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Program Profile: Positive Action

Evidence Rating: Effective - More than one study Effective - More than one study

Date: This profile was posted on June 16, 2011

Program Summary

The program is designed to improve youth academics, behavior, and character, and can be used by schools, families, or communities. The program is rated Effective. Treatment students reported less substance use, problem behaviors, and violent behavior than the control group. There was a 41 percent reduction in bullying behaviors. Findings regarding sexual activity and disruptive behaviors were not statistically significant.

Program Description

Program Goals and Theory
The Positive Action (PA) program is designed to improve youth academics, behavior, and character. PA uses an audience-centered, curriculum-based approach to increase positive behaviors and decrease negative ones.

PA is grounded in a broad theory of self-concept. It relies on intrinsic motivation for developing and maintaining positive behavioral patterns and teaches skills focused on learning and motivation for achieving success and happiness for everyone. The premise—that you feel good about yourself when you do positive actions and there is always a positive way to do everything—is represented by the self-reinforcing “thoughts–actions–feelings” circle: positive thoughts lead to positive actions, positive actions lead to positive feelings about oneself, and positive feelings lead to more positive thoughts.

Target Population and Sites
PA has been implemented in national and international alternative and mainstream settings. It has been delivered to individuals of various ages, genders, ethnicities and races, cultures, and socioeconomic levels in rural, suburban, and urban areas. The program has been used in school settings, before- and after-school programs, social service agencies, detention centers, home schooling, youth programs, family and juvenile justice agencies, correctional institutions, probation and parole settings, mental health and welfare agencies, faith-based organizations, public housing developments, and other programs specifically for high-risk, at-risk, special-needs, and disadvantaged individuals, families, schools, and communities, including court-mandated family groups.

Program Components
The program addresses diverse problems, such as substance use, violence-related behavior, disruptive behavior, and bullying, as well as social–emotional learning, positive youth development, character, and academics.

The PA program portfolio features interactive, ready-to-use kits that contain 15 to 20 minutes of scripted lessons for schools, families, and communities. The content concentrates on three core elements:
  • The program philosophy
  • The thoughts–actions–feelings circle
  • Six content units on self-concept; positive actions for body and mind; social and emotional positive actions for managing oneself responsibly; social and emotional positive actions for getting along with others; social and emotional positive actions for being honest; and social and emotional positive actions for self improvement
These unit lessons cover diverse topics such as nutrition, problem-solving, decision-making, study skills, self-control, managing personal resources, social skills, self-honesty, and setting and achieving goals.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
Substance Use
Data analyses from Beets and colleagues (2009) revealed that self-reporting of lifetime use of substances was significantly lower for students participating in Positive Action (PA) than for the control group, although teacher reporting of student lifetime use was not significant.

Violent Behavior
Student self-reporting of violent behavior was significantly lower for the treatment group, a finding confirmed by teacher reports of student violent behaviors.

Sexual Activity
Findings regarding sexual activity were not significant.

Problem Behaviors
A dose-response trend for both student and teacher reports of student behaviors was also observed; students who received 3 to 4 years of PA had significantly lower problem behaviors (substance use, violent behavior, and voluntary sexual activity) reported by themselves and teachers than students with less than 3 years of PA.

Study 2
Lifetime Prevalence of Substance Use and Serious Violence-Related Behavior
Li and colleagues (2011) found that students in the treatment group endorsed significantly fewer items for substance use and serious violence, when compared with control group students. There was a 31 percent reduction among treatment participants in substance use behaviors and a 36 percent reduction in violence behavior.

Bullying and Disruptive Behaviors
Students in the treatment group also endorsed significantly fewer items for bullying, compared with control group students. There was a 41 percent reduction in bullying behaviors. Treatment group students also reported engaging in fewer disruptive behaviors compared with the control group students, but the effect was not statistically significant. This reduction amounted to 27 percent.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Positive Action (PA) has been evaluated in studies in Florida, Hawaii, Nevada, and other States to measure changes in student behavior and achievement at schools implementing the program.


