School Psychology

Doctoral Dissertations

Doctoral student presenting poster of her dissertation.

Our PsyD in School Psychology program curriculum reflects the practitioner-scientist model of professional training for psychologists, providing our graduates with a firm grounding in both research and practice. You’ll find that research is an integral aspect of the doctoral program. Research is included in coursework, your practicum and internship, optional graduate assistantships, and the dissertation.

The dissertation process is typically completed during the final pre-doctoral internship year.

Support and Mentorship

Our students receive individualized mentorship and supervision from their faculty advisor throughout the dissertation process. After a topic has been approved, students are supported by a three-person dissertation committee comprised of two core faculty members as well a practicing psychologist, a faculty member from another department or college at the University, or a faculty member from another university.

Alumni Spotlight

School Psychology doctoral alumnaHilarie Fotter Kennedy ’19, PsyD

School Psychologist, Gorham Schools, Maine

“I can honestly say that the School Psychology Program at USM has been one of the most challenging and rewarding pursuits in my life.

Through it I have found a number of organizations, projects, and professional positions to learn more about and be involved in. This has allowed me to individualize my learning and career path to specialize in what I am passionate about, all while learning the fundamentals of school-based assessment, intervention, and collaboration.

I love having learned the tools to anticipate and respond to changes in people, schools and professional organizations in our state and country, and assisting in incorporating positive change.”

Dissertation Title: Adverse Childhood Experiences and the Effects on Teachers' Beliefs about Classroom Behavior Management

Read dissertation abstract.

School Psychology doctoral alumnusAdam Golonka ’16, PsyD, BCBA-D

Psychologist, Spring Harbor Hospital Developmental Disorders Program

“The USM School Psychology doctoral program provided me with the knowledge and skills required for a career in a fast-paced and dynamic setting.”

Dissertation Title: A Comparison of a Discrete Trial Teaching Procedure and an Incidental Teaching Procedure to Help Children with Developmental Disorders Acquire Sight Word Reading Skills

Read dissertation abstract.

Dissertation Topics

Students may select topics in any area related to best practices in school psychology; however, topic approval will take into consideration the expertise of the faculty member chairing the dissertation committee.

Past Dissertations

Bubier, Melissa

  • Dissertation Title: Teaching Prekindergarten Students to Self-Monitor Social Distancing Utilizing Pictures and a Behavioral Skills Training Model
  • Abstract: The purpose of this dissertation was to evaluate the effectiveness of a behavioral skills training model for teaching preschool children to self-monitor and increase appropriate social distancing space in the classroom. Two single case research designs were utilized during the study: a within-subject multiple baseline across settings with a reversal and a systematic replication with generalization probes. To teach the concept of appropriate social distancing space, two participants were photographed engaging in behaviors associated with being in their own space (e.g., sitting on their bottom, keeping their hands to themselves, and remaining an arms-length away from others) and “being too close” to others (e.g., being closer than one arms-length or touching another person). These pictures were placed on a self-monitoring board, and behavioral skills training was used to teach participants to utilize a vibrating timer to take momentary time sampling self-data. Both participants demonstrated an increase in appropriate social distancing space and increased the accuracy of their self-monitoring with feedback and social praise.

Lemar, Adrien

  • Dissertation Title: The Effects of Stability Ball Chairs for Students Identified with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: An Evaluation of the Changes in On-Task, In-Seat, and Work Productivity Behaviors in a Special Education Classroom
  • Abstract: Much of what we know about the effects of alternative seating on student behavior in classrooms comes from the field of occupational therapy, which interprets effects from the lens of sensory regulation (Schilling et al., 2003). Although students with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are often provided alternative seating options as a first-line intervention, there is limited evidence supporting positive outcomes (Gochenour & Poskey, 2017). The research that does support the effectiveness of alternative seating typically assumed that an observed decrease in out-of-seat behavior would correspond to an increase in student engagement (Schilling et al., 2003; Gochenour & Poskey, 2017). In addition, many of the initial studies relied on indirect measures, failed to utilize strong experimental designs, and did not consistently replicate results across subjects (Schilling et al., 2003; Fedewa & Erwin, 2011). The present study aimed to address the limitations of prior research by examining the effects of stability chair access on on-task, in-seat, and work productivity behaviors exhibited by two students identified with ADHD. A multiple baseline across participants design was utilized to determine if access to a stability ball chair during instructional times would increase on-task behavior and yield collateral effects on in-seat behavior and work productivity. Results showed that neither participant responded positively to the stability ball chair intervention. Instead, both participants displayed lower levels of on-task and in-seat behavior during the stability ball condition relative to baseline. Participants’ work production rates were highly variable, and no noticeable changes occurred during the stability ball condition. Implications for the consideration of alternative seating in classrooms are discussed.

