Programs that Work
The Effective Learning Program
Children Succeeding in School
Students graduating from high school
Age of Child
Type of Setting
Type of Service
Type of Outcome Addressed
Cognitive Development / School Performance
Evidence Level (What does this mean?)
The Effective Learning Program (ELP) was a two-year program established at Ballard High School in Louisville, Kentucky. ELP sought to raise students' internal locus of control so that the students were more likely to believe that they can control events that affect them. The program also sought to improve students' skills in building relationships with peers and adults, and to increase graduation rates. ELP students participated in a three-hour block of English, math, and humanities instruction that were taught by trained ELP teachers in small "family" or "team" atmosphere classes, promoted through activities such as recognition of each student's birthday, taking field trips together, and celebrating high attendance. The student-teacher ratio was controlled at 15:1. A crucial component of ELP was regular teacher-led discussions with students about how their interpersonal styles positively or negatively contribute to interactions with others. ELP teachers also maintained close contact with parents, administrators and non-ELP teachers to monitor each student's progress.
ELP participants included junior and senior students at Ballard High School who were identified by teachers, counselors and parents as being at high risk of dropping out based on a variety of student problems (having low grades, poor attendance, learning disabilities, etc.). In general, ELP-eligible students had lower than a 2.0 grade point average (GPA) and had missed more than 15 days of school by the end of their sophomore year.
Among 80 ELP-eligible students, 38 were randomly assigned to the intervention group. Thirty-six remaining ELP-eligible students participated as the first control group. Fifty students not at risk of dropping out, and who had similar demographic characteristics to those of ELP-eligible students, were selected as the second control group. The evaluation design included both pre and post measurements.
All participants completed three standardized tests at the beginning and end of the two-year intervention: (a) the Children's Nowicki-Strickland Internal-External Locus of Control Inventory (Nowicki and Strickland, 1973), for which a higher score indicated a greater level of external locus of control; (b) the Interpersonal Adjective Scale (Wiggins, 1996), for which two dimensional scores about interpersonal communication style were calculated: a higher "status" score reflected greater dominance or lower submissiveness and a higher "affiliation" score suggested greater friendliness or less hostility; and (c) the Diagnostic Analysis of Nonverbal Accuracy (Nowicki and Duke, 1996), for which a higher score indicated a better ability to identify emotions in nonverbal communications with others.
In addition, the research team gathered indicators of students' school achievement and engagement, including high school graduation status, GPA, state standard test scores (Kentucky Instructional Results Information System, or KIRIS), other test scores, and daily attendance records.
Key Evaluation Findings
The study by Nowicki et al. (2004) reported the following findings:
- At the baseline of comparison, students who were eligible for ELP (including the ELP intervention group and the first control group) were more externally controlled, less capable of reading nonverbal cues, and characterized by interpersonal styles that were more hostile and more dominant than the second control group of non-ELP-eligible students.
- After the intervention, students in the ELP group had significantly improved their internal locus of control, exhibited reduced levels of hostility, and improved their ability to pick up on nonverbal cues during interactions with others. There were no positive changes among students who were eligible for ELP but did not participate in the program (the first control group).
- At the end of the two-year intervention, students in the ELP intervention group had significantly fewer days of school absence than students who were ELP-eligible but did not participate in the program (the first control group).
- Students in the ELP group improved their GPA and state standardized test scores while both indicators declined among their ELP-eligible comparisons (first control group) who did not participate in the program.
- Ninety-eight percent of students in the ELP group graduated from high school, significantly higher than that of ELP-eligible but nonparticipating students in the first control group (38 percent) and even higher than that of non-ELP-eligible students in the second control group (74 percent).
This program could be implemented in private and public middle and high schools.
The evaluation report did not disclose sources of funding for this program. Nor did it report any information regarding the costs of implementing it.
- The program was designed as a "school within a school," in which ELP students participated in a three-hour afternoon block of English, mathematics, social studies, and humanities instruction taught by trained regular teachers from the same school.
- The student teacher-ratio in ELP was about 15:1, compared with 31:1 elsewhere at the same school.
