70% of stu-
experience working with children and adoles-
dents qualified for free or reduced price lunch
cents in special education and treatment set-
and students identified as American Indian/
tings, we outlined five a priori hypotheses
Alaskan (3%), Asian/Pacific Islander (1%), Afri-
related to transitioning students with EBD: (a)
can American (, 1%), Hispanic (11%), White
students will need support for emotion regula- (75%), or two or more races (9%).
tion and school routines; (b) teachers want All 27 participants completed an individual
greater parent involvement, including regular in-person institutional review board-approved
communication; (c) parents need support to informed consent procedure. This study took
successfully navigate the special education sys- place in the Pacific Northwest of the United
tem; (d) parents want teachers to support the States in an education service district (ESD)
unique needs of their children; and (e) teachers implementing positive behavior interventions
need more resources (e.g., time, materials, and and supports, a systems-level approach for
training). These hypotheses guided our explora- establishing the social culture and individua-
tion of the research questions within each focus lized behavior supports needed for schools to
group. be safe and effective learning environments
for all students (Horner, Sugai, Todd, & Lewis-
Palmer, 2005).
Method
Parents. The DTS principal contacted par-
Participants and Setting ents of current or recent DTS students about
the focus group study and then provided con-
We used purposive sampling to capture a tact information for 14 interested parents to
range of perspectives from informants with the first author. Of the 14 eligible parents, 13
experience related to the project goals (Berg & consented to participate in two focus groups.
Lune, 2012; Padgett, 2008). Of interest were Group 1 consisted of parents of students
the perspectives of parents and teachers of mid- who had already transitioned from the DTS
dle school students with EBD transitioning from (n 5 5), and Group 2 consisted of parents of
DTS to DS settings. In this article, parent refers students who were currently attending the
to any caregiver in the home. To establish a DTS and preparing for a transition to a DS
range of perspectives, we included (a) parents (n 5 8). Of the parents who had already transi-
of middle school age students (grades 68) tioned from the DTS, there were two parents of
with EBD who had transitioned from the DTS sixth graders, two parents of seventh graders,
to a DS within the past 6 months, (b) parents and one parent of an eighth grader. Of the par-
of middle school age students with EBD who ents with students currently attending the DTS,
would transition from the DTS to a DS within there was one parent of a sixth grader, five par-
the next 6 months, (c) teachers from the DTS, ents of seventh graders, and two parents of
(d) instructional aides from the DTS, and (e) eighth graders. Relationships to the youth
middle school teachers from multiple school included biological parents (n 5 10), foster par-
districts who were currently working with stu- ents (n 5 2), and a great-grandparent (n 5 1).
dents from the DTS posttransition to a DS. We Three of the students were represented by two
recruited participants from one DTS middle parents. Participants were predominantly
school participating in an IES-funded study women (69%; nine women, four men), identi-
and from two middle schools serving students fied as White (69%; n 5 9) or multiple ethnici-
who had recently completed the DTS program. ties (31%; n 5 4), and between 34 and 92 years
The DTS is an urban school in a midsized old (M 5 47.90, SD 5 17.49).
(approximately 157,000 people) city in the Teachers. We recruited special education
Pacific Northwest. Approximately 75% of stu- teachers and instructional aides (IAs) from the
dents qualified for free or reduced price lunch participating ESD (N 5 14) to participate in
and students identified as White (95%) or two three focus groups. All teachers for grades 68

