3a - verified by research
The Abecedarian Approach has been scientifically studied with randomised control trials for over 40 years. There is an abundance of comprehensive data collected over time that verifies the effectiveness of the Approach.
Research into the effectiveness of the Abecedarian Approach has been conducted in preschool, school age and early adulthood studies. See key findings below...
Cognitive and social–emotional outcomes
The Abecedarian Project research measured many aspects of children's growth and development at frequent intervals in their first 5 years. The assessments included cognitive and social–emotional outcomes for children and potential benefits for mothers.
- For the first 12 months on four separate measurement occasions the Abecedarian treatment group and control group performed similarly and essentially at the national average.
- After 12 months the control group's scores declined quickly. At 24 months, the control children were performing at the low end of the normal range – at an average Developmental Quotient of 85 on the Bayley Scales of Infant Development.
- For the remaining preschool years (ages two through four), the Abecedarian treatment group scored an average of 10–15 points higher than the control group on three different types of developmental assessments.
- For the control group, 93% were in the normal range at age six months, but this dropped to 45% by four years – clearly consistent with the hypothesis of a cumulative toll due to lack of cognitive, language and social–emotional learning opportunities.
- For the early educational treatment group, 95–100% scored within the normal range at all the ages tested. This pattern of consistent and large differences between the groups supports the hypothesis that high-quality early education can prevent cognitive delays or below normal intelligence in children from families experiencing significant disadvantage in everyday life.
Benefits for mothers
- During the preschool years, the teenage mothers of children in the treatment group were significantly more likely to continue their own education. The teenage mothers continued their own educational advancement throughout their children's school years.
- By the time their children were 15, 80% of mothers of children in the treatment group had some post-high-school education, compared with only 30% of the teenage mothers of children in the control group.
The Abecedarian preschool intervention had other benefits as well, which included advantages for the children's mothers. For example:
- significantly higher achievement scores in reading and maths at ages eight, 12, 15 and, even later, at 21 years.
- a lower rate of grade retention (i.e., failing at least one grade) that was almost half the rate for the control group
- a lower rate of placement in special education by age 15 – only 12% of the treatment group versus 48% of the control group were placed in remediation or intervention programs.
The long-term outcomes from the Abecedarian Project are equally informative. The children in the preschool treatment group continued to receive benefits from their participation in the early childhood program – lasting throughout their school years and into early adulthood. During the school years, and in comparison with the control group, the children who participated in the Abecedarian preschool intervention had:
Early adulthood results
- of the treatment group 67% were engaged in a skilled job or were enrolled in higher education, in contrast with only 41% of the control group.
- young adults who had received the Abecedarian early education treatment reported fewer symptoms of depression at age 21
- participants who received the centre-based treatment were 3.92 times more likely to report a healthy lifestyle in young adulthood compared to participants from the control groups
- the use of illegal substances (e.g. marijuana within the past 30 days) was significantly lower for the treatment group compared to the control group.
The Abecedarian Project provided the rare opportunity to be able to follow more than 95% of the children living into adulthood. At age 21, the children who participated in the preschool intervention still showed signs of benefit from their participation, compared to the control group, specifically:
- Abecedarian participants had significantly more years of education by age 30 (13.46 years) than individuals in the control group (12.31 years).
- Almost four times as many individuals in the treatment group (23%) compared to the control group (6%) had graduated from a four-year university degree.
- As adults, Abecedarian participants were significantly less likely to develop hypertension and be affected by obesity.
At age 30, those in the Abecedarian Project preschool treatment group continued to show benefits from their participation in the early childhood program when compared to those in the control group. The key findings at age 30 are as follows:
The Abecedarian Approach Australia (3a) is subject to ongoing research. A number of studies are taking place in different parts of Australia, exploring the impact of 3a in local contexts, including with Aboriginal children and communities. These studies will contribute to the research evidence on the effectiveness of 3a as an approach to enhance the success of young children and families experiencing risks associated with disadvantage.