SOE researchers to work on $4.49M BEST in CLASS grant

Dr. Kevin Sutherland and Dr. Kristen Granger to be co-investigators on the SRI-led independent effectiveness study of BEST in CLASS.

Headshots of Dr. Kevin Sutherland and Dr. Kristen Granger of the VCU School of Education.
Kevin S. Sutherland, Ph.D., and Kristen Granger, Ph.D., are co-investigators on the study.

Two VCU School of Education researchers are co-investigators on a $4.49 million grant to independently evaluate a program that aims to prevent and reduce challenging behaviors in children in early childhood care and education settings in Virginia, Florida and California.

The grant from the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education will support an independent study of BEST in CLASS, a program developed by Kevin S. Sutherland, Ph.D., a professor in the VCU School of Education, and Maureen A. Conroy, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Florida. BEST in CLASS provides evidence-based instructional practices that teachers implement during classroom learning activities to develop positive teacher-child interactions, prevent child problem behaviors, and increase child engagement and classroom quality.

The independent study is being led by SRI International (formerly Stanford Research Institute), a scientific research institute headquartered in California. W. Carl Sumi, Ph.D., senior principal education researcher at SRI, is the principal investigator. Sutherland and Kristen Granger, Ph.D., research faculty member in the Department of Counseling and Special Education, at VCU, are co-investigators.

“This study is the next step in the translational pipeline for BEST in CLASS, with SRI doing an independent effectiveness study where the developers of BEST in CLASS are not involved in the data collection or analysis,” said Sutherland, who is also a professor in the Clark-Hill Institute for Positive Youth Development in the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences. “It will determine how, where, at what cost, and with whom BEST in CLASS is likely to produce positive social, emotional and behavioral outcomes.”

“Evidence-based programs like BEST in CLASS that foster positive teacher-child interactions and decrease negative interactions are critical for improving young children’s learning outcomes.”

The five-year study will involve 140 Head Start centers, 180 teachers, and 360 children (ages 3–5) identified as at risk for delays in social or emotional development. The service areas span suburban and urban communities, and each site serves a majority-minority population. This diverse sample will allow for broad inferences across early childhood care and education settings.

Research suggests that up to 30% of incoming kindergarteners exhibit aggression, noncompliance and disruptive behavior that impacts their engagement with peers, teachers and learning, and many lack academic skills necessary for school success. Alarmingly, more than 8,000 young children are suspended from public early childhood care and education programs annually, with Black children overrepresented among those suspended. Further, early onset behavior problems in young children predict serious problems in young adulthood including peer and family rejection, drug abuse, delinquency, serious mental health concerns, violence and school dropout.

A 2018 randomized trial of BEST in CLASS showed significant increases in positive teacher-child interactions and relationships, child engagement, and social skills, with decreases in disruptive behavior and negative interactions.

“Evidence-based programs like BEST in CLASS that foster positive teacher-child interactions and decrease negative interactions are critical for improving young children’s learning outcomes, and improving the learning opportunities for these young children,” said Sutherland.