Behavioral Disorders, 41 (3), 135147 May 2016 / 137


from the DTS (Group 3; n 5 6) and all IAs for help students?), (d) questions about the needs
grades 68 from the DTS (Group 4; n 5 4) con- of the parents and teachers of students with
sented to participate. At the time of this study, EBD during transitions (e.g., What types of
IAs were not present in DS classrooms of support do you think that parents of transition-
recently transitioned students; therefore, we ing students will need? How would those
did not recruit IAs from the DS. The DTS princi- types of support help parents? What do tea-
pal provided contact information for all DS tea- chers need to support transitioning students?
chers who were currently working with How would those types of support help tea-
students who had recently transitioned from chers?), (e) details about a proposed interven-
the DTS (N 5 10) to ensure that DS participants tion, and (f) questions about the fit of the
had familiarity with the transition process and proposed intervention (e.g., Do you have
four consented to participate (Group 5). Tea- recommendations that would make the pro-
chers were predominantly women (86%; 12 posed intervention more relevant to your
women, 2 men) and White (86%; 12 White, 1 needs?).
Native American, 1 Asian/Pacific Islander). The first author conducted the focus
Teachers had an average of 13.64 years of groups. She is trained in techniques to elicit
teaching experience (SD 5 9.28 years, range feedback from the participants, remain neutral
5 132 years). to a range of responses to reduce response
bias, and move the discussion through the
Focus Groups semistructured format. She revised and adapted
questions to fit the direction and flow of the dis-
We collected data using a semistructured cussion and probe for additional detail (e.g.,
focus group protocol. This semistructured pro- Can you give an example of that? or How
tocol allowed us to interview multiple partici- would that look?) to give participants the
pants efficiently and evaluate the degree of opportunity to fully explain their perspectives.
confirmation or disagreement among partici- Focus group participants generally provided
pants (Morgan, 1996; Padgett, 2008). The straightforward responses, and the focus group
semistructured format allowed participants to facilitator probed participants to clarify the
ask questions of one another that elicited meaning of their statements and provide more
greater depth or detail than would researcher- detailed explanations for brief statements.
driven questions and resulted in increased
credibility (Morgan, 1996). In addition, we uti- Analysis
lized multiple focus groups to triangulate the
data and enhance the credibility of findings We audio-recorded all focus group inter-
(Patton, 1999). views, and two trained individuals transcribed
As noted in the previous section, we them verbatim; the first author then compared
grouped participants into five focus groups by each transcript against the audio for accuracy.
role. The use of homogeneous groups allows The second author conducted the coding for
the exploration of within-group and between- all focus group transcripts by assigning portions
groups consensus and difference (Brotherson of text to one or more codes and developed a
& Goldstein, 1992). Focus groups took place codebook throughout the coding process. The
for approximately 90 min after school or on coder noted emergent codes as she analyzed
weekends and were scheduled at the conveni- the data and then compared all transcripts
ence of the participants. Questions in the focus against the final codebook (Padgett, 2008).
group guide aimed to elicit feedback on the The first and third authors reviewed this coded
needs of students with EBD and their parents work to triangulate findings. Together, we parti-
and teachers during the transition to a new, cipated in a peer debriefing process and chose
nontreatment setting. The focus group guide representative quotes for the Results section.
included the following topics: (a) a description The same themes arose in each of the focus
of the study, (b) introductions and discussion groups, and there was a high level of participant
of prior experiences with interventions and ser- consensus during each of the focus group dis-
vices for students with disabilities, (c) questions cussions. In addition, we reached saturation of
about the needs of students with EBD during new codes and patterns and did not recruit
transitions (e.g., What types of supports do additional participants. Using the method of
you think that transitioning students will constant comparison (Glaser & Strauss, 1967),
need? How would those types of support we grouped codes into themes that mapped

138 / May 2016 Behavioral Disorders, 41 (3), 135147


TABLE 1
Representative Quotes Associated with Identified Themes
Identified Themes Quotes from Participants
Research question 1
Transition supports It was frustrating because we went from being cocooned and having tons of
support to absolutely no support
Feedback about behavior There [at the DTS] they would say, That really sounded disrespectful; do you
want to try to rephrase that?
Social skills training How do you do all the little bits and pieces that kids just sometimes havent had
access to so they dont know the etiquette, and that gets them into trouble?
Research question 2
Consistency between home and school And so, you know, he really did well at the DTS because he gets that at home
and he got it at school.
Effective homeschool communication I definitely have good communication with some of my parents and I think
communication amongst all is important.
Research question 3
Awareness of the students individual needs I feel like the public school teachers are not prepared and theyre not trained to
and behavior support plans deal with these kids when theyre transferred.

