Forging a Bright Future - Center for Adolescent Research in Schools

Saturday, August 25, 2012 - 2:00pm

More than 50 percent of high school students with severe behavioral disorders never make it to graduation. And that’s only counting the students who have been properly diagnosed.

For the thousands of teenagers who fail to receive proper services for aggression, delinquency, and other emotional, developmental and learning disabilities, a high school diploma may be hard to come by. In most cases, these students fall short because the system designed to help them succeed actually hinders their academic growth and presents insurmountable obstacles.

“This group of students has long been underserved,” says Lee Kern, Lehigh’s Iacocca Professor of Special Education and program coordinator of Center for Adolescent Research in Schools (CARS), a national research center funded by the Institute of Education Sciences. “But that doesn’t mean they can’t be high contributors in the classroom. They just need the opportunity.”

That opportunity came in the form of specially tailored assessments and interventions designed by special education professionals involved with CARS. The assessments identified academic, social, behavioral and mental health concerns for individual students, leading directly to individually designed intervention packages that addressed the broad and idiosyncratic needs of each participating student.

Now in their fourth year, Kern and her team of researchers are putting their assessments and interventions to the test. They’ve enrolled 634 students attending 54 high schools across Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Carolina—the largest intervention program of its kind in the country.

Kern says she’s happy to have successfully implemented multiple interventions in all of their participating schools. But despite the progress they’ve made, it has not been without challenges.  
“One issue is that we have been surprised by the nature and intensity of the difficulties our students experience,” says Kern. “Many have very complex psychiatric, family, academic and other needs requiring specialized services that may not be readily available. And when students have as many as seven different teachers, coordinating the interventions has been difficult.

“We’re very pleased with the outcomes and the positive effect our efforts have had on students. Remember, this is the first and largest study of its kind, so we’re working in unchartered territory,” she adds. “But the interventions appear to have had a positive effect and we’re optimistic for the long-term.”