Law & Policy, Professional Learning, Cultural Context

This study explored teacher professional learning in Turkey by investigating the effects of principal leadership and teacher trust on teacher professional learning. Most existing studies focus on either Anglo-Saxon countries, where schools have held a certain level of autonomy, or East Asian countries that have experienced significant decentralization policies during the last two decades. The researchers aimed to investigate the effect of school context on teacher professional learning in highly centralized systems where schools have a limited role in decision-making processes, such as in Turkey.

The authors had 3 research questions

  1. How does the between-school variation compare with within-school variation in teacher professional learning in Turkish schools?
  2. How is teachers’ trust in each other related to teacher professional learning in Turkish schools?
  3. What is the relationship between learning-centered leadership practices of school principals and teacher professional learning in Turkish schools?

Leadership Practice Can Influence Teacher Professional Learning

This study draws on three important areas of pedagogic practice and research:

  1. Teacher Professional Learning (TPL): Refers to a school-based learning process in which teachers play active roles and work closely with their colleagues, leading to improved classroom practices.
  2. Learning-Centered Leadership (LCL): Leadership practices related to all kinds of learning activities in schools, including teacher learning.
  3. Teacher Trust (TT): The willingness of a party to be vulnerable to the actions of another party based on the expectation that the other will perform a particular action important to the trustor, irrespective of the ability to monitor or control that other party.

The authors note that existing research provides strong evidence that the leadership practices of school principals can foster teachers’ professional learning. Additionally, trust plays a significant role among colleagues and administrators in improving organizational outcomes, and there is a growing body of research that has established a strong link between trust and teacher learning.

School-Level Trust is Necessary for Successful Professional Learning

The researchers used teacher and principal survey data collected from 85 elementary and secondary Turkish schools during the 2018–2019 academic year. The participants included 1,070 teachers and 85 principals across six provinces of Turkey. Data related to the dependent variable (teacher professional learning) was collected using a teacher professional learning scale with 1-5 Likert scales, where 1 represented ‘strongly disagree’ and 5 represented ‘strongly agree.’

The results showed:

  1. Only a small proportion of variation in teacher professional learning can be attributed to between-school factors (research question 1).
  2. Principals’ learning-centered leadership is not associated with teacher learning, and individual and school-level trust among teachers provides a better explanation of the largest variation in teacher professional learning (research questions 2 & 3).
  3. Elementary schools differ significantly from high schools in terms of teachers’ involvement in teacher professional learning.

Organizational Trust is Necessary to Transform Schools Into Learning Environments

The researchers suggest that organizational trust remains an indispensable feature for transforming schools into a learning environment. As many nations around the world undergo substantial educational reforms emphasizing increased school-based teacher professional learning, it is recommended that they pay particular attention to organizational trust to facilitate teacher learning.

Although the researchers did not find a direct relationship between school leadership and teacher professional learning, they believe that an indirect relationship could be present, as indicated in previous studies.

The relatively small between-school variation in the sample suggests that schools design and implement workplace professional learning similarly, which could be explained by the central control of the schools. The researchers indicate that centrally designed, one-time, and one-size-fits-all approaches in professional learning do not result in changes that enhance teacher learning and student achievement. Therefore, they suggest that policymakers emphasize and encourage schools to design, implement, and sustain school-based professional development activities. They recommend that the Turkish Ministry of National Education shift from organizing national professional development activities to assisting each school in planning, designing, implementing, and assessing their professional learning according to their particular situation and needs.

The researchers explained the discrepancy between high school and elementary teachers by noting that high school teachers may only communicate and collaborate with those in their subject area departments, while elementary teachers communicate and collaborate across grade levels.

Notable Quotes

“Literature suggests that teachers’ engagement with more professional learning activities positively impacts their knowledge, attitudes and skills, resulting in better teaching quality and student learning”

“Related literature as well as policies will also benefit from case studies focusing on workplace professional learning activities in different educational contexts, especially the ones in transition from a centralized control to a higher school autonomy.”

“As many nations around the world have been undergoing substantial educational reforms that emphasize increased school based teacher professional learning, we recommend that they pay a particular attention to organizational trust as a means to facilitating teacher learning.”

Personal Takeaway

I liked that this study was not conducted in a Western context. The conclusions seemed relatively straightforward and somewhat expected. I would have liked to hear more explanation about the discrepancy between high school and elementary teachers’ involvement in professional learning. It was interesting to hear the authors note that teacher professional learning contrasts with professional development as it includes the “actual change in teachers’ beliefs and practices.” This study has not changed anything for me but rather confirms the importance of understanding one’s context and being responsive to it and that maintaining high levels of trust is imperative. – Matt Browne 


Bellibaş, M. Ş., & Gümüş, S. (2023). The effect of learning-centred leadership and teacher trust on teacher professional learning: Evidence from a centralised education system. Professional development in education, 49(5), 925-937.