onto questions in the focus group protocol, support and him knowing what is expected of
with 5 to 30 subthemes within each primary him and how things are supposed to go, to
theme. absolutely no support [at the DS] and him hav-
ing to juggle multiple teachers, different class-
rooms, new students, and having to get to
Results know these teachers at the same time.
An IA echoed the need for transition sup-
We organized the results from the focus ports, sharing, We are so structured here [at
group data by the three research questions: (a) the DTS], and they [the students] feel secure.
needs of students with EBD during transitions And we understand them. And they can advo-
from DTS to DS, (b) needs of their parents dur- cate for themselves. She went on to express
ing such transitions, and (c) needs of their tea- concern that the necessary structure and sup-
chers on either side of the transition. Table 1 port does not always exist at the DS. She said
provides an overview of the identified themes that after the transition, When they have
and representative quotes for each theme. nobody out there, I mean when they are in
the big pond, they dont have that support.
Needs of Students with EBD during Feedback about behavior. Stakeholders
Transition from DTS to DS were very clear that the use of positive reinfor-
cement and behavior-specific feedback was
Findings that addressed the needs of stu- critical to student success and should be con-
dents during the transition process fell into tinued after transition. Families liked how the
three main subthemes: (a) transition supports, DTS utilized tangible reinforcements to reward
(b) feedback about behavior, and (c) social positive behavior or progress. One parent said,
skills training. They [the DTS] did have a reward system, but I
Transition supports. Parents and teachers like the way their reward system worked
discussed challenges that came up for students because it was more [at the DTS] and then
specifically when transitioning from a highly following them to earning than allowing
structured DTS to a DS with less support. Par- students to get attention via inappropriate
ents of students who had recently transitioned behavior. Participants also identified continu-
described their feelings during the transition as ous feedback while providing students oppor-
We were like, lost. No support whatsoever. tunities to correct their behaviors as important
Other parents gave examples of how abrupt to changing student behavior. One DTS parent
the change in support was for their child. One shared,
parent said,
I think one of the things that the DTS does well
It was frustrating because we went from being is second chances. For instance, voice some-
cocooned [at the DTS] and having tons of times can be an issue, but your child doesnt

Behavioral Disorders, 41 (3), 135147 May 2016 / 139


mean it to be disrespectful. There [at the DTS] Going to a store or a restaurant and teaching
they would say, That really sounded disre- etiquette and complimenting behaviors or
spectful; do you want to try to rephrase that? going and doing swimming and how you
access the locker room. How do you sign in?
Teachers at the DS agreed that continuing How do you do all the little bits and pieces
such feedback is important. One DS teacher that kids just sometimes havent had access to
stated, They just need that feedback. They so they dont know the etiquette, and that gets
need the positive reinforcement. Another tea- them into trouble?
cher highlighted the importance of acknowled-
A similar example, provided by an IA,
ging positive behaviors: Sometimes we have
included public venues: libraries, bus stops
to look at the little positive things in order to
oh yeah, just hanging out down at the bus
move them [students] forward. An IA sug-
stop. Just, you know, stranger danger, appropri-
gested that everyone benefited from these sup-
ate volume and spatial issues, appropriate
ports: Its just the positive reinforcement to
interactions, or riding the bus. Many of the
continue that across the line with students,
suggestions about social skills training focused
with parents, even with teachers.
on teaching appropriate behaviors in public
Another teacher at the DTS talked about the
spaces. One IA said, If theres some sort of a
benefit of having several adults positively rein-
festival where theres a lot of people, its really
force the same behavior across settings both
easy to get all amped up. To learn to keep your-
within and between schools. The teacher shared,
self at a calm level and interact. Teachers
The continuity of a person being here [at the highlighted the importance of conducting
DTS] and then following them to the home social skill-building sessions in natural environ-
school so it gets told to the student over and ments, such as schools or in the community, to
over again by different people. Then the par-
help the student go back and do that when the
ent says, Hey, Ive heard from your teacher
today that you did this, this, and this! And then
skills trainer isnt around.
the coach says, Hey, I heard you did this! Multiple focus group participants men-
theyre reinforcing that positive behavior, and tioned the importance of getting peers involved
its coming from several different adults. in skill-building due to the tendency of students
with EBD to get into trouble with peers. To
Social skills training. Parents and teachers
illustrate her concerns about a students peer
unanimously agreed on the importance of
group and desire for social skills training, a
social skills training for students with EBD as
DS teacher shared that one particular student
they transition from one school to the next,
and many gave suggestions for particular stu- Does tend to go with the group thats going to
dent skills to target. Helping students learn to get him in trouble in the community. You
talk to peers appropriately and have appropri- know it would be cool if he had that going on
ate conduct in the community were key themes [potential to get into trouble with peers] and
something was stirring, the mentor [social skills
that arose when parents and teachers discussed
trainer] could say, Time to go. Do you see this
what students needed during transition. For and this? Those are cues. Lets go.
example, a group of DS teachers shared that it
was important for students to work on how to Parents echoed the importance of includ-
say no to friends, how to stand up for your- ing peers in social skills training. For example,
self, and how to draw your boundaries, one parent of a current DTS student said,
even if its really subtle peer pressure. A parent Maybe a part of that skills coaching could be
of a student currently attending the DTS also to introduce him to some peers and kinda
echoed the theme of building healthy friend- help them start [making friends].
ships, sharing that her daughter does have
skills to make friends but lacks skills to keep Needs of Parents of Students with EBD
friends. She calls em names and tells em to
leave and, you know, stuff like that. The par- Findings that addressed the needs of par-
ent identified that her daughter needed coach- ents during the school and transition process
ing to be more friendly. fell into two main subthemes: (a) consistency
Parents and teachers agreed that it was between home and school, and (b) effective
important to provide skill-building opportu- home-school communication.
nities in natural community settings. One par- Consistency between home and school.
ent talked about her childs extensive social Teachers shared an interest in helping to trans-
skills needs across settings: late effective practices at school to the home so

