Experience Success
with Research-Based Programs

Program Research

Discover the research behind our programs and the positive outcomes found through randomized controlled trials.

The Basis of Our Programs

We take great pride in our programs, which are based on current field research and developed with the needs of educators in mind. Explore the reviews of research behind each of our curriculum offerings.

Second Step SEL Program

Early Learning

Elementary (K–5)

Middle School

Second Step Bullying Prevention Unit

Elementary (K–5)

Second Step Child Protection Unit

Early Learning–Elementary (EL–5)

Committed to Positive Outcomes

We are committed to the constant evaluation of our programs through randomized controlled trials. These trials allow our team to assess the effectiveness of our programs. The following published, peer-reviewed articles show the positive effects of the Second Step program.

Early Learning

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

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.

A classroom randomized trial compared the Second Step Early Learning curriculum with the most commonly used curricula in Head Start and community preschools. Children receiving the Second Step curriculum had significantly better end-of-preschool executive function skills than students who did not receive the program.

Read more about this study

Elementary (conducted on the 2011 edition of the Second Step program)

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

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.

This study (the first with the 2011 edition of the Second Step program) conducted a randomized controlled trial over a 1-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

Elementary (conducted on the 2002 edition of the Second Step program)

Less Adult Conflict Intervention, Improved Social Competence

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.

This study examined the effects of the Second Step program on 1,253 second- through fourth-grade children. When compared with 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.

Read more about this study

Gains in Prosocial Skills and Behavior

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

A pre/post study of 455 fourth- and fifth-grade students in a small urban school district evaluated 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

Middle School (conducted on the 2008 edition of the Second Step Middle School program)

Physical Aggression 42 Percent Less Likely

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.

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 the Second Step program were 42 percent less likely to say they were involved in physical aggression compared with sixth-graders in schools that did not implement the program.

Read more about this study

20-Percent Reduction in Bullying by Students with Disabilities

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

This three-year study followed 123 students with disabilities from sixth through eighth grades. The 47 students in the intervention group received Second Step lessons during these three years. The control group of 76 students received no Second Step lessons. The study found that bullying by students with disabilities decreased by one-fifth during the three-year period of middle school among the intervention group participating in the Second Step program.

Read more about this study

Current Randomized Controlled Trials

Second Step Early Learning Program

A 64-classroom randomized controlled 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 curriculum on young children’s end-of-preschool social skills, emotion regulation, executive functioning, and academic readiness skills, and how these skills 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 controlled trial involving 108 classrooms across nine K–5 schools in Illinois. In particular, they are 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 Early Learning–Grade 5 Second Step Child Protection Unit (CPU) in a randomized controlled trial involving eight schools in New York. In particular, the study will be assessing whether the CPU lessons improve student ability to recognize, report, and refuse unsafe situations. The study will examine whether the staff training improves the knowledge and motivation of staff as well.

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, based on the Second Step program, is a Brazilian SEL program adapted by Ana Luiza Colagrossi and colleagues from the Instituto Vila Educação. For this randomized controlled trial in more than 90 primary schools, the  objective is to understand the impact of Programa Compasso on teacher outcomes, student social-emotional wellbeing, and student academic performance.