Skip Navigation
Funding Opportunities | Search Funded Research Grants and Contracts

IES Grant

Title: Early, Evidence Based Intervention for Severe Behavior Problems: First Step to Success
Center: NCSER Year:
Principal Investigator: Walker, Hill Awardee: Oregon Research Institute
Program: Unsolicited and Other Awards: Special Education Research      [Program Details]
Award Period: 10/1/2004 to 9/30/2008 Award Amount: $4,289,982*
Award Number: H324P040006

Funded through the Office of Special Education Programs prior to the establishment of NCSER.

Co-Principal Investigators: Edward Feil, Herbert Severson, John Seeley

Purpose: The First Step to Success early intervention program is the focus of this research effort (Walker, Kavanagh, Stiller, Golly, Severson & Feil, 1997; 1998). First Step is a selected intervention designed to achieve secondary prevention goals and outcomes for behaviorally at risk children showing the early signs of emerging antisocial behavior patterns. It was developed for, and has been evaluated with, at-risk students having moderate to severe behavior problems in grades K-3. A randomized control trial of the intervention will be conducted within a large, diverse district in New Mexico where the program has not been previously implemented. The primary purpose of the program is to determine, via a randomized control trial, the effects and outcomes of the intervention program for English- and Spanish-speaking child populations enrolled in kindergarten through third grade who have an elevated risk for the development of severe behavior problems of an externalizing nature. A series of specialized studies, investigating program enhancement strategies and functional behavior assessment procedures, will be conducted on the First Step program within school district in Oregon. These complementary studies will be designed and coordinated by collaborating University of Oregon researchers (Horner & Sugai). The Oregon Research Institute (ORI) and University of New Mexico (UNM) project staff will jointly coordinate the randomized control trial study.

Project Activities: This project is designed to address the following research questions:

  1. What are the effects of the First Step to Success program for young English- and Spanish-speaking students who are at elevated risk for developing severe externalizing behavior problems?
  2. To what extent are the effects of intervention maintained following program terminations?
  3. How well do intervention effects generalize to nonclassroom settings (e.g., playground)?
  4. What factors mediate or moderate program effects, including individual, household, classroom and school factors (particularly existing school behavior support)?

Products: The expected outcomes from this study include:

  1. Data and published reports on the impact of the First Step program as an intervention for young children at risk for behavior problems,
  2. A refined and adapted set of functional behavior assessment procedures for the First Step program,
  3. Data on the reliability and validity of the Functional Assessment Checklist for Teachers (FACTS) for determining behavior function of students in grades K-3, and
  4. Presentations on the costs-benefits of implementing the First Step program in grades K-3.

Setting: Elementary schools in New Mexico and Oregon are participating. The schools in New Mexico, the location for the randomized trial of First Step, include students living in poverty; about two-thirds are from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds (approximately 53 % of the district's students are Hispanic). A supplemental study in Oregon focuses on developing strategies for working with weak responders and non-responders to the program.

Population: The Systematic Screening for Behavior Disorders (SSBD) will be used to identify students in participating classrooms who exhibit serious externalizing behaviors. It is anticipated that three students in each class will be identified with the SSBD. The child with the most severe behavior problems will be recruited first. If that child's parents/guardians refuse, the researchers will then contact parents of the next child on the list until consent is received.

A total of 21 elementary schools will participate. Participating schools will be ultimately selected by the district administration as well as self-selected by site management teams in collaboration with the investigators. At each grade level from K-3, up to 4 classrooms will participate (up to 16 classrooms per school) for a total of 256 classrooms. One student per class will participate for total of 256 students.

Intervention: First Step to Success is an intervention designed to achieve secondary prevention goals and outcomes for behaviorally at risk children showing the early signs of emerging antisocial behavior patterns. The intervention is grounded in a social-ecological conceptual model, which effectively conceptualizes the complex environmental, individual, and environmental-individual factors involved in assessing and intervening effectively with children with behavior problems. It is a manualized intervention appropriate for students who experience moderate to severe behavior problems in the beginning stages of their school careers (i.e., grades 1-3). The program has three linked modular components (i.e., universal proactive screening, school intervention, and parent training) that are designed for use in concert. Throughout the 3-month implementation phase of First Step, these program components are coordinated and delivered in both classroom and home settings by a behavioral coach (e.g., school psychologist, behavior specialist, social worker, resource teacher) who works closely with participating teachers and parents/caregivers.

Research Design and Methods: Classrooms within schools within grade levels are randomized to intervention or control group. Researchers will make efforts to reduce contamination, though they estimate contamination will be minimal because the intervention is predicated on having access to a trained behavioral consultant. Experimental teachers may discuss strategies with other teachers, but will be unlikely to actively train them in the intervention procedures.

Control Condition: A "usual care" control condition is used.

