Impact of early intervention

Early educational programs for children living in poverty can improve academic ability and school performance well into the teenage years report Frances Campbell, Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Craig Ramey, Civitan International Research Center, Birmingham, Alabama.

Ramey says that “intellectual development is to a significant degree alterable by the quality of the environment the child experiences. This is particularly true for vulnerable children…At risk does not mean doomed.”

Campbell and Ramey make these conclusions based on the Abecedarian Project, the longest-running study of early intervention. Infants selected for the Abecedarian Project were considered high-risk for school difficulties because of social and economic factors reported by their parents, but they were full-term babies without any physical handicaps or conditions associated with cognitive difficulties.

These infants were divided into an experimental and control group at six weeks of age. The experimental group attended a year-round, quality day care from infancy to age five while the control group did not. Once they reached school age, each of these two groups was again divided into experimental and control groups.

Activities for parents to use with children

The experimental groups had an extra teacher who consulted with their classroom teachers to develop activities for parents to use with their children at home 15 minutes each day. In this way, the effects of the two parts of the program could be studied separately as well as measuring their combined effects. One quarter of the total group received both the preschool and school-age interventions, while another quarter received only preschool. The third quarter received only the school-age intervention while the fourth quarter had no intervention at all.

Follow-up IQ and achievement testing of both control and experimental students was carried out at 8, 12 and 15 years of age. On IQ tests, the children who had received the preschool intervention consistently outscored those without preschool, although the differences faded somewhat over time. Children who received only school-age intervention scored higher than those who did not receive any intervention at all.

Even larger differences were apparent on academic achievement tests. On standardized tests of reading and math, those who received both preschool and primary intervention outscored all others. While children who received only preschool treatment outscored those who received only school-age treatment. Those that received only school-age treatment outscored those who did not attend either program. Significantly reduced retentions and referrals for special education were seen in all groups receiving some intervention.

Campbell and Ramey conclude that this study demonstrates that greatly improved academic performance is possible for economically disadvantaged children. However, this particular school-age intervention, providing only supplemental help in the primary grades, does not greatly enhance academic achievement, by itself. Preschool and follow-up intervention is necessary for larger academic gains that are apparent even when the children are 15 years old. Graham and Ramey state that information on the costs of the two types of intervention was not provided. There was also no information available on the social and medical outcomes for these children, but the researchers speculate that there might be additional benefits in these two areas.

“Cognitive and School Outcomes for High-Risk African-American Students at Middle Adolescence: Positive Effects of Early Intervention” American Educational Research Journal Volume 32, Number 4, Winter 1995 pp. 743-772.

Published in ERN May/June 1996 Volume 9 Number 3

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