Uncertain results

John Bald

The research evidence on First Steps is inconclusive, partly because "before and after" studies were not carried out.

A 1992 evaluation by the Australian Council for Educational Research compared test scores in reading and writing from schools which had been using First Steps for some time with those which had recently joined the scheme, and of others which had not been involved. In each category, pupils were assigned to a "high" or "low" socio-economic group.

The results for the high socio-economic group showed slightly better achievement for the established First Steps pupils than for the others, although no test of statistical significance was used. For the pupils of lower socio-economic groups, for whom the scheme was designed, the results were uncertain. The highest scores were from pupils who had not been involved in the scheme at all, whose scores were, surprisingly, almost identical to those of higher socio-economic groups. Established First Steps schools did, however, outscore schools which had recently begun to use the scheme. As First Steps had been introduced initially into schools with the greatest problems, the results might indicate an improvement. ACER said the scheme "may be making an important difference in the reading ability of students" but this was based on "informed guessing". An ACER spokesperson said the time was probably ripe for further investigation.

A 1995 study for Western Australia's education department shows that First Steps has generated enthusiasm among teachers, pupils and parents - although a high proportion of teachers and parents note moderate rather than major changes - but sheds little light on its effects on performance.

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