top of page


Second Step Program Effectiveness - Research Studies


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

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 behaviour, which in turn predicted their kindergarten readiness. (Wenz-Gross, Yoo, Upshur & Gambino, 2018)


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

A classroom randomized trial was conducted using the Second Step Early Learning Program compared to the most commonly used curricula in Head Start and community preschools. Children receiving the Second Step Program had significantly better end-of-preschool executive-function skills than students who didn’t receive the program. (Upshur, Heyman, & Wenz-Gross, 2017)

Second Step SEL Program for Primary School

Improvement in Prosocial Skills, Empathy, Conduct Shown with Second Step Program (conducted with the 2011 Edition)


This study (the first with the 2011 edition of the Second Step Program) conducted a randomized controlled trial over a one-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 behaviour 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. (Low, Cook, Smolkowski, & Buntain-Riklefs, 2015)


Less Adult Conflict Intervention, Improved Social Competence (conducted with the 2002 Edition)


A study examined the effects of the 2002 Edition of the Second Step Program on 1,253 second- through fourth-grade children. When compared to 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. (Frey, Nolen, Edstrom, & Hirschstein, 2005


Gains in Prosocial Skills and Behaviour (conducted with the 2002 Edition)

A pre-post design of 455 fourth- and fifth-grade students in a small urban school district was studied to evaluate 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 behaviour. (Edwards, Hunt, Meyers, Grogg, & Jarrett, 2005)



Second Step SEL Program for Middle School


Physical Aggression 42 Percent Less Likely (conducted with the 2008 Edition)

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 to sixth-graders in schools that didn’t implement the program. (Espelage, Low, Polanin, & Brown, 2013)


20 Percent Reduction in Bullying by Students with Disabilities (conducted with the 2008 Edition)

This three-year study followed 123 students with disabilities from sixth through eighth grade. 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 the Second Step Program. (Espelage, Polanin, & Rose, 2015)


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 behaviour. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 26, 171–200.


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


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, 180–186.


Espelage, D. L., Low, S., Polanin, J. R., Brown, E. C. (in press). Clinical trial of Second Step middle-school program: Impact on aggression and victimization. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology.


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


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.


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.


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). 

bottom of page