As these universal preventive interventions are, by definition, targeting an entire population, it follows that the vast majority of this evidence-base is focused on students in the general education setting. Far less research exists as to how these universal programs impact a subgroup of potentially vulnerable students—those with educational disabilities who receive special education services, but, may nonetheless be present in the general education setting.
Methods: This study included a sub-sample of a larger group, randomized, comparative effectiveness trial of two elementary universal preventive interventions (PAX Good Behavior Game [PAX GBG] and the integration of PAX GBG with Promoting Alternative THinking Strategies [PATHS to PAX]). The trial was carried out in general education classrooms in 27 urban elementary schools. We specifically examined the outcomes of students receiving special education services (N = 650; 11.7% of the original sample). Five outcomes were evaluated at pre- and post-intervention. These outcomes included teacher-rated a) Readiness to Learn, b) Emotion Regulation, c) Social Competence, and d) Acceptance of Authority, and independent observations of e) aggressive/disruptive and on-task behaviors (Total Problem Behaviors). A linear mixed model ANCOVA was conducted with school included as a random effect to examine planned comparisons between conditions. Significant interactions were probed using the Johnson-Neyman technique and effect sizes calculated.
Results: Mean grade was 2.67, with 65.2% male, 89.1% African American, and 88.5% receiving FARM. Participants were fairly evenly distributed among design condition (i.e., control = 37.5%, PAX GBG = 31.8%, and PATHS to PAX = 30.6%). Significant main and interaction effects demonstrated improvement for a number of socioemotional and behavioral variables for students in either intervention in comparison to the control; however, the integration of the PATHS to PAX intervention appeared to have the most substantial impact for students receiving special education services. Effect sizes for significant results ranged from 0.07 to 0.50.
Conclusions: Results of this study indicate the importance of including special education students in universal preventive interventions in the general educational context. Additionally, this study highlights benefits to using regions of significance to evaluate interaction effects.