This study compares the effectiveness of the Strategies for Teaching based on Autism Research program (STAR) with that of Structured Teaching in kindergarten-through-second-grade autism support classrooms. In addition, we examine the moderating effects of student, teacher and classroom-level variables on student outcomes.
178 students enrolled in 39 Kindergarten-2nd grade autism support classrooms in the
Staff in each participating classroom was randomly assigned to training and ongoing support in STAR or Structured Teaching. STAR is an ABA-based classroom program which includes daily 1:1 sessions with each child using discrete trial and pivotal response training while integrating functional routines into academic curricula. The Structured Teaching instructional strategy emphasizes whole-class routines and setting up a structured physical classroom environment.
Overall, 16% of the sample experienced a gain of >10 points on the DAS, while 10% experienced a loss of 10 points during the study period. Students in STAR group showed an average increase of 9 points, compared with 6 points for students in the Structured Teaching group (p=.16). There was a significant interaction between intervention arm and teacher experience. In classrooms in which the teacher had <3 years experience teaching children with autism, there was little change in DAS score between groups (STAR = 7.8, ST = 8.6, p>.05). In classrooms with more experienced teachers, students in STAR classrooms experienced a 12.6-point gain in DAS score, compared with 3.5 points for students in Structured Teaching classrooms (p = .02). Additional analyses are ongoing to examine the effect of classroom characteristics, program fidelity and student characteristics on outcome.
Conclusions: Results will be used to discuss the importance of context, program fidelity and teacher experience in examining the effectiveness of evidence-based interventions as they move from research to community settings.