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A Synthesis and Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Token Economies on Student Behavior


As school-based practitioners become the primary behavioral service providers for children and adolescents, educators need effective and feasible behavioral interventions to meet the needs of all students. Interventions with robust research support should be selected to optimize outcomes for students. As the behavioral literature base grows, practitioners are tasked with evaluating the quality of the available research and synthesizing the results. This study seeks to evaluate the present evidence for one of the most frequently used behavioral interventions: token economies. With the variety of quality indices and quantitative metrics available, the present study examines the available single case literature for token economies as a school-based intervention for improving student behavior. 26 studies were included in the present analysis. Studies were analyzed according to their adherence to Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) Quality Indicators and What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) design standards, as well as their risk of bias. Overall, the current literature base meets WWC standards for token economies to be considered an evidence-based practice. However, the overall quality of the studies varied dramatically based on which indicator was examined. Additionally, a quantitative analysis using seven non-overlap approaches and a meta-analysis using the d-statistic for single-case design studies was conducted. The overall effect was estimated to be large in the meta-analysis. Effect sizes as estimated by nonoverlap methods varied from medium to large effects. However, significant methodological issues within many of the included studies limit the generalization of these results. Overall, this study suggests that, while the evidence-base for token economies may be adequate for WWC design criteria, additional transparency and consensus on how to best assess SCD outcomes may further strengthen the evidence-base.

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