School shootings within the United States are an ongoing and national issue without current resolution. The authors seek to address prevention through the possibility of an interprofessional approach that includes school district administrators and parents, students, and community members.

The battle to prevent school shootings

The authors found that all the reports and studies they reviewed were “consistent across time in terms of identifying the threat and general conditions of the events”, but the “primary unknown factor is the actual detection of the threat in the form of the shooter and the shooter’s intentions.” They also highlight the importance of actions and strategies that help detect, disrupt, or prevent school shootings versus just deterring them. For example, schools that take steps to ensure that weapons do not enter campus are still open to vulnerabilities. Furthermore, while the presence of resource officers who conduct active shooter training may deter an attack, it may not help to detect, disrupt, or prevent one. 

They expressed risk through the formula R = T  V  C (where R = risk, T = threat, V = vulnerability, and C = consequences) and concluded that based on the literature review, the threat analysis part of the equation has been largely ignored.

School shooters defined as ‘terrorists’

This paper presents findings and conclusions after a literature review (including reports from government agencies) and an analysis of the current status of the issues in the United States. The operating model suggested by the authors starts with the primary assumption that current, future, and potential school shooters are domestic terrorists. Elevating school shooters to this status would allow federal law enforcement jurisdiction for “investigative and prosecution purposes and provide a nationwide standard of investigation.”

Secondly, the authors suggest that the Presidential Policy Directive 21 and Executive Order 13636 of February 13, 2013 be adjusted to add schools as a new critical infrastructure sector. This would allow for a new “office” to be created that would specifically deal with schools and their security issues for the Department of Education.

Thirdly, fusion centers could play a part in preventing attacks. Fusion centers “are state and local areas for the receipt, analysis, gathering, and sharing of threat-related information among SLTT [state, local, tribal, and territorial] partners such as frontline law enforcement, public safety, fire service, emergency response, public health, critical infrastructure protection, and private sector security personnel.” Facilitating information sharing in this way can help enforcement officials prevent, protect against, and respond to crime and terrorism, especially given that in all reviewed cases in the literature review the authors found that the “shooter or shooters had communicated the intention of committing these acts, which has been increasingly done via social media among other forms of communication.”

Lastly, any prevention model must “involve school administrators, school faculty, school district administrators, students, and parents as part of the total community.” 

Overall, it is “important to recognize that it takes an interprofessional collaboration among educators, law enforcement, and public health practitioners in order to prevent school shootings.”

‘Not our school’ Syndrome

“The “not our school” syndrome has been identified as a contributing factor to a school shooting occurring by not being detected in time to deter, disrupt, or prevent.” In order to truly prevent school shootings, significant social change must occur and actions need to be implemented at every level. “Every recommendation must clearly and fully involve students and their parents, faculty, school administrators at school and district levels, law enforcement, and health care professionals at the local, state, and federal levels.” In addition, “see something, say something” must also apply more broadly and include student’s social settings and social media.

Notable Quotes: 

“Students and parents are the most critical part of the detection and therefore prevention in any discussion involving school safety.”

Personal Takeaway

To detect, deter, disrupt, or prevent school shootings, change must occur at every level. This sounds like a monumental task but it also means that we all have our parts to play when ensuring the safety of our school communities. Not only can we help to identify risks in these settings we can help ensure that our students get the support they need. While policy and security fixes may never be perfect, as someone who is interacting with students daily I can see the direct impact we can have on the lives of our youth. Educators can help to build a strong, supportive, and cohesive school environment that allows students to feel safe to talk to each other and to staff. They can also help to build those necessary relationships among and between colleagues, students, parents/guardians, and community members.


Ayla Reau

Summarized Article:

Alonge, H. C., & Craig, C. P. (2020). Preventing school shootings: The interprofessional and community approach to prevention. Journal of Social Change, 12, 32–39.

Listen to the article.


Though transition coordinators are critical in improving post-high school outcomes for students with disabilities, little is known about their roles and many schools are falling short of their transition responsibilities.

Ambiguity Equals Frustration

There is much ambiguity around transition counselors’ roles within institutions, which leads to stakeholders being prone to frustration towards an inefficient system. Seven district-level transition coordinators working in public schools in Massachusetts were surveyed. They were asked to conceptualize their role and reflect upon the factors that shape their effectiveness. The responsibilities of transition coordinators varied, with some having much overlap between counseling and administrative roles. The commitment of key stakeholders–such as special educators, guidance counselors, and importantly, administrators–can be vital in helping improve outcomes of transition planning.

