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Researchers Receive $3.5 Million to Improve Students’ Classroom Behaviors, Study Connection to Academic Performance

August 26th, 2015

Story Contact: Jesslyn Chew,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Measuring the academic performance of students has remained a top public priority over the last decade. More recently, public attention increasingly has focused on the social and emotional health of students and how those factors contribute to academic success. In order to continue to find ways to support the mental health and well-being of students, University of Missouri researchers have received nearly $3.5 million from the U.S. Department of Education over four years to evaluate an intervention that promotes social and emotional skills for students who exhibit challenging classroom behaviors. The intervention, Self-Monitoring Training and Regulation Strategy (STARS), is a self-management and mindfulness skills program for fifth-grade students who regularly display disruptive and challenging behaviors in the classroom.

“Over the last decade, researchers and policymakers have prioritized academic achievement, and that is reflected in our testing procedures and endorsed in legislation like No Child Left Behind and policies like Race to the Top,” said Aaron Thompson, an assistant professor in the MU School of Social Work and principal investigator on the grant. “As a result, the social-emotional development of students has taken a backseat to academic press. Academic performance and social-emotional development cannot be separated. Kids who present behavior problems often have academic problems, and kids who have academic problems often present behavior problems. We need to attend to both the academic and social-emotional development of students if we are to help them succeed in school and life beyond.”

Thompson developed STARS based on his experiences as a school social worker and principal at a school for emotionally disturbed children. He later tested the program in public schools and found participating students experienced improved classroom behavior, relationships and self-management skills. STARS is a program implemented by school counselors, psychologists and social workers to train students in self-monitoring skills, such as self-assessment, goal setting, self-observation, self-recording and self-evaluation. After students receive the training, the students and their teachers record their daily behaviors using predetermined criteria. Students track progress over time during weekly, data-driven feedback sessions when students discuss their progress with a supportive adult and refine goals, Thompson said.

“Most interventions to improve students’ classroom behaviors try to locate the problem in the students and attempt to manipulate the context or surroundings to stop disruptions before they occur or manage them after they occur,” Thompson said. “With these interventions, children frequently are not directly involved in the process and don’t have ownership or express perceived autonomy during the process. With STARS, students learn skills to self-manage and self-monitor goals directly related to performance, record their own progress, compare their perspective with teachers, and process the behavioral expectations in a manner that puts the students in the driver’s seat.

The federal funding will allow Thompson and his colleagues to implement the program in the Columbia Public Schools beginning in August 2015. More than 300 fifth-grade students will participate in the study over the course of four years; students will be selected through testing and only will participate with parents’ permission.

“Columbia Public Schools continues to look for educational and community partnerships to help our students receive the support, interventions and resources they need to be successful academically, socially and emotionally,” said Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Peter Stiepleman. “We recognize the increasing need for mental health support for our students and are eager to find ways to help students and teachers have positive classroom experiences that help to create good learning environments for all of our students.”

The researchers will assess the effectiveness of STARS by measuring students’ classroom behaviors, social-emotional learning and academic achievement. Additionally, the researchers will track students’ progress into sixth grade.

The project, “Evaluation of a Self-Monitoring Training Program for Elementary School Students,” is funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, which is part of the U.S. Department of Education. The official grant number is R3055A150517. MU College of Education researchers collaborating with Thompson include co-principal investigator Wendy Reinke, Nianbo Dong, Keith Herman, Melissa Stormont and Chris Riley-Tillman. The School of Social Work is part of the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences.