Helping Students Play to Their Strengths

COLLEGE PARK, Md.– Many teachers and parents might agree that maximizing a student’s strengths and mitigating known challenges can lead to success, both at school and home. Yet, when tasked to report about any one student’s strengths and difficulties, teachers and parents oftentimes maintain different perspectives.

Understanding these differences can be helpful to professionals who are developing educational programs that target specific strengths and challenges that require attention at school and home. For the first time, researchers in the University of Maryland’s Department of Psychology are developing tools that leverage these different perspectives to better asses the needs of students. 

Professor Andres De Los Reyes is leading a team of researchers that recently received a $1.4 million award from the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences to create new survey instruments designed to sensitively assess mental health in the school system and in the home environment. 

In addition to De Los Reyes—who serves as the study’s principal investigator— the research team includes co-PIs at Louisiana State University and the University of Minnesota, as well as UMD graduate students. 

“Members of our team have been studying these issues for decades, and we are poised to make rapid advancements with this new award,” De Los Reyes said. 

Once good data is collected through these new mental health surveys, the researchers will be able to develop tools that will personalize educational programs to meet students’ specific needs.

“When getting a picture of a student’s overall mental health, you have to look closely at both the home context and the school context,” De Los Reyes said. “Right now, service providers and researchers commonly rely on multiple informants—like parents and teachers, and the students themselves—to characterize intervention targets, monitor intervention progress, and inform the selection of evidence-based services. 

“We are now reviewing an emerging body of interdisciplinary theory and research that demonstrates how patterns of informant discrepancies inform our understanding of students’ psychosocial strengths and difficulties.”

In turn, the research team is advancing an agenda for improving use and interpretation of informant discrepancies in school-based services and research.  

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