- ELP sought to promote a "team" atmosphere by recognizing birthdays, taking field trips, awarding special prizes for high attendance, and celebrating festivals during which each humanities class put on a performance of some type.
- ELP teachers took every opportunity inside and outside classrooms to give students feedback about their interpersonal styles and discuss their consequences.
The ELP teaching team included six regular teachers from Ballard High School (two math teachers, two English teachers, and two social studies teachers). One social studies teacher was part of the research team, and the other social studies teacher also served as a fundraiser to finance the lower student-teacher ratio in ELP. In addition, the program was usually aided by one or two student teachers during the spring semester.
ELP teachers received professional development on how to effect desired changes in students' behaviors. The professional development included printed materials, lectures, workshops, and examples from outside experts once every three months.
ELP included a noncredit humanities curriculum based on the Waldorf philosophy (Almon, 1992). This education approach emphasizes the role of imagination and seeks to develop children's emotional life, artistic expression, and social responsibilities through collaborative learning.
Issues to Consider
This program received a "proven" rating. The research, which was conducted over two years, was implemented according to rigorous standards and included an intervention group of 38 students, a control group of 36 students, and a comparison group of 50 students.
ELP was designed based on existing empirical evidence that locus of control and interpersonal skills are associated with school engagement and that greater school engagement reduces dropout rates. Core features of ELP—including the teaching of a "relationship" language, continuous feedback on students' interpersonal styles, and a "family-style" learning environment—all aim to improve students' locus of control and relationships with others. In the current study, a higher graduation rate among ELP participants was accompanied by positive changes in locus of control, nonverbal processing skill, and affective style, suggesting a potential causal relationship between the two types of changes. However, a reduced student-teacher ratio alone might have also been a significant independent contributing factor to the success of ELP. There is a large body of empirical literature that has established a positive relationship between small class size and better student outcomes (Finn, 1990 and 1999; Mosteller, 1995). Further studies are needed to distinguish which aspects of ELP may be more responsible for the higher graduation rate among at-risk students.
The current study included a relatively small sample size of approximately 100 students attending one school in one location. Therefore any generalization from this single case and unique set of circumstances should be made cautiously. It should also be noted that the program evaluation was conducted by the program developers rather than an independent evaluator.
Ballard High School, Louisville, Kentucky
Dr. Stephen Nowicki, Jr.
Department of Psychology
532 N. Kilgo Circle
Atlanta, Ga. 30322
No information was found regarding additional resources for ELP.
Almon, Joan, "Educating for Creative Thinking: The Waldorf Approach,"
Vol. 15, 1992, pp. 3-11.
Finn, Jeremy D., "Answers and Questions About Class Size: A Statewide Experiment," American Educational Research Journal, Vol. 27, No. 3, 1990, pp. 557-577.
Finn, Jeremy D., "Tennessee's Class Size Study: Findings, Implications, Misconceptions," Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Vol. 21, No. 2, 1999, pp. 97-109.
Mosteller, Fredrick, "The Tennessee Study of Class Size in the Early School Grades," The Future of Children, Vol. 5, No. 2, Summer/Fall 1995, pp. 113-127.
Nowicki, Stephen, Jr., and Bonnie R. Strickland, "A Locus of Control Scale for Children," Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 40, No.1, 1973, pp. 148-154.
Nowicki, Stephen, Jr., and Marshall P. Duke, "Individual Differences in the Nonverbal Communication for Affect: The Diagnostic Analysis of Nonverbal Accuracy Scale," Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, Vol. 8 No. 1, 1996, pp. 9-35.
Nowicki, Stephen, Jr., Marshall P. Duke, Sherleen Sisney, Bridget Stricker, and Mary Ann Tyler, "Reducing the Drop-out Rates of At-Risk High School Students: The Effective Learning Program (ELP)," Genetic, Social, and General Psychology Monographs, Vol. 130, No. 3, 2004, pp. 225-239.
Wiggins, Jerry S., "An Informal History of the Interpersonal Circumplex Tradition," Journal of Personality Assessment, Vol. 66, No. 2, 1996, pp. 217-233.