Key Measures: The researchers will collect information across a variety of domains including contextual and covariate information such as student and teacher demographics and demographics about the First Step behavioral coaches. Schools will provide information about the use of schoolwide positive behavior support programs via the Schoolwide Evaluation Tool (SET) and school-level information (e.g., school suspension rates, achievement) will be collected from the Schoolwide Information System (SWIS). Additional school information will be collected from the Individual Student Systems Evaluation Tool (ISSET), an assessment of individual student secondary/tertiary support systems in place in the school, and the Safe Schools Survey, which is an index of perceived school safety. At a student level, information will be collected about behavior at school through the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL), and the Social Skills Rating System (SSRS), as well as behavioral observation data. Parents report on home behaviors with the parent-version of the SSRS, and parents will also provide information about family context through the Family Events Checklist. Researchers will also collect student-level academic engagement and academic performance data. Teachers and parents will provide information regarding satisfaction and acceptability of the program. Data on costs associated with implementation and sustainability of the program will also be collected.

Data Analytic Strategy: Equivalence of intervention and control groups will be determined by examining a number of covariates including student demographic information and baseline measurement scores. Growth curve analysis will be used to compare the longitudinal trajectories of the outcomes measures by intervention condition. Conventional statistical techniques (e.g., linear/logistic regression, ANOVA) will also be used to test associations and to examine mediating and moderating effects where appropriate. Cost data will also be analyzed (school and family costs), including the cost per increment of impact on academic engaged time and aggressive behavior. Results will be compared with alternative programs (e.g., Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group).



Woodbridge, M.W., Sumi, W.C., Thornton, P., Javitz, H., and Wagner, M. (2009). An Efficacy Trial of First Step to Success. Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.

Book chapter

Forness, S., Walker, H.M., and Serna, L.A. (2014). Establishing an Evidence Base: Lessons Learned From Implementing Randomized Controlled Trials for Behavioral and Pharmacological Interventons. In H.M. Walker, and F.M. Gresham (Eds.), Handbook of Evidence-Based Practices for Emotional and Behavioral Disorders: Applications in Schools (pp. 567–583). New York: Guilford, Inc.

Walker, H.M., Forness, S.R., and Lane, K. (2014). Design and Management of Scientific Research in Applied School Settings. In B.G. Cook, M. Tankersley, and T.J. Landrum (Eds.), Advances in Learning and Behavioral Disabilities, Volume 27 (pp. 141–169). Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

Walker, H.M., Severson, H., Seeley, J., Feil, E., Small, J., Golly, A., Frey, A., Lee, J., Sumi, W.C., Woodbridge, M., Wagner, M., and Forness, S. (2014). The Evidence Base of the First Step to Success Early Intervention for Preventing Emerging Antisocial Behavior Patterns. In H.M. Walker, and F.M. Gresham (Eds.), Handbook of Evidence-Based Practices for Emotional and Behavioral Disorders: Applications in Schools (pp. 518–537). New York: Guilford.

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Carter, D., and Horner, R. (2007). Adding Functional Behavioral Assessment to First Step to Success: A Case Study. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 9(4): 229–238. doi:10.1177/10983007070090040501

Carter, D., and Horner, R. (2009). Adding Function-Based Behavioral Support to First Step to Success: Integrating Individualized and Manualized Practices. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 11(1): 22–34. doi:10.1177/1098300708319125

Loman, S., Rodriguez, B., and Horner, R. (2010). Sustainability of a Targeted Intervention Package: First Step to Success in Oregon. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 18(3): 178–191. doi:10.1177/1063426610362899

Rodriguez, B.J., Loman, S., and Horner, R. (2009). A Preliminary Analysis of the Effects of Coaching Feedback on Teacher Implementation Fidelity of First Step to Success. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 2(2): 11–21.

Seeley, J.R., Small, J.W., Walker, H.M., Feil, E.G., Severson, H.H., Golly, A.M., and Forness, S.R. (2009). Efficacy of the First Step to Success Intervention for Students With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. School Mental Health, 1(1): 37–48. doi:10.1007/s12310–008–9003–4

Sumi, W.C., Woodbridge, M.W., Javitz, H.S., Thornton, S.P., Wagner, M., Rouspil, K., Yu, J.W., Seeley, J.R., Walker, H.M., Golly, A.M., Small, J.W., Feil, E.G., and Severson, H.H. (2013). Assessing the Effectiveness of First Step to Success: Are Short-Term Results the First Step to Long-Term Behavioral Improvements?. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 21(1): 66–78. doi:10.1177/1063426611429571

Walker, H., Seeley, J., Small, J., Golly, A., Severson, H., and Feil, E. (2008). The First Step to Success Program for Preventing Antisocial Behavior in Young Children: Update on Past, Current, and Planned Research. Report on Emotional & Behavioral Disorders in Youth, 8(1): 17–23.

Walker, H.M., Seeley, J.R., Small, J., Severson, H.H., Graham, B., Feil, E.G., Serna, L., Golly, A.M., and 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(4): 197–212. doi:10.1177/1063426609341645

Woodbridge, M., Sumi, W., Yu, J., Rouispil, K., Javitz, H., Seeley, J., and Walker, H.M. (2014). Implementation and Sustainability of an Evidence-Based Program: Lessons Learned From the Prism Applied to "First Step to Success". Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 22(2): 95–106. doi:10.1177/1063426613520456

* The dollar amount includes funds from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and NCSER.