Program Research

Success with Research-Based Programs

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.

Second Step SEL Program for Early Learning

Second Step Social-Emotional Learning for Early Learning Is Shown to Significantly Increase Executive Function, Which Leads to Kindergarten Readiness

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).

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 SEL for 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.

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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.

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Second Step SEL Program for Elementary School (conducted with the 2011 Edition)

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.

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

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.

In a two-year randomized control trial, students (Kindergarten to Grade 2 in year 1) in Second Step had increased social-emotional skills and decreased disruptive behaviors compared to the control group. These effects were strongest for students who had the weakest 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.

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Second Step SEL Program for Elementary School (conducted with the 2002 Edition)

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.

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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.

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Second Step SEL Program for Middle School (conducted with the 2008 Edition)

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.

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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.

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Second Step Child Protection Unit

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

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.

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

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Online Teacher Training for Second Step Child Protection Unit Helps Alleviate Anxiety, Creates Positive Experience for Teachers and Students

Allen, K. P., Livingston, J. A., & Nickerson, A. B. (2019). Child sexual abuse prevention education: A qualitative study of teachers’ experiences implementing the Second Step Child Protection Unit. American Journal of Sexuality Education, 1–28.

This qualitative study explored PreK to Grade 4 teachers’ and school counselors’ experiences with the child sexual abuse prevention online training and the Child Protection Unit (CPU) curriculum. After implementing the program, teachers participated in focus groups, where they reflected on their CPU experiences. They reported that receiving online training on both childhood sexual abuse and teaching CPU helped to alleviate some initial anxiety about teaching the unit’s content and materials. They also reported that teaching CPU was a positive experience overall and that students reacted positively to CPU, engaged in the lessons, and took them seriously.

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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

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.

A randomized control trial tested the effects of the Second Step Child Protection Unit (CPU) 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 vs. older students and for girls vs. boys. In addition, CPU improved the students’ relationship with their teacher.

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

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.

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 attitudes and improved relationships with students than teachers who did not.

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