Program Research

Success with Research-Based Programs

Grounded in Research

We take great pride in the fact that Second Step® programs are based on current research in the field. Translating research findings into key components of our programs helps us design our curricula to be effective in learning environments.

Second Step® Early Learning Review of Research (PDF)

Second Step® Elementary Classroom Kits Review of Research (PDF)

Second Step® Elementary Digital Program Review of Research (PDF)

Second Step® Middle School Review of Research (PDF)

Second Step® Out-of-School Time Review of Research (PDF)

Second Step® SEL for Adults Review of Research (PDF)

Second Step® Bullying Prevention Unit Review of Research (PDF)

Second Step® Child Protection Unit Review of Research (PDF)

Program Outcomes

Randomized control trials of Second Step® programs provide evidence of the programs’ effectiveness. This section provides an overview of these studies, organized by program, and includes links to the published research.

Second Step® Early Learning

Second Step® Early Learning Is Shown to Significantly Increase Executive Function, Which Leads to Kindergarten Readiness

Executive function, a set of foundational cognitive skills, is strongly linked to young students’ kindergarten readiness and academic success. Findings from a recent randomized control trial indicate that participation in Second Step Early Learning leads to significant increases in preschoolers’ executive function. Growth in preschoolers’ executive function subsequently predicted gains in students’ pre-academic skills and on-task behavior, which in turn predicted their kindergarten readiness.

Read more about this study. (PDF)

Wenz-Gross, M., Yoo, Y., Upshur, C. C., & Gambino, A. J. (2018, October). Pathways to kindergarten readiness: The roles of Second Step Early Learning curriculum and social-emotional, executive functioning, preschool academic and task behavior skills. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 1886.

Increased Executive-Function Skills Shown in Preschoolers Who Received Second Step® Early Learning

A classroom randomized control trial was conducted using Second Step Early Learning compared to the most commonly used curricula in Head Start and community preschools. Children receiving Second Step Early Learning 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.

Second Step® Elementary Classroom Kits (Conducted with the 2011 Edition)

Improvements in Prosocial Skills, Empathy, Conduct Shown with Second Step® Elementary Classroom Kits

This study (the first with the 2011 edition of Second Step Elementary) conducted a randomized control trial over a one-year period with 7,300 students and 321 teachers in 61 schools across six school districts, from Kindergarten to Grade 2. Significant improvements in social-emotional competence and behavior were made by children who started the school year with lower baseline skills than their peers. 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.

Second Step® Elementary Classroom Kits: Student Engagement and Number of Lessons Received Improved Both Social-Emotional and Academic Outcomes

In a randomized control trial, Kindergarten to Grade 2 students’ academic performance was increased only when they received the intervention with high implementation fidelity. Compared to students in low implementation fidelity classrooms, students who were more engaged in the lessons showed small but significant improvement in oral reading fluency and decreases in disruptive classroom behavior. Students who participated in more lessons had increased on-task behavior and improved math computation.

Read more about this study. (PDF)

Cook, C. R., Low, S., Buntain-Ricklefs, J., Whitaker, K., Pullmann, M. D., & Lally, J. (2018). Evaluation of Second Step on early elementary students’ academic outcomes: A randomized controlled trial. School Psychology Quarterly, 33(4), 561–572.

Two-Year Study Found Second Step® Elementary Increased Social-Emotional Skills and Decreased Disruptive Behaviors in K–2 Students

In a two-year randomized control trial, students (Kindergarten to Grade 2 in year one) receiving Second Step Elementary had increased social-emotional skills and decreased disruptive behaviors compared to the control group. These effects were strongest for students who had the lowest baseline skills at the beginning of the study. Both groups exhibited summer learning loss in their social-emotional skills, signaling a need to extend social-emotional learning through the summer.

Read more about this study. (PDF)

Low, S., Smolkowski, K., Cook, C., & Desfosses, D. (2019). Two-year impact of a universal social-emotional learning curriculum: Group differences from developmentally sensitive trends over time. Developmental Psychology, 55(2), 415–433.

