Peer-Mediated Intervention Studies on Academic Achievement for Students with EBD: A Review

NICHCY’s Structured Abstract 34 describes the following:

Title | Peer-Mediated Intervention Studies on Academic Achievement for Students with EBD: A Review

Author | Ryan, J.B., Reid, R., & Epstein, M.H.

Source Remedial and Special Education, 25(6), 330-341.

Year Published | 2004

Research has shown that peer-mediated interventions produce positive academic outcomes for a wide range of students. The authors of this review examined the effectiveness of peer-mediated interventions on the academic functioning of students with emotional and behavior disorders (EBD). Fourteen studies using cross-age, same-age, classwide peer tutoring, or cooperative learning met the criteria set forth for this review. Findings from these studies indicate peer-mediated interventions were successful across academic subject areas and grade levels. However, the participants and settings used within these studies did not accurately reflect the current EBD population’s ethnic or gender composition or actual classroom placement. Finally, despite the recent growth in the number of students identified with EBD, the number of research studies investigating academic interventions has declined.

Traditionally, researchers and educators have dealt with students with emotional and behavior disorders (EBD) by addressing their inappropriate behavior directly. The idea behind this strategy is that, by reducing the inappropriate behavior, students’ academic performance would increase. A recent shift in philosophy has resulted in a change of emphasis to addressing students’ academic deficiencies in an attempt to reduce or offset their inappropriate behaviors.  The effectiveness of peer-mediated intervention has been demonstrated in academic, behavioral, and social areas. Different techniques fall under the term “peer-mediated intervention”—peer modeling, peer monitoring, peer network strategies, peer tutoring, and cross-age tutoring, among others. In essence, the intervention involves students taking on an instructional role with classmates or other students. And, even though such interventions have been shown to be effective in general and special education settings, there have been limited numbers of studies involving students with EBD. This review examines the research that has been conducted with students with EBD using peer-mediated interventions to improve academic outcomes.

Research Questions
An exploration of primary studies included in this meta-analysis attempted to answer the following questions:

  1. What are the characteristics of students being studied with respect to age, gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status (SES), and do the students accurately reflect the population of students with EBD?
  2. Where were the studies conducted, and do these settings reflect the actual placement of students with EBD?
  3. What academic outcomes were addressed by the research?
  4. What interventions were most commonly used?

Research Design

  • Number of Studies Included | 14
  • Number of Subjects | 169
  • Years Spanned | 1980-2001

Research Subjects
Study participants were required to have a verified emotional, behavioral, or conduct disorder, disability, or disturbance, either through IDEA or the classification system of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.


Age/Grade of Subjects
Children ages 5 to 11 and adolescents ages 12 years and older.

Specified Disability
Emotional and Behavior Disorders (EBD)

Interventions included:

  • same-age peer intervention strategies with adolescents and children
  • cross-age, peer-tutor interventions with adolescents and children
  • classwide peer tutoring with adolescents
  • cooperative learning interventions with adolescents

Duration of Intervention
Number of sessions ranged from 50 to over 135. The average session lasted 25 minutes. The number of intervention sessions conducted was slightly greater for children than for adolescents.

To frame the results of this meta-analysis, the following summarizes descriptive details of the various studies.

  • Although 3 studies did not provide information regarding gender, of the remainder, 63% were boys and 16% were girls.
  • Five studies (36%) were conducted with participants aged 6-11 years, and 9 studies (64%) worked with students over 12 years of age.
  • Only 2 studies reported SES information; only 1 reported detailed breakdown of participant race/ethnicity.
  • IQ was reported in 6 studies, with the majority of the students within the average range of intelligence.
  • Of the studies, 57% were set in public schools, 14 % in special day schools, 14% in residential settings, and 14 % in psychiatric hospitals.
  • Overall, adolescents were studied in much broader content areas, including math, reading, language arts, history, and science than the elementary students. Studies with younger children concentrated primarily on reading and, to a lesser extent, on language and math.
  • Interventions used included same-age, peer intervention strategies; cross-age, peer-tutor interventions; classwide peer tutoring; and cooperative learning interventions. In 5 studies the students acted as tutors, in 1 study as tutee, and in 6 studies as both. Finally, 13 studies used only a single intervention, and in 1 study researchers evaluated the effects of a composite intervention.

Combined Effects Size
The overall effect size for all 7 studies that provided information regarding individual student performance was 1.875.

Several conclusions can be drawn regarding the use of peer-mediated interventions for students with EBD.  First, peer-mediated instruction for students with EBD can be beneficial across all academic content areas. However additional research, particularly in settings reflective of actual placement for students with EBD, would help to raise the confidence of these findings.

Second, practitioners should be aware of the benefits of peer-mediated interventions (e.g., peer tutoring, cross-age tutoring, classwide peer tutoring) and take the steps necessary to become knowledgeable in the use of these strategies to improve academic outcomes across subject areas for students with EBD.


Meta-Analysis | A widely-used research method in which (1) a systematic and reproducible search strategy is used to find as many studies as possible that address a given topic; (2) clear criterion are presented for inclusion/exclusion of individual studies into a larger analysis; and (3) results of included studies are statistically combined to determine an overall effect (effect size) of one variable on another.

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