TeachTown Basics Evidence of Effectiveness
Los Angeles Unified School District, CA
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A study of the TeachTown: Basics curriculum was carried out in four elementary schools in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) during the 2009-2010 school year (Whalen et al., 2010). The participants were 47 students ages 3 to 6 years enrolled in the district’s preschool and K-1 Intensive Comprehensive Autism Programs, a special day class program for students with an eligibility of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The students were enrolled in four preschool and four K-1 classrooms with no more than eight students in a class. The eight classrooms were randomly assigned to a TeachTown: Basics treatment or to a no-TeachTown: Basics comparison group. Over a three month period, students in the treatment group used the TeachTown: Basics computer-based lessons for approximately twenty minutes a day in the classroom. In most cases, the child’s regularly scheduled 1:1 direct teaching time was replaced with TeachTown: Basics computer time. The study assessed children’s growth in basic skill areas including social skills, receptive and expressive language, auditory memory, general concepts, matching, and body parts using the Brigance Inventory of Early Development (IED; Brigance, 2004), a criterion-referenced assessment.
In a large urban district, students with autism who used TeachTown: Basics twenty minutes a day in the classroom for 3 months were compared to a comparison group of students with autism in the same LAUSD intensive autism educational program. Although the students were similar at baseline, students who used TeachTown: Basics showed greater developmental gains in all skill areas assessed, as measured by the Brigance IED, than students who did not use the program. After 3 months of instruction, TeachTown: Basics students had an average gain ranging from 4 to 14 months across language, academic and cognitive, and
social skill areas.
Figure 1. Age equivalent gains in months on the Brigance® IED over three months of instruction.
At pretest, the treatment and comparison groups were similar in terms of chronological age and severity of autism symptoms, as measured by the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS, Schopler et al., 1986). After only three months of instruction, students who used TeachTown: Basics (n = 22) showed larger age-equivalent gains on the Brigance IED than students who did not use the program (n = 25) in all eight of the skill areas assessed. Gains for TeachTown: Basics students were between two and five months greater than the gains of students in the comparison group (see Figure 1). Most of the treatment students (15 out of 22) mastered lessons in TeachTown: Basics, with an average of 4-5 computer-based lessons mastered over the three month period; representing a minimum of 16-20 concepts learned. The study found a significant positive relationship between the number of lessons mastered and pre-/posttest change on the overall Brigance score: children who mastered more TeachTown: Basics computer-based lessons showed larger increases in Brigance scores after three months of instruction. The research was funded through a Technology in the Works grant from the National Center for Technology Innovation (NCTI), and was published in Autism—The International Journal of Research and Practice, a peer-reviewed journal.