Second Step Program and SEL Research

We take great pride in the fact that our programs are based on current research in the field

Schoolwide Improvement

Grounded in Research

We take great pride in the fact that our programs are based on current research in the field. Translating research into our programs is a key component in our curriculum development This allows us to be more confident that our programs will be effective in classrooms.

Lifelong Success

Committed to Effectiveness

In addition, we’re committed to evaluating our programs for effectiveness through randomized control trials. Only through these research trials can we be certain our programs meet their intended objectives. By basing our program development on rigorous research and evaluating our program outcomes with randomized control trials, we strive to provide a truly effective curriculum that helps children improve their social-emotional skills and be successful in school and in life.


Current Randomized Control Trials

Second Step Early Learning Program

A 64-classroom randomized control trial is being conducted in Massachusetts by Dr. Carole Upshur (University of Massachusetts Medical School) to evaluate the effect of the Second Step Early Learning Program on young children’s end-of-preschool social skills, emotion regulation, executive functioning, and academic readiness skills, and how these affect kindergarten-readiness screening and kindergarten performance.

Second Step Bullying Prevention Unit

Dr. Dorothy Espelage (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) and Dr. Todd Little (Texas Tech University) are assessing the impact of the K–5 Second Step Bullying Prevention Unit in a randomized control trial involving 108 classrooms across nine K–5 schools in Illinois. In particular, they’re examining the impact of the program on bullying and peer victimization.

Second Step Child Protection Unit

Dr. Amanda Nickerson (University of Buffalo) is assessing the impact of the EL–G5 Second Step Child Protection Unit (CPU) in a randomized control trial involving eight schools in New York. In particular, the study will be assessing whether the CPU lessons improve student knowledge to recognize, report, and refuse unsafe situations. In addition, the study will examine whether the staff training improves staff knowledge and motivation.

Second Step Child Protection Unit Family Videos

Dr. Jennifer Livingston (University of Buffalo) is conducting a randomized control trial with parents and caregivers to gauge whether watching the Second Step Child Protection Family Videos is an effective way to promote parent or caregiver discussions about child sexual abuse.

Programa Compasso in Brazilian Primary Schools

Dr. Dana Charles McCoy (Harvard Graduate School of Education) and Drs. Vladimir Ponczek and Cristine Pinto (Fundação Getulio Vargas) are evaluating the impact of Programa compasso in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Programa compasso is a Brazilian SEL program developed by Ana Luiza Colagrossi and colleagues from the Instituto Vila Educação and based on the Second Step curriculum. Using a randomized control trial in more than 90 primary schools, the evaluation’s objective is to understand the impact of Programa compasso in terms of improving teacher outcomes, student social-emotional well-being, and student academic performance.

Program Outcomes

Early Learning

Increased Executive Functioning Shown in Preschoolers Who Received the Second Step Program

A classroom randomized trial was conducted using the Second Step Early Learning Program compared to the most commonly used curricula in Head Start and community preschools. Children receiving the Second Step Program had significantly better end-of-preschool executive-function skills than students who didn’t receive the program. Read more about this study. (PDF)

Upshur, C. C., Heyman, M., Wenz-Gross, M. (2017). Efficacy trial of the Second Step Early Learning (SSEL) curriculum: Preliminary outcomes. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 50, 15–25.

Elementary School (Conducted with the 2011 Edition of the Second Step Program)

Improvements in Prosocial Skills, Empathy, Conduct Shown with Second Step Program

This study (the first with the 2011 edition of the Second Step Program) conducted a randomized controlled trial over a one-year period with 7300 students and 321 teachers in 61 schools across six school districts, from kindergarten to second grade. Significant improvements in social-emotional competence and behavior were made by children who started the school year with skill deficits in these areas. Additionally, the number of lessons completed and student engagement were predictive of improved student outcomes. Read more about this study. (PDF)

Low, S., Cook, C. R., Smolkowski, K., & Buntain-Ricklefs, J. (2015). Promoting social–emotional competence: An evaluation of the elementary version of Second Step. Journal of School Psychology, 53, 463–477.

Elementary School (Conducted with the 2002 Edition of the Second Step Program)

Less Adult Conflict Intervention, Improved Social Competence

A study examined the effects of the Second Step Program* on 1,253 second- through fourth-grade children. When compared to children in a control group, those who participated in the Second Step Program showed greater improvement in teacher ratings of their social competence, were less aggressive, and were more likely to choose positive goals. (*Conducted with the 2002 Edition of the Second Step Program.) Read more about this study. (PDF)

Frey, K. S., Nolen, S. B., Edstrom, L. V., & Hirschstein, M. K. (2005). Effects of a school-based social-emotional competence program: Linking children’s goals, attributions, and behavior. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 26, 171–200.

