Program

Sep 29, 2017

OVERVIEW

PATHS Preschool is a preschool-based program that aims to increase social competence, emotional knowledge, and problem-solving skills in young children through direct instruction, activities, and scaffolding.  Two experimental studies have evaluated PATHS Preschool in Head Start classrooms. One found that it had positive impacts on teachers’ social-emotional instruction, positive behavior management, and instructional support. The program was also found to have positive impacts on children’s social skills, as well as their ability to identify facial emotions, identify others’ feelings, and respond competently to challenging situations. However, impacts on other outcomes such as executive function, pre-academic skills, and overall classroom management were not found. Another evaluation of PATHS Preschool found that children who participated in this program had increased emotional knowledge and social competency, and decreased social withdrawal compared with children who did not participate in PATHS, but little impact on problem solving, inhibitory control, or attention.

DESCRIPTION OF PROGRAM

Target Population: Preschool age children.

Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS) is a comprehensive in-school curriculum designed to enhance social competence and prevent or reduce behavior and emotional problems, with an emphasis on emotional awareness and self-regulation.  The Preschool PATHS curriculum is based on the elementary school PATHS curriculum, with modifications to make the curriculum developmentally appropriate and easier to implement in an early childhood education setting.  This program entails instruction in various topics related to emotional knowledge and social competence, as well as the creation of real-life opportunities to generalize skills learned.  Preschool PATHS is implemented by trained teachers in 30 weekly sessions over the course of the school year which are integrated into the typical preschool day.  In addition to the structured lessons, teachers create a classroom environment that promotes social-emotional development through extension activities and teachable moments.

The curriculum is available from Channing Bete and costs $859 for the PATHS Preschool/Kindergarten classroom module as of 2017.

EVALUATION OF PROGRAM

Domitrovich, C. E., Cortes, R. C., & Greenberg, M. T. (2007). Improving young children’s social and emotional competence: A randomized trial of the preschool PATHS curriculum. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 28, 67-91. doi:10.1007/s10935-007-0081-0

Evaluated Population:  This study had a total of 246 children (120 male, 126 female) from two Head Start programs in central Pennsylvania.  Children were excluded from the study if English was not their first language, or if they participated in a pilot study of the program the previous year.  The average age of the sample was 51 months (4 years, 3 months).  The sample was 47 percent African-American, 38 percent European-American, and 10 percent Hispanic.

Approach:  The two Head Start programs involved in this study had multiple locations.  Randomization occurred at the building level to prevent contamination of the two conditions within a building, with a final sample of 10 intervention classrooms and 10 control classrooms. Teachers of the classrooms randomized to receive the intervention attended training in the PATHS Preschool program, and then implemented the intervention during the school year, while those in the control classrooms did not receive the training or implement the intervention in their classrooms. Outcome assessments occurred at baseline and post-intervention.  Children were assessed on measures of emotional knowledge, inhibitory control, attention, and interpersonal problem solving.  Teachers and parents reported about each child’s social competence and problem behaviors.  At baseline, children in the control group were slightly older and more likely to have a disability than those in the intervention group.  The researchers did not adjust for clustering, as the number of classrooms did not provide sufficient statistical power to conduct multi-level analysis.

Results:  At post-test, children in the intervention group had significantly higher emotional knowledge (i.e., emotional vocabulary, emotion identification accuracy) than did children in the control condition.  Teachers and parents reported children exposed to PATHS as significantly more socially competent than their peers.  Teachers also reported children in the intervention group as less socially withdrawn than those in the control group.  No significant impacts were found on inhibitory control, attention, or problem solving.

Morris, P., Mattera, S. K., Castells, N., Bangser, M., Bierman, K., & Raver, C. (2014). Impact findings from the Head Start CARES demonstration: National evaluation of three approaches to improving preschoolers’ social and emotional competence. OPRE Report 2014-44. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Evaluated Population: The baseline sample of the study consisted of 2,114 children, who were all enrolled in a Head Start. Of this sample, 544 children were randomized to the Preschool PATHS treatment group, 512 were in control group classrooms, and the classrooms with the remaining 1,058 children were randomized into two other treatment groups. At the start of the study, all children participating in the Head Start programs were 4.4 years old on average. Sixteen percent were white and non-Hispanic, 33 percent were African-American, 43 percent were Hispanic, and seven percent were multi-racial or another race. The number of boys and girls was nearly equal, with girls making up about 49 percent of the sample. About 59 percent of children lived in households that received food stamps and 11 percent lived in households receiving TANF. Nineteen percent of parents owned their own home, while 18 percent lived in transient housing. The average monthly household income of participants was $1,763. The study took place in Head Start classrooms across the country; 23 percent of children were in the Midwest/Plains, 23 percent were in the Northeast, 26 percent were in the West, and 29 percent were in the South.

Approach: This evaluation is part of a larger study in which 104 Head Start centers across ten states (comprising 307 study classrooms), were randomly assigned into one of four conditions: a control condition in which the Head Start program was conducted as usual, a Preschool PATHS treatment group, an Incredible Years Teacher Training Program treatment group, and a Tools of the Mind treatment group. The Preschool PATHS group included 26 centers and 77 classrooms, and the control group was made up of 26 centers and 77 classrooms. Centers were ineligible if they ran only Early Head Start programs, served only migrant children, were not located in the 48 contiguous U.S. states, were located more than 100 miles from a major airport, operated fewer than four centers with two classrooms each, or provided exclusively or mostly family child care or home services. Head Start centers were also ineligible if they were implementing another social-emotional development program. Children were considered eligible if they spoke English or Spanish, would be four years old by the school district’s cut-off date, and were not in foster care.

Several different methods were used for data collection. Classroom observations and teacher self-surveys were completed in the spring before the implementation year and the spring of the implementation year; direct assessments of children were carried out in the fall and spring of the implementation year; teachers completed reports of children in the fall and spring of the implementation year as well as a follow-up in the spring of kindergarten year; parents completed surveys in the fall of the implementation year and at the spring follow-up when their children were in kindergarten. Multiple outcome domains were measured: teaching practices (classroom management, social-emotional instruction, and scaffolding), classroom climate (emotional support, classroom organization, instructional support, and literacy focus), children’s social-emotional competence (executive function, behavior problems, learning behaviors, emotion knowledge, social problem-solving, and social behaviors), and children’s academic skills. Data at the kindergarten follow-up also included whether children were retained in grade, received special services such as speech therapy or mental health consultation.

Attrition was similar between the Preschool PATHS treatment group and the control group, at 15 percent. Analyses used multi-level models to account for clustering, two levels for classroom- and teacher-level outcomes (individual classrooms within centers), and three levels for child-level outcomes (individual students within classrooms within centers). At baseline, children and teachers in the Preschool PATHS treatment group and the control group were similar across almost all measured variables, with a few exceptions. Teachers in the treatment group exhibited significantly higher levels of depression compared with those in the control group (3.74 versus 2.14, respectively, on a scale of 0-24) at baseline. Compared with children in the control group, at baseline, children in the treatment group had marginally better facial emotions assessment scores (0.66 versus 0.62, on a scale of 0-1), a marginally significant increase in aggressive response to challenging situation score (1.04 versus 0.88 on a scale of 0-10). In terms of academic outcomes, children in the Preschool PATHS program had marginally higher general knowledge scores (2.7 versus 2.44 on a scale of 1-5), significantly higher scores on language and literacy (2.52 versus 2.2), and significantly higher mathematical thinking scores (2.41 versus 2.07), at baseline.

Results: At the end of the implementation year, teachers in the classrooms assigned to Preschool PATHS demonstrated significantly higher levels of positive behavior management (d=0.33,) compared with teachers in control group classrooms. However, no difference was found in overall classroom management dimension or in the other subdimensions making it up. Preschool PATHS teachers also demonstrated significantly higher levels of social-emotional instruction (d=0.92), including all the sub-dimensions of social-emotional instruction: emotion modeling, emotion expression, emotion regulation, social awareness, social problem-solving, and provision of interpersonal support. Effect sizes (Cohen’s d) ranged from 0.34 on provision of interpersonal support to 1.36 on emotion modeling.

At the end of the implementation year, the classroom climate for classrooms assigned to Preschool PATHS was rated significantly better in the instructional support dimension (d=0.27), as well as its concept development and quality of feedback subdimensions (d=0.33 and 0.29, respectively), but not for the language modeling subdimension. There were no other impacts found for classroom climate.

Preschool PATHS was also found to have impacts on several outcomes of children’s social-emotional skills and social behaviors at the end of the implementation year. Specifically, compared with children in the control group, children in classrooms assigned to Preschool PATHS were performed better in direct assessments of identifying facial emotions (d=0.29), identifying someone’s feelings in hypothetical situations (d=0.23), and responding competently in challenging situations (d=0.17), as well as in the teacher-reported Social Skills Rating Scale (d=0.19). However, no differences between children in classrooms assigned to Preschool PATHS and those in classrooms assigned to the control group in a direct assessment of responding aggressively to challenging situations or teacher-reported interpersonal skills.

At the end of the implementation year, Preschool PATHS was not found to have an impact on outcomes related to executive function or learning behaviors. However, children in classrooms assigned to Preschool PATHS were found to have significantly better teacher-reported ratings of learning behaviors, compared with those in classrooms assigned to the control group (d=0.20,). No impacts were found on children’s pre-academic skills, either by direct assessment or teacher report.

At the kindergarten follow-up, Preschool PATHS was not found to have an impact on any outcomes related to behavior regulation, social behavior, academic skills, or receipt of special education services. However, an impact was found on expectation of being retained in grade. Compared with children in classrooms assigned to the control group, those in classrooms assigned to Preschool PATHS were found to be significantly less likely to be expected to be retained in kindergarten by their teachers (from seven percent to less than one percent).

Implementation-year subgroup analyses, which divided students into groups of low or high risk for behavior problems, found that for low-risk students, Preschool PATHS had marginally significant positive impacts on facial emotions identification and situations emotions identification direct assessments of emotion knowledge (d=0.23for both assessments). The program had a significant negative impact on performance on the head-to-toes measure of executive function (d=-0.22), and a marginally significant positive impact on teacher-reported learning behaviors (d=0.26) for the low-risk students. Meanwhile, Preschool PATHS was found to have significant positive impacts on teacher-reported learning behaviors (d=0.21), facial emotions identification (d=0.32), and situations emotions identification (d=0.24) for students identified as high risk. No other impacts were found in the implementation-year analyses of impacts by behavior risk.

Implementation-year subgroup analyses assessed students by gender and found significant positive impacts for female students in the facial emotions identification and emotions situations identification outcomes (d=0.30 and d=0.25, respectively), and a marginally significant positive impact on learning behaviors (d=0.18). For boys, significant positive impacts were found for learning behaviors (d=0.20, facial emotions identification (d=0.26), emotions situations identification (d=0.20), having a competent response to a challenging situation (d=0.24), and teacher rating of social skills (d=0.23). Finally, Preschool PATHS was found to significantly reduce the likelihood of aggressive response to challenging situations in boys (d=-0.18). No other impacts were found in the implementation-year analyses of impacts by gender.

Subgroup analyses were also conducted for outcomes measured in the kindergarten follow-up. No impacts were found for Preschool PATHS when conducting subgroup analyses by behavior risk or by gender. When dividing schools into subgroups based on student support, Preschool PATHS was found to have a marginally significant positive impact on learning behaviors for students in schools considered unsupportive (d=0.19). The program also produced marginally significant negative impact on teacher-reported social skills for students in schools considered supportive (d=-0.24). No other impacts were found when conducting subgroup analyses by school student support. Subgroup analyses, breaking down schools into “safe” and “unsafe” groups, did not find any impacts for Preschool PATHS.

SOURCES FOR MORE INFORMATION

Link to program curriculum: http://www.channing-bete.com/prevention-programs/paths/paths.html

Link to training: http://www.pathstraining.com/

References

Domitrovich, C. E., Cortes, R. C., & Greenberg, M. T. (2007). Improving young children’s social and emotional competence: A randomized trial of the preschool PATHS curriculum. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 28, 67-91. doi:10.1007/s10935-007-0081-0

Morris, P., Mattera, S. K., Castells, N., Bangser, M., Bierman, K., & Raver, C. (2014). Impact findings from the Head Start CARES demonstration: National evaluation of three approaches to improving preschoolers’ social and emotional competence. OPRE Report 2014-44. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Contact Information

Celene E. Domitrovich, Ph.D.

The Pennsylvania State University

Prevention Research Center

109 South Henderson Building

University Park, PA 16801

Email: cxd130@psu.edu

KEYWORDS: Children, Preschool, Males & Females (Co-ed), White/Caucasian, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, Multiracial, Urban, Rural and/or Small Towns, Manual, Early Childhood Education, Skills Training, Social Skills/Life Skills, Social/Emotional Health Other, Anxiety Disorders/Symptoms, Conduct/Disruptive Disorders, Depression/Mood Disorders, School-Based

Program information last updated on 9/29/17.