Identifying Effective Math Interventions for Early Elementary Students

Overview: Methods
The methods section describes the study?s settings and participants, the research design, measures, activities, and data analysis techniques to be used. Although your final description of your research methods may change before you finish this course, or even after you finish the course, you will sketch out the methods components in this assignment as an initial step.
Use the guiding questions in this document in writing your methods section. Also, refer to the example research studies in your textbook and the Resources section of this course.

? Interpret the use of quantitative and qualitative research methods as appropriate to the research questions of the study.

Using Brief Assessments to Select Math Fluency and On-task Behavior Interventions: An Investigation of Treatment Utility
Donna Gilbertson Utah State University
Joseph C. Witt iSTEEP Learning
Gary Duhon Oklahoma State University
Brad Dufrene The University of Southern Mississippi
This study examined the utility of a brief assessment approach for identifying a potentially effective intervention to improve math performance and on- task behavior. Participants included four elementary students referred for intervention services in the general education classroom. A brief individual assessment was conducted witb each participant to compare tbe relative effects of incentives (reward) and instruction on math fluency. For all four students, reward plus instruction resulted in elevated performance compared to reward alone. Following the brief assessment, tbe effects of intervention that included botb rewards and instruction was evaluated using a multiple baseline design across subjects. In all four cases, improvement was observed in math fluency and on-task behavior with intervention on a moderate difficulty (instructional) level task. Results are discussed in terms of the utility of a brief assessment approach for identifying effective interventions for individuals struggling to achieve academic and behavioral success in regular education classrooms. Recent federal legislation (No Child Left Behind; the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act amendments of 2004) advocates for an assessment approach that identifies students’ needs in a manner that leads to effective interventions for low-achieving students in regular education settings. Approximately 40% of children eventtially referred to special education have exhibited
Correspondence to Donna Gilbertson, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Utah State University, Logan, Utah 83422; e-mail: dgilbertsoni?’
Pages 167-181
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both academic and behavior difficulties in regular education settings (Gottlieb, Gottlieb, & Trongone, 1991). Thus, it is important that teachers are able to effectively manage behaviors that are disrupting academic performance and teaching time (Eidle, Truscott, Meyers, & Boyd, 1998). Research findings have suggested that a possible functional relationship exists between difficult academic tasks and inappropriate classroom behavior (Gickling & Armstrong, 1978). For example, McComas, Hoch, Paone, and El-Roy (2000) designed a study to systematically analyze and treat challenging behavior during academic tasks. For each participant, a functional analysis of challenging behavior was conducted. For all participants, modification of the instructional methods decreased the occurrence of negatively reinforced challenging behavior without decreasing the instructional level of the task demands. Notably, they found with one participant in particular, negatively-reinforced disruptive behavior was nearly eliminated and compliance was markedly higher during sessions in which an instructional strategy to improve accuracy was available, compared to those sessions in which the strategy was unavailable. Similarly, Roberts, Marshall, Nelson, and Albers (2001) suggested that an intervention to increase fluency levels may reduce a student’s motivation to engage in off-task behaviors to escape aversive tasks as the student learns to perform a difficult task more accurately and efficiently. Although functional analysis methods have been implemented with challenging behavior for over two decades, their application to academic problems is still in its infancy.
Researchers have begun to modify and apply experimental anal- ysis methods to identify effective strategies for improving individual students’ academic performance (Daly, Witt, Martens, & Dool, 1997; Wagner, McComas, Bollman, Holton, 2006). This approach involves an analog analysis in which individual intervention options are applied sequentially to evaluate which produces the highest gains in academic performance. The intervention resulting in the highest academic gains is predicted to be the intervention that, that if implemented over time, would most likely result in improved academic growth. Identifica- tion of interventions to be assessed has been based on a framework targeting common factors that may be influencing academic difficul- ties (Daly, Murdoch, Lillenstein, Webber, & Lentz, 2002; Jones & Wick- strom, 2002). For example, some studies have examined the utility of a brief intervention condition to address the distinction between per- formance and skill deficits. That is, some students may not be able to complete the work due to lack of skill development whereas other stu- dents may be able to do the work but for some reason are not motivat- ed to complete it. Duhon and colleagues (2004) investigated the utility
of a brief assessment for identifying skill or performance deficits. The incentives condition provided students with an opportunity to earn an incentive if they performed at a specified level. If a stiident dem- onstrated an appropriate skill level with incentives, then this result suggested that the child is exhibiting a performance deficit and would most likely benefit from an intervention providing reward for aca- demic improvements. Alternatively, when a student does not respond to incentives, then it is hypothesized that the child is exhibiting a skill deficit and would benefit from an instructional intervention. Results from this study showed that when an instructional intervention and a contingency-based intervention developed with teacher input were alternatively implemented, students who were exhibiting skill deficits academically benefited from the instructional intervention whereas students exhibiting performance deficits benefited from an interven- tion involving a contingency based on improved performance.