140 / May 2016 Behavioral Disorders, 41 (3), 135147


that students can have the support they need as occur at different rates at home and school.
they transition from the DTS to the DS. One One teacher talked about how, although it is
DTS teacher shared that When they [parents] important to teach parents about the language
see kids being successful here, and then they of rewards and consequences, it is also vital to
are able to then transition to their home help parents understand that behavior change
schools, they [parents] want to know what did takes time. Another teacher explained, Parents
we do. I often have parents say, Can we create feel like we have magic wands here, and bang,
a home plan? Across teacher focus groups, they [the students] are changing. But really,
teachers made similar statements or showed what were doing is noticing the very little posi-
agreement verbally and through noting that tive things that are happening and building on
consistency between home and school is that. Similarly, another teacher recognized
essential. why it might be difficult for parents to see small
Parents and teachers generally agreed changes in their childrens behaviors:
about the need for maintaining consistency They [parents] need support on seeing that
among routines and behavioral expectations [small positive changes], because they get too
across school locations and home to help frustrated in the day to day. So thats what I
with the transition process. However, parents think would be the key. Even more frequent
and teachers did not always agree about the check-ins with them [the parents] because
origin of expectations and routines to ensure they just get burned out so fast.
consistency across settings. Some parents On the other hand, consistency seemed to
reported feeling that DS teachers should listen occur naturally when parents and teachers
to them and recreate the strategies they were had similar approaches. For example, a former
utilizing at home, and the majority of other par- DTS parent shared that,
ents expressed agreement. In addition, not all
I already knew what worked for my son, but
parents and teachers shared a consistent
with the DTS they seemed to have the same
approach to supporting students. For example, kind of philosophy that I have, which is strict
a parent shared an issue they had with the DS boundaries and being responsible for your-
where they were made to feel that Your self. And so, you know, he really did well at
sons the problem; were not the problem, the DTS because he gets that at home and he
even though there was lots of things that I was got it at school.
trying to suggest to them and educate them. Effective homeschool communication.
Several teachers expressed concern for the Teachers were very clear that having multiple
strategies that families were using at home, as channels for frequent communication
illustrated by one DTS teachers statement: between the home and school was vital for
They [parents] dont understand giving privi- improving the schools relationship with tran-
leges, earning things, versus consequences, sitioning families, helping these families feel
and we dont have time to teach them. confident in their abilities to advocate for their
Another teacher expressed concern about par- students, and translating information across
ent follow-through with home-based systems: the home and school settings. One DTS tea-
I had a parent that said, Can I create a point cher noted, I definitely have really good com-
card at home? And yet she doesnt know munication with some of my parents but not
how to follow through with giving rewards with others, and I think communication
and consequences to support the behavior. A amongst all the factors [stakeholders] is really
DS teacher echoed the concern that parents important. Several teachers discussed the
might not have consistent follow-through importance of having different methods of
at home: communication. One DTS teacher shared, I
Were talking about the routines of school but think its really important to identify the
also the routines of How do you send a child method of communication that works best for
to school? Routines the parent needs to make that parent. Its different for different parents.
for the parent as well as the child at home. Bed- One teacher found that providing written doc-
time, getting up on time. How about just hold- umentation helps parents better understand
ing a rule? If you set a rule you hold it. goals and expectations:
Boundaries. Follow through. A consistent
homework routine. Like a checklist. What I had to do with some
parents that really had little school success
Comments from several teachers high- themselves is talk about, like, the homework
lighted how student behavior change can time, setting up the homework time. But also,