Clear Roles May Improve Student Outcomes

Clarity in roles and responsibilities among transition coordinators, alongside continuous support and communication with key stakeholders, may be beneficial in improving post-high school outcomes for students with disabilities. Further research and discussion must be facilitated to reach a consensus about such roles among transition coordinators.

Notable Quotes:

“A consistent mantra among transition coordinators was that secondary transition is a collaborative effort that involves everyone.”

“As one participant explained, ‘The philosophy of transition comes from everyone. It comes from general ed teachers. It comes from special ed teachers, guidance counselors, your coach, whoever. Like everyone has a role in transition.’”

Personal Take

As a neurodiverse individual who is currently exploring post-high school life, it would have been great if there was a transition coordinator at my school. However, I think this role is pretty western-centric.


Emmy Thamakaison

Summarized Article:

Lillis, J. L., & Kutcher, E. L. (2021). Defining Themselves: Transition Coordinators’ Conceptions of Their Roles in Schools. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 21651434211010687.

Key Takeaway: 

Students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) face an increased risk of mental health issues and behavior-related disciplinary action, impacting their academic success. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these risks have been significantly exacerbated due to physical and social isolation. Educators working to support students with EBD must adapt their methods of instruction and communication in order to provide consistent and effective services. Thus, educational policies and guidelines must be re-evaluated to reflect the new challenges brought forward by virtual learning environments.  — Taryn McBrayne

Pandemic Effects on Students with EBD

In the United States, “5% of all students with disabilities receiving special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) fall under the disability category of emotional disturbance.”1 Students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD), “are significantly more likely to be suspended, expelled, and arrested than their peers without IEPs and with IEPs for other disabilities.”2 As a result, students exhibiting EBD and who have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) often have access to intensive behavior interventions and support plans that are managed by special education teachers. However, following the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, many schools closed, “potentially exacerbating the risk factors experienced by students with EBD.” 

Following the closure of schools, districts needed to determine new policies regarding how students with an IEP would receive the support and services that they are legally entitled to. While technology aided in the provision of these services, those with limited access to technology (i.e., lower bandwidth, lack of access to appropriate devices) may have had compromised access to services, resulting in a negative impact on learning.3,4 

Hirsch et al. “surveyed special education teachers (SETs) and resource specialist program teachers (RSPs) who were serving students with EBD in spring 2020” in order to “gather information about the extent to which these educators delivered the various supports and interventions delineated in students’ IEPs during school site closures.” Survey respondents represented 35 states, the majority of whom reported working in public schools. 

The results of the survey can be summarized as follows: 

Communication Resources

  • “Virtual meetings using platforms like Zoom were the most frequently (37.9%) used by all educators,” followed by telephone conferences and virtual classroom platforms such as Google Classroom and Seesaw. The chosen platforms varied based on district and individual school policy. 
  • It was unclear what activities were conducted via these communication channels and to what extent students were able to receive academic instruction through these platforms. 

Intervention Strategies

  • “Over half of respondents who were delivering optional or mandatory remote instruction indicated that they checked in with all of their students with EBD regarding their social, emotional, and behavioral well-being during school site closures.” 
  • Additional commonly reported strategies included “prevention strategies, reinforcement, and structured social skills activities.” 
  • Implementation of certain intervention strategies may have been contingent on the ease of virtual delivery.
  • “Anecdotal parent reports via email or phone call” were reported as the most common form of assessment data to measure student progress. These assessments were largely collected by SETs in comparison to RSPs.  


The authors of the article acknowledge that because the survey was conducted during the midst of the pandemic, their study is not without limitations. Some of the limitations mentioned in the article include: lack of a fully representative sample, reduced list of intervention strategies provided in the survey questions, and a reliance on respondent self-reporting. 

Despite these limitations, Hirsch et al. propose “numerous practical, policy, and research implications and directions for future research.” The authors call on policy-makers and educational leaders to develop specific “guidelines for mandating and supporting continuity of instructional services particularly for students with disabilities during school site closures.” They also suggest that gaps in access to technology need to be addressed to prevent an increasing “homework gap” for those learners who do not have the capability to complete tasks as a direct result of poor internet access. Furthermore, while the results of the study suggest that student well-being check-ins were prioritized, some respondents admitted to not checking in with their students at all, prompting a re-evaluation of communication methods during virtual learning. 

Summarized Article:

Hirsch, S. E., Bruhn, A. L., McDaniel, S., & Mathews, H. M. (2022). A Survey of Educators Serving Students With Emotional and Behavioral Disorders During the Covid-19 Pandemic. Behavioral Disorders, 47(2), 95–107.

Summary by: Taryn McBrayne — Taryn believes in the power of student voice and, through the MARIO Framework, strives to create more opportunities for both educators and students to regularly make use of this power.