Study 1

Beets and colleagues (2009) assessed the effectiveness of a 5-year trial of the PA program using a matched-pair design with 20 Hawaii public schools randomized to intervention (n= 10) and control (n= 10). Schools were identified in 2000 and were eligible if the school a) had at least 25 percent of its students receiving free or reduced-price lunch, b) was in the lower three quartiles of SAT scores in the State, c) was located on Maui, Molokai, or Oahu, d) was a K–5 or K–6 public school, and e) had annual student mobility rates below 20 percent.


The 111 schools that met eligibility criteria were classified into 19 strata, on the basis of an index that included such factors as school size, student ethnic distribution, and indicators of student behavioral and school performance. At the 20 participating schools at year 5, the self-reported ethnicities of fifth grade students were primarily:


  • Hawaiian or part Hawaiian (26.1 percent)
  • Multiple ethnic backgrounds (22.6 percent)
  • Non-Hispanic white (8.6 percent)
  • African American (1.6 percent)
  • American Indian (1.7 percent)
  • Other Pacific Islander (4.7 percent)
  • Japanese (4.6 percent)
  • Other Asian (20.6 percent)
  • Other ethnicities (7.8 percent)
  • Unknown (1.6 percent)

Control schools continued without making any substantial social or character development program reforms. Intervention schools received approximately 35 hours per school year of sequenced PA lessons. Self-reports of substance use, violence, and voluntary sexual activity were collected on 1,714 fifth graders. Teachers of participating students reported on student substance use and violence. Data was analyzed using t–tests and logistic regressions as well as generalized linear latent and mixed-model methods. The authors indicated limitations, including those resulting from the low prevalence of negative behaviors and the collection of data from fifth graders only for this schoolwide prevention program.


Study 2

Li and colleagues (2011) assessed the impact of PA in a group of Chicago, Ill., public schools on problem behaviors such as substance use, serious violence-related behavior, current bullying, and disruptive behaviors. A matched-pair randomized control design was used so that schools with similar characteristics were matched, and then one school was randomized to the treatment group. The pool of possible Chicago public schools totaled 438, of which 68 met inclusion criteria. Representatives from 18 of these schools agreed to participate. Fourteen elementary schools eventually participated in the study—seven in the control group, seven in the treatment group. Forty-nine percent of the Chicago public schools population was African American, 39 percent were Hispanic, and 75 percent of the Chicago public schools students were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.


The program was implemented in 2004–05 with third graders, and they were followed through the 2006–07 academic year. Five assessments were made over the course of the study: a baseline assessment in fall 2004, then follow-up assessments in spring 2005, fall 2005, spring 2006, and spring 2007. Measures of negative behaviors, psychological status, and positive behaviors were included.


Approximately 590 third graders finished the baseline assessment, and 510 fifth graders completed the final assessment (a little more than half—57 percent—were part of the original sample). The students reported their ethnicity at 46 percent African American, 27 percent Hispanic, 7 percent white non-Hispanic, 3 percent Asian, and 17 percent other or mixed.

Measures included lifetime prevalence of substance use and serious violence-related behavior (which were collected through questions on a researcher-developed survey) and bullying and disruptive behaviors (which were collected using the Aggression Scale and the Frequency of Delinquent Behavior Scale). Covariates included age, gender, ethnicity, and measures of baseline problem behaviors. Three-level overdispersed Poisson models were used for analysis to account for nesting (students within schools within school pairs).

