Research Projects

The PELE Center is committed to conducting rigorous research on the replication of evidence-based practices that promote the development of young children with and without disabilities in inclusive settings. Our research focuses on a number of topics that include:

  • Inclusion
  • Autism
  • Challenging Behavior
  • Social-Emotional Competence
  • Scale Up and Sustainability of Evidence-Based Practices
  • Families

The PELE Center conducts applied research that aligns with our center values. All of our research has occurred and continues to occur in the actual settings where young children, their families, and early childhood professionals live and work (e.g., homes, public preschools, inclusive child care centers, Head Start classrooms). More information on our current research projects and on a selection of recently completed projects can be found below.

Current Projects

  • LEAP Sustainability: Malleable Factors that Predict Teachers' Initial & Long-Term Fidelity

    Funded By: Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education

    Award Number: R324A170067

    Purpose: The purpose of this study is to explore factors (e.g., preschool center policies, staff buy-in, family involvement) that are related to teachers’ initial and long-term fidelity of implementation of the LEAP Preschool Model (LEAP), an intensive, inclusive intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). One of the greatest challenges in the field of early intervention is closing the gap between what is known about effective instructional practices for preschool children and the implementation and sustained use of those practices in preschool and beyond. This project aims to capitalize on the wide-scale adoption of LEAP and the existence of programs that have been implementing LEAP for over 25 years to better understand factors that influence teachers’ initial and sustained fidelity of LEAP implementation and how fidelity is related to improvements in children’s outcomes. The anticipated findings are expected to inform the development of a systems-level intervention to enhance preschool teachers’ initial implementation and sustainability of research-based practices used in the LEAP model and other similar models for preschool children with ASD.


  • Evaluation of Preschool Special Education Practices: Enhanced Pyramid Model

    Funded By: Institute of Education Sciences, National Center on Education Research

    Purpose: This project is a collaborative effort between the Mathematica Policy Center, the University of Denver, Vanderbilt University and the University of South Florida. This initial 3-year phase of the project titled “Evaluation of Preschool Special Education Practices: Enhanced Pyramid Model,” is a small scale randomized trial examining the effects of enhancing the Pyramid Model for Improving Social Emotional Competence for young children with special needs in inclusive settings (Fox, Dunlap, Hemmeter, Joseph, & Strain, 2003). The project focuses on enhancing the Pyramid Model with Prevent Teach Reinforce for Young Children (Dunlap, Strain, Lee, Joseph, & Leech, 2018), a manualized system of function-based intervention for children with severe and persistent challenging behavior, and with the key instructional practices in the LEAP Preschool Model (Strain & Bovey, 2011).


  • Scaling Up Pyramid Model Implementation in Preschool and Kindergarten Classrooms

    Funded By: Office of Innovation and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education

    Award Number: 12387648

    Purpose: This project expands the use of the Pyramid Model, a rigorously evaluated framework for promoting social, emotional, and behavioral competence in infants and young children. The goals of the project are to scale up the PM to two districts and expand implementation to both Pre-K and K classrooms serving high needs students. We will develop and refine materials and support strategies to build the capacity of district personnel to support teachers to implement the PM with fidelity, modify PM products and practices for use in Kindergarten, and replicate the intervention in rural school districts. The evaluation employs a Randomized Controlled Trial.


  • ECHO in Education Pilot Study

    Funded By: Constellation Philanthropy

    Purpose: The Morgridge College of Education is partnering with Project ECHO to adapt this proven model in medicine to address complex issues in education in Colorado. MCE will pilot the ECHO model to address a key finding of the Colorado Early Workforce Survey 2017 by helping teachers build the skills to meet the care and learning needs of children with special needs and challenging behaviors in order to increase the opportunities for inclusion for all children across the state.