Additional References:

  1. National Center for Education Statistics. (2020). Children and youth with disabilities.
  2. Lipscomb, S., Haimson, J., Liu, A. Y., Burghardt, J., Johnson, D. R., & Thurlow, M. L. (2017). Preparing for life after high school: The characteristics and experiences of youth in special education. Findings from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2012: Vol. 1. Comparisons with other youth (NCEE 2017-4016). U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance.
  3. Kormos, E. (2018). The unseen digital divide: Urban, suburban, and rural teacher use and perceptions of web-based classroom technologies. Computers in the Schools, 35(1), 19–31.
  4. Williamson, B., Eynon, R., & Potter, J. (2020). Pandemic politics, pedagogies and practices: Digital technologies and distance education during the coronavirus emergency. Learning, Media and Technology, 45(2), 107–114.

Key Takeaway: 

Leaders should know how inclusion is practiced in their setting and how students’ voices are heard to inform inclusive practices and personalize learning. It is vital that principals understand their role in creating inclusive school environments by using effective tools to support the implementation of such practices because inclusion involves all members of the community. —Frankie Garbutt

A Policy Change

Inclusion involves shared values and expectations as well as classroom strategies and leadership that all work towards the common goal of meeting the diverse needs of pupils in the context of the school. Thus, school leaders and administrators must pave the way for how inclusion is practiced in their schools. 

Commonly, students with autism spectrum conditions (ASC) are placed in special schools or personalized programs. Changes to Swedish policies now dictate that students with ASC are to be placed in mainstream settings, which might put a strain on the staff and students alike. However, “equivalent education does not mean that the education should be the same everywhere or that the resources of the school are to be allocated equally. Account should be taken of the varying circumstances and needs of pupils. There are also different ways of attaining these goals. The school has a special responsibility for those pupils who for different reasons experience difficulties in attaining the goals that have been set up for their education. For this reason, education can never be the same for all.”

The Study 

This study by Lüddeckens and Anderson (Malmö University) and Östlund (Kristianstad University) focuses on three questions:

  1. “What commitment and actions do principals consider important for developing an inclusive school for all students, with a particular focus on students with ASC?
  2. How do the principals reflect on their own leadership in the development of inclusive education, with a particular focus on students with ASC? 
  3. Based on the results, what are the implications of the study in practice?”

Six principles were interviewed, and data was thematically analyzed by the authors to identify patterns and best practices for the future. The authors used thematic analysis to identify patterns in the data in relation to participants’ lived experience, perspectives, behavior, and practices. 


One of the main findings was the conceptualization of inclusion as “the students’ own sense of participation in school, with the implication that it is important to consider the student perspective in decision-making process.” However, one aspect that recurred throughout the study was accountability and how adults might unknowingly create barriers by their attitude toward students, including what and how something is said, the way students access knowledge, and how students demonstrate their learning. 

The authors suggest that policies and frameworks ought to be accessible by all staff and that observations and continued professional development should be essential to creating an inclusive environment for all students. Inclusive leadership “requires good knowledge of special education in addition to the ability to listen and demonstrate a high ethical pathos with authentic, visionary and sustainable leadership.” 

Summarized Article:

Lüddeckens, J., Anderson, L., & Östlund, D. (2021). Principals’ perspectives of inclusive education involving students with autism spectrum conditions–a Swedish case study. Journal of Educational Administration.

Summary by: Frankie Garbutt – Frankie believes that the MARIO Framework encourages students to become reflective, independent learners who progress at their own rate.

Academic researchers Johanna Lüddeckens and Lotta Anderson participated in the final version of this summary. 

Key Takeaway: 

As most education programs focus on short-run learning outcomes, special education (SE) helps prepare students for adult life goals. A study on the long-run benefits of SE examines sudden declines in educational attainment after a debated policy change in Texas that pressured school districts to reduce SE caseloads. Over 10 years of exposure to the controversial policy, drawbacks, largely experienced by less-advantaged youth, prove how SE programs significantly alter students’ learning environments, influence adult life success, and suggest later life labor market outcomes. —Adrian Pasos

Special Education Spending

The lack of evidence on the long-run trajectories of SE programs and placements, along with inconsistencies in its selection criteria, made it difficult to measure the effectiveness of SE spending. This, however, did not inhibit the growing rate of SE participants in the U.S., currently at an annual cost of $40 billion.1 Despite the ambiguity of its benefits, SE increased by 40 percent between 1975 and 2018. 

In 2005, the state of Texas introduced a major policy change that restricted school districts to an 8.5 percent ‘cap’ in SE enrollments. Although it was eventually reversed for violating federal disability law,2 it was responsible for a massive statewide decline in educational attainment rates. 

