What is the Abecedarian Project?

Instructor: Sharon Linde
The Abecedarian Project was a study on early childhood social services interventions in at-risk families. This lesson goes over some of the details and findings of this ground-breaking long-term study.

Abecedarian Project Overview

Psychologists often study things related to childhood and development. Have you ever wondered what impact social services have on young children? The Abecedarian Project was a long-term study on the effects social services are likely to have on young children in situations that have typically led to poor academic performance, health issues and eventually substance abuse. The goal of the project was to determine what effects specific preschool and school-age social service interventions would have on three types of outcomes:

  • Academic performance and cognitive abilities
  • Health
  • Substance abuse and dependence

Now that we have the overview, let's take a look at some of the details.

Location and Participants in the Abecedarian Project

The study was conducted with volunteers near Chapel Hill, North Carolina, whose children were considered to be at high risk for poor academic performance. The actual interventions in the study lasted from 1972-1985, and the final follow up studies were completed in 1998. The demographics of the participants in the study is shown in the following chart:

Metric Participant
Low income 100%
African American 98%
Single mother household 83%
Average age of mother 20
Average IQ of mother 85

It's important to note that the study didn't initially look for people that fit the above description. The researchers first asked for referrals from hospitals, clinics, the Department of Social Services, and other organizations that typically work with populations at risk for future academic struggle. Those initial referrals were then further screened, and the families that were found to be at the highest risk were asked to participate in the study.

Sounds interesting, right? Let's move on.

Groups and Interventions in the Abecedarian Project

Although 111 students started to participate in the study, by the end there was data available on only 92. After admission into the study, each participant was randomly selected to be in one of 4 groups:

Group Name # of Participants Preschool Interventions School-Age Interventions
EE 25 yes yes
EC 24 yes no
CE 21 no yes
CC 22 no no

As you can see, there is a group with no interventions, a group with interventions for both time periods, and one group each with interventions for one time period.

The preschool interventions took place in a daycare-like setting six to eight hours a day, five days a week, and for 50 weeks a year. The goal was to create a stimulating and structured environment to enhance educational opportunities. Participants in the preschool experimental group received five years of this intervention.

The school-age interventions included both school visits and home visits from a resource teacher assigned to each student. These teachers worked with students, parents and teachers. Interventions included home activities to enhance the school curriculum in reading and math, teaching the parents how to use the home activities, tutoring, and meeting with classroom teachers. Resource teachers averaged a total of 32 visits per year per child, split roughly equally between home visits and school visits. School-age interventions lasted for the first three years participants were in elementary school.

Results of the Abecedarian Project

Participants in the study underwent a great deal of testing both during and after the intervention periods.

Age at testing # of Testing Periods # of Tests Each Period Total Tests
6 mo - 4.5 yrs 9 4 36
Elementary School 4 4 16
Middle and High School 3 3 9
Adult (21) 1 10 10

This is a total of 71 tests on a wide variety of outcomes. As you can imagine, the results of this longitudinal test would take up quite a bit more space than we have here! The highlights will have to suffice:

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