Noell, Freeland, Witt, and Gansle (2001) found differences in intervention effectiveness for 12 students experiencing difficulties in reading when evaluating the relative effects of four brief treatment conditions: baseline, instruction, reward, and instruction plus reward. Results from the brief application of the four conditions showed that for some students, oral reading rates were enhanced with a combina- tion of instructional intervention and contingent reward for increased performance. By contrast, other students’ reading was enhanced with instruction or motivation only. Importantly, the same treatment that was the most effective during the brief assessment for a child was also the most effective during a three- to four-week extended analysis for 83% of the participants, thus supporting the stability of brief assess- ment results for predicting effective treatments over time. Because academic and behavior prohlen:is co-occur for many students, further investigations on assessment strategies that contrib- ute to the development of interventions that improve academic and behavioral outcomes are warranted. Research on brief intervention conditions to identify skill and performance deficits has focused on selection of academic interventions for low academic performance (Duhon et al., 2004; Noell et al., 2001), but few have used this assess- ment approach to identify effective intervention for students who ex- perience both academic and behavior difficulties. The treatment util- ity (Hayes, Nelson, & Jarrett, 1987) of brief academic assessments for simultaneously improving academic and behavior problems is still largely unknown. Therefore, this study was designed to further ex- amine the effects of an assessment approach for selecting intervenfion procedures to increase math fluency and on-task behavior.
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Participants and Setting
Participants were two female and two male students who had been referred by their teachers to the school Intervention Team due to academic and behavioral problems. Brandon and Kiara were first graders and Chris and Jasmine were third graders. All four students were African American general education students. Academically, each student was receiving a D or an F grade in math class and rarely completed assignments. These participants were the same as those in another study we conducted on the relationship between on-task be- havior and task difficulty (see Gilbertson, Duhon, Witt, & Dufrene, 2008). To verify the occurrence of behavior problems during math class, each student’s on-task behavior was observed for six minutes during four consecutive days during math class. Five second whole interval time sampling procedures were used to estimate the time on-task of each student as he or she worked independently on math problems assigned by the teacher to a class of 23 to 28 students. Average on-task behavior of peers was also obtained using a 5 s whole interval sam- pling procedure in which observations rotated from one peer to the next every 5 s. On-task behavior of the four participants during these six-minute observations indicated average on-task behavior of 40.8%, 45.1%, 50.8%, and 47.5% for Chris, Jasmine, Brandon, and Kiara, re- spectively. By contrast, average on-task behavior of peers in each class was at least 83% of the intervals. All participants attended a public elementary school in an urban district in a southern state. Approximately 420 students from kinder- garten through fifth grade attended the school which consisted of 70% African American students, 27% Caucasian students, and 3% students from other ethnic and racial backgrounds. Approximately 89% of all students at the school qualified for federal free or reduced lunch pro- grams. The brief out-of-class assessments were conducted by research staff at a table in the school library. The extended analysis of interven- tion effects was conducted in the regular education classroom by each participant’s teacher.
Response Definitions, Data Collection, and Inter-observer Agreement
Math fluency. The primary dependent variable in this study was math computational fluency, which was indexed as the number of digits correct per minute {DCPM: Shapiro, 1996). Specifically, any cor- rectly placed digit was scored as a correct digit (e.g., 6×2 = 12 would be scored as 2 digits correct, whereas 6 x 2 = 22 would be scored as
1 digit correct). DCPM was calculated as the total number of digits correct divided by the number of minutes (i.e., six). On-task behavior. A second dependent variable measured in this study was student on-task behavior. Direct observations were con- ducted to estimate the percentage of time of on-task exhibited by the participants while independently working on a math assignment. Data were collected during the six minute independent seat work time provided by the teacher to all students in the classroom. On- task behavior was measured with a five-second whole interval time san:pling procedure using a prerecorded cassette tape with the word “record” stated at the end of each interval. At the end of a five-second interval, a trained observer recorded the student as “on task” if the student had been looking at or completing the assigned task, work- ing quietly, and seated during the entire five-second interval (Shapiro, 1996). Non-examples of on-task behavior included talking, fidgeting with materials, being out of seat, staring out the window, and reading unassigned instructional material. Treatment acceptabiiity. At the completion of the study, all teach- ers anonymously completed the Intervention Rating Profile-15 (IRP- 15) (Elliott, Witt, Galvin, & Peterson, 1984) to assess treatment accept- ability, appropriateness, and fairness. Teachers rated 15 items on a 6- point Likert scale, the lowest point (1) being “I strongly do not agree,” and the highest point (6) being “I strongly agree.” The IRP-15 has high internal consistency (Cronbach’s a = .98) and high validity coefficients with related measures (r = .86).