Gains in Prosocial Skills and Behavior

A pre-post design of 455 fourth- and fifth-grade students in a small urban school district was studied to evaluate the efficacy of the Second Step curriculum. After students received the Second Step Program, they showed significant gains in knowledge about social-emotional skills. Report card data also revealed modest gains in prosocial behavior. Read more about this study. (PDF)

Edwards, D., Hunt, M. H., Meyers, J., Grogg, K. R., & Jarrett, O. (2005). Acceptability and student outcomes of a violence prevention curriculum. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 26, 401–418. doi:10.1007/s10935-005-0002-z

Middle School

Physical Aggression 42 Percent Less Likely

Thirty-six middle schools in the Chicago and Wichita areas participated in an evaluation of the Second Step Middle School Program. Schools in the study were randomly assigned to teach either the Second Step Program or be control schools. After one year, sixth-graders in schools that implemented thSecond Step Program were 42 percent less likely to say they were involved in physical aggression compared to sixth-graders in schools that didn’t implement the program. Read more about this study. (PDF)

Espelage, D. L., Low, S., Polanin, J. R., & Brown, E. C. (2013). The impact of a middle school program to reduce aggression, victimization, and sexual violence. Journal of Adolescent Health, 53(2), 180–186.

20 Percent Reduction in Bullying by Students with Disabilities

This three-year study followed 123 students with disabilities from sixth through eighth grade. The 47 students in the intervention group received Second Step lessons during these three years. The control group of 76 students received noSecond Step lessons. The study found that bullying by students with disabilities decreased by one-fifth during this three-year period of middle school among the intervention group participating in the Second Step Program. Read more about this study. (PDF)

Espelage, D. L., Polanin, J. R., & Rose, C. A. (2015, in press). Social-emotional learning program to reduce bullying, fighting, and victimization among middle school students with disabilities. Remedial and Special Education, doi: 10.1177/0741932514564564

Making the Case for Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)

Social Competence in Kindergarten a Predictor of Future Outcomes

In a study released in July 2015 that examined nearly 20 years of data from the Fast Track Research Project, researchers found that teacher-rated social competence in kindergarten consistently and significantly predicted outcomes in education, employment, criminal justice, substance use, and mental health into adulthood. Kindergartners with higher social competence scores were measurably more likely to attain a college degree, more likely to earn a high school diploma, and more likely to have a full-time job at age 25. Read the full report. (PDF)

Jones, D. E., Greenberg, M., and Crowley, M. (2015). Early social-emotional functioning and public health: The relationship between kindergarten social competence and future wellness. American Journal of Public Health. Advance online publication. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2015.302630

SEL Programs Studied Return $11 for Every $1 Invested

This pioneering report from Columbia University details a benefit-cost analysis evaluating six SEL interventions (including the Second Step Program) that shows an average return on investment of $11 for every dollar spent. Until now there has been little-to-no data to show policymakers and grant givers the economic benefits of SEL curriculum. The researchers acknowledge the limitations of imprecise data and say their conservative estimates may not capture the full benefits of the SEL programs evaluated. Known benefits of the interventions studied include: reductions in child aggression, substance abuse, delinquency, and violence; lower levels of depression and anxiety; and increased grades, attendance, and performance in core academic subjects. Read the full report. (PDF)

Belfield, C., Bowden, B., Klapp, A., Levin, H., Shand, R., & Zander, S. (2015). The economic value of social and emotional learning. New York: Center for Benefit-Cost Studies in Education, Teachers College, Columbia University.

Schoolwide Gains in SEL

A meta-analysis of 213 school-based, universal social-emotional learning (SEL) programs was conducted. Compared to controls, SEL participants demonstrated significantly improved social and emotional skills, attitudes, behavior, and academic performance that reflected an 11-percentile-point gain in achievement. Read the full report. (PDF)

Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405–432.

How SEL Helps Prevent Bullying

Research has shown that building the social-emotional competence of students is an important component of effective bullying prevention. This article examines how social-emotional learning (SEL) contributes to bullying prevention efforts in schools and discusses specific SEL skills that can be taught to students to help prevent bullying. Read the full report. (PDF)

Smith, B. H., & Low, S. (2013). The role of social-emotional learning in bullying prevention efforts. Theory into Practice, 52(4), 280–287. doi:10.1080/00405841.2013.829731

Classroom Management Interventions Improve Student Outcomes

A 2016 meta-analysis of 54 intervention studies on classroom management programs published between 2003 and 2013 demonstrated small, but statistically significant improvements for (a) academic, (b) behavioral, and (c) social-emotional student outcomes. Although the Second Step Program is not a classroom management intervention, it was included in the authors’ overall analyses. Read the full report. (PDF)

Korpershoek, H., Harms, T., de Boer, H., van Kuijk, M., & Doolaard, S. (2016). A meta-analysis of the effects of classroom management strategies and classroom management programs on students’ academic, behavioral, emotional, and motivational outcomes. Review of Educational Research, 86(3), 643–680.