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IES Grant

Title: Kidsteps II: Promoting School Readiness Through Social-Emotional Skill Building in Preschool
Center: NCER Year: 2013
Principal Investigator: Upshur, Carole Awardee: University of Massachusetts, Medical School
Program: Early Learning Programs and Policies      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (7/1/13-6/30/17) Award Amount: $3,468,010
Type: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305A130336

Co-Principal Investigator: Melodie Wenz-Gross

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to evaluate the impact of the Second Step Early Learning (SSEL) curriculum on young children's end of preschool social skills, emotional regulation, executive functioning, and academic readiness skills, and to explore how improved skills at the end of preschool may affect kindergarten readiness screening and kindergarten performance. This will be the first large-scale trial of the SSEL, which incorporates a dual emphasis on social/emotional and executive functioning skill development. The evaluation of SSEL will contribute to our understanding of the direct short- and long-term impacts of the curriculum on children's school readiness skills, and the effects of the intervention on preschool classroom climate.

Project Activities: Researchers will conduct a stratified classroom randomized study of the efficacy of the SSEL curriculum. Preschool classrooms will participate in one of two, 2-year cohorts which will be created by a multistage randomization process. During each cohort (Year 1 & 2 or Year 3 & 4), 2 years of intervention curriculum training and support will be provided to intervention classrooms, while teacher, parent, child, and curriculum implementation data will be collected on both intervention and comparison classrooms each year. Teacher and parent ratings of all enrolled children's social skills and emotion regulation will be conducted in the Fall and Spring of the preschool years (Years 1 and 3). Individual assessments of executive function, social and emotional, and academic school readiness skills will be conducted for all participating 4-year-old children in Fall and Spring of the preschool years for each cohort (Years 1 and 3). Researchers will also conduct a Classroom Climate Substudy to examine the effect of the intervention on preschool classroom climate in a subset of classrooms who participated in the study in Years 1 and 3 during Years 2 and 4 of the study.

Products: Products for this project will be evidence of the efficacy of the SSEL curriculum for children's end of year preschool social-emotional, executive functioning, and academic readiness skills. In addition, evidence of how these improved skills impact kindergarten readiness screening and kindergarten performance will be shared. Evidence of the effect of the intervention on preschool classroom climate will also be documented. Peer reviewed publications will be produced.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This project will take place in Head Start and community preschool classrooms in central Massachusetts.

Sample: Participants for this study will be primarily low income, minority children (47 percent Hispanic and 17 percent African American), ages 3–5, enrolled in preschool classrooms. Six hundred children will be enrolled in each of the 4 years of the study, of whom approximately 200 will be followed into kindergarten in Years 2 and 4. Sixty-four preschool classrooms will participate (32 in Cohort 1-Years 1 and 2; 32 in Cohort 2-Years 3 and 4).

Intervention: The SSEL curriculum is a newly revised version of Second Step PreK social skills curriculum. The curriculum was developed to support young children's social emotional learning, including identifying and labeling emotions in self and others; using emotional information, perspective taking and simple stress management strategies to self-regulate strong emotions; and using problem solving skills in social situations. The curriculum also focuses on the development of executive function skills (attention, working memory, and inhibitory control). The SSEL curriculum has 5 units, 28 weekly lessons, and weekly Brain Builder games. The five curriculum units are: (1) Skills for Learning (listening, focusing attention, using self-talk to remember and follow directions, and being assertive); (2) Empathy (identifying one's own and other's feelings, taking other's perspectives); (3) Emotion Management (understanding strong feelings, identifying one's own strong feelings, and calming down strong feelings); (4) Friendship Skills and Problem Solving (making and keeping friends, calming down and using problem solving steps); (5) Transition to Kindergarten (reviewing program skills and concepts, thinking about how skills will help in kindergarten). These weekly lessons, themes, and games, are integrated daily and are delivered through pictures, stories, reading books, games, puppets, songs, and posters.

