Improving Elementary School Quality Through the Use of a Social-Emotional and Character Development Program: A Matched-Pair, Cluster-Randomized, Controlled Trial in Hawai'i


  • We would like to thank Niloofar Bavarian and Marc Schure for helpful comments on previous drafts. This article is based on a portion of a dissertation submitted by the first author to Oregon State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Ph.D. degree. This project was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01-DA13474). Additionally, The National Institute on Drug Abuse (DA018760 and T32 DA01946) provided financial support for the completion of the work on this manuscript. The authors would like to thankfully recognize the support and involvement of the Hawai‘i school district and the principals, administrators, teachers, staff, students, and their families at the participating schools. We also thank Howard Humphreys and Jonathan Wang for help with data collection and management.

    Notice of potential conflict of interest: The research described herein was done using the program and the training and technical support of Positive Action, Inc. Dr. Flay's spouse holds a significant financial interest in Positive Action, Inc. This potential conflict of interest was managed by the Oregon State University Conflict of Interest Committee.

Frank J. Snyder, Postdoctoral Fellow, (, Division of Prevention and Community Research, Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, The Consultation Center, 389 Whitney Ave., New Haven, CT 06511 or Brian R. Flay, Professor, (, School of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences, College of Public Health and Human Sciences, Oregon State University, 322 Milam Hall, Corvallis OR 97331-5102.


BACKGROUND: School safety and quality affect student learning and success. This study examined the effects of a comprehensive elementary school-wide social-emotional and character education program, Positive Action, on teacher, parent, and student perceptions of school safety and quality utilizing a matched-pair, cluster-randomized, controlled design. The Positive Action Hawai'i trial included 20 racially/ethnically diverse schools and was conducted from 2002-2003 through 2005-2006.

METHODS: School-level archival data, collected by the Hawai'i Department of Education, were used to examine program effects at 1-year post-trial. Teacher, parent, and student data were analyzed to examine indicators of school quality such as student safety and well-being, involvement, and satisfaction, as well as overall school quality. Matched-paired t-tests were used for the primary analysis, and sensitivity analyses included permutation tests and random-intercept growth curve models.

RESULTS: Analyses comparing change from baseline to 1-year post-trial revealed that intervention schools demonstrated significantly improved school quality compared to control schools, with 21%, 13%, and 16% better overall school quality scores as reported by teachers, parents, and students, respectively. Teacher, parent, and student reports on individual school-quality indicators showed improvement in student safety and well-being, involvement, satisfaction, quality student support, focused and sustained action, standards-based learning, professionalism and system capacity, and coordinated team work. Teacher reports also showed an improvement in the responsiveness of the system.

CONCLUSIONS: School quality was substantially improved, providing evidence that a school-wide social-emotional and character education program can enhance school quality and facilitate whole-school change.