A variety of universal school-based programs designed to help elementary schools foster positive student behaviors, reduce negative behaviors, and ultimately, improve academic performance are available; however, more evidence from rigorous evaluations is needed to better understand their effects. The need for such information is important because the development of social competencies during middle childhood has been linked to adjustment to schooling and academic success while the failure to develop them can lead to problem behavior that interferes with success in school.
In response to the need for systematic evaluations of promising current school-based programs and to provide rigorous evidence of their efficacy, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), National Center for Education Research and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control established the Social and Character Development Research Program.
Seven research institutions were funded under cooperative agreements for a three-year evaluation of seven universal school-based programs intended to improve students' social and character development. At each of seven sites, one research team randomized 10 to 18 schools to either continue their current practice or implement a coherent program targeting social and behavioral outcomes.
The programs employed activities to promote six social and character development goals (character education, violence prevention and peace promotion, social and emotional development, tolerance and diversity, risk prevention and health promotion, and civic responsibility and community service) as well as behavior management. The programs were coherent in that their activities were integrated and logically organized based on a theory of action (that differed among the programs), school-based in that they were implemented in the schools using school personnel, and universal in that they were to be implemented for all students in all elementary classrooms.
Each of the seven teams of researchers conducted their own evaluation of their program and participated in an independent multi-program evaluation carried out by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. (MPR), selected under a separate peer reviewed competitive process.
For the multi-program evaluation, MPR assessed the effect of the seven programs using: 1) standardized data collection for all sites; 2) a common set of descriptive measures on the type and level of SACD activities taking place at both the treatment and control schools; 3) a common set of outcome measures grouped under four outcome domains: Social and Emotional Development, Behavior, Academics, and Perceptions of School Climate; and 4) a uniform statistical analysis. The evaluation followed one cohort of 3rd grade students at 84 schools for three years through fifth grade from fall 2004 through spring 2007. The sample included 6,660 students, their primary caregivers, teachers, and principals from the 84 schools.
The report, Efficacy of Schoolwide Programs to Promote Social and Character Development and Reduce Problem Behavior in Elementary School Children (NCER 2011-2001), provides the results from the evaluation of the seven SACD programs carried out by MPR.
The report includes three key findings: 1) the seven SACD programs increased the reported implementation of classroom activities intended to increase students' social and character development, 2) the control schools also reported the use of a variety of activities intended to increase students' social and character development as "standard practice" but not at the same levels as the treatment schools, and 3) there were no differences in students' social and emotional competence, behaviors, academic performance, or perceptions of school climate between students in schools implementing one of the seven SACD programs and those in the control schools.