Research Design and Methods: This study will follow a stratified, classroom-randomized prospective design. Researchers will examine effects of the curriculum on child outcomes: (a) preschool social/emotional and executive functioning skills; (b) end of preschool academic school readiness skills; and (c) kindergarten outcomes: kindergarten readiness, teacher-ratings and school performance. In Year 1, the research team will recruit and randomly assign 32 preschool classrooms for the Cohort 1 study. Classrooms will be randomly assigned to treatment and control conditions after the completion of baseline data collection. Teachers in the treatment group will receive curriculum training and support to implement the SSEL curriculum components. Teacher and parent level data will be collected in the Fall and the Spring and the research team will use several measures to assess successful implementation of the curriculum components. In Year 2, preschool teachers will continue to receive curriculum training and support to implement the SSEL curriculum components, and a randomly select subgroup of 16 Cohort 1 classrooms will participate in the Classroom Climate Substudy. In addition, classroom observers will receive training to conduct observations for the substudy. Researchers will continue to collect data to examine fidelity of implementation. They will also follow the Cohort 1 sample of children into kindergarten and obtain teacher ratings of children's social skills and academic competence. School personnel will provide information about children's scores on kindergarten readiness assessments and other school records data (e.g., receipt of special education services and promotion to first grade). In Year 3, the research team will recruit and randomly assign 32 preschool classrooms for the Cohort 2 study. Data collection will include teacher-, parent-, and student-level data and assessments in the Fall and Spring of the preschool year. Fidelity of implementation data will be collected. In Year 4, the second Cohort of preschool teachers will continue to receive support to implement the curriculum, and a second cohort of 16 classrooms will be selected for the Classroom Climate Substudy. The researchers will follow the Year 3/Cohort 2 sample of children into kindergarten and collect teacher and school records data.

Control Condition: Children in the control condition will follow the standard curricula currently delivered in the classroom. More than half the control classrooms (community child care and Head Start) use the Creative Curriculum instructional framework. This curriculum includes 38 learning objectives. Three of the learning objectives focus on children's social/emotional development: regulation, relationships, and cooperative play.

Some of the Head Start classrooms use a variety of literacy and math curricula (e.g., Opening the World of Learning-OWL, Mother Goose Social Studies Kit, and Everyday Math).

Key Measures: During the preschool years (Year 1/Cohort 1 and Year 3/Cohort 2), teachers and parents will be asked to rate children's social skills, using the Social Skills Improvement System (SSIS) and also complete the Emotion Regulation Checklist for each child to rate children's emotion regulation skills. Academic skills will be assessed using the Bracken School Readiness Assessment Third Edition. The Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, 4th Edition (PPVT-4) will be used to assess language and cognitive development. Several executive function tasks will be administered to each child. The researchers will also use the Emotion Matching Scale to assess children's knowledge and understanding of emotions, and the Challenging Situations Task to assess their problem solving skills. At the end of the direct child assessment session, assessors will use the Preschool Self-Regulation Assessment (PSRA) Assessor Report to provide a global rating of children's attention, emotionality, and impulsivity. Classroom measures, such as the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale Revised, will be used as an observational measure of classroom quality. Researchers will use several measures to document fidelity of implementation in treatment and control classrooms. For the Classroom Climate Substudy, observers will use the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) Pre-K to collect data about classroom interaction quality.

Data Analytic Strategy: A mixed models approach to analysis will be used which will adjust for baseline covariates and levels of clustering of children within classrooms, within sites and type of preschool program (Head Start versus community program). The team intends to combine data across both cohorts, and complete analyses to evaluate the primary impacts of the intervention on child outcomes. The researchers will conduct multi-level analyses using random effects models in SAS or Stata. They will use the Benjamini-Hochberg method to adjust for multiple comparisons. Moderator and mediator analyses will also be completed.

Products and Publications

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Heyman, M., Poulakos, A., Upshur, C., and Wenz-Gross, M. (2016). Discrepancies in Parent and Teacher Ratings of Low-Income Preschooler's Social Skills. Early Child Development and Care. 1–15.

Upshur, C.C., Heyman, M., and Wenz-Gross, M. (2017). Efficacy Trial of the Second Step Early Learning (SSEL) Curriculum: Preliminary Outcomes. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 50: 15–25.