ERIC Identifier: ED390022
Publication Date: 1995-00-00
Author: Reschly, Daniel J.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC., American Psychological
Association Washington DC.
Psychological Practice in Schools: System Change in the
Heartland. ERIC Digest.
System reform in the heartland is the story of a decade-long effort to change
the ways we think about children and youth who experience learning or behavior
problems in educational settings. Changes in thinking, or paradigm shifts, are
the basis for fundamental changes in the delivery system that affect
professional roles, funding procedures, and criteria for determining the quality
of services. In this paper, an overview of the changes in one state, Iowa, is
provided (more detailed discussions of the Iowa reform appeared in Reschly &
Tilly, 1993 and Tilly, Grimes, & Reschly, 1993).
PARADIGM SHIFT: INTERPRETING NATIONAL TRENDS AT THE STATE
This fundamentally different way of thinking involves a shift from
seeking the causes and solutions to learning and emotional/behavioral problems
in inferred internal states of the individual, to an examination of behavioral
discrepancies from typical or expected patterns of behavior (problem
definition). These discrepancies are resolved through changes in the social and
instructional environment, based on the application of principles of
instructional design and behavior change. Problems involve a mismatch between
current behaviors and expectations. Problem solutions entail a redirection
toward improved academic competencies and heightened social/behavioral
performance. In Iowa, we have sought to implement this model of service delivery
at the state level.
The Iowa paradigm shift is far from new. Virtually everyone will recognize
the Iowa approach as a social learning model that uses applied behavior analysis
and other behaviorally-oriented interventions. However, the application of the
[Iowa] model to all aspects of a system delivering services to children and
youth, including those in compensatory and special education, is unusual if not
unique. Before discussing system reform in Iowa further, it is important to note
that not everyone in Iowa has adopted the paradigm and practices described here.
Currently, our regional educational agencies have the option of either adopting
this model or a traditional one involving conventional disability categories and
the associated classification criteria that necessitate emphasis on internal
deficits and standardized testing. In 1995-1996, it appears that about half of
state agencies will be using the social learning or behavioral model described
"Guiding Principle: Student Outcomes"
The implications of an outcomes criterion are that the value of human
services, such as school psychological services or special education, should be
determined by client outcomes. This criterion has been applied to judgments
about assessment procedures, bias in assessment, classification and placement,
and system reform (Reschly, 1980, 1988). Activities and approaches that are
functionally related to positive outcomes are worthwhile and useful. Conversely,
activities and approaches not related to positive outcomes are questionable. The
outcomes criterion requires us to think about context and what happens to
children and youth after, or as a result of, the services we provide.
"Current Services and the Outcomes Criterion"
What do school psychologists do now? Recent survey data indicate that about
two-thirds of their time is devoted to various aspects of special education
classification and placement, in which half of this time is spent in assessment
activities (Reschly & Wilson, 1995). Using the outcomes criterion, do these
activities lead to demonstrable benefits for children and youth?
"Effectiveness of Special Education"
The single greatest flaw in what we do now is the fact that the benefits of
current special education classification and program placement have small or no
demonstrable benefits for students with mild disabilities. Therefore, of what
value is classification and placement, the major focus of our current
activities, if there are few or no identifiable benefits to children and youth?
"Non-functional and Stigmatizing Labels"
In most states, a specific disability must be designated as part of the
classification and placement process. School psychologists usually are the key
players in determining which disability is most appropriate for a specific
student -- a complex and expensive process. Substantial evidence, however,
indicates that the same treatment goals and teaching strategies are adopted
regardless of the category of mild disability (Reynolds & Lakin, 1987).
Furthermore, programs for low-achieving students (e. g., Chapter I) and special
education for students with mild disabilities are highly similar; yet, often on
the basis of a few points on a test, some students are called disabled (and more
money spent on their education) while others remain in the general education
program with little assistance.
"The Special Problem of Learning Disabilities"
Nearly every system reform discussion focuses more on learning disabilities
(LD) than on any other disability area because LD constitutes a majority of the
students in special education and, therefore, LDs represent a high proportion of
the students with mild disabilities (U.S. Department of Education, 1992).
Although there are many tantalizing findings in LD research, few generalizations
can be made beyond the observation that students with LD have low achievement,
most often in reading. Notably absent in the LD research and practice is
evidence for validated differential treatment based on the LD diagnosis or the
identification of reliable sub-types of LD. Two popular approaches in school
psychology in treating LD students -- absent validated differential treatment,
and diagnosis of underlying cognitive processes or neuropsychological status --
fail to meet the outcomes criterion.