Math probes. A math probe in this study consisted of a page of problems addressing up to three basic skill areas (e.g., adding single digit numbers, multiplying single digit numbers). The number of problems on each probe was selected such that correctly written an- swers would equal 350 digits correct to ensure that all students who had mastered the skill would not finish during a six-minute timed session. The problems were selected from first to third grade level basic math skills as determined by district curriculum requirements, content of classroom math book, and teacher input. The probes were constructed to provide a range of skills that would accommodate stu- dent individual differences in math skill performance. Thirty basic skill probes were created using a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet config- ured to generate a different problem order for each probe to control for the influence of possible ordering effect of problems and learning due to memorization of answers if problems were given in a constant order.
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Pre-assessment of math skill performance
Skill probes presented to participants during the study consist- ed of problems that v^^ere determined to be at a moderate difficulty (instructional) level for each participant at the onset of the study. A student’s instructional level performance in mathematics was defined as 10 to 19 digits correct per minute based on previous research that estimated frustration, instructional and fluency levels for each grade level in math (Deno & Mirkin, 1977; Shapiro, 1996). Because of in- dividual differences in student math abilities, the specific content on each probe varied for each participating student. Each student’s target instructional skills were selected prior to the onset of the brief assessment. For each participant, a grade level skill was randomly selected from the packet of 30 math probes, and the student was individually given one minute to complete problems. Math performance was immediately calculated to determine the digits correct on the presented skill probe. Additional easier probes were ad- ministered if students math score fell below the instructional level or more difficult probes were given if the student performance fell above the instructional level. Probes were administered to a student until a skill performed within the preset moderate range was identified for each student. See Table 1 for the type of problems that comprised each student’s target instructional skills.
Table 1 Skills practiced on math probes for each student.
Chris . Jasmine Brandon Kiara (3″i grade) (3″^ grade) (1^’grade) (1^’grade)
Multiply 4,5,6 Multiply 4,5,6 Add 1-2 Add 1 to single digits to single digits to single digits to single digits
Brief Assessment
A brief assessment was individually conducted outside of class with each participant to examine two hypotheses: (1) performance was related to incentive, or (2) performance was related to a combination of incentive and insufficient practice. Each participant was adminis- tered a probe consisting of his or her pre-determined instructional lev- el math skill. If a student met the preset criterion for performance with contingent reward (see description below), no further assessment was
conducted. If a student did not meet or exceed the cri terion, then it was hypothesized that the student required an instmctional intervention. The second assessment condition involved both reward and instruc- tion and was designed to examine the added influence of instruction in the form of fluency practice. For each student, the brief assessment was completed in 15 minutes or less.
Independent Variables
Baseline. Probes were administered to monitor participants’ progress on instructional level math skills, as determined by the pre- vious skill performance assessment, without supplemental interven- tion. Progress monitoring probes were conducted in each participant’s classroom for four to eight sessions. During the sessions, each student’s teacher administered math worksheets to the entire class during the normally scheduled math class. After the teacher gave students six minutes to complete problems, she collected the probes, graded them, and returned them to students on the following school day. No incen- tives were offered during baseline. Contingent reward (CR). This intervention condition was designed to examine the hypothesis that performance was related to incentives. Prior to the administration of a math probe, the research staff told each participant that a reward of his or her choice (e.g., small toys, ed- ibles, pencils) could be earned by meeting or exceeding a goal. Goals were determined on an individualized basis and were equivalent to a 10% increase of the median score of the probes previously conducted during baseline. Immediately after the probe administration, the ex- aminer scored the probe and shared the results with the student. The student only received a reward if the goal was met. The purpose of this condition was to test whether the student’s academic performance improved as a function of contingent access to a reward (Duhon et al., 2004). Contingent reioard combined with instruction (CR + /). This inter- vention condition was designed to examine the hypothesis that per- formance was related to both practice and incentives. The purpose of the selected intervention was to provide additional practice op- portunities with immediate error correction for math performance (Schuster, Stevens, & Doak, 1990). After presenting the same goal and reward options presented in the CR condition, the researcher spent three minutes guiding the participant to practice the target op- eration (e.g., addition, subtraction) using flashcards. Specifically, the researcher instructed the participant to say the answer to problems presented individually on flashcards. If the participant failed to say the correct answer within 3 seconds, the researcher told the partici- pant the answer and the next flashcard was presented. Immediately
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after the 3 min flashcard instruction, the researcher administered and scored a six-minute probe and rewarded the student if he or she met or exceeded the goal.