Behavioral Disorders, 41 (3), 135147 May 2016 / 141


like, a parent who wants to support their child A barrier to effective communication that
in education attends the regular parent meet- came up during all focus groups was the
ings. They go to the open houses when their lack of a point person at the DS. One DTS par-
kid is presenting in an evening program, they
ent stated, It would be helpful to have one
go and attend that. Just having it written. If
point person, and another echoed that senti-
theres no list its just too overwhelming to a
parent that, you know, is already experiencing ment, saying, designate one person at the
overload because their child is difficult. school to contact me, instead of all the tea-
chers contacting me with their various con-
Multiple teachers and IAs also raised the cerns. An IA highlighted that it may be a
topic of supporting parents to communicate burden on families to receive so many calls
with teachers. For example, one IA stated that from different school personnel each day
she thought it was part of their job to give the and suggested that
parents the skills to communicate with the tea-
just having one point person that calls the par-
cher and advocate for their child, whereas a
ents and discusses, This is what the teacher
DTS teacher stated that teachers needed to feedback was; this is what the therapist or
teach families how to develop a regular com- the skills coach feedback was. Then theyre
munication system. Another DTS teacher reso- [the parent] not getting inundated with four dif-
nated with this feeling that it was the teachers ferent opinions of what this kid is doing
job to reach out and coach families on how to inappropriately.
communicate with the school. She said com- One former DTS parent shared that having
munication should occur regularly, and that a point person was helpful for them during the
you [the teacher] model for them how to transition process, because it allowed for clear
engage with their school contact. The DTS tea- communication with the school. The parent
chers also clarified that communication with shared:
the schools allows for families to become
much more active and engaged in the transi- Theres still one teacher that still contacts me
and keeps in touch with the other teachers.
tion process. One teacher said, If youre trying
And that just works so well because the teacher
to get a parent to be independent and able to calls me, and then if I have something, I can
take over the transition process when you leave contact her, and then shell help find out that
it, then you need to teach them how to have situation, or shell tell me directly who I need
regular communication with the school. to contact to get that.
The tone of teacher and IA comments
about promoting homeschool communication Needs of Teachers of Students with EBD
was largely sympathetic to parents possible
reasons for not having regular communication Throughout each of the focus groups, parti-
with teachers. Several teachers noted that cipants devoted less discussion time to the
attending school meetings might be over- needs of teachers relative to the needs of stu-
whelming for some families and that it is impor- dents and their parents. Notably, teacher and
tant that parents have a support person to IA focus groups included minimal statements
clarify information and reduce any anxieties identifying specific needs of teachers for sup-
they may experience in those moments. One porting transitioning students with EBD.
DTS teacher noted that some families might Although we hypothesized that the need for
be concerned that their childs behavior might additional resources for teachers and schools
be a direct representation of them and their would be a theme for the teacher and IA focus
parenting skill and sometimes parents might groups, these groups mentioned very little
feel like were against them. Were not! Were about the need for more time or money. How-
trying to work with them. Another DTS tea- ever, parents emphasized the need for teacher
cher reiterated the importance of parent sup- training and support. Specifically, parents
port to advocate for students, saying, were concerned about teacher training at the
DS for supporting students with EBD and
Its not just about their kid; its about their own focused on the importance of proactive com-
anxiety about the environment, and will I munication with those teachers to ensure a
represent my kid well? Cuz a lot of times
smooth transition to the new environment.
they dont have the professional talk, so they
feel disadvantaged or put down by the teacher. Awareness of the students individual
If there is a parent advocate there for a couple needs and behavior support plans. Some par-
meetings, it has really helped. ents said that they were concerned that DS

