Lessons in Character Impact Evaluation

Primary Researchers: Thomas L. Hanson, Barbara Dietsch

Publication Date: March 2012

Character education has become one of the fastest-growing reform movements in K–12 education today, partially in response to unacceptable levels of student misbehavior and inadequate endorsement of good character values (Williams 2000). Between 1993 and 2009, 36 states passed laws mandating or recommending some aspect of character education in schools. Character education programs also have strong support from parents, teachers, and school administrators (Character Education Partnership 2010; Glanzer and Milzen 2006). Relatively few randomized controlled trials have examined the impact of these programs on the character traits, behavior, and academic outcomes of students (What Works Clearinghouse 2007).[1]

This study examines the impact of the Lessons in Character (LIC) program—an English language arts–based character education program—on student academic achievement, social skills, and problem behaviors, and, secondarily, on the classroom environment.

The program consists of literature-based supplementary material aligned with California English language arts standards and designed to integrate easily into the current English language arts curricula. The curricular material explicitly integrates the language of character into the curriculum with a focus on teaching for understanding, emphasizing civility, respect, responsibility, trustworthiness, fairness, caring, loyalty, and self-control.

The following research questions guide this study:

Do grade 4 and grade 5 students who attend schools assigned to the LIC intervention group exhibit higher academic achievement, greater social skills, and fewer problem behaviors after two academic years of potential LIC exposure than their counterparts who attend schools assigned to the control group?

Designed as an experimental trial, the study took place from spring 2007 to spring 2010 in 50 California elementary schools with teachers of grades 2–5. The intervention involved a one-day training course for teachers in year 1; teachers who participated in the course were expected to incorporate between 19 and 25 supplementary lessons into their classroom instruction for two academic years. The study included students in grades 2–5 in 50 public elementary schools in California.

Key outcomes and measures included:

  • State English language arts assessments. Student achievement data from state-mandated standardized assessments of English language arts (the California Standards Tests) were collected for the years before and during program implementation.
  • Social Skills Rating System teacher reports. Gresham and Elliott’s (1990) Social Skills Rating System was used to assess student social skills, problem behaviors, and academic competence.

To estimate program impacts, outcomes for students and classrooms in intervention-group schools were compared with those for students and classrooms in control-group schools. Multilevel regression models were used to analyze the effects of Lessons in Character.

The complete study findings can be found in both the Executive Summary and the full report here.

[1] A recent exception is the evaluation of seven social and character development programs conducted by the Social and Character Development Research Consortium (2010).

  • Published: March 2012
  • Methodologies: Experimental
  • Contact info:
    Thomas Hanson 562.799.5170


How can we help you?

Do you want to know the latest research or where to turn for information? This free collaborative service from the 10 RELs provides references, referrals, and brief responses to education questions. To ask a question, visit the national portal and select REL West -- or directly.

Search By State