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The cost of the Positive Action (PA) program is determined by the implementation design. There is initial cost and a replacement of consumables cost for each toolkit. An age-appropriate Instructor’s Kit is necessary for each instructor. This kit includes student materials for 30 students. The initial cost is $390–$460 per Instructor’s Kit. For subsequent years, Refresher Kits average about 24 percent of the original price per kit. Climate Development Kits for program principals/leaders are initially $460 each and $200 for subsequent years. Counselor Kits with materials for six individuals are initially $150 and $30 for Refresher Kits. Conflict Resolution Kits are $75, and Refresher Kits are $25. Family Kits are available for $85 each. Family Classes Kits each cost $1,450. Parenting Classes Kits are $980 each, with materials to serve 10 families. Refresher Kits for every 10 families for the Family Classes are $990 and $800 for the Parenting Classes. Community Kits are $550. For example, for a K–5 school with 510 students and 17 teachers, the initial cost for one curriculum Instructor’s Kit per teacher (17 x $390–$460) plus a Counselor’s Kit ($150) and one Climate Development Kit ($460) would be between $7,240 and $8,430.
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Implementation Information

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Positive Action (PA) offers program materials and follow-up training to orient users to their individual roles and how to meet the goals of the school, district, or organization. PA training focuses on conveying the program vision and objectives, establishing cohesive and shared goals among members for program implementation, and providing tips to achieve the best results from the programs. Different types of training options are available based on an organization’s specific needs.


Positive Action program materials include the following:


·         Instructor’s Kits on each grade level for the PreK–12 Curriculum plus supplemental curricula for elementary bullying prevention and Grade 5 and middle school drug prevention

·         Climate Development Kits (elementary and secondary), which include manuals and behavior management tools, assemblies, and schoolwide events

·         Counselor’s Kit, which includes a manual with lessons, activities, and materials for individuals, small groups, large groups, classrooms, and families

·         Conflict Resolution Kit, which helps users resolve conflicts through a Conflict Resolution Plan

·         Family Kit, which includes lessons that can be delivered in the home to engage the whole family

·         Community Kit, which provides materials to be used by a coalition or a community coordinating committee


PA currently offers K–3, 7–8, and middle school drug program curricula in Spanish. Refresher kits are available for all PA kits.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Study 1
Beets, Michael W., Brian R. Flay, Samuel Vuchinich, Frank J. Snyder, Alan C. Acock, Kin–Kit Li, Kate Burns, Isaac J. Washburn, and Joseph A. Durlak. 2009. “Use of a Social and Character Development Program to Prevent Substance Use, Violent Behaviors, and Sexual Activity Among Elementary School Students in Hawaii.” American Journal of Public Health 99:1–8.

Study 2
Li, Kin–Kit, Isaac J. Washburn, David Lane DuBois, Samuel Vuchinich, Peter Ji, Vanessa Brechling, Joseph Day, Michael W. Beets, Alan C. Acock, Michael Berbaum, Frank J. Snyder, and Brian R. Flay. 2011. “Effects of the Positive Action Program on Problem Behaviors in Elementary School Students: A Matched-Pair Randomized Control Trial in Chicago.” Psychology & Health 26(2):187–204. DOI: 10.1080/08870446.2011.531574.
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the program profile:

Beets, Michael W., Brian R. Flay, Samuel Vuchinich, Alan C. Acock, Kin–Kit Li, Kate Burns, and Carol Gerber Allred. 2008. “School Climate and Teachers’ Beliefs and Attitudes Associated With Implementation of the Positive Action Program: A Diffusion of Innovations Model.” Prevention Science 9:264–75.

Flay, Brian R., Alan C. Acock, Samuel Vuchinich, and Michael W. Beets. 2006. Progress Report of the Randomized Trial of Positive Action in Hawaii: End of Third Year of Intervention. Corvallis, Ore.: Oregon State University.

Flay, Brian R., and Carol Gerber Allred. 2003. “Long-Term Effects of the Positive Action Program.” American Journal of Health Behavior 27(1):S6–S21. (This study was reviewed but did not meet criteria for inclusion in the overall program rating.)