Schwarz, Daniel

  • Dissertation Title: An Assessment of Self-Reported Practices of School Psychologists in Maine and Barriers to Providing Mental Health Services in Schools
  • Abstract: The aims of this study were to (a) evaluate the degree to which school psychologists in Maine engage in mental health services, (b) identify barriers that may limit school psychologists’ delivery of mental health services, and (c) examine whether a relationship exists between the number of years of employment within a position and the percentage of time dedicated to providing mental health services. The method consisted of administering a brief questionnaire that captured demographic information, percentage of time dedicated to providing mental health supports, and perceived barriers to providing mental health intervention within Maine schools. The survey was distributed to school psychologists in Maine, and approximately one-third of school psychologists working in Maine schools (N=37) responded. The results of this survey research were analyzed using descriptive statistics and a Spearman Rho correlational analysis. The majority of respondents reported allocating less than 15% of their time each week to the delivery of mental health supports. Primary barriers to providing mental health services in schools included testing caseload size, lack of graduate training, administrative restrictions, and poorly defined roles. Lastly, there was no significant correlation between the number of years a practitioner has been employed in their current role and their reported percentage of time engaged in mental health supports. Recommendations for future research and implications of non-significant findings are discussed.

Fotter Kennedy, Hilarie

  • Dissertation Title: Adverse Childhood Experiences and the Effects on Teachers' Beliefs about Classroom Behavior Management
  • Abstract: The aim of this survey research pilot study was to determine if there is a relationship that exists between a teacher’s perceptions about their disciplinary style and early life exposure to adverse experiences. The method consisted of two brief questionnaires (the Adverse Childhood Experience questionnaire and the Behavior and Instruction Management Scale) which was completed electronically by 2,149 teachers (response rate 16.51%) practicing within the state of Maine. The Behavior and Instruction Management Scale (BIMS) is a validated measure of teacher beliefs about their behavioral and instructional management practices in their classrooms and the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) questionnaire is a validated measure of early life exposure to adverse experiences. Previous research using the ACE questionnaire indicated a strong correlation between a high number of adverse experiences in childhood and increased risk of developing later negative health conditions, including depression, obesity and heart disease. Moreover, early adverse experiences can lead to more extreme beliefs in parenting practices including discipline. This current survey research pilot-study determined the percentage of teacher who endorsed high levels of adverse childhood experiences and a possible connection between high levels of early adverse experiences and classroom behavior management.

    In this study 14.5% of teachers reported experiencing at least 4 of the 10 categories of adverse childhood experiences, which is over double the expected rate based on the original study. The results of this survey research design were correlated using Spearman’s rho and found a very weak and statistically nonsignificant correlation of r = .010, p = .007, between a teacher’s ACE score and their BIMS score. The significance of this study and implications for future policy and research are discussed.