Special Education Access and Removal Effects

Research conducted by Ballis and Heath (2021) exploited this unique policy change to extract statistical data that produced evidence of the long-run success of SE programs. “Credibly estimating the long-run impacts of SE programs is difficult due to data limitations and the empirical challenges. The few studies that have examined SE placement have largely focused on short-run outcomes.”

On the other hand, their research design identifies the direct impacts of SE programs by using strategies that analyze differences in SE access and removal in varying exposures to the policy. Results show the negative effects of SE removal in a high-impact sample group—students whose disabilities are less severe. This explains the sharp decline in educational attainment, as evidenced by a 51.9% drop in high school completion and a 37.9% drop in college enrollment, which are strong predictors of later life labor market outcomes. 

Data also presented advantages of SE placements on general education (GE), showing how its removal can alter the way teachers allocate resources, thereby also negatively affecting GE students. A comparative study supports that additional educational resources to students with mild disabilities offer returns that are significantly larger than reducing classroom sizes or increasing school spending, but similar to highly effective interventions.3,4,5

Adulthood Outcomes

To establish its long standing impact, Ballis and Heath leveraged administrative data that followed public school students into adulthood, linking student-level school records to post-secondary schooling.  As explained by Ballis and Heath, “our results suggest large returns to investing in specialized educational support when overall improvements in school quality are not possible.” 

While Ballis and Heath have shown “robust evidence on the impacts of SE placement on educational attainment decisions, the limited time after the policy does not yet allow us to fully follow students into the labor market. Understanding the longer-run labor market effects will be the focus of future research.”

Summarized Article:

Ballis, B. & Heath, K. (2021). The Long-Run Impacts of Special Education. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 13(4): 72-111.

Summary by: Adrian Pasos — Adrian believes that the MARIO Framework embraces the individual learner, who plays a dynamic role in the process of teaching and learning, as well as the educator who can turn the unfamiliar into creative learning opportunities.

Academic researchers Katelyn Heath and Briana Ballis participated in the final version of this summary.

Additional References:

  1. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). 2015. “The Condition of Education at a Glance.” NCES.
  2. US Department of Education. 2018. “U.S. Department of Education Issues Findings in Texas Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Monitoring.” US Department of Education Press Release, January 11.
  3. Dynarski, Susan, Joshua Hyman, and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach. 2013. “Experimental Evidence on the Effect of Childhood Investments on Postsecondary Attainment and Degree Completion.” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 32 (4): 692–717.
  4. Jackson, C. Kirabo, Rucker C. Johnson, and Claudia Persico. 2015. “The Effects of School Spending on Educational and Economic Outcomes: Evidence from School Finance Reforms.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 131 (1): 157–218.
  5. Levin, Henry M., Clive Belfield, Peter Muennig, and Cecilia Rouse. 2007. “The Public Returns to Public Educational Investments in African-American Males.” Economics of Education Review 26 (6): 699–708.

Key Takeaway

Despite decades of growth in the identification of special educational needs and provision of services, academic performance in students with learning disabilities remains lower than their neurotypical peers. Therefore, we must ask if special education services improve academic outcomes for students with disabilities? Results suggest that entering special education early has the biggest impact on students who have been classified with specific learning disabilities. —Frankie Garbutt

Analyzing Public Data on Students with Learning Disabilities and Academic Performance

In this article, Amy Ellen Schwartz (Syracuse University), Bryant Gregory Hopkins (Michigan State University), and Leanna Stiefel (New York University) analyze the “New York City public school data of the 44,000 students with specific learning disabilities over a seven-year period” to investigate the effects of special education services on academic performance.

The researchers point out that “there is surprisingly little evidence to guide special education policy and answer the question of whether services work.” They argue that there is a growing wealth of literature on the effects of school policy on general education students yet a lack of research into the efficiency of special education services. 

The study focuses on students with specific learning disabilities (LDs) “in particular for two reasons. First, LDs are the largest group of students with disabilities (SWD) in 2015, representing 35 percent of SWDs nationally and 40 percent in NYC.1 Second, because the majority of LDs are classified after school entry (typically grades 3 through 8), we observe outcomes both before and after classification.”

The study thoroughly examines “the quantitative literature on the effectiveness of special education,” “background regarding the special education classification process and the nature of learning disabilities,” and “data and models, respectively” before discussing results and conclusions.

Recommendations and Limitations

Overall the research indicates “that special education works to improve outcomes for students with learning disabilities.” As a result, the authors suggest earlier identification for special needs services to ensure gains in students’ performances. Moreover, it is suggested that findings could be generalized for students with learning disabilities, yet “more work investigating the differential effects of alternative service settings could be useful for policymakers.” 

