Sterett Mercer

Prospective Graduate Students / Postdocs

This faculty member is currently not actively recruiting graduate students or Postdoctoral Fellows, but might consider co-supervision together with another faculty member.


Research Interests

curriculum-based measurement
academic intervention
written expression

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs


Research Methodology


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

The use of rewards in reading fluency interventions: considerations for student achievement and motivation (2019)

Across Canada, thousands of children are struggling readers. In British Columbia alone, between 18 and 22% of students are below provincial reading expectations (BC Ministry of Education, 2016). As a critical component to reading success, yet often neglected in classroom instruction, reading fluency is a viable intervention target to help remediate these challenges. Due to concerns regarding intrinsic motivation, the use of rewards in an educational context is contentious. However, for students who are not already intrinsically motivated to read, providing extrinsic reinforcers such as a tangible reward may serve as a way to effectively engage them in reading activities and encourage practice. The current evidence base for reading fluency interventions shows mixed results for whether adding tangible rewards produces any incremental gains in reading fluency. This study examined the effects of tangible rewards within the context of a standard protocol reading fluency intervention on reading and motivation outcomes. Using a multiple-baseline multiple-sequence across participants design, participants completed an intensive 8-week standard protocol reading fluency intervention with and without rewards, in a counter-balanced sequence across participants. Results indicated that across reading measures, there was no differentiation between the rewards and no rewards conditions, suggesting that rewards did not appear to either help or hinder performance on reading measures. Similarly, rewards did not appear to affect participants’ self-reported motivation to read. Across conditions, the intervention was effective in improving direct fluency gains on instructional passages for five out of six participants across both multiple baselines. For between-session fluency gains, the intervention was effective for one participant. The intervention was not effective in improving generalized gains in reading fluency. Results are discussed in terms of implications for educators, limitations of the study, and need for future research.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Does transcription instruction make writing interventions more effective? : a meta-analysis (2023)

Despite the importance of multi-component writing intervention and transcription intervention to writing performance, the systematic effects of these interventions and how transcription instruction contributes to such effects are unclear. I conducted a comprehensive meta-analysis including group experimental writing intervention studies for K-12 students to determine the overall writing quantity and quality effects and the extent to which the transcription intervention contributes to such effects. A total of 71 studies with 164 effect sizes (54 effect sizes for writing quantity outcomes and 110 effect sizes for writing quality outcomes) met the inclusion criteria. The mean effect sizes (Hedges’ g) for the outcomes of writing quantity and quality were calculated separately under the Correlated and Hierarchical Effects model. Overall, the mean effect sizes were moderate to strong for both measures, with 0.57 for writing quantity and 0.71 for writing quality. These moderate to strong writing effects were consistent, regardless of students’ grade level or academic skills. For both measures, transcription intervention generated the smallest aggregated effect size, followed by multi-component writing intervention with a transcription component, and the multi-component writing intervention without a transcription component yielded the strongest aggregated effect size. These findings indicate that, even for young and/or struggling writers, multi-component writing intervention is promising, and transcription intervention only is insufficient to improve writing performance. Also, multi-component writing intervention was more effective when the instruction of transcription skills was targeted simultaneously in certain situations, such as when the intervention study explicitly taught both transcription skills and other writing skills. However, the ability to conclude the optimal combination of instruction on these writing skills for subgroups of students is limited; future studies would benefit from evaluating how the combination of writing skills can maximally contribute to improved writing performance for specific subgroups. Additionally, more intervention studies are needed, especially intervention studies related to multi-component writing intervention with a transcription component and intervention studies for students at secondary grade levels.

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Mental health and wellness in K-12 staff affected by childhood adversity (2022)

Although one in three Canadians have experienced childhood adversity (Afifi et al., 2014; Burczycka, 2017; McDonald et al., 2015), this study shows that childhood adversity experienced by educators in British Columbia only has a small effect on their current mental health and wellness. This was determined using an online survey completed by 305 classroom teachers, special education/resource teachers, and special education assistants using a non-random, self-selected methodology. The instruments used to measure childhood adversity and mental health and wellness were the Maltreatment and Abuse Chronology of Exposure (MACE) and Mental Health Continuum, Short Form (MHC-SF) respectively. This study found no significant differences in the prevalence of childhood adversity between classroom teachers, special education/resource teachers, and special education assistants, nor did it find a significant correlation between childhood adversity, current mental health and wellness, and educational role. Recommendations to address childhood adversity are made at the individual and systems levels, with a particular focus on decolonization and centering Indigenous solutions as a reflection of the current reality of the colonization and ongoing violence towards Indigenous peoples in this province and country.