"Treatment Validity of Assessment Procedures"
Although many standardized ability and achievement tests have good technical
characteristics, most of them have little or no treatment validity, including
the most widely used test in school psychology (Witt & Gresham, 1985). A
number of other frequently used measures, especially the "draw a something"
devices, have poor technical characteristics and no demonstrable relationship to
treatment design or outcome. Other approaches find the same students eligible
for special education and have the added advantage of being useful in the
design, monitoring, and evaluation of treatments (e. g., Shinn, Tindal, &
A discussion of conventional assessment needs to at least touch on claims
that benefits are derived from matching processing strengths to intervention
methodology (teaching strategies). This is the classic Aptitude by Treatment
Interaction (ATI) principle. Although ATI is an attractive and inherently
sensible idea, its applications to school psychology and special education are
to date non-validated (Arter & Jenkins, 1979; Cronbach, 1975; Good, Vollmer,
Creek, Katz, & Chowdhri, 1993; Reschly & Ysseldyke, 1995; Teeter, 1987,
1989). Whether aptitude is conceptualized as cognitive processes, information
processing modalities, or intact neurological areas, Cronbach's (1975)
characterization of ATI is still accurate, "Once we attend to interactions, we
enter a hall of mirrors that extends to infinity" (p. 119).
Disjointed incrementalism refers to the increasingly separate general and
special education systems, and the myriad of special programs with separate
funding streams and eligibility criteria, but which possess similar goals and
clientele (Reynolds, Wang, & Walberg, 1987). The consequences of the current
organization of services is the inefficient use of funds, uncoordinated
programs, curricular discontinuity, and limited generalization of effects across
"Quality of Interventions"
Basic intervention principles often are not implemented in IEPs, special
education programs, and prereferral interventions; these interventions typically
are not evaluated using individualized, treatment-sensitive measures (Flugum
& Reschly, 1994).
"Disproportionate Minority Placement"
Disproportionate minority placement (DMP) may be the quintessential special
education issue in the last quarter of this century. The issue is not going away
(U.S. Department of Education, 1992). Most analyses of DMP have focused on
testing and placement processes. Such analyses answer some questions, but miss
the main issue; specifically, the effectiveness of special education programs
for students with mild disabilities (Reschly, Kicklighter, & McKee, 1988).
System reform in Iowa is a response to problems in the current system, as
well as an effort to implement advances in assessment and interventions that can
dramatically change the delivery of services to children with learning and
emotional/behavioral problems. By implementing these changes, Iowa psychologists
who practice in schools are creating a revolution in school psychology.
ADVANCES IN ASSESSMENT AND INTERVENTIONS: CHANGING PSYCHOLOGICAL SERVICES IN IOWA SCHOOLS
Assessment has been, and
will continue to be, a salient activity in the roles of Iowa school
psychologists; however, vast changes have occurred in assessment purposes,
techniques, and outcomes. Purposes focus more on interventions; specifically,
what can be changed in environments to produce improved learning and behavior.
Techniques increasingly involve the use of direct and frequent measures of
behaviors to gather information in natural environments. These measures help
define problems, establish intervention goals, monitor progress, and evaluate
outcomes. Such measures also are used as the basis for determining whether or
not students are eligible for more intensive instructional or social/emotional
intervention programs, including special education.
Iowa practitioners now routinely apply one of the problem-solving approaches
that have appeared in the literature, with slight variations often related to
intended population or type of problem (Bergan & Kratochwill, 1990; Gutkin
& Curtis, 1990; Knoff & Batsche, 1991; Rosenfield, 1987). The
problem-solving methodology uses the short-run empiricism described by Cronbach
(1975) as a promising replacement for interventions guided by assumed aptitude,
by treatment interactions, or by disability designations.
Problem solving is an essential component of Iowa system reform. Problem
solving in our applications involves precisely defined problems, direct measures
of behavior, pre-intervention data collection, intentional application of
instructional design and behavioral change principles, frequent progress
monitoring with program changes as needed, and evaluation of outcomes through
comparisons to initial levels of performance.
"Assessment Technology and Decision Making"
Significant advances in assessment technology permit greater emphasis on
measures functionally related to interventions. The knowledge base for practice
has improved substantially with the development of curriculum-based assessment
and curriculum-based measurement (Deno, 1985; Howell & Morehead, 1987;
Shapiro, 1989; Shinn, 1989). Parallel advances in behavioral assessment of
social and emotional phenomena have led to equally substantial improvements in
practice in these areas (Alessi & Kaye, 1983; Shapiro & Kratochwill,
Behavior assessment and instructional analysis are inextricably related in
functional assessments of academic behaviors. The marriage of instructional
design principles with behavioral intervention technologies has produced
impressive outcomes for students. Use of this knowledge base, combined with
frequent progress monitoring and formative evaluation (Fuchs & Fuchs, 1986),
gives results that are markedly superior to traditional special education
programs and to instruction based on matching teaching methods to presumed
strengths in cognitive style, information processing, or neuropsychological
status (Kavale, 1990).
Behavior change principles are well established (Stoner, Shinn, & Walker,
1991; Sulzer-Azaroff & Mayer, 1991). In addition, characteristics of
effective schools and effective teaching are well represented in the school
psychology literature (e.g., Bickel, 1990). Although there is a solid knowledge
base for assessment and intervention, the remedial programs for most children
and youth do not apply to all, or even most, of this knowledge base.
The most important goal in Iowa system reform is
the improved application of the available knowledge on assessment, instruction,
learning, and behavior change. Improvements in applications are facilitated by
the movement toward non-categorical classification and the integration of
diverse programs intended to serve children and youth. Reductions in the amount
of time devoted to standardized testing for eligibility determination has
provided expanded opportunities for school psychologists to be involved with new
roles related to functional assessment, interventions, and evaluation of student
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