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IES Grant

Title: Examining the Efficacy of RULER on School Climate, Teacher Well-being, Classroom Climate, and Student Outcomes
Center: NCER Year: 2018
Principal Investigator: Downer, Jason Awardee: University of Virginia
Program: Social and Behavioral Context for Academic Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 5 years (07/01/2018–06/30/2023) Award Amount: $3,299,999
Goal: Efficacy and Replication Award Number: R305A180326

Co-Principal Investigator: Rimm-Kaufman, Sara

Purpose: In this project, researchers will evaluate the efficacy of RULER, a school-wide intervention that is designed to provide opportunities for teachers and students to enhance their social-emotional skills. As of 2017, RULER is being used in over 1,500 schools nationwide. Despite being a widely-used intervention, RULER has been evaluated by only one randomized-control trial that was implemented in limited grades and settings. The current study aims to build on the promising findings from that earlier study, and fill the need for a large-scale, rigorous trial of RULER in its intended form as a whole-school intervention. This project will examine the extent to which whole-school implementation of RULER in a K-6 public school context impacts education outcomes for schools, teachers, classrooms, and students.

Project Activities: RULER is a fully-developed intervention that teaches adults and students the skills of recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing, and regulating emotions. It is implemented over a two-phase, two-year process in which the adults in a school learn and apply the skills first, followed by the students. The research team will use a cluster-randomized design whereby schools will be randomized either to implement RULER, or to operate under business-as-usual. The researchers will collect and analyze surveys, administrative data, and achievement data from all principals, teachers, and students in participating schools to evaluate RULER's effects on school climate and student achievement. In addition, they will randomly select teachers and students in participating schools to provide additional data about RULER's impacts on teacher well-being, classroom climate, and student outcomes.

Products: The researchers will produce evidence for the efficacy of the RULER intervention on school, teacher, classroom, and student outcomes. The researchers will also produce peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This study will take place in 60 urban and suburban elementary schools in Virginia.

Sample: There will be two samples. One involves a whole-school sampling strategy, including 60 principals, approximately 1,680 K-6 teachers and approximately 36,000 students. The second is a selected sample of 2,520 K-6 students and their 420 teachers. To be included in the selected sample, teachers must be employed full-time at their school and have primary responsibility for a general education classroom. Families of students will be invited to enroll in the study as part of a standard district contact. Students and teachers who agree to volunteer for the selected sample will be randomly sampled with replacement at set time points across the three-year study period.

Intervention: RULER combines whole-school professional development with a skill-building social-emotional learning program for K-6 students. The program works to build emotional intelligence by teaching the skills of recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing, and regulating emotions to both adults and students within a school. The program then leverages these skills to help schools create a positive climate for learning. RULER has two core elements: Anchor toolsthat are embedded into a school's routine practices and set the foundation for a positive climate and skill development, and a Feeling Words Curriculumthat emphasizes pedagogical techniques for embedding emotions and emotional intelligence skill development into academic curriculum. These core elements are designed to be enacted in everyday school interactions and are facilitated by three implementation supportsó training for adults, coaching supports, and training manuals. RULER implementation occurs in two phases. In Phase 1, the adults in a school (e.g., principals, teachers) learn and use RULER Anchor tools for a full year before introducing RULER (including the Feeling Words Curriculum) to students during Phase 2.

Research Design and Methods: The research team will test the intent-to-treat effects of RULER on school climate, teacher well-being, classroom climate, and student outcomes compared to a business-as-usual control. The team will use a three-level (students, classrooms, schools) cluster-randomized design with random assignment of schools to RULER or control conditions. In treatment schools, school-based implementation teams will receive summer training from RULER coaches, and then disseminate the intervention to other teachers in their school with support from the coaches throughout the year. For the whole-school sample, all principals, teachers, and students will complete short surveys about school climate across at baseline, and after Phase 1 and Phase 2 of implementation. For the selected teacher sample, seven teachers per school (one at each grade level K-6) will be randomly selected (with replacement) at baseline and after each Phase of RULER implementation. For the selected student sample, six students per classroom will be randomly selected (with replacement) at baseline and after Phase 2 of RULER implementation. Teachers and students in the selected sample will participate in additional testing and observations to provide data about classroom-, teacher-, and student-level outcomes.

Control Condition: In the control condition, schools will continue their normal practices regarding school climate and social-emotional learning.

Key Measures: Researchers will assess school climate by teacher and principal report (e.g., Organizational Health Inventory), and teachers' well-being by self-report (e.g., Mayer-Salovey- Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test). They will assess classroom climate using the Classroom Assessment Scoring System. Four student outcomes are assessed by teacher ratings, direct assessment, and school records: social-emotional skills (e.g., SELweb), behavior (e.g., SSIS), and academic engagement and achievement (e.g., attendance, standardized tests). Also, they will use researcher-developed measures to assess variation in RULER implementation fidelity.

Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers will use single-level regression models at the school level to examine effects on school climate. They will use two-level models to examine impacts on teacher well-being and classroom climate and three-level models to examine impacts on student outcomes. In addition, researchers will test whether RULER impacts are moderated by student characteristics (e.g., free/reduced price lunch, initial social-emotional skills, English Learner status).

Related IES Projects:  Improving School Readiness with Emotional Literacy: Developing the RULER Preschool Program (R305A120172)

Promoting School Readiness Through Emotional Intelligence: An Efficacy Trial of Preschool RULER (R305A180293)