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Exploring a combined instructional and self-regulatory intervention for math anxiety (2019)

Math is a fundamental component of children’s education, as well as an essential skill for future learning. Although math is a fundamental component of a child’s education, many children have difficulty with math due to symptoms of math anxiety. Despite the gravity and pervasiveness of math anxiety, there is currently no consensus on an intervention to mitigate its detrimental effects. To date, few studies have utilized a combined instructional and self-regulation intervention to decrease math anxiety. In the present study, I investigated a pilot series of lessons incorporating both self-regulated learning and schema-based math instruction. Using the lessons successfully increased math word problem solving and somewhat decreased feeling so of math anxiety amongst four students in grades one and two within the context of a multiple probe across students design. Further, the lessons slightly increase student motivation and positive attitudes towards math. Future research should continue to investigate components of self-regulation as an important component to math instruction and should continue to try to increase the ecological validity of measures of math anxiety particularly within children.

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Exploring the relative effectiveness of functionally embodied and non-functionally embodied early literacy interventions. (2019)

The theory of embodied cognition provides a precise explanation for the positive effects of multisensory instruction methods, which are widely implemented for early literacy acquisition. Embodied instruction methods show great promise in learning across academic areas but have yet to be directly applied to the field of early literacy skills. The purpose of the current study is to examine the relative effectiveness of functionally embodied and non-functionally embodied early literacy interventions. An adapted alternating treatment design comparing a functionally embodied and a non-functionally embodied early literacy intervention was conducted with three elementary aged students demonstrating difficulty with early literacy. Accuracy of pseudoword CVC wordlist decoding increased at a higher rate and the number of trials to mastery was smaller for the functionally embodied condition compared to the non-functionally embodied condition with three demonstrations of the effect by two participants and one demonstration by the third participant. Additionally, all three participants showed improvements in phonics knowledge and broad reading skill from pre to post intervention. These findings have important implications for the use of embodied instructional techniques in education and for the use of theory to derive intervention practices.

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The effects of individualizing an early numeracy intervention for kindergarteners struggling with early mathematics (2019)

Numerous longitudinal studies demonstrate that students who perform poorly in mathematics at the end of kindergarten continue to perform poorly throughout elementary school. This finding is critical as early mathematics knowledge is not only vital for later success in mathematics, it is the greatest predictor of overall academic success. Hence, a compelling starting point for intervention is kindergarten; effective intervention in early numeracy would lead to success with later mathematics, and consequently academics in general. The current study employed a multiple baseline design (multiple probe technique) to determine if individualization of a standard protocol early numeracy intervention is effective in improving early numeracy skills of struggling kindergarteners. A functional relationship (3 demonstrations of a basic effect) was found for number identification. Two of the three participants required extensive individualization before this effect was demonstrated. The fourth participant’s lack of effect was due to improving performance in baseline, which complicated analysis. Additionally, there was an increase in broad early numeracy skills from pre-baseline to post-intervention for all participants. Implications and future directions for research are discussed.

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Determining the contributions of executive functioning to mathematical skills (2018)

The importance of executive functioning (EF) skills in general mathematical achievement hasbeen well established. However, a deeper understanding about the degree to which distinct EFskills uniquely contribute to not just math as a whole, but to individual mathematical abilities isneeded. The present study assessed the unique contributions of EF skills (working memory,inhibition, and shifting) to performance on math fluency, calculation, and problem solving tasks.A secondary goal of this study was to investigate whether performance based tests or parentalratings of EF better predict mathematical performance for each mathematical subskill.Participants were individually administered tests of EF and mathematics and parents completedan EF rating scale. A hierarchical multiple regression was conducted for each mathematicsubskill, including lower level math skills in the first block and either performance-based orparent ratings of EF in the second block. Results show a strong relationship between verbalworking memory and math fluency, calculation, and problem solving over and above lower levelmath skills. Math fluency had a significant relationship with calculation, but only calculation wasrelated to problem solving. Performance based measures of EF were superior to parental ratingsin terms of their relationship with calculation and problem solving. These findings haveimplications for our understanding of how EF skills may contribute to math achievement, whichcan inform early identification and provision of accommodations that will better supportmathematical success and the remediation of math difficulties. Furthermore, the findings haveimplications for the validity of performance based and parental ratings of EF for identifyingskills related to math. Lastly, the findings highlight the importance of lower level math skills incalculation and problem solving, which reiterates the importance of the mastery of prerequisiteskills as well as areas of targeted intervention.