Guptill, Derek

  • Dissertation Title: Teaching Adolescent Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders to Respond to and Generate Disguised Mands.
  • Abstract: A mand is a verbal operant that specifies its reinforcer (Skinner, 1957). For example, a child might say “milk please!” when thirsty. A disguised mand, however, can be defined as “responses that are under the control of an establishing operation (e.g., deprivation from cookies) and a discriminative stimulus (e.g., the presence of a listener) but the response does not specify the reinforcing consequence (e.g., access to cookies)” (Najdowski, Bergstrom, Tarbox, & Clair, 2017 p.734). For example, a person might say “I love sweets!” in hopes that the listener offers a cookie. Oftentimes, a person with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may fail to interpret the “true meaning” of the disguised mand and respond more literally. For example, if a person said “I see you are eating cookies”, a person diagnosed with an ASD might respond with “Yes, I am eating cookies.” The purpose of this dissertation is to describe a doctoral research study designed to teach adolescent participants who have been diagnosed with an ASD to respond to and produce disguised mands. Many people who have been diagnosed with ASD have difficulty with identifying the perspective of others, which potentially leads to difficulties with social interactions. In many verbal communities, a direct mand may be seen as rude, and be put on an extinction or punishment schedule, whereas disguised mands may be reinforced (Najdowski, et al 2017). This dissertation included two separate, but related, experiments. In experiment one, participants were taught to respond to disguised mands, in a replication of the study published by Najdowski, et al. (2017) in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis . In experiment two, the same participants were taught a specific set of disguised mands and situations in which to use them. Data were collected on the participants’ ability to respond to and produce disguised mands, both individually and in group scenarios. In both experiments, all three participants showed immediate and significant improvements after the training phase was implemented, thereby demonstrating an ability to both respond to and produce disguised mands after being taught a simple rule about them.

Sigaud, Clelia

  • Dissertation Title: The Use of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Techniques to Augment Traditional Behavioral Skills Training for Educators Implementing Behavior Specific Praise Statements in the Classroom Setting
  • Abstract: This study aimed to expand the research on strategies to promote implementation fidelity of high rates of behavior specific praise statements in the classroom setting. The use of values-clarification work within an Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) framework as an augment to traditional behavioral skills training (BST) modalities in the absence of ongoing performance feedback was explored to increase rates of behavior specific praise statements by educators in the context of an elementary school setting. While all four participants demonstrated an increase in rates of behavior specific praise following BST, two participants derived clear benefit from the addition of the ACT intervention. The implications of these findings for school-based consultation are discussed in the context of behavior management consultation to classroom teachers.

Merrill, Trish

  • Dissertation title: A Comparison of Curriculum Based Measures of Oral Reading Fluency
  • Abstract: Curriculum Based Measurements (CBM) are a widely-used tool for Response to Intervention (RTI) progress monitoring. In addition, they can be used in the determination of learning disabilities and special education qualification. The most widely used type of CBM is a measure of oral reading fluency (ORF). This type involves having a student read out loud for 1 minute while the examiner records any errors. Also known as reading curriculum-based measures (RCBM), various published forms of RCBM have been documented to be reliable and valid measures of all aspects of reading skills. Nonetheless, not all RCBM forms are the same, and the differences in features across published versions could affect student scores. This study examined the textual composition of three different published versions of RCBM probes to determine passage similarity and difficulty. The study also examined the consistency in student reading levels across the RCBM passage sets. A total of 202 students completed three passages from each of the selected probe sets for a total of nine passages each. Results indicated v that all RCBM passages were correlated with each other and with a statewide assessment of reading. Mixed results were obtained when analyzing correlations between RCBM and a computer administered universal screening measure in reading. Significant differences were found in the overall number of words read correctly, dependent on the passage set. Significant differences were also noted in the number of students identified as at-risk of reading difficulties or in need of reading intervention based on each of the RCBM passage sets as compared to other standardized tests of reading. Regarding the textual composition of the three versions, passage sets appeared similar when similar length passages were compared, however, descriptive statistics suggested that passage level difficulty may vary depending on the passage within the set.

Pelletier, Kelly

  • Dissertation title: Further Evaluation of the PLS Program: Reduced Consultant Involvement
  • Abstract: This study evaluated the effects of the preschool life skills program (PLS; Hanley, Heal, Tiger, & Ingvarsson, 2007) on the acquisition of pro-social skills and reduction of interfering classroom behavior in a public special education pre-school in the Pacific Northwest. The rationale for the current study is based on the reality that consultants and trained assistants may not be a common element available to the average preschool setting. The objective of this investigation was to determine whether gains in pro-social skills and reductions in challenging behavior would occur under conditions of reduced consultant or supervisor involvement in this setting. In the original PLS research (Hanley et al., 2007) supervisor contact occurred daily. In this inquiry, contact occurred on a weekly basis for no more than two hours. Ten students were nominated for participation in this study with four being omitted due to attendance. For the six remaining students, results were mixed and varied based on the individual, with students acquiring some skills but not others. Overall students had higher levels of prosocial skill demonstration and lower levels of interfering behavior post-intervention, but it is uncertain whether this change was a result of the PLS class-wide teaching due to challenges with experimental iv control. This study should be viewed as a pilot investigation that attempts to make the PLS program accessible to public school teachers in schools with less resources. Future research should reexamine this question and posit ideas to make PLS acquisition feasible in similar environments.

