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The Sävsjö-school-project: a cluster-randomized trial aimed at improving the literacy of beginners—achievements, mental health, school satisfaction and reading capacity at the end of grade three using an alternative school curriculum
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Special Education.
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Statistics.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-8610-0365
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Special Education.
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2019 (English)In: Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, ISSN 1753-2000, E-ISSN 1753-2000, Vol. 13, article id 27Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Background

A curriculum was planned using modern concepts based on the “old” principles to test if such an educational intervention provided pupils with good mental health and a solid basis for good reading and writing skills, as well as generated a positive attitude to learn. These “old” principles were based on previous knowledge derived from school psychiatry (which in Sweden was a branch of child and adolescent psychiatry 1915–1970), educational psychology and the educational approach from the differentiating Swedish School system of 1946–1970 (itself based on the principles of curative education “Heilpädagogie”, which was later renamed mental health care).

Methods

All six available schools in the small Swedish city of Sävsjö participated in the study. In these six schools there were eight preschool classes that included every 6-year old child living in the city. In total there were 184 families with 186 children (including 2 pairs of twins) who belonged to these preschool classes and were invited to take part in the study. One family moved just before school-start and 8 decided not to participate, thus 177 children (84 boys and 93 girls, aged 5.6–6.6 years) entered the study. The preschool classes were randomized into an experimental group with four preschool classes and a comparison group with four preschool classes. The experimental group followed a teaching program from the start of the preschool year until the end of grade 3 that was tailored to each student’s individual capacity based on the concepts of school maturation and curative education used in the Swedish schools during the period 1946–1970. The comparison group followed today’s average Swedish school curriculum. The project was planned as an intervention study covering the preschool year and the first 3 years of elementary school, which was to form a basis for a follow-up when the pupils had left senior high, the 12th year in Swedish public school. The outcome and the achievements were measured at end of grade 3 using standardized tests on reading, writing and mathematical skills. Behavior was assessed at school start and at end of grade 3 using the Child Behavior Check List (CBCL-scales) in addition to a questionnaire on Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) with criteria from DSM-IV. The children made a self-evaluation of their attitude towards learning.

Results

At the end of school year 3, the children in the experimental group had an improved reading capacity (p = 0.002, effect size(es) = 4.35) and reading comprehension (p = 0.03, es = 0.04). They evaluated their own reading (p = 0.02, es = 0.23), writing (p = 0.007, es = 0.35) and mathematical skills (p = 0.003, es = 0.48) as going “very well” when compared to comparison group. Differences regarding intelligence quotas between the groups at the start of school had disappeared by the end of grade 3. No differences referring to CBCL were found at end of grade 3. One child in the comparison group fulfilled criteria for AD/HD, according to parents and teachers.

Conclusions

The alternative curriculum covering the preschool year through the first 3 years of elementary school based on the old principles from curative education (“Heilpädagogie”), educational psychology and school psychiatry gave the children in the experimental group a better reading capacity and reading comprehension.

Trial registration The study started in 1998. The data were collected longitudinally and prospectively but have not been analyzed until now, with the children having left senior high. A retrospective registration in the ISRCTN is pending.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2019. Vol. 13, article id 27
Keywords [en]
Childhood intervention, School mental health, primary prevention program, School start, Long-term effects
National Category
Learning
Research subject
Special Education
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-170321DOI: 10.1186/s13034-019-0285-0ISI: 000472893600001OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-170321DiVA, id: diva2:1330987
Available from: 2019-06-26 Created: 2019-06-26 Last updated: 2019-07-22Bibliographically approved

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Ahlqvist, Göranvon Rosen, TatjanaWestling Allodi, Mara
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