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Volume X, Number 4, Winter 2004/2005
Issue Topic: Evaluating Family Involvement Programs
Robert Nix,¹ research associate at Pennsylvania State University, describes how a rigorous evaluation of a complex behavior problems preventive intervention analyzes its school-home component.
Children do better in school, both academically and socially, when parents are involved in their education. Children with conduct problems often do poorly in school, and their parents are more likely to have characteristics associated with low levels of involvement (e.g., poverty, single-parent status, or depression). Too often the only contact such parents have with schools occurs when their sons or daughters are in trouble. Promoting positive school-home relations was, therefore, a primary purpose of the parent groups in Fast Track, a school-based, multicomponent, multigenerational intervention designed to prevent the development of serious conduct problems (Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group [CPPRG], 1992). Fast Track parent groups met at their childs school each week for 2 hours during nonschool hours. During the first hour, parents discussed parenting strategies with other families while children met in social skills training groups. In the second hour, parents and children participated in cooperative activities and had opportunities to develop reading skills.
To evaluate whether Fast Track was successful in promoting positive school-home relationsalong with its more proximal goal of enhancing childrens functioningthe program relied on an experimental design. Schools in poor neighborhoods in four states were randomly assigned to intervention or no-treatment control conditions. Our high-risk sample was comprised of the 1015% of children in those schools with the most severe oppositional and aggressive behavior in kindergarten. Although Fast Tracks evaluators recognized that the assumptions of an experimental design can break down in long-term interventions, they determined this was still the best way to achieve reliable estimates of treatment effects.
To measure the salient aspects of positive school-home relations, Fast Track created the Parent-Teacher Involvement Questionnaire (PTIQ).² The PTIQ focuses on six theoretically derived and statistically validated dimensions of involvement: (1) frequency of contact between parents and teachers, (2) parental involvement at school, such as volunteering in the classroom, (3) the quality of the parent-teacher relationship, (4) parents emphasis on the importance of education, (5) parental involvement at home, such as helping with homework, and (6) parental endorsement of and confidence in childrens schools (Kohl, Lengua, McMahon & CPPRG, 2000).
Frequently, different sources of data provide different information about an intervention and its effectiveness. In line with its multimethod and multi-informant approach to outcome assessment, Fast Track created both parent and teacher versions of the PTIQ. With respect to the PTIQ, parent ratings of their own behaviors at the end of first grade did not reveal a significant treatment effect, whereas teacher ratings of parent behaviors did (CPPRG, 1999). It is possible that parents in the intervention might have raised their expectations regarding how much they should be involved in their childrens education, and, therefore, rated themselves less favorably. Whatever the reason, this pattern of findings was consistent in Fast Track: Measures with the least bias, such as observations of childrens behavior at school, individual sociometric interviews of all classmates, interviewer ratings of parent-child interactions, and standardized testing of children yielded the largest treatment effects. Thus, if Fast Track had relied on parent self-reports alone, it would not have appeared very successful.
It is not possible to isolate completely the effect of one component of Fast Track, such as parent groups, on a particular outcome, such as parental involvement, because all high-risk children and families received an integrated package of prevention services. Even so, preliminary analyses suggest that attendance at and engagement in parent groups was related to more favorable teacher ratings on the PTIQ at the end of first grade. Such findings regarding dose, process, and outcome provide empirical support for hypothesized mechanisms of change.
In sum, Fast Track conducted parent groups in schools to promote more positive school-home relations. Relying on rigorous design and sound measures, the Fast Track evaluation sought to capitalize on the external validity achieved by providing and assessing treatment in real-world settings and on the internal validity that usually comes from smaller laboratory studies.³
Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group. (1992). A developmental and clinical model for the prevention of conduct disorders: The Fast Track program. Development and Psychopathology, 4, 509527.
Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group. (1999). Initial impact of the Fast Track prevention trial for conduct problems: I. The high-risk sample. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 67(5), 631647.
Kohl, G. O., Lengua, L. J., McMahon, R. J., & the Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group. (2000). Parent involvement in school: Conceptualizing multiple dimensions and their relations with family and demographic risk factors. Journal of School Psychology, 38, 501523.
¹ This article is co-written by the Conduct
Problems Prevention Research Group: Karen L. Bierman, Pennsylvania State University;
John D. Coie, Duke University; Kenneth A. Dodge, Duke University; E. Michael
Foster, Pennsylvania State University; Mark T. Greenberg, Pennsylvania State
University; John E. Lochman, University of Alabama; Robert J. McMahon, University
of Washington; and Ellen E. Pinderhughes, Tufts University.
² The PTIQ is available for free at www.fasttrackproject.org.
³ Editors note: Internal validity refers to confidence that the experimental manipulation made a significant difference. External validity refers to the generalizability of results over different populations and settings.
Robert L. Nix, Ph.D.
Prevention Research Center
109 South Henderson Building
Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA 16802