How Effective is First Step Next?

October 13, 2022

First Step Next is the current iteration of First Step to Success. It is designed to be an early elementary teacher-friendly intervention for students with disruptive behavior. Since 1998 it has been empirically evaluated to determine effectiveness giving us a large body of evidence to consider. The research methods have ranged from single case designs and quasi-experimental methods to randomized clinical trials. The authors of this synthesis reviewed only randomized clinical trials, generally considered the gold standard for research, that were conducted between 2009 and 2021. The review considered evidence from efficacy studies in which researchers were closely involved in the execution of the project, and effectiveness studies in which the researchers worked at “arm’s length” from the school and implementation was carried out by the existing personnel in the school. In addition, the researchers evaluated the effects of First Step Next alone and when combined with a home-based program, homeBase. Finally, the researchers assessed the impact of First Step Next on at-risk populations such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD, anxiety, and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

The synthesis suggests that First Step Next results in small to large effect sizes across different outcome measures. Efficacy studies produced larger effect sizes than effectiveness studies. It is generally the case that efficacy studies yield larger effects. The effects were more robust in school than at home, as measured by the teacher and parent reports. The results for the clinical populations of ASD, ADHD, and anxiety were comparable to the overall population of students in the studies.  

This synthesis suggests that school leaders can expect to achieve positive outcomes when adopting First Step Next. The effects should be in the range of the effectiveness studies rather than the efficacy studies. It is also likely to yield positive results for students with ADHD and ASD.  

Overall, First Step Next is a well-researched, empirically-supported intervention for children from preschool through third grade. Teachers report satisfaction with the program and the ease of implementation. It is noteworthy that the developers of First Step Next have meticulously evaluated the program at each step of its development. It serves as an exemplar of how to develop intervention packages that are ready for schools to implement.


Frey, A. J., Small, J. W., Walker, H. M., Mitchell, B., Seeley, J. R., Feil, E. G., … & Forness, S. R. (2022). First Step Next: A Best-Evidence Synthesis of Replication Randomized Controlled Trials From 2009 to 2021. Remedial and Special Education, 07419325211068145.

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