142 / May 2016 Behavioral Disorders, 41 (3), 135147


teachers were not equipped for their children to of all the teachers and the principal and
begin attending their classes, with one former explain to them what my expectations were
DTS parent stating, I feel like the public school for them and how to handle my childs
teachers are not prepared and theyre not behavior.
trained to deal with these kids when theyre
transferred. Another former DTS parent shared
her concern that Its at school that he [the stu-
dent] has behavior problems, so I feel like Discussion
theyre [the teachers] the ones that need the
Throughout the focus groups, tension was
support; theyre the ones that need the train-
apparent between DS teachers and parents
ing. To address the concern that teachers
of students with EBD. Parents reported that
might not be prepared for students with EBD,
they often felt frustrated because the DS tea-
parents talked about their own role in making
chers were not communicating with them
sure that teachers had critical information,
appropriately and not supporting their transi-
including effective strategies to communicate
with the student, effective incentives, and tioning students needs. The DS teachers
details about the behavior support plan (BSP). also reported feeling frustrated for similar rea-
Another former DTS family stressed the impor- sons. Teachers reported feeling that parents
tance of advocating proactively for their child were not communicating with them or hand-
with DS teachers, sharing challenges related ling their childrens needs appropriately at
to getting the BSP details from the DTS to this critical point. This tension between par-
the DS: ents and teachers with opposing ideas creates
a difficult context in which to help students
If we dont advocate for that, then they [the tea-
progress (Crawford & Simonoff, 2003; Park
chers] dont know. And thats really what it
came down to, was that we really had to push et al., 2011). However, although both parents
in order to get that information [the BSP] trans- and educators identified barriers to doing so
ferred from the DTS over to the DS even though successfully, all of the focus group participants
the DS was on top of it. advocated strongly for homeschool communi-
Similarly, an IA talked about how DS tea- cation and collaboration.
chers often rely on regular problem solving
and support from the DTS teachers to imple-
ment the BSP and integrate transitioning stu-
Implications for Practice
dents into their classrooms. The IA highlighted In light of these findings, we present five
that it was important for DS teachers to be pre- recommendations for educators seeking to
pared when students no longer have the sup-
address the needs of students with EBD, their
port of the DTSwhen that full transition
parents, and their teachers. These recommen-
happens, making sure its a five day a week
dations are intended to inform the development
support [at the DS] and the general ed tea-
of supports for students with EBD who are tran-
cher is fully aware that they have no support
sitioning to new school settings or programs,
from the DTS anymore.
although they could guide services for any stu-
Parents also expressed great frustration
with the DS teachers expectations of their stu- dent with challenging behavior.
dents, which further illustrated the importance First, parents and educators agreed that
of ensuring that DS teachers were aware of consistent behavior-specific feedback and
the students needs and support plans. Former positive reinforcement of appropriate behaviors
DTS parents agreed that the DS teachers across settings helped students sustain learned
expectations for their students behavior did prosocial skills. We recommend that transition
not match up with their current level of func- programming for students with EBD include
tion, with one parent explaining that their training and support for parents and teachers
[the DS teachers] expectations of him being a to maintain systems of positive behavior sup-
normal kid versus him actually just being port across settings. Training and support can
transferred from a behavioral school needed include problem solving to maintain feedback
to be modified. Some parents said that they systems in new settings, adopting home-based
had taken a proactive approach to clarifying incentive systems such as homework charts,
necessary supports for their child. One former and sharing student behavioral data among
DTS parent explained, I had to call a meeting all stakeholders to increase the likelihood

