James Cressey presents case study on student support systems: College of Education holds first Scholars in Action Series

FSU education professor James Cressey presents his research on social-emotional learning. (Kathleen Moore / THE GATEPOST)

By Evan Lee

Asst. News Editor

Framingham State’s College of Education hosted the first of its “Scholars in Action Series” presentations Oct. 2 in the Alumni Room. 

James Cressey, education professor at FSU, presented his research from a three-year case study, “Developing Culturally Responsive Social-Emotional and Behavioral Support Systems.”

The case study took place in an elementary school using a “two-way immersion” Spanish and English bilingual model, according to Cressey.

His presentation showed that 62.5% of the school’s student body did not have English as their first language, 44.2% were considered economically disadvantaged, and 71.3% were reported as having “high needs.”

“It’s been a reflective process as I think about different groups that come into schools and what their experiences are,” he said.

The case study revolved around “three big ideas,” according to Cressey, which are “Social-Emotional Learning (SEL),” “Culturally Responsive Practices (CRP),” and “Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS).”

SEL is an approach that comes from “developmental psychology and psychoeducational theories,” Cressey explained.

It invites students to socialize and share their feelings through programs, such as “open circle,” and encourages educators to be mindful of the way they respond to student behaviors, he said.

Academic instruction under SEL “incorporates social skills and emotion, and thinking about how we work together as a team,” he added.

CRP comes from “sociocultural theories and social justice education,” Cressey said. 

It overlaps with SEL through concepts like socio-political engagement and cultural references for students to connect with, “whether that’s pop culture or family culture,” he explained.

Cressey also discussed how teachers may lower their expectations for certain students because of “cultural or linguistic reasons” and for those with disabilities. 

“The goal [of CRP] is to have high expectations, but give all students the support to reach them,” he said.

Cressey added, “We’re doing that to work against disproportionality and toward equity.”

PBIS comes out of “behavioral theory and prevention science,” according to Cressey.

It emphasizes the use of positive reinforcements, like praise, to encourage students to follow expectations and uphold their school’s values, he explained. 

“When there are behaviors that are not expected or desired, then the goal [of PBIS] is to correct those and re-teach them, rather than just jump to punishment,” he added.

Cressey suggested there was overlap among all three ideas – SEL, CRP, and PBIS – during the case study, which he said illustrated an “interdisciplinary system of targeted student supports” made from themes of each idea. 

The case study began after the school expressed interest in forming a team to develop a new system of “targeted social-emotional behavioral supports” for its students, Cressey said.

Specifically, they wanted to expand upon the PBIS-based “student support team” they already had, which focused mainly on students who displayed disruptive or aggressive behavior, according to Cressey. 

This “crisis team,” as Cressey called it, was not able to give enough attention to students with less visible “mental health needs,” such as anxiety, depression, and withdrawal.

“Those are the students that can be missed,” he said.

The first year of the new team’s work focused on the creation of and preparation for a new support system, according to Cressey. The new system was made with SEL in mind to include those missed students.

He said the team decided to implement two screening scales, which “came from a PBIS and SEL research basis” that would allow teachers to “quickly and efficiently determine which students we could target for extra support.” 

Those screens are the “Student Risk Screening Scale (SRSS)” and “Student Internalizing Behavior Scale (SIBS),” according to Cressey’s presentation. 

SRSS screens for external behaviors, such as negative attitudes and aggression, while SIBS screens internal behaviors, such as feelings of withdrawnness and unhappiness.

CRP was also involved in this process as “the team was ready to bring in qualitative knowledge of each child and think beyond those two scores,” Cressey said.

Qualitative knowledge includes “cultural and familial factors,” according to his presentation.  

Along with a screening process, the team also chose methods of intervention to provide extra support to students who need it.

One such method the team implemented was the “check-in, check-out intervention,” which Cressey said is rooted in PBIS research – specifically, its principle of positive reinforcement.

“The child will have a lot of chances to check in throughout the day with the teacher and get positive reinforcement and have positive interactions,” he said.

He added this intervention also has components of SEL, as students are encouraged to express their emotions to teachers and build relationships with them.

Throughout the day, teachers will write out “CARE” cards for each student, which rate their performance in the classroom, academics, respect, and education, according to Cressey’s presentation.

A theme from CRP is present in these cards as there is “shared authority” when they’re rated, according to Cressey.

“It’s not just a teacher saying, ‘You made this, this, and this.’ It’s, ‘How do you think you did?’ and having them rate themselves,” he explained.

These daily cards are to be taken home by students to their parents for them to review as well, he added.

While the first year focused on preparations, the second year featured the “rollout” of the new system, according to Cressey.

He shared an example of a completed screening result, which showed “quite a few” students were rated at a moderate-to-high social-emotional risk by the SRSS and SIBS scales.

Most students rated as high risk had already been identified by the team, who worked to create “individualized supports” for them, so students rated at a moderate risk on both scales were chosen to participate in the new system, according to Cressey.

Of the 39 students found at risk, 24 were selected for the program and 13 were enrolled with consent from their teacher and parents, he added.

Cressey shared an example of one student’s progress during intervention, which he said was comparable to most other students’ progress.

The progress report showed the student’s “% daily points” from their CARE card were mostly rated in the high 90s. A few drops were recorded – the lowest being in the 60s – but all quickly rebounded.

“It wasn’t, ‘Start low, get high to the end.’ Students responded, from the beginning, really well to this,” Cressey said.

Year three was about “refinement” of the system, according to Cressey. 

“The goal, going forward, which is still being worked on, is to go beyond that ‘check-in, check-out’ intervention and offer other … targeted interventions for children who need extra,” he said. 

Cressey said, “A big theme that I believe is true of this type of work is that you get a return on your investment.”

He added a lot of ‘essential’ work went into the first year. And since then, he’s felt the school has been ‘reaping the rewards.’

“Students are benefiting from all of that work,” he concluded. 

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