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Retrospective schooling reflections among young adults with pediatric-onset inflammatory bowel disease: an interpretative phenomenological analysis (2018)

Students with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) face physical, psychological, social, and educational challenges (e.g., inadequate support from teachers, interrupted attendance and engagement in instruction) that can negatively impact learning trajectories. However, researchers have reported that individuals with pediatric-onset IBD do not demonstrate negative long-term outcomes as many appear to be academically successful upon reaching adulthood. It is unclear why this trend has emerged in recent literature. In this study, the lived-experience of seven young adults with pediatric-onset IBD were examined. Participants were asked to retrospectively reflect on how they navigated living with IBD while also attending school, learning academic concepts, and navigating relationships with teachers and peers. The Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) methodological framework was used to guide this investigation. To enhance the credibility and trustworthiness of the findings, employed strategies included: prolonged engagement, reflective journaling, member checks, and measuring the re-occurrence of experience across cases. Six super-ordinate themes and corresponding subthemes emerged from the interviews. IBD Related Experience provided contextual information about participants’ diagnostic process, physical symptoms, mental health concerns, and key sources of stress. Coping Strategies outlined information about individualized medical and holistic treatments used to manage symptoms. Educational Implications revealed participants experienced educational successes in addition to educational challenges and greater levels of difficulty after transitioning to university level programs. Educational Accommodations included formal and informal accommodations and personally developed academic strategies used to overcome educational challenges. Processes of Normalization depicted participants’ journey from experiencing feelings of embarrassment, finding connections with others, and working towards establishing a “new normal.” Social Interactions involved participants keeping their diagnosis private or disclosing to others. After disclosing, participants experienced positive and negative interactions from others. Overall, these participants were academically high achieving and experienced successful educational outcomes. This conclusion (a) likely offers a realistic description of what some students with IBD experience while in school (i.e., mixed experience of successes and challenges) and (b) supported recent researchers who have argued that students with IBD experience long-term educational success. Limitations, strengths, and implications associated with the study along with recommendations for future directions are discussed.

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Exploring the effects of student choice of topic on reading fluency interventions (2017)

Intrinsic motivation to read and reading difficulties reciprocally interact—students whohave difficulties in reading are often less motivated to read, resulting in reading disengagement and even greater reading difficulties. However, by increasing a student’s reading motivation, deep practice in reading also increases, resulting in improved reading outcomes. A way to improve student motivation is by incorporating student autonomy (through choice) in an intervention. The purpose of the study was to examine the effectiveness of a reading fluency intervention that incorporates student choice of topic through a multiple baseline across students design. Results indicated improvements in student reading fluency, both with the instructional passages and the generalization passages. Results from this study provide support for reading interventions that include choice of topic, even though students may choose passages or topics that are above their current reading levels.

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The effects of a reading fluency and multisyllabic decoding strategy on reading skills (2017)

As students enter the upper-elementary grades, the instructional focus shifts from learning to read to reading to learn (Chall, 1983). Much of the meaning in upper-elementary science texts is carried by previously unseen multisyllabic words. Students are expected to demonstrate proficient reading and decoding skills so they are able to access the curriculum and extract meaning from print. However, this is problematic for a cohort of students who demonstrate proficiency with the alphabetic principle, but lack flexible strategies and processes to employ when encountering a multisyllabic word. A delayed multiple baseline design was employed to determine if a multicomponent intervention combining three flexibly applied ‘think aloud’ multisyllabic word-decoding strategies with evidence-based fluency strategies was effective in improving the expository text reading skills of upper-elementary struggling readers. Gains in generalized reading fluency were observed on both expository and standardized reading passages. Minimal gains of multisyllabic word reading accuracy were observed on researcher-created word-lists and on within-passage measures. Gains in broad reading skills were not consistently observed. Students viewed the intervention favourably and perceived gains in their reading skills. Implications and future directions for research are discussed.

