In 2003, researchers heading the Chicago School Readiness Project (CSRP) pioneered an experimental preschool intervention that aimed to reduce behavioral problems and boost academic achievement in classrooms by targeting students’ executive function and emotional regulation skills. This year-long intervention took place in Head Start centers located in low-income areas of Chicago. The CSRP intervention targeted student behavior and teacher behavior-management through professional-development workshops and provision of extra support for classrooms, teachers, and students.
In the following years, researchers have maintained contact with the participants, periodically assessing their progress to determine whether the intervention resulted in long-term effects. CSRP researchers initially chose to target executive function and associated self-regulation abilities in the hope that development of these skills at an early age would alter long-term developmental trajectories. In targeting self-regulation, including facets of emotional regulation, researchers were hoping to provide students skills and capabilities that would help propel them to success in their future academic pursuits.
In 2018, CSRP researchers published a paper assessing follow-up data obtained 10 to 11 years after the Head Start preschool-intervention. The researchers again measured the same qualities — executive function, academic achievement, emotional regulation, and student behavior — swapping the measures used during preschool for age and field-appropriate standards (given a decade’s progress in research best-practice). Though prior follow-up assessments have been undertaken on a small-scale for CSRP, this publication marks the first attempt to assess the impacts of the CSRP-intervention on all initially-targeted areas of development.
The 2018 paper, led by Tyler Watts of New York University, reports that treatment groups did, in fact, perform better in measures of executive function and academic achievement (demonstrated through self-reported GPAs) than their peers that did not receive the initial intervention. However, these effects were modest in size, and as Watts described, were more “suggestive than conclusive.”. As such, the results are promising, yet more research is needed. The data presented in this paper also suggest there may be more nuance and/or complexity in assessing the adolescent’s emotional regulatory capabilities than initially assumed. These follow-up measures of emotional regulation demonstrated that participants from the treatment group showed higher reactivity to sadness and anger, but an overall negative score for emotional regulation (though this difference was not statistically significant). Researchers are curious about the implications of such a result — does it demonstrate a greater sensitivity to negative emotions? Or, in the context of these students’ improved executive function and academic achievement, does it simply demonstrate the effects of changed cognitive ability? A final explanation for these findings might be that CSRP participants tend to experience high exposure to poverty, violence, and crime, and, as such, their emotional regulatory skills have developed in tandem with those factors. Regardless of the nuance in some measures, this report demonstrates the need to continue following the children that participated in CSRP to better understand how their trajectories might have been altered in the long-run.
CSRP is not done yet. A new round of data collection, coming in 2019, will once again check-in with CSRP participants as they navigate through late adolescence and into adulthood. In tandem with results from similar longitudinal studies, CSRP’s findings can help organizations such as Head Start, as well as government agencies, provide best-practices and help set all students up for long-term success.
For more information about CSRP and its findings, check out the full paper.