OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

Study: School-based prevention program improves academics; reduces problem behavior

01/28/2010

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A study by Oregon State University researchers found that a prevention program that teaches social and emotional skills and character development to elementary school children can improve academic test scores as much as 10 percent on national standardized math and reading tests.

Their research also showed this intervention resulted in 70 percent fewer suspensions and 15 percent less absenteeism.

The study, supported by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, was published in the January issue of the Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness. It was conducted in 20 public elementary schools in Hawaii, 10 of which were randomly assigned to receive the program and the rest were controls. Participating schools had below-average standardized test scores and a diverse student population with an average of 55 percent of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches.

The intervention tested was the Positive Action program, a comprehensive social and emotional development program aimed at enhancing behavior and academic achievement for children in grades preschool through high school.

According to Brian Flay, a professor in the Department of Public Health at OSU, elementary schools that implemented the Positive Action program for one to four years reported 8-10 percent better scores on standardized math and reading tests, as well as 21 percent better scores on state reading tests and 51 percent better scores on state math tests.

Flay, director of the youth core of the Hallie Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families at OSU, said the research suggests that school-based social-emotional and character development programs begun in elementary school can significantly improve school performance and reduce problem behaviors in students.

The Positive Action program consists of daily 15- to 20-minute interactive lessons focusing on such topics as responsible self-management, getting along with others, and self-improvement. At schools implementing the intervention, these lessons occupied about one hour a week for every grade.

As reported in a previous study of Flay’s in the American Journal of Public Health last October, students who had gone through the intervention were about half as likely to report engaging in alcohol, tobacco and other drug use, violent activities and voluntary sexual activity as students who had not been through the Positive Action program.

“This research demonstrates that a comprehensive, school-wide social and character development program can have a substantial impact on both reducing problem behaviors of public health importance in youth and improving their school performance,” said Flay, the study’s principal investigator.

Frank Snyder, a doctoral student who worked with Flay on the study, said there is mounting evidence on the influence of comprehensive social and development programs on school performance.

“Schools, which have so many demands for accountability, may be concentrating on math, reading, and science core content standards,” Snyder said. “However, this study provides evidence that improving student’s character, social and emotional skills can have a significant influence on standardized test scores.”

Samuel Vuchinich, Alan Acock and Isaac Washburn of OSU, as well as Michael Beets and Kin-Kit Li, both former doctoral students at OSU, contributed to this study.