Batley, Hannah

  • Dissertation title: The Effects of Behavioral Momentum on Increasing Expressive Writing Behaviors in Children Resistant to Writing Tasks
  • Abstract: Within this study, the author aimed to expand the research on high-probability/low-probability (high-p/low-p) interventions to examine the effects of behavioral momentum on the academic behavior of expressive writing. Two second-grade students were selected based on a history of avoidance of with writing tasks, where motivation was determined to be the primary variable impacting expressive writing engagement. An alternating treatments design was used to compare the effects of a traditional expressive writing prompt to the utilization of a high-p/low-p response sequence where instructions to engage in high-probability writing tasks preceded the prompt to complete low-probability writing tasks. Two dependent variables were measured including response latency (the time between the task prompt and task initiation), and total words written. Results of the brief intervention analysis indicate that high-p/low-p interventions were successful in decreasing the response latency for both students when compared to v traditional writing prompts. Additionally, both students wrote more total words on average in the high-p/low-p condition, although the results were more consistently differentiated for one student than for the other and were not as robust as response latency results for both students. The findings suggest that high-p/low-p interventions may be a simple and effective way to help students initiate writing more quickly when motivation for writing is low. Additionally, the intervention may be beneficial in increasing total word output for some students. Implications of these findings and suggestions for future research are discussed.

Kolbe-Holden, Katie

  • Dissertation title: An Evaluation of Social Skill Intervention Effects Using the Skillstreaming Curriculum
  • Abstract: Social skill deficits have been associated with not only social problems, but also academic underachievement and further mental health problems. This study investigated whether social skills training using the Skillstreaming curriculum was associated with generalization of the instructed skills in other environments in the same school. In addition, the study evaluated whether reductions in office discipline referrals (ODRs), and increases in prosocial skills were observed on program-specific (e.g., Skillstreaming) and the Social, Academic, and Emotional Behavior Screening Scale (SAEBRS). This study was developed to be part of the school’s multi-tier system of support (MTSS) for students with academic and behavior difficulties. An MTSS includes increasingly intensive instruction and intervention for students whose universal screening data indicate a need for assistance in order to meet school district or state learning goals.


