Evaluation of REACH Program and Research Initiatives

An essential component of any newly developing program is evaluation. The REACH Program participates in the evaluation effort orchestrated by the National Coordinating Center, and TPSID funds support this national effort.

The TPSID grant also provides for internal evaluation of the progress that REACH students achieve in cognitive, social, professional, and independent living domains. This progress is monitored on an annual basis so that we can assess the efficacy of our efforts to enhance outcomes for people with intellectual disabilities.

In addition to helping REACH students achieve their full potential, the TPSID grant is aimed at broadening opportunities and options for REACH students when they graduate. One strategy for enhancing these options is to promote positive, appropriate attitudes toward individuals with intellectual disabilities in our community. Our efforts to create a positive disability culture include our speaker series, our inclusive academic and residential environments, and our peer mentoring system. The TPSID grant funds a research initiative designed to assess the impact of these inclusive efforts.

Study 1: Social and moral benefits of peer mentoring
A number of research findings indicate that students without disabilities who serve as peer mentors for students with disabilities receive considerable benefits from their interactions and experiences, including positive attitude change toward disability and diversity, personal growth, and social and moral development (e.g., Carter, Hughes, et al., 2001; Findler & Vardi, 2009; Hughes et al., 2002; Kennedy & Itkonen, 1994). In the present investigation, we sought to extend these findings with college students who serve as peer mentors for students with intellectual disabilities.

In this study we assessed personal growth, social development, and spiritual growth among students who served as peer mentors, and compared their scores with those of other college students who were not involved in the peer mentor program. We utilized two different tools to assess growth, including the Stress Related Growth Scale (SRGS: Park, Cohen, & Murch, 1996) and the Level of Differentiation of Self Scale (LDSS: Haber, 1984). Peer mentors demonstrated high scores than non-mentors on measures of both social development and spiritual growth.

May, C. P., & Pittard, L. (2012). Reflections from the peer mentor experience: Evidence for social and moral growth. Monograph of State of the Science in Postsecondary Education for Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

This study compared attitudes toward diversity among college students without disabilities who enrolled either in an college course that had no students with intellectual disabilities, or a in a college course that included students with intellectual disabilities in a meaningful way. Although attitudes toward disability did not differ across groups at the start of the semester, students enrolled in the inclusive courses showed greater openness to diversity at the end of the term, while those enrolled in non-inclusive courses showed no change.

May, C. P. (2012). Inclusion of students with intellectual disabilities enhances openness to diversity on a college campus. Journal of Policy and Practice for Intellectual Disability, 9(4), 240-246.