Second Step® Middle School Classroom Kits (Conducted with the 2008 Edition)

Physical Aggression 42 Percent Less Likely

Thirty-six middle schools in the Chicago and Wichita areas participated in an evaluation of Second Step Middle School classroom kits. Schools in the study were randomly assigned to teach either Second Step Middle School or be control schools. After one year, sixth-graders in schools that implemented Second Step Middle School 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.

Twenty Percent Reduction in Bullying by Students with Disabilities

This three-year study followed 123 students with disabilities from Grade 6 through Grade 8. 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 this three-year period of middle school among the intervention group participating in Second Step programs.

Read more about this study. (PDF)

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, 36(5), 299–311.

Second Step® Child Protection Unit

PreK to Grade 4 Students Participating in the Second Step® Child Protection Unit Increased Knowledge about Child Sexual Abuse and Improved Relationships with Their Teachers

A randomized control trial tested the effects of the Second Step Child Protection Unit on PreK to Grade 4 students’ conceptual knowledge of child sexual abuse and their recognition, reporting, and refusal of unsafe touches. Compared to the control group, students who participated in the six-week curriculum had increased conceptual knowledge about child sexual abuse. This effect was strongest for younger versus older students and for girls versus boys. In addition, the Child Protection Unit improved the students’ relationship with their teacher.

Read more about this study. (PDF)

Nickerson, A. B., Tulledge, J., Manges, M., Kesselring, S., Parks, T., Livingston, J. A., & Dudley, M. (2019). Randomized controlled trial of the Child Protection Unit: Grade and gender as moderators of CSA prevention concepts in elementary students. Child Abuse & Neglect, 96.

Teaching the Second Step® Child Protection Unit Increases Educators’ Knowledge about Child Sexual Abuse and Improves Relationships with Students

A randomized control trial tested the effects of the Second Step Child Protection Unit on teachers’ knowledge of and attitudes toward child sexual abuse and teacher-student relationships. Teachers completed surveys before the training and after teaching the unit. Compared to the control group, teachers who completed the Child Protection Unit had higher child sexual abuse-related knowledge and improved relationships with students.

Read more about this study. (PDF)

Kim, S., Nickerson, A., Livingston, J. A., Dudley, M., Manges, M., Tulledge, J., & Allen, K. (2019). Teacher outcomes from the Second Step Child Protection Unit: Moderating roles of prior preparedness and treatment acceptability. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 28(6), 726–744.

Higher Adherence to Second Step® Implementation Increased Student Knowledge of Child Sexual Abuse Prevention One Year Later

This article explores the effect of teachers’ implementation fidelity when teaching the Second Step Child Protection Unit. Teachers were observed teaching Child Protection Unit lessons and rated on adherence to content, teacher quality (teacher enthusiasm, encouragement of student behavior, and use of behavior-management strategies), and dosage received (student engagement in lessons). Only adherence predicted student knowledge: teachers who adhered to the content more had students who had greater knowledge of child sexual abuse prevention 12 months after the intervention.

Read more about this study. (PDF)

Manges, M. E., & Nickerson, A. B. (2020). Student knowledge gain following the Second Step Child Protection Unit: The influence of treatment integrity. Prevention Science, 21, 1037–1047.

Increased Parent Knowledge about and Motivation to Discuss Child Sexual Abuse Prevention

A randomized control trial examined the effects of the Second Step Child Protection Unit’s family videos* on parents’ knowledge, motivation, and self-reported communication with their child about personal safety and childhood sexual abuse (CSA) prevention. Parents who watched the videos had significant increases in knowledge about CSA and parental motivation to have conversations with their children about personal safety and CSA at a two-month follow-up compared to those who did not watch the videos.

*Also publicly available at and in Spanish at

Read more about this study. (PDF)

Nickerson, A. B., Livingston, J. A., & Kamper-DeMarco, K. (2018). Evaluation of Second Step child protection videos: A randomized controlled trial. Child Abuse & Neglect, 76, 10–22.