Select Completed Projects

  • Pyramid Equity Project

    Funded By: Departments of Education and Health and Human Services

    Purpose: The Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports was funded to implement the Pyramid Equity Project in collaboration with the University of South Florida and the University of Colorado Denver (now the University of Denver) with Preschool Development Grant national activity funds. The Pyramid Equity Project developed and disseminated an effective approach for the prevention of suspension, expulsion, and discipline disparities in early learning programs. Specifically, the Pyramid Equity Project developed tools, materials, and procedures to explicitly address implicit bias, implement culturally responsive practices, and use data systems to understand potential discipline equity issues. These practices were implemented within the Pyramid Model for Promoting the Social Emotional Competence of Infants and Young Children—a framework of evidence-based early childhood teaching practices that are organized in tiers to include the promotion of social and emotional skills of all children, the prevention of challenging. The project partnered with Preschool Development Grantees, Clifton Early Learner Academy in Clifton, NJ, and Cambridge Early Learning Center in Antioch, TN, to establish demonstration sites that implement the enhanced Pyramid Model and serve as national models for addressing disproportionate discipline practices in early learning programs, and eliminating exclusionary discipline practices.



  • Four Year Follow-Up of Children in the LEAP Randomized Trial

    Funded By: Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education

    Award Number: R324A110246

    Purpose: This project was a 4-year follow-up study of the Learning Experiences and Alternative Program for Preschoolers and Their Parents (LEAP) randomized trial of early intervention for young children with autism. Overall, participants from LEAP classes were marginally superior to comparison class children on elementary school outcomes specific to communication, adaptive behavior, social, academic, and cognitive skills. Statistically significant group differences were noted in cognitive development and social skills. However, when placement was treated as an independent variable, very large effects were seen across all outcome measures, including autism symptoms, for children who were enrolled in inclusive settings. Data from adult family members confirmed important changes in perceived quality of life.

    Publication: Strain, P. S. (2017). Four-year follow-up of children in the LEAP Randomized Trial: Some planned and accidental findings. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 37, 121-126. doi: 10.1177/0271121417711531


  • A Randomized Controlled Trial of Prevent Teach Reinforce for Young Children (PTR-YC)

    Funded By: Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education

    Award Number: R324A120097

    Purpose: Prevent-Teach-Reinforce for Young Children (PTR-YC) is a standardized model of positive behavior support designed to deliver individualized interventions for preschool-aged children with severe and persistent challenging behaviors. A randomized controlled trial was conducted to compare effects of PTR-YC with those of a “business as usual” (BAU) comparison condition implemented over the course of one school semester (approximately 3–4 months). Participants were 169 children in pre-K and Head Start classrooms in two states in the western United States. Mixed ANOVAs revealed statistically significant differences in pre–post scores on the problem behavior and social skills subscales of the Social Skills Improvement System (SSIS) as well as direct observation from video samples of the children’s appropriate engagement and challenging behavior, with all comparisons favoring the PTR-YC intervention. Results are discussed in terms of the need for effective strategies for enabling early childhood professionals to implement behavioral interventions with fidelity and effectiveness.

    Publication: Dunlap, G., Strain, P. S., Lee, J. K., Joseph, J. D., & Leech, N. (2018). A randomized controlled evaluation of Prevent-Teach-Reinforce for Young Children. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 37, 195-205. doi: 10.1177/0271121417724874


  • A Randomized Controlled Trial of the LEAP Preschool Model

    Funded By: Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education

    Award Number: R324E060068

    Purpose: This project employed a clustered randomized design in which 28 inclusive preschool classrooms were randomly assigned to receive 2 years of training and coaching to fidelity in the LEAP (Learning Experiences and Alternative Program for Preschoolers and Their Parents) preschool model, and 28 inclusive classes were assigned to receive intervention manuals only. In total, 177 intervention classroom children and 117 comparison classroom children participated. Children were similar on all measures at start. After 2 years, experimental class children were found to have made significantly greater improvement than their comparison cohorts on measures of cognitive, language, social, and problem behavior, and autism symptoms. Behavior at entry did not predict outcome nor did family socioeconomic status. The fidelity with which teachers implemented LEAP strategies did predict outcomes. Finally, social validity measurement showed that procedures and outcomes were favorably viewed by intervention class teachers.

    Publication: Strain, P. S., & Bovey, E. H. (2011). Randomized, controlled trial of the LEAP Model of Early Intervention for Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 31, 133-154. doi: 10.1177/0271121411408740