The US What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) reviewed research about First Step to Success, an early intervention program for K-3 children who are at risk of developing antisocial behavior, and identified it as having positive effects on ratings of student behavior and potentially positive effects on ratings of emotions, social skills, and academic outcomes. The WWC based its review on two studies by the developers of First Step, Hill Walker and colleagues—alert readers of EBD Blog will recognize one of them (see “First Step Takes Off“).
What Works—which some folks have taken to calling “what doesn’t work,” because they say it rarely identifies practices that are effective—gave the research undergirding First Step a strong review:
The WWC review of interventions for Children Classified as Having an Emotional Disturbance addresses student outcomes in seven domains: external behavior, emotional/internal behavior, social outcomes, reading achievement/ literacy, math achievement, school attendance, and other academic performance. The two studies that contribute to the effectiveness rating in this report cover five domains: external behavior, emotional/internal behavior, social outcomes, reading achievement/literacy, and other academic performance. The findings below present the authors’ estimates and WWC-calculated estimates of the size and statistical significance of the effects of First Step to Success on children classified as having an emotional disturbance….
Two studies reported findings in the external behavior domain.
Walker et al. (1998) found, and the WWC confirmed, four positive and statistically significant differences between treatment and comparison groups on academic engaged time, the Child Behavior Checklist–Teacher Report Forms (CBCL-TRF) Aggression Subscale, the Early Screening Project (ESP) Adaptive Behavior Subscale, and the ESP Maladaptive Behavior Subscale.
Walker et al. (2009) found, and the WWC confirmed, four positive and statistically significant differences between treatment and comparison groups on academic engaged time, the Social Skills Rating System (SSRS) Problem Behavior Subscale for Parents, the SSRS Problem Behavior Subscale for Teachers, and the SSBD Maladaptive Behavior Index. Although the overall design of the Walker et al. (2009) study meets evidence standards, there was high attrition on one outcome: the SSRS Problem Behavior Subscale for Parents outcome. The authors established equivalence for the analytic sample for this outcome; thus, this finding meets evidence standards with reservations.
The mean effect size from the four outcomes in Walker et al. (1998) and the mean effect size from the four out- comes in Walker et al. (2009) were both statistically significant. Thus, for the external behavior domain, two studies with strong designs showed statistically significant positive effects. This results in an intervention rating of positive effects for the domain, with a small extent of evidence.
Walker, H. M., Kavanagh, K., Stiller, B., Golly, A., Severson, H., & Feil, E. (1998). First Step to Success. An early intervention approach for preventing school antisocial behavior. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 6, 66–80.
Walker, H. M., Seeley, J. R., Small, J., Severson, H. H, Graham, B. A., Feil, E. G., . . . Forness, S. R. (2009). A randomized controlled trial of the First Step to Success early intervention: Demonstration of program efficacy outcomes in a diverse, urban school district. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 17, 197–212.