Abstract: Provision of Learning Support Services and Student and School Achievement: Trends from a Large, Urban District (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

13315 Provision of Learning Support Services and Student and School Achievement: Trends from a Large, Urban District

Saturday, January 16, 2010: 3:00 PM
Pacific Concourse O (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Susan Stone, PhD , University of California, Berkeley, Associate Professor, Berkeley, CA
Background and Purpose: Jonson-Reid and colleagues have called attention to a critical gap within the school social work literature; limited information about what actual social work services are provided and how these services relate to student- or school-level outcomes. The question of “how” services relate to outcomes is particularly germane in that research suggests that a variety of school contextual features—the racial/ethnic and socio-economic composition of the study body, grade level, and climate (e.g., norms, principal leadership)—appear to be related to psychosocial service delivery and outcomes. Such features relate to the extent to which school social workers engage in direct casework versus more systemic (i.e. teacher centered and whole school) strategies as well as the quality and effects of evidence-based prevention and intervention strategies. Thus, this study draws on longitudinal data of student support services delivered over a seven year period within a large, urban district. It examines across-time relationships between: 1) support services provided, 2) school contextual features, and 3) school performance trajectories.

Methods: The current study links two administrative data archives for all elementary and middle schools (n=122) within a large urban district. Beginning in 2002, the district gradually began introducing student support professionals (mostly MSW-level social workers) into elementary and middle schools. All service units provided were tracked. Resultant services data were merged with district records of school-level demographic and achievement characteristics. The result is a school-level panel encompassing the 2002-2003 to 2008-2009 school years.

Measures: Specific service measures include year by year counts of student (e.g. observations, individual counseling, group counseling), teacher (e.g., consultation), parent, and school-wide (e.g. staff professional development; principal-centered consultation, service coordination) services provided. School characteristics include the following: racial/ethnic composition and free lunch status of the student body, percentage of credentialed teachers, as well as school structural features (e.g., class size, enrollment). Key outcome variables included Scholastic Achievement Test scores and a dichotomous indicator reflecting whether a school met Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goals in a given year. The analysis strategy included fixed-effects regressions, which control for the influence of unmeasured time invariant differences between schools, such an analytic strategy generates robust estimates of the effects of services on school performance over time.

Results: Schools with service providers were more likely to meet AYP goals, even after controlling for demographic and initial achievement differences among schools. The nature of services mattered—services which directly engaged principals positively moderated the overall effect of services.

Conclusions and Implications: Results dovetail with prior research focused on the diffusion of evidence-based strategies in schools, especially as it implicates adult relationships in the effective provision of services in schools, specifically the inclusion of principals in service provision processes. Within the social work literature, much emphasis has been placed on building evidence for specific intervention strategies. These results underscore the importance of further understanding how services are delivered. Findings also echo research on the salient roles of key adults (e.g., principals and teachers) in school settings and further points to such adults as intervention levers.