First Step to Success

Program Goal/Target Population

First Step to Success is an early intervention program designed to identify children with antisocial behavior and introduce adaptive behavioral strategies to prevent antisocial behavior in school. The program has both school and home components.



The primary goal of the program is to divert antisocial kindergartners from an antisocial behavior pattern during their subsequent school careers and to develop in them the competencies needed to build effective teacher- and peer-related, social–behavioral adjustments.



Program Theory

The program targets at-risk kindergartners who show the early signs of an antisocial pattern of behavior (e.g., aggression, oppositional–defiant behavior, severe fits of temper, victimization of others). The intervention is based on the early-starter model of the development of antisocial behavior. Signs of conduct problems can be detected as early as preschool. Many children bring a pattern of antisocial behavior with them from home when they enter school. This early pattern can indicate the beginning of a stable pattern of maladaptive behavior that predicts more severe problems later on when the youths are less amenable to treatment. More severe problems include issues such as peer rejection, school dropout, and delinquency.



Program Components

First Step to Success consists of three interconnected modules: 1) proactive, universal screening of all kindergarteners, 2) school intervention involving the teacher, peers, and the target child that teaches adaptive behavior patterns, and 3) parent/caregiver training and involvement to support the child’s school adjustment. The intervention is implemented over 3 months. Components are delivered in both school and home settings.



A key part of the program is the behavioral coaches who act as caseworkers for two to three students and are responsible for implementing and coordinating the school and home components of the intervention. Coaches are trained through lectures, videotaped demonstrations, role-playing, skill practice/feedback sessions, materials, and self-evaluation. Training, monitoring, and supervision processes are implemented to build fidelity.



The facilitative strategy of the program relies on having the coach work with teachers and parents to give them the skills to teach students replacement behaviors and reward students when those behaviors are used appropriately and consistently. Strategies for implementation include schedules for praising and awarding points, prepared scripts, daily task lists, and guidelines for application. Students are taught specific skills and behaviors to use in place of inappropriate behaviors they have used in the past. More specifically, during the school day, the coach or teacher gives the First Step to Success student visual cues (i.e., a green or red card) to indicate whether or not he or she is on task and using appropriate behaviors. Throughout the day, the student accrues points toward his or her behavioral goal. If the student makes the daily goals, he or she gets to choose an enjoyable activity the whole class can do and appreciate.



Each evening, parents receive feedback about how their child’s day went. Parents are trained through six weekly meetings with the coach, and they are encouraged to reward the student’s positive behavior by spending some extra time with their child at an activity, such as playing a game or taking a walk together.

Intervention ID: 
296
Ages: 
5 to 8
Rating: 
Effective
Evaluation: 

Study 1

Walker and colleagues (1998) used a waitlist cohort design to assess the impact of First Step to Success on antisocial behavior. Forty-six kindergartners who met participation criteria were randomly assigned to experimental and waitlist control groups. Participation criteria were met by kindergarteners who, upon nomination by their teachers, exceeded the Early Screening Project criteria (an age-appropriate adaptation of the Systematic Screening for Behavioral Disorders) and were observed as not being appropriately engaged in teacher-assigned tasks and activities. Baseline performance measures (teacher ratings and behavioral observations) were recorded for the at-risk kindergartners.



The participants were from two cohorts who participated in the study over 2 years. The sample was 26 percent female and 7 percent minority status. Thirty-seven percent of the students were considered low income. Eleven children qualified for special education services (five were classified as learning disabled, four as speech-language impaired, and two as severely emotionally disturbed). For both cohorts, data was collected at pretest, posttest, and first grade follow-up. Cohort 1 also participated in a second grade follow-up. Data included five dependent measures: 1) teacher ratings of adaptive behavior for the Early Screening Project (ESP) procedure, 2) teacher ratings of maladaptive behavior from the ESP, 3) observation of appropriate attention to teacher, 4) aggression subscale on Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) teacher report form, and 5) withdrawn subscale on the CBCL teacher report form. Baseline measures were used as covariates in all analyses. Findings were similar for cohorts 1 and 2, so the samples were combined and compared with waitlist controls.



Study 2

Walker and colleagues (2005) used a quasi-experimental design to assess the impact of First Step to Success with a sample of 181 kindergarten through second grade children in 11 Oregon counties. The evaluators constructed an untreated control group of students eligible for the program but not receiving it. The scores of this untreated group were combined with the scores of the control group (n=22) in the Walker and colleagues (1998) study. The total sample for this hybrid control group was 30 children.



Children in the treatment condition were referred by teachers who had identified them as experiencing social–behavioral adjustment problems of an externalizing nature. Permission for participation in the program was secured from parents.