  • Brown, Russell
    • Dissertation title: The Reliability and Validity of the Task Analysis Recording Procedure (TARP)
    • Abstract: Task analysis data collection typically focuses on the acquisition of skills by recording the percentage of steps in the response chain completed independently and correctly. While useful as a measure of skill acquisition, percentage correct does not promote a step based analysis of factors that may promote or interfere with skill acquisition, including necessary prompts and the occurrence of challenging behavior. This study evaluated the reliability and validity of the Task Analysis Recording Procedure (TARP) in recording physical stereotypy, a behavior often emitted by participants with autism or other developmental disabilities, by comparing TARP obtained physical stereotypy data to that obtained via six second momentary time sampling. A multiple probe design was utilized to facilitate the comparison. The results show a robust correspondence between v recordings of physical stereotypy conducted by teachers using the TARP and secondary observers utilizing a six second momentary time sampling procedure. This study demonstrates that the TARP procedure is an acceptable means of recording physical stereotypy in applied settings. Moreover, these results demonstrate a teacher-friendly method of recording both the acquisition of skills and the decrease of interfering stereotypy within the context of functional life skills programming. Implications of these findings and suggestions for further research are discussed.
  • Golonka, Adam
    • Dissertation title: A Comparison of a Discrete Trial Teaching Procedure and an Incidental Teaching Procedure to Help Children with Developmental Disorders Acquire Sight Word Reading Skills
    • Abstract: Knowing how to read words that are relevant and important has the potential to help individuals with developmental disorders gain independence within both school and community settings. The current study compares the effectiveness of two teaching procedures targeting reading skills in children with developmental disorders. Discrete trial teaching (DTT) is a commonly used method of teaching multiple pre-academic and academic skills to individuals with developmental disorders. It involves a systematic presentation of stimuli, a teaching procedure, and delivery of reinforcement, and is often delivered in a mass trial format. Incidental or naturalistic teaching, on the other hand, takes place in less formal settings that individuals commonly find themselves in and utilizes functionally and naturally occurring reinforcers. While incidental teaching (IT) procedures have commonly been used for teaching vocal and verbal language skills in social settings, there is currently a dearth of evidence supporting the use of incidental teaching for reading instruction. The current study compared the effectiveness of discrete-trial and incidental instructional methods for sight word acquisition with children with developmental disorders. The two procedures resulted in three different response patterns across participants. Implications discussed include the role of functional assessment for academic instruction and its significance in best practices for academic instruction using a response to intervention model.
  • Hathaway, Michelle
    • Dissertation title: Teaching Children with Autism to Mand from Their Peers
    • Abstract: Although the severity of social communication and social interaction deficits can range significantly in children identified with autism, many children identified with autism fail to develop effective communication repertoires. Many current instructional practices focus on teaching children with autism to communicate with adults, without providing explicit opportunity for the generalization of these communication skills toward their same-age peers. This study evaluated an intervention designed to increase the independent mands of children with autism to same aged peers, within an inclusive pre-school setting. The intervention provided opportunities for children with autism to participate in multiple sessions with peer coaches who had been trained to provide a specific prompt sequence in order to increase the mand behavior of the children with autism. A multiple baseline design was utilized with three children with autism and four peer coaches, over a seven-week period. Results of the study indicate that all three v children with autism increased their abilities to mand for a variety of toys from their peers during instructional sessions. In addition, two of the three participants displayed an increase in their ability to independently mand for toys from peers within the natural environment setting (pre-school classroom). These results indicate that children with autism can benefit from efforts to increase their functional language and communication with peers.
  • Roy, William
    • Dissertation title: A Pilot Investigation of a Multi-Tier System of Mathematics Instruction for Prekindergarten Students
    • Abstract: A Multi-Tier System of Support (MTSS) for academic skills is widely recognized as the best practice framework for supporting all students. Additionally, the recent shift from constructivist pedagogy toward more intentional teaching of mathematics at the preschool level has encouraged more explicit mathematics instruction with younger children. In spite of these advances, there are no published best practice guidelines for implementing MTSS for mathematics at the prekindergarten level. The current study sought to investigate one possible way to implement effective instructional practices for preschool mathematics within a multi-tier system, including the use of validated screening and progress monitoring instruments. A centers-based mathematics curriculum was implemented at the universal level within an inclusive preschool classroom. Universal screening was conducted using curriculum-based measurement (CBM) in order to viii identify at-risk students in need of additional instruction. A supplemental prekindergarten program was implemented with small instructional groups at the secondary tier of support. Students receiving supplemental instruction were progress-monitored using growth-sensitive CBMs in a multiple baseline across dyads research design. Results and limitations of the study are discussed. Finally, topics for future exploration in preschool mathematics are suggested.
  • Swan, Jessica
    • Dissertation title: Effectiveness of Direct Instruction on the Oral Language Development of Fifth and Sixth Grade English Language Learners
    • Abstract: The purpose of this dissertation was to implement a relatively new Direct Instruction program, Direct Instruction of Spoken English (DISE), and measure its effectiveness in improving the oral language skills of newcomer fifth and sixth grade English Language Learners. A quasi-experimental design was used to assess and compare the outcomes of receiving instruction through DISE compared to a control group receiving a combination of online (Raz-Kids) and small group guided oral reading. The results indicated that after five weeks with approximately 30 minutes of instruction/ three days per week, there were significant differences detected between both the groups’ narrative language skills, but not expressive vocabulary, oral word use, oral reading fluency, or oral comprehension. A critical component of the study was survey information from parents whose children participated in DISE. Results showed the average parent satisfaction rating was a 5 on a 6-point-Likert scale. And, 100% expressed interest in having their children continue in the program. Limitations and possibilities for future research areas are discussed.