However, it is acknowledged that there are several limitations, i.e. the lack of data analyzed for high school students or kindergarten as the study focused on elementary and middle school students. Similarly, authors could not “distinguish severity of disability within LDs and it is possible that effects differ with severity.”

The paper highlights the positive effect of special education on students’ academic performance and paves the way for methods to evaluate data on the efficacy of policies and practices, as well as starting to build the evidence base to improve special education for all in the USA. 

Summarized Article:  

Schwartz, A. E., Hopkins, B. G., & Stiefel, L. (2021). The effects of special education on the academic performance of students with learning disabilities. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 40(2), 480–520. 

Summary by: Frankie Garbutt – Frankie believes that the MARIO Framework encourages students to become reflective, independent learners who progress at their own rate.

Additional References:

  1. U.S. Department of Education (USDOE), National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (2018). Digest of Education Statistics, 2016. NCES 2017–094, Chapter 2.

Key Takeaway:

Effective teaching and learning for students with autism requires special education teachers to possess a secure understanding of evidence-based practices and how to implement them. In the state of Texas, however, there is a significant research-to-practice gap that indicates a strong demand for improvement in the way teachers receive ongoing training in order to meet the needs of students with autism. – Akane Yoshida

The Research-to-Practice Gap

The role of special needs teachers working to integrate students with learning differences in public schools requires a multitude of skills, not least of which is the ability to keep up with the most current research on evidence-based practices (EBP). 

However, as Hamrick et al. note, there is a substantial body of research to show that while school administrators perceive their special education teachers to be well-versed in best practices,1 special education teachers report low preparedness for teaching students with autism the key skills they lack.2 Furthermore, teachers who report low understanding of EBP are more likely to use practices that are unsupported by research or even potentially harmful, such as facilitated communication or the rapid prompting method.2

Regarding instructional strategies, Hamrick et al. chose 35 interventions, of which 26 were documented EBPs and nine were practices that were deemed to be lacking in evidence:

Evidence-Based Practices– antecedent based interventions
– differential reinforcement
– discrete trial training 
– exercise
– extinction
– functional behavior assessment
– functional communication training
– modeling
– naturalistic interventions
– peer-mediated instruction and intervention
– picture exchange communication system (PECS)
– pivotal response training
– prompting
– reinforcement
– response interruption/redirection
– scripting
– self-management
– social narratives
– social skills training
– structured play groups
– task analysis
– technology-aided instruction
– time delay
– video modeling
– visual supports
Unsupported Practices– auditory integration training
– facilitated communication
– floor-time
– holding therapy
– language acquisition through motor planning (LAMP)
– music therapy
– play therapy
– rapid prompting method
– sensory integration therapy
– touch therapy

Findings and Implications for Public Education

The 255 participants involved in this study were individuals who were employed as special educators at various public schools in the state of Texas and had direct connections with students with autism, either through teaching, working with, or case-managing students with autism or intellectual disabilities (ID). 

While the study is limited by its relatively small sample of participants and the lack of diversity among said sample, the results nonetheless agree with those of previous studies in that interventions used by special educators with students with autism are not necessarily evidence-based. 

The EBPs reported by more than 50% of educators as being used on a daily basis include differential reinforcement (56.21), discrete trial (50.44), exercise (52.10), functional communication training (58.62), modeling (77.78), PECS (63.16), prompting (84.00), reinforcement (89.89), response interruption/redirection (RIRD; 74.42), self-management (55.77), technology-aided instruction (58.82), time delay (60.49), and visual supports (82.84).

Over 50% of participants also reported using several practices with no supporting evidence, such as facilitated communication (62.82), language acquisition through motor planning (52.38), rapid prompting method (58.82), sensory integration therapy (51.95), and touch therapy (53.33).

More than 50% of participants reported being very prepared to use only two EBPs—prompting (50.30) and reinforcement (53.22).

The authors point out that this clearly indicates a need for more in-depth training on EBP at the teacher training stage to prepare teachers for the specific demands of meeting the needs of students with autism.

However, an additional finding of the study is that despite the majority of training and resources offered by the state education agency being free online, only 5% of participants reported accessing online training, with over 50% of participants indicating no training for 19 of the 35 interventions in question.

Hamrick et al. state:

State-funded agencies responsible for providing professional development and training for educators should look at the current findings to explore additional ways to provide training opportunities that provide additional face-to-face time to increase teacher knowledge and use of EBP when working with children with [autism]. In addition, these agencies should look at ways to disseminate information about the current online trainings teachers have access to…developing a plan to ensure local education agencies specialists and/or curriculum coaches are aware of these trainings and how to access them could potentially increase the number of educators accessing the online resources.“

They further suggest that educational agencies “could also consider extending their online services to include coaching and feedback” and that forming collaborative partnerships with university programs could spark meaningful change in the way teacher training programs address the research-to-practice gap.

