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Focus on Fidelity


The Project ALERT curriculum is like a recipe: to get the best results, you need to follow it. Teaching with fidelity means teaching Project ALERT as it is written - including all the activities, and teaching them in the prescribed sequence.


The following Project ALERT teaching strategies, drawn from research on effective learning and behavior change, are described in detail in the introduction to the curriculum:


  • Resistance self-efficacy
  • Active student involvement and practice
  • Modeling
  • Reinforcement
  • Validation
  • Proximal goals
  • Respect
  • Enthusiasm
  • Parent/Guardian Involvement


Using these nine strategies is critical to maintaining fidelity and ensuring successful program delivery.


How It’s Taught is Very Important


Curriculum implementation research has shown that student outcomes are dependent on the quality of the curriculum and the way in which it is taught.  When Project ALERT was first evaluated, teachers were asked to teach the curriculum exactly as it was written. They were monitored for their appropriate use of the Project ALERT teaching strategies, so that any effects could be attributed to the curriculum itself and not to individual teaching methods. The evaluation demonstrated that Project ALERT, as it was taught in 30 different classrooms, was effective in preventing drug use.


However, multiple studies have consistently shown that schools often face difficulty adopting and implementing evidence-based prevention programs with the fidelity needed to achieve outcomes demonstrated by researchers (Ennett et al. 2003; Ringwalt et al., 2002; Backer 2001; Ringwalt, et al. 2009; Hallfors & Godette 2002)). As one example, the Department of Education’s survey of about 6000 schools found that only 8% used evidence-based programs and less than half of those implemented them with adequate fidelity (Silvia & Thorne 1997). Yet as noted from years of effectiveness research, better fidelity leads to better outcomes (Elliott & Mihalic 2004; Wang et al. 2015), which makes clear the importance of sticking to the Project ALERT curriculum as designed as closely as possible.


Guidelines for Teaching with Fidelity


Make sure enough time is scheduled to complete the curriculum. This means blocking out eleven class periods during the first year of the program and three class periods in the booster year. A weekly interval - one lesson per week - is recommended. However, teachers have successfully taught Project ALERT on a more compressed schedule - twice per week.


A schedule of eleven consecutive days is not recommended because of time needed for students to understand, practice, and integrate resistance skills.


When time limitations require modifying the curriculum, make decisions that are consistent with Project ALERT teaching strategies. Student participation has been built into the curriculum whenever possible. Research indicates that people learn more, remember more, and feel more effective if they actually do something that involves them in the process.


A teacher who is short of time but also understands the principle of active involvement would have the students write down fewer reasons in an activity before switching to a lecture format or omitting the activity altogether.


Learning is enhanced through systematic repetition of material. Project ALERT presents information and concepts more than once and in different ways. For example, the six ways to say “no” are repeated in Lessons 5, 6, 7, and 9. In each lesson they are applied to different situations and should not be left out. The repeated material should not be left out. Teachers mind the repetition far more than the students, who need this repetition to learn.


Make the most of your training experience by reviewing the Guided Tour and Overview videos. We also recommend networking with other Project ALERT teachers in your area. If you need help finding local instructors, contact us at projectalert@rand.org.


Room for Creativity and Diversity


Keep the curriculum fresh by taking advantage of opportunities with the Project ALERT framework to exhibit your creativity. Expand the concept of resisting peer pressure to use drugs to other forms of antisocial behavior, such as shoplifting, cheating on tests, or cyber-bullying. Peer pressure is not always negative. Examine ways in which friends can put pressure on friends to stay drug-free, to get in shape, or to participate in school-sponsored events.


If you are artistic, use your talent in preparing the many visuals used in the curriculum.


Teachers may expand the curriculum to include current events, discussions about local drug issues, or projects that involve students in community-wide drug prevention initiatives. It may also be possible for students to work with the school on alcohol and other drug prevention policy development.


In the broad variety of environments in which Project ALERT was tested, the curriculum adapted easily to the diverse backgrounds and cultures of the students. Take advantage of the fact that the activities are participatory, and that they draw upon students’ experiences, concerns, and modes of expression.



The following is adapted from an article by Amy Vincus that originally appeared in the Spring 2004 issue of the Educator.

What other teaching strategies seem to encourage fidelity?


Through a rigorous classroom study, it was noted that fidelity of implementation was particularly high in districts where the curriculum was taught by a team of teachers or by a dedicated prevention specialist. Among those schools that did implement Project ALERT in its entirety, a very high fidelity was observed. However, it was determined that implementing the curriculum with fidelity was an ongoing struggle.


Some suggestions for Assessing Project ALERT’s Fidelity of implementation:


  • Hold a staff development training to discuss key prevention principles and Project ALERT’s objectives, including fidelity of implementation
  • Consider creating teams of school staff to teach Project ALERT, or dedicating prevention specialists for this purpose, who then might work in several schools within a school district; this way the work is dispersed among team members, allowing teachers more time to consider the essential teaching points
  • Create teams among prevention teachers so that they can observe and coach each other; teams can discuss classroom management and other teaching techniques, especially for those lessons for which you would like guidance
  • Ask the District Coordinator to observe your ALERT lessons and give you feedback concerning fidelity of implementation
  • Invite your principal to observe and comment on your fidelity of implementation of ALERT as part of the teacher performance review process
  • