Problem Behavior and Urban, Low-Income Youth

A Randomized Controlled Trial of Positive Action in Chicago


      Youth problem behaviors remain a public health issue. Youth in low-income, urban areas are particularly at risk for engaging in aggressive, violent, and disruptive behaviors.


      To evaluate the effects of a school-based social–emotional learning and health promotion program on problem behaviors and related attitudes among low-income, urban youth.


      A matched-pair, cluster RCT.


      Participants were drawn from 14 Chicago Public Schools over a 6-year period of program delivery with outcomes assessed for a cohort of youth followed from Grades 3 to 8. Data were collected from Fall 2004 to Spring 2010, and analyzed in Spring 2012.


      The Positive Action program includes a scoped and sequenced K–12 classroom curriculum with six components: self-concept, social and emotional positive actions for managing oneself responsibly, and positive actions directed toward physical and mental health, honesty, getting along with others, and continually improving oneself. The program also includes teacher, counselor, family, and community training as well as activities directed toward schoolwide climate development.

      Main outcome measures

      Youth reported on their normative beliefs in support of aggression and on their bullying, disruptive, and violent behaviors; parents rated youths’ bullying behaviors and conduct problems; schoolwide data on disciplinary referrals and suspensions were obtained from school records.


      Multilevel growth-curve modeling analyses conducted on completion of the trial indicated that Positive Action mitigated increases over time in (1) youth reports of normative beliefs supporting aggressive behaviors and of engaging in disruptive behavior and bullying (girls only) and (2) parent reports of youth bullying behaviors (boys only). At study end-point, students in Positive Action schools also reported a lower rate of violence-related behavior than students in control schools. Schoolwide findings indicated positive program effects on both disciplinary referrals and suspensions. Program effect sizes ranged from −0.26 to −0.68.


      These results extend evidence of the effectiveness of the Positive Action program to low-income, minority, urban school settings, and to middle school–aged youth.

      Trial registration

      This study is registered at NCT01025674.
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