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.