Differential Effects of Goal Setting and Planning Characteristics on Academic Performance Among School-Aged Children and Adolescents in School-Based Motivational Interviewing



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School-Based Motivational Interviewing (SBMI) is a type of Motivational Interviewing (MI) utilized in the academic setting to increase students' motivation and academic performance (Strait et al., 2014; Strait et al., 2017). Prior research has shown inconsistent effects of SBMI on adolescents' academic performance. To better understand factors that may make SBMI more effective, this study examines extant data from two randomized control trials (n = 191) that found different effects of SBMI on middle school students' grades (Strait et al., 2017). Specifically, trained raters rated goals participants set while participating in SBMI based on established SMART goal characteristics: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely (Doran, 1981, as cited in Lawlor & Hornyak, 2012). A two-level hierarchical linear model investigated the relationship between service providers' educational background and SMART goal attributes on students' post-treatment grades in English Language Arts (ELA), math, and science. The findings revealed that middle school students with graduate providers (i.e., graduated from college and enrolled in or starting clinical or school psychology doctoral programs in the forthcoming semester) exhibited significantly improved grades in ELA and math compared to those with undergraduate student providers (i.e., service providers with minimal prior experience in implementing either behavioral or academic interventions), corroborating Strait et al.’s (2017) hypothesis. The results also showed that the total SMART goal score had an unexpected statistically significant negative relationship with post-treatment ELA grades, which may relate to variance in scores and the method of scoring of the non-goal sheet completers. The findings also indicated that the Specificity of SMART goals had a negative relationship with ELA grades and that flexibility in goal setting (e.g., replacing a rigid daily reading goal with a flexible monthly book completion goal) may be beneficial. For math, the Attainable SMART goal characteristic had a marginally significant negative effect, while Relevance had a marginally significant positive impact on post-treatment grades. A mediation analysis did not support a significant indirect effect of provider education on grades through SMART scores. This study emphasizes the importance of service providers’ educational background and flexible, relevant goal-setting in SBMI. Recommendations include employing graduate-level service providers and examining how the SMART goal criteria can be tailored and modified to align with the unique characteristics and objectives of SBMI interventions in schools (e.g., making necessary adjustments to accommodate the developmental levels of students, cultural diversity, or specific challenges within the educational context). Future research should investigate how SMART goal setting is implemented in SBMI (e.g., refined SMART goal rubrics, how each sub-item characteristic is phrased, and what it is inquiring about).



School-based Motivational Interviewing, Service provider's educational background, Academic performance, Self-Determination Theory, SMART Goals