Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Does First Step to Success Have Long-Term Impacts on Student Behavior? an Analysis of Efficacy Trial Data

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Does First Step to Success Have Long-Term Impacts on Student Behavior? an Analysis of Efficacy Trial Data

Article excerpt

Abstract. First Step to Success (First Step; Walker et al., 1997, 1998) is a secondary-level intervention for students with behavior problems in early elementary school. The purposes of this study were to assess whether effects in student behavior and academics at posttest shown in a recent efficacy trial (Walker et al., 2009) were maintained at follow-up and to examine the relationship of implementation fidelity to outcomes. The findings showed that although First Step's initial impact was significant and positive across all behavior and some academic measures, gains eroded 1 year after the intervention was withdrawn. Results are discussed in the context of students' experience of yearly change in classroom environments, teachers' variable behavioral expectations and perceptions, and the need for intervention maintenance plans to support sustainment of treatment effects.


As school districts face serious budget cuts with concomitant pressure to improve test scores, it is increasingly important that their limited resources be used to support evidence-based programs and interventions that address widespread problems with high social and economic costs such as antisocial behavior exhibited by young children. The rates of aggressive and antisocial behavior among children have increased over the past 50 years and constitute "a major public health problem for society" (Connor, 2004, p. 28). Researchers argue that if behavior problems are not corrected early, they can lead to serious behavior disorders that can persist over the life course (Kazdin, 1987; Moffitt, 1993; Webster-Stratton & Taylor, 2001).

When children with emotional and behavioral disorders receive special education services to help them succeed at school, they may still have lower school attendance rates, grades, and graduation rates than students without disabilities or with any other disability classification (Blackorby, Chorost, Garza, & Guzman, 2005; Wagner et al., 2003; Wagner, Newman, Cameto, Garza, & Levine, 2005). In many cases, this scenario of low attendance, grades, and graduation rates leads to a poor transition to young adulthood and adverse life outcomes for youth with emotional and behavioral disorders (Wagner & Davis, 2006), including a 57% likelihood of being arrested within 2 years of leaving high school, employment instability, and risk of entering the adult mental health treatment system (Kessler, Chiu, Dernier, & Walters, 2005; Kutash, Duchnowski, & Lynn, 2006; Newman, Wagner, Cameto, & Knokey, 2009; Wagner et al., 2005).


First Step to Success (i.e., First Step) is an evidence-based program (Sprague & Perkins, 2009; Walker et al., 2009) for addressing children's behavior problems at school and teaching positive, prosocial behavior. It is a secondary-level intervention (i.e., implemented when children do not respond to primary, school-wide universal prevention strategies) for early elementary students who have moderate to severe behavior problems (Walker et al., 1997, 1998). Grounded in a social-ecological model (Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Schalock, 1989), the fundamental principle behind First Step is that when peers and adults who are central to children's experience learn and systematically apply strategies for eliciting and reinforcing positive behaviors, long-term improvements in children's behavior at school and at home can result. First Step is expected to achieve behavioral improvements by applying three modular components in concert: (a) universal screening for behavior problems; (b) classroom intervention involving the target student, peers, and teacher; and (c) in-home parent education designed to strengthen parenting skills and the home-school relationship.

The First Step screening module involves teachers identifying students in their classrooms who are at risk of, or already exhibiting, internalizing or externalizing behavior problems and evaluating the students using standard measures of antisocial behavior. …

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