Experimental Design and Procedures
Following the brief assessment of math performance, a multiple baseline across participants design was used to examine the effects of an intervention selected based on the results of the brief assessment. The effect of the selected intervention was evaluated relative to the performance observed on tasks of the same difficulty level (instruc- tional) during baseline sessions conducted prior to the hrief assess- ment (data displayed were presented as part of another study; see Gilbertson, Duhon, Witt, & Dufrene, 2008). Following the brief assessment, the researcher met with the student’s math teacher to discuss acceptable treatment options based on the assessment results. The intervention was implemented after the meeting. Based on teacher inpvit, the contingent reward plus in- struction strategy was modified in three ways: (1) instructional steps were implemented in the back of the classroom with a peer tutor and research assistant to ensure integrity of the procedures, (2) the six- minute probe was administered with the class during independent seatwork, and (3) students earned a star on a chart if they exceeded their best score on the probe. When a student earned three stars, he or she chose a reward from a class “treasure chest” consisting of teacher- approved small toys, school materials, and edibles. The intervention was implemented in the classroom for approximately 15 minutes per day. Four days per week, immediately following the intervention, the teacher administered a six-minute math probe to the entire class and collected students’ work. The probes were graded and returned to the student on the following school day and the teacher reported to the student whether he or she had earned a star and a reward.
Inter-observer Agreement
Inter-observer agreement of dependent variables was evaluated by two independent observers for at least 50% of the classroom ob- servation sessions across all participants and experimental phases. Specifically, 54%, 56%, 62%, and 51% of all classroom sessions were observed for Brandon, Kiara, Chris, and Jasmine, respectively. For the classroom on-task behavior sessions, agreement was calculated on an interval-by-interval point basis: agreements steps (i.e., both observers agreed that the behavior did or did not occur) were divided by agree- ments plus disagreements with the remainder multiplied by 100%. The inter-observer agreement for on-task behavior was on average 97% (range 87% to 100%) during all observed sessions. For the math
probes, scorer agreement was determined in the same manner for 35% of the sessions but on an item by item basis, with 99% (range 97% tolOO%) agreement obtained across all participants and experimental conditions.
Integrity of Experimental Procedures
Adherence to the experimental procedures (i.e., administration of fluency levels, skill/performance deficit assessment, and interven- tion) was evaluated for 50% of each student’s sessions by an indepen- dent trained observer. Integrity of experimental procedures was cal- culated as a percentage of the correct steps completed divided by the total number of procedure steps multiplied by 100. Tlie experimental integrity was 100% across all observed sessions.
Brief Assessment of Academic Performance
As shown in Table 2, CR produced a DCPM score improvement of 23% or more (range, 23% to 42% increase) for all students relative to the median score of probes on instructional level probes prior to the brief assessment. However, all showed greater gains (range, 42% to 86% increase) with CR + I relative to baseline. Thus, it was hypoth- esized that for all four participants, performance was influenced by a combination of a skill and a performance deficit requiring instruc- tional and motivational intervention.
Extended Analysis of Classroorn Intervention
Following the brief assessment of academic performance, inter- vention was selected and with help from the classroom teacher, it was tailored for implementation in the classroom. As shown in Figure 1, with the introduction of the classroom CR + 1 intervention, academic perfornance increased relative to baseline. Additionally, inspection of the behavioral data shows that the level of on-task behavior also increased when the intervention was introduced. Individual student scores across the baseline and extended classroom intervention ses- sions are also summarized as growth trajectories (i.e., slope) calcu- lated using ordinary-least-square regression. Slope on- task and math probes scores are displayed in Table 3. These data indicate that slope performance for on-task and DCPM were higher in intervention com- pared to baseline for all participants.
Treatment acceptability
At the end of student data collection, teacher treatment ac- ceptability rating was collected. Out of 90 points possible indicating
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Table 2 Results of Brief Assessment of Academic Performance on instructional difficulty task level probe including percent of improvement and hypothesized deficit.