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Using risk ratios as a method of calculating substantial racial and ethnic disproportionality rates in school discipline (2017)

The discipline gap – a phenomenon by which students of colour (e.g., Black students) are disproportionately affected by school exclusionary discipline compared to their White peers – has been reliably documented for more than 50 years. Researchers have relied on different metrics, analysis methods, and data sources to measure the discipline gap. Regulators have proposed the standard use of risk ratios as a metric to measure disproportionality. Risk ratios require that the target group (e.g., Black students) be compared to another group (e.g., White students), however, there is a paucity of studies on the differential impact of using White students versus all other students as comparison groups. I analyzed data from 5,422 schools from the 2012 – 2014 academic school years across the United States by fitting two series of mixed models to account for the nested structure of the data. I evaluated the effect of using different comparison groups on risk ratio values as well as school disproportionate status. Results indicate that the use of all other students as a comparison group yields significantly higher mean risk ratio values over three years for Black students to receive at least one out-of-school suspension (OSS) by a factor of 2.621. The predicted odds of a school’s risk ratio value being significantly disproportionate (i.e., compared to a threshold value) increases by a factor of 1.790 when using all other students as a comparison group. The mean risk ratio values for Black students to receive at least one OSS were significantly higher in 2014 – 2015 than in 2012 – 2013, regardless of which comparison group is used. Implications for both policy makers and researchers are discussed in light of the findings and proposed legislation.

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Component Analysis of Self-Regulated Strategy Development: Effects of Self-Statements on Student Writing (2015)

The Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) model of writing instruction, which has been successfully used to improve student writing, is a multi-component, instructional model that combines explicit writing task strategy instruction with implicit instruction on self-regulation. One component of self-regulation identified in the model is self-instruction (i.e., students’ use of self-statements to regulate their emotions and behavior during the writing process). Recent research is unclear regarding the effectiveness of explicit instruction on self-statement use. The current study used a between groups design across six instructional pairs of students in grades 5 to 7 to determine if self-instruction is a critical component of the SRSD model. Three pairs of students received explicit instruction on the use of self-statements (SRSD+ group), the other three pairs did not (SRSD- group). Between groups differences in change were examined using a mixed effects, repeated measures ANOVA with a random intercept at the pair level. Results indicated that all groups showed significant improvements across most measures over time; however, there were no statistically significant differences in change between the SRSD+ and SRSD- groups. When effect sizes were examined, students in the SRSD- group showed large improvements relative to the SRSD+ group in self-efficacy, and small improvements in writing duration, Correct Writing Sequences (CWS), Percent Correct Writing Sequences (PCWS) and scores from British Columbia Performance Standards in Written Expression (BCPS-W) when compared to the SRSD+ group.

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Learning through action with embodied education: A multisensory component analysis in an early literacy skills intervention (2015)

Multisensory components have been used across various educational approaches for many decades; however, the specific contribution of multisensory components is not well documented or explained, especially from an embodied education approach. Thus, an investigation of the effectiveness of adding a multisensory component (i.e., sandpaper letters) to an early literacy skills intervention (i.e., modified Road to the Code program; Blachman, Ball, Black, & Tangle, 2000) was conducted. To accomplish this, a multiple-baseline multiple-sequence design was used with six kindergarten students identified as needing remediating instruction, comparing instruction with and without the multisensory component while keeping instructional time constant. It was hypothesized that participants would show greater gains in early literacy skills (i.e., naming letters, segmenting words into phonemes, and decoding phonetically regular words) following the intervention with the multisensory component, compared to the intervention without. The addition of a multisensory component (i.e., sandpaper letters) was time efficient and simple to implement, and appeared to result in differential growth for at least some students. Given that the addition of a modest multisensory component appeared to assist some students in improving their early literacy skills, results were consistent with theories of embodied cognition and suggested that a more robust multisensory intervention could be worth developing and researching further.