Other recommendations include identifying clear standards for professional development, such as requiring educators to attend training for EBP rather than simply requiring a minimum number of professional development hours within a window of time, and involving teachers as participants in public education research in order to provide them with opportunities to increase their knowledge and application of EBP.

Summarized Article:

Hamrick, J., Cerda, M., O’Toole, C., & Hagen-Collins, K. (2021). Educator Knowledge and Preparedness for Educating Students With Autism in Public Schools. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 1088357621989310.

Summary by: Akane Yoshida — Akane believes in the MARIO Approach because it puts student agency at the heart of the learning and goal-setting process. She loves how the MARIO Framework operationalizes this process and utilizes systematic measurement of student learning and teacher effectiveness to guide interventions.

Additional References:

  1. Pazey, B. L., Gevarter, C., Hamrick, J., & Rojeski, L. (2014). Administrator views and knowledge of instructional practices for students with autism spectrum disorders. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders , 8 (10), 1253–1268.
  2. Knight, V. F., Huber, H. B., Kuntz, E. M., Carter, E. W., & Juarez, A. P. (2018). Instructional practices, priorities, and preparedness for educating students with autism and intellectual disability. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 34 (1), 3–14.

Key Takeaway

The current diagnostic system for learning disabilities is not accurate enough to allow for all children to receive support when they are experiencing challenges in academic skills across the curriculum. —Frankie Garbutt

In this article, Peterson et al. (University of Colorado) investigated to what extent specific learning disabilities (SpLD) are truly specific because they argue that academic skills “correlate across the curriculum.” The researchers took a sample that was “overselected for learning disabilities.” To do this, they “intentionally included children across the full range of individual differences in this study in response to growing recognition that a dimensional, quantitative view of SLD [specific learning disability] is more accurate than a categorical view.” The authors analysed the data of almost 700 children ranging from age 8-16.

Often Students Struggle Across the Curriculum

The basis of their research was that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition collapses diagnoses of “Reading Disorder, Mathematics Disorder, Disorder of Written Expression, and Learning Disorder” into one overarching category of SpLD. Through their analysis of how learning disabilities are measured and diagnosed the authors argue that all skills overlap as “a student with difficulties in one area of the curriculum is more likely to have difficulties in other areas.”

An Umbrella Diagnosis Is Reasonable in Most Cases

The conclusion drawn from their intensive analysis was that the hierarchical nature of academic skills under a single umbrella of SpLD is reasonable. However, one argument is that diagnosing a student with a SpLD in spelling is not meaningful because this affects word reading, thus linking to SpLD in basic reading or dyslexia. Moreover, the data shows that students, who experience difficulties in writing and need support in this area would “benefit from support for other academic skills as well.” 

Therefore the question of “how to classify children who struggle across academic domains” within the current diagnostic system remains. Some children, who perform low across a range of academic skills, yet do not qualify for SpLD, lose out on support because there is “so little specificity to their profile” and the diagnostic system does not have enough specifiers “to describe children who have widespread academic difficulties and subsequent need for educational services.” 

Summarized article:  

Peterson, R. L., McGrath, L. M., Willcutt, E. G., Keenan, J. M., Olson, R. K., & Pennington, B. F. (2021). How specific are learning disabilities?. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 0022219420982981.

Summary by: Frankie Garbutt- Frankie believes that the MARIO Framework encourages students to become reflective, independent learners who progress at their own rate.

Key Takeaway

Culturally responsive parent advocacy programs, like FIRME, are necessary elements of any special education program. If parents aren’t informed, empowered, and prepared to advocate for their child’s rights, then the entire system suffers. School personnel lose a powerful partner and children miss out on the inclusion of the people who know their strengths and needs best. —Erin Madonna

Rios, Burke, and Aleman-Tovar’s study focused on Latinx families with children who have intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (IDD), including autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The study inquired into one avenue, a pilot-test of the Familias Incluidas en Recibiendo Mejor Educación Especial (FIRME) advocacy program, for removing systemic barriers for Latinx families so that they are better able to ensure that their children are receiving the special education or disability services they deserve. 

Previous studies have shown that special education knowledge, empowerment, and advocacy are all aspects that can remove systemic barriers for families of students with disabilities.1-4 Increased parental stress can also impact a family’s preparedness to advocate for and access disability services.5 Increased levels of stress can be particularly challenging when other barriers exist simultaneously, such as language differences, lack of resources, inequitable power dynamics, or racism exhibited by school personnel. The study utilized both surveys (quantitative) and interviews (qualitative) to articulate the results of the FIRME program’s use with Latinx families of students with IDD.