Median in-class DCPM* score
Out-of-class DCPM score with Conringent Reward (CR)
Percent increase between CR and in-class score
Out-of- class DCPM Treatment score [with (CR) + Instruction (I)]
Percent increase between CR + I and in-class score
Hypothesized Deficit
Combined skill and performance
Combined skill and performance
Combined skill and performance
Combined skill and performance
*DCPM is Ihe digits correct per minute score
a maximum acceptability level, the total scores on the acceptability measure were 84, 82, 82, and 86 (M = 83.5) suggesting a high level of acceptability of the brief assessment and intervention procedures by all teachers.
Recent federal guidelines emphasize the importance of individ- ualized assessment for contributing to positive academic outcomes. Further, a critical examination is needed of the utility of assessment approaches for selecting treatments designed to enhance academic performance and reduce existing problem behaviors that may be in- terfering with academic progress. The current study extends the liter- ature on the treatment utility of assessment procedures by examining
Basfltne CF CR*I
? t a i_ _
ID 11 U
g a
? g 10
Figure 1. On-task behavior percentage (open square symbols) and number of digits correct per minute (DCPM) on six-minute matb classroom probes (closed square symbols) during tbe classroom Baseline, out class brief Contingent reward (CR) and Contingent Reward Combined witb Instruction (CR + I), and Extended Analysis of Classroom Intervention condition for each participant.
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Table 3 Slope of on-task performance and digits correct per minute (DCPM) on individual math probes during Baseline and Extended Analysis of Classroom Intervention phases.
Baseline on-task
Baseline DCPM’
Intervention on-task
Intervention DCPM
‘DCPM is the digits correct per minute score
the effectiveness of an intervention selected based on the results of a brief assessment on academic performance and on-task behavior of four students with math difficulties. Brief assessments may contribute to the current call for assess- ment reform by providing information regarding the instructional in- tervention needs of individual children with behavioral and academic difficulties in a practical manner. For feasible application, this inter- vention addressed the performance-based function without addition- al replication of the assessment condition. Reward for work comple- tion to address performance deficits was also used in this study be- cause this strategy was time efficient and easy to conduct for assessing potential performance deficits. For practicality purposes, instruction used during the brief assessment in this study was slightly altered for application in the classroom by adding a reinforcement schedule for work performance (minimum of 4 days between reward obtainment) that is similar to weekly rewards typically applied in classrooms for rule compliance behavior (e.g., working quietly or staying in seat). Students in this study were more on-task and, importantly, increased math fluency when a typical weekly reinforcement schedule was only contingent on work performance. Similar to results from the Duhon et al. (2004) study, which showed a generalized increase in academic performance with teacher-developed interventions addressing a skill or performance deficit hypothesis, the current study also offers the encouraging possibility that teachers may observe collateral improve- ments in behavior as a result of functionally based interventions re- garding academic skill or performance deficits using practical proce- dural variations of the intervention used during the brief assessment process.
There are number of limitations to this investigation that war- rant consideration. One potential consideration that might be ad- dressed in future studies is the limited generalization of these results to other conditions. For example, students were given six minutes to complete work in the classroom while many teachers require much longer practice periods during independent seatwork. It is also not known to what degree these finding can be generalized to perfor- mance not immediately following the practice period, or other critical skills such as spelling, writing, and reading. The small size of the par- ticipant sample also limits the generalization of the present findings. The extent to which the procedures would be applicable to a broader range of students, different time limits, and academic tasks awaits ad- ditional research. Einally, an additional limitation includes the lack of replication of conditions in the brief assessment to confirm that the selected intervention was the most effective over time.
Although teachers found this treatment highly acceptable and appropriate, another major limitation of this brief assessment and intervention may be that the function of the problem behavior may not be adequately addressed and thus may hinder generalization of treatment effects to other settings. Other than identifying whether the child is exhibiting a performance or skill deficit, no formal experimen- tal analysis was conducted to determine whether problem behavior was also influenced by other variables in the classroom environment, such as peer or teacher attention. In these three cases, on-task behav- ior improved with the academic intervention. However, if problem behavior persisted despite improved academic performance, a func- tional analysis of problem behavior might be warranted. Overall, this study suggests that comparisons of student gains in on-task behavior and academic performance under various controlled testing conditions can produce relevant assessment data when search- ing for interventions for students exhibiting academic and behavior problems. Assessment information obtained from a brief method such as that described in this study can provide prescriptive information about the influence of potential instructional strategies and program- ming on both academic performance and problem behavior. More- over, it is vital that investigators continue to consider effective and efficient interventions that can be easily implemented in the general education classroom but will also enable schools to meet academic accountability objectives.
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