As an Assistant Professor at the University of California, Riverside, I serve as the Program Director and a core faculty member in our APA-accredited and NASP-approved School Psychology program. I received my PhD in Educational Psychology (with a concentration in School Psychology) from the University of Connecticut in 2014. Back in 2007, I graduated summa cum laude with my Bachelor’s in Psychology from the University of Arizona. After serving as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Project Manager with the IES-funded NEEDs2 project from 2014-2015, I joined the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside. At UCR, I teach undergraduate- and graduate-level courses in behavior assessment and intervention, research, and methodology. I really like my job.
I’m an Associate Editor for the Journal of School Psychology, as well as a licensed psychologist in the state of California (CA #29540) and a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (Certification #1-15-18892).
You can request copies of articles through ResearchGate and view citations and such on Google Scholar. My CV, office contact information, and a generally up-to-date list of publications are available on my UCR Faculty Webpage.
PhD in Educational Psychology, 2014
University of Connecticut
BA in Psychology (Summa Cum Laude), 2007
University of Arizona
Because it matters!
I study school-based behavior support. Most of my work focuses on how to provide teachers and school psychologists with the tools they need to support kids with challenging behavior. I actively work in this area, and care a lot about making evidence-based products that are usable by educational professionals.
But, as I’ve spent more time in education research, and more time examining my own relationship to and role in racism, diversity, equity, and social justice in the United States, it’s increasingly apparent that good tools for assessment and intervention are a necessary but insufficient condition for progress (to butcher a phrase from causal inference). The fact that it took me until fairly recently to get to that place is disappointing, but also probably not uncommon among folks in my field when you consider that 87% of school psychologists in the U.S. identify as White (by comparison, 50% of kids in U.S. schools identified as White in 2013). So, at the risk of being overly explanatory, let’s lay out some major issues in student behavior support in U.S. schools.
Students who experience significant behavior problems experience some of the worst outcomes of any student group. 35% of all kids who are identified with Emotional Disturbance (ED), a disability category which often includes students whose disabilities are defined by their behavior problems, drop out of high school. Less than a third of kids with ED are employed post-school. These outcomes aren’t just economic or “behavioral”; they also affect the way kids feel, with behavior problems at age 10 predicting depression at age 21. There’s some evidence to suggest that those emotional problems are a function of the decreased academic achievement that may result from childhood behavior problems.
So, problem behavior matters. But what we perceive as problem behavior is not fixed: we’re adults who are making judgment calls about what we see as “normal” or “problematic”. We don’t make those judgments equally for all kids. Students who have a different race or ethnicity than their teacher are significantly more likely to be identified as disruptive, inattentive, or rarely complete homework than students who have a teacher of the same race/ethnicity. To quote Dee (2005),
“the odds of a student being seen as disruptive by a teacher are 1.36 times as large when the teacher does not share the student’s racial/ethnic designation”
This increases to 1.51 when other teacher-level variables like class size and experience level are taken into account.
When we observe what we perceive to be “problem behavior” in schools, our default methods are exclusionary: we send kids to the principal’s office, we give detention, we suspend, and we expel. Students who are African-American experience these outcomes at a rate that vastly outpaces their representation in schools, and this starts as early as preschool.
So, where are we? Well, we have some pretty strong evidence to suggest that race and ethnicity play a significant role in how student behavior is perceived, and we have large-scale data sets that suggest that the exclusionary practices that are our “default” when we think about addressing student behavior in schools (e.g., suspension, expulsion) are much more likely to be administered to kids of color.
Sources like Teaching Tolerance are doing amazing work in facing and addressing issues of social justice in schools, and many folks in school psychology are working to directly examine social justice, diversity, and equity in school psychology. With colleagues at the University of Denver and Howard University, members of my research team and I are asking explicit questions about supporting the mentorship, hiring, and retention of faculty of color in school psychology programs. And I’m working with students in my research lab to examine the extent to which racial/ethnic match or mismatch affect perceptions of student behavior.
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The Inland Behavior Lab at the University of California, Riverside, studies the development of efficient and effective tools to support students’ behavioral success, teachers’ professional success, and to enact social justice for all students. 🚀
In collaboration with colleagues across the country, we’re committed to:
We use weekly stand-up meetings to share progress on individual and shared goals, problem-solve barriers, and spotlight specific projects that could benefit from some more focused discussion. We meet in break-out groups throughout each week to work on individual projects, and use Slack and email to keep each other up to date on our progress.
We’re three faculty members (Drs. Austin Johnson, Wesley Sims, Rondy Yu) and a rotating team of about 10 to 12 doctoral students in School Psychology and Special Education, some of whom are featured below: