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Fast Track

Ages 5-15

Rating: Level 1


Fast Track is a comprehensive, long-term prevention program that aims to prevent chronic and severe conduct problems in high-risk children. The program targets children identified in kindergarten for disruptive behavior and poor peer relations. It is based on the view that antisocial behavior stems from the interaction of multiple influences such as school, home, and the individual. The main goals of the program are to increase communication and bonds between and among these three domains; to enhance children’s social, cognitive, and problem-solving skills; to improve peer relationships; and ultimately to decrease disruptive behavior at home and in school. The developmental model guiding this project indicates that an effective prevention program would address classroom, school risk, and family risk factors, including communication between parents and schools.

Fast Track extends from 1st through 10th grade, with particularly intensive interventions during the transitions at school entry and from elementary to middle school. The primary intervention is designed for all youths in a school setting. The PATHS (for Promoting Alternative THinking Strategies) curriculum was revised for use in the Fast Track program. In addition to this universal intervention, Fast Track includes an indicated intervention component for children considered high-risk. This includes parent groups, child social-skills training, academic tutoring, and home visits. The most intense phase of intervention took place in the first grade year for each of three successive cohorts. The program can be implemented in rural and urban areas for boys and girls of varying ethnicity, socioeconomic background, and family composition.


The evaluation used an experimental design. The study sample of kindergarten children at high risk for conduct disorder was identified using a multistage screening procedure. First, high-risk schools were identified in four different areas of the United States, using crime records, poverty statistics, and high school dropout rates. The schools were then divided into two sets matched on size, ethnic composition, achievement scores, and percentage of free lunch recipients. Half of the schools were assigned, randomly, to receive intervention services, and the other half were considered control schools. In the springs of 1991, 1992, and 1993, teachers rated the behavior problems of each of the kindergarten children in the 55 participating elementary schools, using a screening instrument that measures aggressive and oppositional behaviors. The scores from the teacher ratings were then combined with parent ratings of child behavior at home. Children who scored in the top 10 percent of the combined screen were considered to be the high-risk target group and were invited to participate in the Fast Track longitudinal study.

The screening process identified 891 children (445 children from 191 first grade classrooms in the intervention group and 446 from 210 first grade classrooms in the control group). About half of the students were African-American, and half were white. Contrasts between the intervention and control groups on demographic and behavioral variables indicate that there are no significant differences between the groups prior to the intervention program. Subjects were assessed 15 months later in the first grade during both structured and unstructured activities using behavioral observation and observers’ impressions. Attrition throughout the study has been low, with participation rates for year 11 of the study at 80 percent for the control group and 85 percent for the intervention group.


The initial findings, after participants completed the first grade, indicated that compared with control groups, participants have shown the following positive effects: better teacher and parent ratings of children’s behavior with peers and adults; better overall ratings by observers on children’s aggressive, disruptive, and oppositional behavior in the classroom; less parental endorsement of physical punishment for children’s problem behaviors; more appropriate discipline techniques and greater warmth and involvement of mothers with their children; more maternal involvement in school activities. Lastly, children in Fast Track classrooms nominated fewer peers as being aggressive and reported greater liking and fewer disliking nominations of their classmates.

After 3 years in Fast Track, participants in the treatment group were significantly less likely than participants in the control group to exhibit evidence of serious conduct problems. Teachers reported lower rates of aggressive, disruptive, and disobedient behaviors for the treatment group children. Parents rated their children as having more positive behavior changes in the previous year than the control group’s parents did theirs. Intervention parents also rated themselves as having improved their parenting behavior more than control parents; they used significantly less physical punishment. It was also found that children in the treatment group exhibited more social problem-solving skills and fewer hostile attributions about peer intentions than did the control group.

Risk Factors


  • Anti-social behavior and alienation/Delinquent beliefs/General delinquency involvement/Drug dealing
  • Early onset of aggression and/or violence
  • Lack of guilt and empathy
  • Mental disorder/Mental health problem/Conduct disorder


  • Family management problems/Poor parental supervision and/or monitoring
  • Poor family attachment/Bonding


  • Negative attitude toward school/Low bonding/Low school attachment/Commitment to school
  • Truancy/Frequent absences


  • Association with delinquent and/or aggressive peers

Protective Factors


  • Healthy / Conventional beliefs and clear standards
  • Perception of social support from adults and peers
  • Positive / Resilient temperament
  • Social competencies and problem-solving skills


  • Effective parenting
  • Good relationships with parents / Bonding or attachment to family


  • Opportunities for prosocial school involvement
  • Presence and involvement of caring, supportive adults


  • Good relationships with peers
  • Involvement with positive peer group activities


  • OJJDP: Blueprints
  • HHS: Surgeon General


Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group. 1999. “Initial Impact of the Fast Track Prevention Trial for Conduct Problems: II. Classroom Effects.” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 67(5):648–57.

———. 2002. “Evaluation of the First 3 Years of the Fast Track Prevention Trial With Children at High Risk for Adolescent Conduct Problems.” Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 30(1):19–35.


Mark T. Greenberg, Ph.D.
Human Development and Family Studies Tr-Madison
110 Henderson Building South
Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA 16802–6504
Phone: (814) 863-0112
Fax: (814) 865-2530
Web site: