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Study finds Positive Action effective on problem behaviors in disadvantaged urban schools and middle-school grades

A randomized controlled trial of Positive Action in Chicago, Ill., has extended evidence of the program's effectiveness in preventing violence to students attending low-income, mostly minority, urban schools and to students in middle-school grades.

Soon to be reported in the "American Journal of Preventive Medicine," the research found that students in seven schools that implemented the program were less likely than a control group in seven matched schools to report they supported aggressive behaviors and engaging in violence-related behavior and bullying, as well as other disruptive behaviors. This evidence was largely corroborated by ratings from parents and reduced numbers of disciplinary referrals and suspensions school-wide. It was also consistent with findings of prior evaluations of the program with other populations and age groups.

The present findings suggested program effects on student-reported bullying behavior only for girls, and on parent-reported bullying behavior only for boys. Researchers postulated that may be because parents are more likely to be aware of and thus able to report accurately on the relatively more overt (rather than relational) forms of bullying behaviors in which boys engage, due to the greater likelihood of such behaviors resulting in disciplinary and other consequences. Likewise, other findings from the trial suggest that girls have higher levels of self-honesty compared to boys, which could serve to increase the sensitivity of student self-report data to the program's effects on bullying behavior.

This six-year trial (2004-2010) built on previous research by further examining Positive Action’s effectiveness in disadvantaged, inner-city schools, and by extending follow-up to the middle school grades—the peak period of onset for many problem behaviors. Researchers hypothesized that Positive Action would favorably affect:

  • Student-reported levels of normative beliefs supporting aggression and rates of violence-related, bullying, and other disruptive behaviors;
  • Parent-reported levels of youth conduct problems and aggressive behaviors
  • School records of disciplinary referrals and suspensions

Data on Grades 3-8 were gathered from 2003-2010 and analyzed in spring 2012. Data on violence were collected starting at Grade 5.

Multilevel growth-curve modeling analyses indicated that Positive Action mitigated increases over time in youth reports of normative beliefs supporting aggressive behaviors and of engaging in disruptive behavior and bullying (girls only) and parent reports of youth bullying behaviors (boys only). School-wide records showed that the program reduced both disciplinary referrals and suspensions.

These results have been included in the outcomes matrix.

Click here to review the reported outcomes.