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Washington State Institute for Public Policy
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First Step to Success

Pre-K to 12 Education
Benefit-cost methods last updated December 2023.  Literature review updated March 2020.
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First Step to Success (First Step) is an early intervention program for elementary-aged students with severe or moderate behavioral problems who are at-risk for repeating a grade.

First Step is a collaborative in-school and at-home program delivered to children identified as having behavioral problems by their primary teacher. When a student is at school, behavior coaches (either a school psychologist, counselor, behavior specialist, or resource teacher trained in First Step) and teachers provide visual cues to indicate when the participating student is on-task and exhibiting appropriate behaviors. Students may earn points and receive rewards if they meet their daily goals. In the home-based component, the behavior coach conducts six weekly home-visits and works with families to teach parenting skills and encourage collaboration between the home and the school. On average, First Step lasts for three months.
For an overview of WSIPP's Benefit-Cost Model, please see this guide. The estimates shown are present value, life cycle benefits and costs. All dollars are expressed in the base year chosen for this analysis (2022). The chance the benefits exceed the costs are derived from a Monte Carlo risk analysis. The details on this, as well as the economic discount rates and other relevant parameters are described in our Technical Documentation.
Benefit-Cost Summary Statistics Per Participant
Benefits to:
Taxpayers ($159) Benefits minus costs ($1,791)
Participants ($374) Benefit to cost ratio ($1.53)
Others ($197) Chance the program will produce
Indirect ($354) benefits greater than the costs 47%
Total benefits ($1,084)
Net program cost ($707)
Benefits minus cost ($1,791)

^WSIPP’s benefit-cost model does not monetize this outcome.

^^WSIPP does not include this outcome when conducting benefit-cost analysis for this program.

Meta-analysis is a statistical method to combine the results from separate studies on a program, policy, or topic in order to estimate its effect on an outcome. WSIPP systematically evaluates all credible evaluations we can locate on each topic. The outcomes measured are the types of program impacts that were measured in the research literature (for example, crime or educational attainment). Treatment N represents the total number of individuals or units in the treatment group across the included studies.

An effect size (ES) is a standard metric that summarizes the degree to which a program or policy affects a measured outcome. If the effect size is positive, the outcome increases. If the effect size is negative, the outcome decreases. See Estimating Program Effects Using Effect Sizes for additional information.

Adjusted effect sizes are used to calculate the benefits from our benefit cost model. WSIPP may adjust effect sizes based on methodological characteristics of the study. For example, we may adjust effect sizes when a study has a weak research design or when the program developer is involved in the research. The magnitude of these adjustments varies depending on the topic area.

WSIPP may also adjust the second ES measurement. Research shows the magnitude of some effect sizes decrease over time. For those effect sizes, we estimate outcome-based adjustments which we apply between the first time ES is estimated and the second time ES is estimated. We also report the unadjusted effect size to show the effect sizes before any adjustments have been made. More details about these adjustments can be found in our Technical Documentation.

Meta-Analysis of Program Effects
Outcomes measured Treatment age No. of effect sizes Treatment N Adjusted effect sizes(ES) and standard errors(SE) used in the benefit - cost analysis Unadjusted effect size (random effects model)
First time ES is estimated Second time ES is estimated
ES SE Age ES SE Age ES p-value
7 2 46 -0.346 0.217 7 n/a n/a n/a -0.797 0.003
7 3 276 0.164 0.105 7 n/a n/a n/a 0.390 0.031
7 1 23 -0.402 0.313 7 n/a n/a n/a -0.936 0.004
7 1 23 0.009 0.298 7 n/a n/a n/a 0.021 0.945
7 2 243 -0.007 0.113 7 -0.003 0.125 17 -0.017 0.882
1In addition to the outcomes measured in the meta-analysis table, WSIPP measures benefits and costs estimated from other outcomes associated with those reported in the evaluation literature. For example, empirical research demonstrates that high school graduation leads to reduced crime. These associated measures provide a more complete picture of the detailed costs and benefits of the program.

2“Others” includes benefits to people other than taxpayers and participants. Depending on the program, it could include reductions in crime victimization, the economic benefits from a more educated workforce, and the benefits from employer-paid health insurance.

3“Indirect benefits” includes estimates of the net changes in the value of a statistical life and net changes in the deadweight costs of taxation.
Detailed Monetary Benefit Estimates Per Participant
Affected outcome: Resulting benefits:1 Benefits accrue to:
Taxpayers Participants Others2 Indirect3 Total
Test scores Labor market earnings associated with test scores ($159) ($374) ($197) $0 ($730)
Program cost Adjustment for deadweight cost of program $0 $0 $0 ($354) ($354)
Totals ($159) ($374) ($197) ($354) ($1,084)
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Detailed Annual Cost Estimates Per Participant
Annual cost Year dollars Summary
Program costs $500 2005 Present value of net program costs (in 2022 dollars) ($707)
Comparison costs $0 2005 Cost range (+ or -) 20%
The per-participant cost estimate includes program materials and behavior coach time, as documented in Walker, H.M., Golly, A., McLane, J.Z., & Kimmich, M. (2005). The Oregon First Step to Success replication initiative: Statewide results of an evaluation of program's impact. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 13(3), 163–172.
The figures shown are estimates of the costs to implement programs in Washington. The comparison group costs reflect either no treatment or treatment as usual, depending on how effect sizes were calculated in the meta-analysis. The cost range reported above reflects potential variation or uncertainty in the cost estimate; more detail can be found in our Technical Documentation.
Benefits Minus Costs
Benefits by Perspective
Taxpayer Benefits by Source of Value
Benefits Minus Costs Over Time (Cumulative Discounted Dollars)
The graph above illustrates the estimated cumulative net benefits per-participant for the first fifty years beyond the initial investment in the program. We present these cash flows in discounted dollars. If the dollars are negative (bars below $0 line), the cumulative benefits do not outweigh the cost of the program up to that point in time. The program breaks even when the dollars reach $0. At this point, the total benefits to participants, taxpayers, and others, are equal to the cost of the program. If the dollars are above $0, the benefits of the program exceed the initial investment.

Citations Used in the Meta-Analysis

Frey, A.J., Small, J.W., Lee, J., Walker, H.M., Seeley, J.R., Feil, E.G., & Golly, A. (2015). Expanding the range of the First Step to Success intervention: Tertiary-level support for children, teachers, and families. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 30, 1-11.

Seeley, J., Small, J., Walker, H., Feil, E., Severson, H., Golly, A., & Forness, S. (2009). Efficacy of the First Step to Success intervention for students with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. School Mental Health, 1(1), 37-48.

Sumi, W.C., Woodbridge, M.W., Javitz, H.S., Thornton, S.P., Wagner, M., Rouspil, . . . & 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.

Walker, H.M., Kavanagh, K., Stiller, B., Golly, A., Severson, H.H., & Feil, E.D. (1998). First step to success: An early intervention approach for preventing school antisocial behavior. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 6(2), 66-80.

Woodbridge, M.W., Sumi, W.C., Wagner, M.M., Javitz, H.S., Seeley, J.R., Walker, H.M., . . . Severson, H.H. (2014). Does First Step to Success have long-term impacts on student behavior? An analysis of efficacy trial data. School Psychology Review, 43(3), 299-317.