  • Boulos, Jayne
    • Dissertation title: Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies for Reading Skills Improvement by Children with Social, Emotional and Behavioral Disorders
  • Jarmuz-Smith, S.
    • Dissertation title: A Comparison Of The Effects Of Low- And High-Technology Activity Schedules on Task Engagement of Young Children With Developmental Disabilities
  • Long, Ryan
    • Dissertation title: Response Interruption and Redirection Applied to Life Skills Tasks
  • Williams, Danielle
    • Dissertation title: Effects of the Strong Kids Curriculum as a Targeted Intervention for Students At-Risk for Developing Depressive Disorders


  • Bartlett, Courtney
    • Dissertation title: Evaluating the Effectiveness of Progress Monitoring as a Second Grade Mathematics Intervention
  • Beardsley, Erin
    • Dissertation title: Functional Analysis of Ear Plugging and Treatment Analysis of Noise Dampening Headphones
  • Chenard, Monica
    • Dissertation title: An Evaluation of the Efficacy of Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) on Improving Freshman College Students' Writing Abilities
  • Flanders, Christina
    • Dissertation title: Self-regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) for Writing: A Tier 2 Intervention for Fifth Grade
  • Hugger, Kelly
    • Dissertation title: Evaluating the Effects of Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS) in Mathematics Plus an Anxiety Treatment on Achievement and Anxiety of Third Grade Students
  • Potter, John
    • Dissertation title: The Effect of Peer-Coaching on Social Skills Performance of Middle School Students with High Functioning
  • Swan, Meaghan O.
    • Dissertation title: Effects of Peer Tutoring on the Reading Fluency and Comprehension of Seventh Grade Students


  • Babcock, James
    • Dissertation title: Improving the On-Task Behavior of Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders Using an iPad-Created Video Self-Modeling Intervention
  • Robert, Jennifer
    • Dissertation title: Effects of the Corrective Reading Program as an intervention for Seventh Grade English Language Learners


  • Bickford, Rebekah
    • Dissertation title: Promoting Students' Social and Academic Success Through Teacher Praise
  • DeRosa, Nicole
    • Dissertation title: Using Establishing Operation Manipulations to Improve Functional Communication Training
  • Kiburis, Alexis
    • Dissertation title: Evaluating The Efficacy of an Adaptation of PALS for Math in a Seventh Grade Classroom
  • Shamlian, Kenneth
    • Dissertation title: Evaluation of Multiple Schedules With Naturally Occurring and Contrived Discriminative Stimuli Following Functional Communication Training
  • Zangrillo, Amanda
    • Dissertation title: An Evaluation of The Effects of Spaced Trial Fading on Skill Acquisition: An Analysis of Transfer of Stimulus Control


  • Gadaire, Dana
    • Dissertation title: Self-control Responding in Children with Developmental Delays: Analog Assessment of Subjective Value of High and Low Preferred Stimuli


  • Andren, Kristina
    • Dissertation title: An Analysis of the Concurrent and Predictive Validity of Curriculum Based Measures (CBM), the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), and the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) for Reading
  • Harris, Eileen
    • Dissertation title: Evaluating the Efficacy of Reading Fluency Instruction
  • Piechocki, Iride
    • Dissertation title: The Effects of Specific Types of Attention on Youth Problem Behavior
  • Pratt, Jamie
    • Dissertation title: Extending the Functional Behavioral Assessment Process: A Methodology for Test-driving Interventions with Varied Choice Dimensions to Reduce Escape-maintained Behaviors Displayed by Youth with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders
  • Tekverk, Jeanmarie
    • Dissertation title: A Prescriptive Model of Multi-tier Professional Development to Increase Treatment Integrity for Staff in a Day Treatment Setting
  • Zook, Elizabeth
    • Dissertation title: Effects of Matched Reinforcement on Correct Responding and Disruptive Behavior During Academic Instruction