Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: An Evaluation of a Social and Emotional Learning Program in Ferguson, Missouri

Friday, November 13, 2015 : 1:50 PM
Tuttle North (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jake Cronin, Ashley Price and Aaron Thompson, University of Missouri
Research shows that many students who display signs of disruptive and challenging behaviors are at increased risk of developing emotional disorders. Students with emotional disorders experience a range of adverse outcomes such as peer and teacher rejection, truancy, and academic failure. These short term adverse outcomes increase the likelihood those children will experience a variety of negative consequences such as dropping out of school, incarceration, diminished employment and poor health and mental health conditions. To address the growing concern for students with disruptive and challenging behaviors, schools across the United States are adopting evidenced-based social and emotional learning (SEL) programs.

Through funding received from the St. Louis County Children’s Service Fund’s Discovery Initiative, an adapted version of the Teen Outreach Program (TOP) is being implemented in the Ferguson, Missouri area. TOP is a widely used evidence-based program designed to reduce risky behaviors, increase healthy behaviors and improve social competencies. TOP lessons target key SEL skills such as healthy relationships, value clarification, self-efficacy, decision making, and healthy life skills. However, TOP is designed as a nine month program that spans two semesters in traditional academic settings. Although there is a large demand for SEL programs, due to federal and state academic requirements, little room can be made in core curriculum classes for programs which span two semesters such as TOP. Therefore, the purpose of this initiative is to create and evaluate an adapted TOP curriculum that fits within one semester. In doing so, the traditional TOP program was essentially cut in half to coincide with a one semester health class. TOP-trained facilitators are implementing this adapted version of TOP for three semesters in a Ferguson area high school. Importantly, students at a neighboring school within the same district will serve as a comparison group.

The first semester of implementation was completed in the fall of 2014. During the first semester, eight classes were implemented serving a total of 204 students. An additional 149 students served as the comparison group. Students at both the treatment and comparisons sites completed surveys at the beginning and end of the semester. The surveys include measures such as emotional well-being, prosocial behavior, responsible choices, peer relationships, success orientation, and academic engagement.  Additionally, classroom teachers also completed surveys at the beginning and end of the semester to document student’s classroom behavior and engagement. Administrative records were also obtained from both sites to gather demographic and contextual information as well as student-level academic records and discipline referrals. Using student and teacher surveys and student and school administrative data from the treatment and comparison sites, we will analyze whether students assigned to TOP have improved classroom engagement, decreased disruptive behaviors, increased healthy behaviors, and improved academic achievement relative to students in the comparison group. Given the increasing demand for evidence-based programs, findings from this study will be of particular interest to social and education policy researchers and practitioners seeking effective school-based interventions under challenging circumstances.