Culturally-Responsive Approach

Knowing all of this and employing it successfully through an advocacy program within the Latinx community also requires culturally responsive practices, which the authors considered carefully in their recruitment phase as well as throughout the study. Prior to inviting parents to participate in the study, the authors volunteered with Latinx groups and conducted other research projects within the community in order to develop relationships of trust with the families. The sessions were organized in locations accessible by public transportation and participants were provided a small stipend for their time. The FIRME program was delivered in Spanish and families had the option to conduct their interviews in their preferred language.

Research Questions:

  • “Does FIRME affect parental perceptions of parent (i.e., knowledge, advocacy skills, empowerment, and stress) and child (i.e., unmet service need outcomes) outcomes among Latinx parents of children with IDD?
  • How do Latinx parents of children with IDD perceive the feasibility of FIRME?”

Author’s Hypotheses:

  • “The FIRME program would increase special education knowledge; advocacy; empowerment; and access to services and decrease stress.
  • The FIRME program would be feasible as demonstrated by: a high attendance rate; a low attrition rate; and positive participant satisfaction.”

Primary Findings:

  • Participants’ knowledge of special education, their sense of self-efficacy around issues of advocacy, and their feelings of empowerment all increased post-intervention.
  • The measured stress levels of participants increased over the course of the intervention, indicating that the FIRME intervention needs to better address participant stress moving forward. 
  • Despite a high attrition rate (53.5%), regular attendance and high rates of satisfaction were reported by those participants who completed the program. 

In the Families’ Words

A powerful aspect of this study is the inclusion of the parents’ personal reflections. While causation could not be established due to the lack of a control group, it is clear that the families involved perceived their participation in a positive light. As one family member stated, “I feel more confident to sit at the IEP meeting and disagree if something is said that I don’t agree with . . . and now, I could just ask questions as well, and if I don’t understand something, stop them [school personnel] and say, you know, I didn’t understand it . . . so, I feel really empowered.” One parent started a parent support group to share what she had learned, and another stated that “this [FIRME] will give me the opportunity in the future to help other parents of the Latinx community who have to know how to navigate the IEP.” Parents also reported feeling more supported post-intervention: “Yes, I really liked [hearing from other parents] because now I don’t feel that I am alone.”

Limitations and Implications for Future Research:

The authors note that, while promising, the findings should be considered with the following understandings and recommendations in mind:

  • This was a single group intervention study, so only correlational inferences can be made.
  • The sample size was small and the attrition rate was high.
  • Exit interviews were not collected which means the authors were unable to identify all of the reasons participants dropped out.
  • Future research using a randomized controlled trial design should be conducted to investigate the effectiveness of the FIRME intervention through a causal lens.
  • Longitudinal data should be collected in future studies to determine if the effects persist well beyond the end of the intervention.
  • Participant feedback should be considered when preparing future iterations, such as more sessions offered, the ability to have the FIRME coach review their child’s IEP with them in order to answer any questions unique to their situations, and the incorporation of stress reduction techniques.

Summarized Article:

Rios, K., Burke, M. M., & Aleman-Tovar, J. (2021). A Study of the Families Included in Receiving Better Special Education Services (FIRME) Project for Latinx Families of Children with Autism and Developmental Disabilities. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 1-15.

Summary by: Erin Madonna- Erin philosophically aligns with the MARIO Framework’s deeply rooted belief that all learners are capable, and she firmly believes in MARIO’s commitment to the use of evidence-based practices drawn from the field of multidisciplinary research.

Researcher Meghan M. Burke participated in the final version of this summary.

Additional References:

  1. Burke, M., Arnold, C., & Owen, A. (2018a). Identifying the correlates and barriers of future planning among parents of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 56(2), 90–100. https://
  2. Casagrande, K. A., & Ingersoll, B. R. (2017). Service delivery outcomes in ASD: Role of parent education, empowerment, and professional partnerships. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 26(9), 2386–2395.
  3. Cohen, S. R. (2013). Advocacy for the “Abandonados”: Harnessing cultural beliefs for latino families and their children with intellectual disabilities. Journal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities, 10(1), 71–78.
  4. Taylor, J. L., Hodapp, R. M., Burke, M. M., Waitz-Kudla, S. N., & Rabideau, C. (2017). Training parents of youth with autism spectrum disorder to advocate for adult disability services: Results from a pilot randomized controlled trial. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 47, 846–857. s10803-016-2994-z. 
  5. Trainor, A. A. (2010). Diverse approaches to parent advocacy during special education home-school interactions: Identification and use of cultural and social capital. Remedial and Special Education, 31(1), 34–47.