Behavioral Disorders, 41 (3), 135147 May 2016 / 143


of consistent student reinforcement (Leve & overcome barriers to achieving itespecially
Chamberlain, 2007). during the beginning stages of the transition
Second, parents and educators agreed that process.
students benefit from regular opportunities to Finally, teachers discussed the importance
learn and practice social skills in natural envir- of supporting parents at school meetings. Tran-
onments with a trained and skilled adult. On sitions between schools can be a stressful
the basis of this consensus from focus group experience for parents, and advocating for chil-
participants, we recommend that transition dren with EBD presents various challenges
programs for students with EBD include teach- (Scheuermann & Johns 2002). Therefore, we
ing and practicing practical skills in authentic recommend that parents have an advocate for
educational and community settings, such school meetings to help them understand the
as classrooms, school hallways, gyms, or res process, identify and articulate their concerns
taurants. This suggestion aligns with prior and goals, and communicate with teachers
findings that youth benefit from strategies and administrators. The Treatment Foster
learned in real-world environments (Gre- Care Oregon model (TFCO; Leve & Chamber-
sham, Sugai, & Horner, 2001). Both parents lain, 2007) is an example of an evidence-
and educators highlighted that student skills based program that includes support related
coaching should target practical skills, to communication with schools. In TFCO,
including social skills to make and keep biological and foster parents are provided
friends, emotion-regulation skills to stay education and coaching about the structure
calm when upset or frustrated, and skills to and purpose of different school meetings,
navigate new situations such as riding the attend school meetings with TFCO staff, are
bus or navigating a locker room. trained in strategies to effectively advocate
Third, our findings suggest that transition for their student, and receive coaching on
programming for students with EBD should how to effectively communicate with school
emphasize communication between school personnel.
and home. On the basis of focus group com- Our recommendations correspond with the
ments and consistent with prior research find- broad, research-based principles for supporting
ings (e.g., Gagnon & Leone, 2006), we the transitions of students with EBD outlined by
recommend identifying a point person for the Wagner and Davis (2006); our recommenda-
parent at the schoola primary contact who tions address their specific emphasis on enga-
is in regular communication with the students ging students and parents in the transition
and other teachers. The strategy of a point per- planning process by providing concrete exam-
son addresses the potential for parents to ples of strategies practitioners can use to
become overwhelmed by messages from multi- include students and their parents in the transi-
ple teachers or confused when trying to identify tion planning process in a range of settings.
the right teacher for a given concern. In addi- Furthermore, we directly solicited stakeholder
tion to improving communication between feedback to inform the future development of
home and school, a designated point person an intervention with sufficient social validity
is a sound strategy to ensure greater communi- (Wolf, 1978) to fit within the local educational
cation within the school, particularly for stu- context and school districts with similar char-
dents with multiple teachers. acteristics. Prior research has clearly shown
Fourth, parents and teachers emphasized that evidence-based programs are more likely
the importance of coordinating routines and to be successfully implemented when stake-
expectations between home and school. Par- holders have the opportunity to provide input
ents and educators repeatedly highlighted the on intervention content and delivery (Elliott &
importance of increasing consistency for Mihalic, 2004).
students between settings. Communication
between stakeholders can promote consis- Limitations and Future Directions
tency related to behavioral expectations and
routines (as described in previous paragraphs). We conducted this study in one ESD in the
Consistent with prior literature (e.g., Blue-Ban- Pacific Northwest with limited racial and socio-
ning et al., 2004; Park et al., 2011), our find- economic diversity using a small sample of
ings indicate that parents and teachers 13 parents and 14 teachers recruited through
recognize the benefit of cross-setting consis- purposive sampling. Consistent with the
tencyand the importance of finding ways to demographics of the ESD, participants were

144 / May 2016 Behavioral Disorders, 41 (3), 135147


predominantly White, and their children but also to improve the effectiveness and
qualified for free and reduced-price lunch. In sustainability of supports over time (Albin et al.,
addition, consistent with the population of 1996).
teachers in the ESD, participants were predomi-
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The authors would like to thank Patti
Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 14, 8698.
doi: 10.1177/10634266060140020501
Chamberlain and Lawrence Palinkas for sup-
Wolf, M. M. (1978). Social validity: The case for sub- port on the design and implementation of this
jective measurement or how applied behavior project; Janet Morrison for transcribing focus
analysis is finding its heart. Journal of Applied groups; Caroline Dennis and Diana Strand for
Behavior Analysis, 11, 203214. doi: 10.1901/ editorial support; the school districts where we
jaba.1978.11-203 conducted this study; and the parents and
teachers who participated in the focus
groups.
AUTHORS NOTE
Address correspondence to Rohanna Bucha-
This research was supported by the Institute of nan, Oregon Social Learning Center, 10
Education Sciences under Grant R324A110370 Shelton McMurphey Blvd., Eugene, OR
and the Division of Epidemiology, Services, and 97401; Email: rohannab@oslc.org
Prevention Research, National Institute on Drug
Abuse, U.S. Public Health Service under Grant
P50DA035763. The opinions expressed are MANUSCRIPT
those of the authors and do not represent views
of the Institute of Education Sciences or the Initial Acceptance: 9/28/2015
National Institute on Drug Abuse. Final Acceptance: 3/16/2016

Behavioral Disorders, 41 (3), 135147 May 2016 / 147