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The Effect of a Brief Mindful Breathing Exercise Added to a Reading Fluency Intervention for Students with Significant Attentional Difficulties (2015)

Cognitive theories of reading acquisition emphasize cognitive processes such as attention and working memory, which could be problematic for students with significant attentional difficulties. Mindfulness interventions have been associated with improvements in executive functioning and positive academic outcomes. An alternating treatment design comparing a reading fluency intervention with and without an exploratory brief mindful breathing exercise was conducted with four elementary-aged students identified by classroom teachers as demonstrating difficulty with reading fluency and attention. It was hypothesized that participants would show greater gains in reading fluency, as measured by number of words correct per minute (WCPM), when they received the brief mindful breathing exercise compared to when they did not. It was also hypothesized that students would show increased attention and decreased feelings of stress, as indicated by self-report ratings, after participating in the brief mindful breathing exercise. The exploratory mindful breathing component was cost-efficient, and simple to implement. It appeared to benefit one student in increasing attention and decreasing feelings of stress. It did not, however, result in significant improvements in students’ rate of accurate oral reading, though the difference in WCPM between the first and third read-through of passages suggested that students benefitted from the reading fluency intervention regardless of condition. Future research examining the dosage of mindful breathing training required to see meaningful changes in cognitive processes, and in the intersection of mindful breathing and academic interventions for students, is recommended.

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The effects of a play-based social emotional learning program on problem behaviour and social responsibility (2014)

A growing realization of the importance of addressing social–emotional, in addition to academic, development in schools highlights the importance of establishing an evidence base for SEL initiatives. The current study is an evaluation of one SEL initiative, Play Is The Way™ (McCaskill, 2011) which uses physically interactive games to promote social-emotional competencies and positive school climates. Play Is The Way™ was implemented in 5 classrooms of one elementary school. Five additional classrooms delayed implementation and served as comparison classrooms. Across the 10 Kindergarten through Grade 7 classrooms, 79 students were randomly selected and outcome measures were completed by teachers for those students before and after the intervention was implemented. Outcome measures included the Social Responsibility Quick Scale (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2001), a measure of social responsibility, and the Behavior Assessment Scale for Children – Second Edition (Reynolds & Kamphaus, 2004), a measure of problem behaviour. A mixed-effects analysis of variance was used to determine if there were increases in social responsibility and decreases in problem behaviour in implementing classrooms. Gender and grade were included as predictors. Significant interactions were found on the externalizing outcome variable, between treatment group and gender, and on both the externalizing and internalizing outcome variables, between treatment group and grade. Results do not clearly support the use of PITW to reduce externalizing and internalizing behaviours, or to increase social responsibility in elementary students. Effect sizes indicated medium reductions in externalizing behaviours for upper elementary students and for male students; medium increases in externalizing behaviours for female and upper elementary students; medium reductions in internalizing behaviours for upper elementary; and large increases in internalizing behaviours for lower elementary students. Effect sizes indicating medium increases in social responsibility in the treatment group.Limitations of the current study include that classrooms were not randomly assigned to conditions, measures were completed by classroom teachers who also implemented the program, fidelity information was not available, and baseline ratings on the BASC-2 indicated a lack significant challenges in the areas measured by outcome variables. Results are discussed in light of these limitations, and the implications for future research and practice.

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Cyberpsychology and schools: A feasibility study using virtual reality with school children (2013)

This study evaluates the feasibility and treatment acceptability of Virtual Reality (VR) technology applied universally in a school setting. A total of 105 children, mean age of 14.45, in five classrooms completed a paper and pencil measure of trait anxiety during Session 1. In Session 2, participants were randomly selected to participate in either a neutral environment or an anxiety-provoking environment and completed a measure of state anxiety immediately prior to and following their first VR exposure. Following the exposure participants also completed a Likert-Scaled questionnaire regarding treatment acceptability. In Session 3, participants completed Session 2 procedure in the alternate environment. There was a main effect of condition and time on state anxiety scores, controlling for trait anxiety. Participants in the anxiety provoking condition had lower mean state anxiety scores than being in the neutral condition; participants had lower state anxiety levels following the anxiety condition than they did following the neutral condition. All participants’ mean state anxiety levels were lower post exposure than pre exposure. There was also a borderline significant main effect of condition on treatment acceptability levels, controlling for trait anxiety. Participants in the neutral condition had a higher level of acceptability than when in the anxiety provoking condition. Results reveal that the implementation of VR technology exposure warrants further research.

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