———. 2009. “The Positive Action Program: Improving Academics, Behavior, and Character by Teaching Comprehensive Skills for Successful Learning and Living.” 2010. In Terence Lovat, Ron Toomey, and Neville Clement (eds.). International Handbook on Values Education and Student Well-Being. Dortrecht, Netherlands: Springer.

Flay, Brian R., Carol Gerber Allred, and Nicole V. Ordway. 2001. “Effects of the Positive Action Program on Achievement and Discipline: Two Matched-Control Comparisons.” Prevention Science 2(2):71–90.

Social and Character Development Research Consortium. 2010. Efficacy of Schoolwide Programs to Promote Social and Character Development and Reduce Problem Behavior in Elementary School Children (NCER 2011–2001). Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Research, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.
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Related Practices

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Following are practices that are related to this program:

Targeted Truancy Interventions
These interventions are designed to increase attendance for elementary and secondary school students with chronic attendance problems. The practice is rated Effective for improving attendance.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Effective - More than one Meta-Analysis Education - Attendance/truancy

School-Based Bullying Prevention Programs
Aim to reduce bullying and victimization (being bullied) in school settings. Some interventions aim to increase positive involvement in the bullying situation from bystanders or witnesses. The practice is rated Effective for reducing bullying, bullying victimization, and for increasing the likelihood of a bystander to intervene. The practice is rated No Effects for increasing bystander empathy for victims of bullying.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Effective - More than one Meta-Analysis Juvenile Problem & At-Risk Behaviors - Bullying
Effective - More than one Meta-Analysis Victimization - Being Bullied
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Victimization - Bystander Intervention
No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Mental Health & Behavioral Health - Empathy for the Victim

School-Based Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Programs
Designed to foster the development of five interrelated sets of cognitive, affective, and behavioral competencies, in order to provide a foundation for better adjustment and academic performance in students, which can result in more positive social behaviors, fewer conduct problems, and less emotional distress. The practice was rated Effective in reducing students’ conduct problems and emotional stress.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Juvenile Problem & At-Risk Behaviors - Multiple juvenile problem/at-risk behaviors
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Mental Health & Behavioral Health - Internalizing behavior

Dropout Prevention Programs
School- or community-based programs targeting frequently absent students or students at risk of dropping out of school. These programs are aimed at increasing school engagement, school attachment, and the academic performance of students, with the main objective of increasing graduation rates. The practice is rated Effective for reducing rates of school dropouts, and rated Promising for improving test scores/grades, graduation rates, and attendance.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Effective - More than one Meta-Analysis Education - Dropout
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Education - Academic achievement/school performance
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Education - Graduation
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Education - Attendance/truancy

Early Self-Control Improvement Programs for Children
This practice consists of programs designed to increase self-control and reduce child behavior problems (e.g., conduct problems, antisocial behavior, and delinquency) with children up to age 10. Program types include social skills development, cognitive coping strategies, training/role playing, and relaxation training. This practice is rated Effective for improving self-control and reducing delinquency.

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Juvenile Problem & At-Risk Behaviors - Self-Control
Effective - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
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Program Snapshot

Age: 0 - 18

Gender: Both

Race/Ethnicity: Black, American Indians/Alaska Native, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, White, Other

Geography: Rural, Suburban, Urban

Setting (Delivery): Home, School, Other Community Setting

Program Type: Academic Skills Enhancement, Conflict Resolution/Interpersonal Skills, School/Classroom Environment, Truancy Prevention, Bullying Prevention/Intervention, Alcohol and Drug Prevention

Targeted Population: Families

Current Program Status: Active

Listed by Other Directories: Model Programs Guide, National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices, What Works Clearinghouse

Program Developer:
Carol Gerber Allred
Positive Action, Inc.
264 Fourth Avenue South
Twin Falls ID 83301
Phone: 1.800.345.2974
Fax: 208.733.1590

Brian Flay
Professor, Department of Public Health
Oregon State University
401 Waldo Hall
Corvallis OR 97331
Phone: 541.737.3837
Fax: 541.737.4001