Two types of measures were used: 1) teacher report scales and direct observations and 2) teacher and parent consumer satisfaction scales. The teacher report measures and observation procedures were those used by Walker and colleagues in 1998. The three teacher measures and direct observation were completed at baseline and postintervention. Fidelity of implementation was also assessed through classroom observation.



Behavioral coaches received training sessions in the program’s procedures.



Study 3

Walker and colleagues (2009) used a randomized control trial to assess the impact of First Step to Success. The study was conducted with two cohorts over 4 years in 34 elementary schools in the urban Albuquerque (N.M.) Public Schools (APS). Classrooms were randomly assigned to either the intervention or usual care comparison group. The full sample consisted of 200 students in first through third grades.



Random assignment occurred at the classroom level within waves; only one student per class was included in the study. Randomization occurred before parental consent. Cohort 1 comprised 99 students (44 usual care; 55 intervention). Cohort 2 comprised 101 students (55 usual care, 46 intervention). The Systematic Screening for Behavior Disorder (SSBD) was used to identify children for participation. Parental consent was obtained for 210 of the 260 recruited teachers/classrooms; of these, 107 were randomly assigned to the intervention and 103 to the comparison condition.



The sample was predominantly male (73 percent). Eighty-three students were first graders, 69 were second graders, and 48 were third graders. Fifty-seven percent were Hispanic, 24.5 percent white, 7.0 percent African American, 4.5 percent American Indian, 3.0 percent multiracial, 0.5 percent Asian or Pacific Islander, and 3.0 percent unknown. Seventy percent were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. Eighty-eight percent came from primarily English-speaking households, and 16 percent were English language learners.



Twenty-four coaches were recruited from a pool of behavior management specialists and six behavior consultants from the APS behavior consultation service team. All staff received training.



Outcome data was collected from teacher- and parent-reported measures from the Social Skills Rating System, teacher-reported measures from the SSBD, direct observations using the SSBD measure of student academic engaged time, and individual academic performance measures using the Woodcock–Johnson III Letter–Word Identification subtests and oral reading fluency tests. Data was collected at baseline and postintervention. The evaluators conducted an intent-to-treat analysis, using multivariate analysis of covariance (MANCOVA) and analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) models.

Outcomes: 

Study 1

Adaptive Behavior


As measured by the Early Screening Project, Walker and colleagues (1998) found that treatment students experienced statistically significant improvements in adaptive behavior (p<.001).



Maladaptive Behavior

Postintervention, students who participated in First Step to Success were rated by teachers as significantly less maladaptive (p<.001), compared with control students.



Aggression

Postintervention, students who participated in First Step to Success were rated by teachers as significantly less aggressive (p<.001), compared with control students.



Withdrawn Behavior

There were no differences between groups on teacher ratings of withdrawn behavior.



Attention to the Teacher

Observations made of the students’ appropriate attention to teachers indicated that the intervention subjects spent more time engaged academically (p<.05) than control students did.



Study 2

Adaptive Behavior


Walker and colleagues (2005) found that treatment students experienced statistically significant improvements in adaptive behavior (p<.001).



Maladaptive Behavior

Postintervention, students who participated in First Step to Success were rated by teachers as significantly less maladaptive (p<.001), compared with control students.



Aggression

Postintervention, students who participated in First Step to Success were rated by teachers as significantly less aggressive (p<.001), compared with control students.



Attention to the Teacher

Observations made of the students’ appropriate attention to teachers indicated that the intervention subjects spent more time engaged academically (p<.001) than control students did.



Study 3

Problem Behavior


According to teacher-reported ratings, intervention students showed significant overall gains, compared with students in the control condition (p<.001). According to parent-reported ratings, intervention students showed significant overall gains, compared with students in the comparison condition (p<.001). The intervention had a moderate effect on reducing problem behavior symptoms.



Functional Impairment

According to teacher-reported ratings, intervention students showed significant overall gains in the functional impairment domain, compared with students in the control condition (p<.001). According to parent-reported ratings, intervention students showed significant overall gains, compared with students in the comparison condition (p<.001). The intervention had a moderate effect on improving adaptive behaviors and social skills, according to teacher reports, and a moderate effect on improving social skills, according to parent reports.



Academic Skills

The intervention groups showed significant gains on the Academic Competence subscale of the Social Skills Rating System and the academic engaged time measure, compared with the control group. However, the comparison group showed significantly greater improvements on the Woodcock–Johnson III Letter–Word Identification subtest, compared with the intervention group. There were no differences between the groups in terms of gains in oral reading fluency.