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The First Year of Sesame Street: An Evaluation

Ball, Samuel; Bogatz, Gerry Ann
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Program Report
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Early Childhood Education Program Evaluation Sesame Street Televised Instruction


An evaluation of the impact of a nationally telecast show, "Sesame Street" (SS) on three-to five- year old children has been undertaken in five different places in the United States: 1) Boston, Massachusetts; 2) Durham, North Carolina; 3) Phoenix, Arizona; 4) suburban Philadelphia; and 5) northeastern California. A consortium of public and private agencies set up Children's Television Workshop (CTW) with education as its primary goal. It also explored television's entertainment potential to hold the attention of three- to five-year old children. The approximate cost of over a year's development and research and six month's programming was estimated at $8 million. The greatest part of this was for production of the SS show. CTW contracted with the Educational Testing Service (ETS) to design and evaluate the impact SS had on three- to five-year-old children. The evaluation started soon after CTW was established in June 1968. ETS was present at the first planning seminar and helped to set up a consensus on behavioral goals, which formed the basis of the Goals Statement for the first year of SS production. This Goals Statement is presented as Appendix A. Instruments were developed to measure the viewer's learning. The research was aimed not only at learning whether viewers learned more than nonviewers, but also at discovering which groups of children viewed SS, what characterizes those who learn a lot, how children react to various techniques, and whether their reactions seem related to their learning. Two major settings were studied--the child's home, and a preschool (Head Start or nursery school) classroom. Sampling procedures, site selection, and selection of children are explained in the chapter on evaluation preparation in the sampling procedures section. A pretest was devised as a measuring instrument. It included the Puzzles Test. The other tests and subtests developed are shown in tabular form, as are tests and subtests used in the posttest. A Pretest Parent Questionnaire was used to describe the children and their home backgrounds. There was also a Posttest Parent Questionnaire. Viewing records are described. Children at home who were encouraged to watch SS were observed by ETS observers for a 1/2 hour once a week. Content analysis of SS was done. A short (less than five- minute) interview was set up with 361 mothers of at-home children to see if they had used the SS Parent-Teacher Guide. Results are given. Teachers of encouraged classrooms were asked to answer questions. This questionnaire is presented in the Appendix. Field operations are described. The demographic composition of the 1124 children who had completed the initial sample and their pretest scores are presented. Posttests were given to 943 of the previously pretested children. The chapter on results consists of descriptive analyses of nine groups of children: 1) all 943 children; 2) disadvantaged children; 3) three- , four- , and five-year old children; 4) boys and girls; 5) at -home children; 6) at-school children; 7) advantaged children; 8) Spanish-speaking children; and 9) rural children. Teacher questionnaire results are discussed.

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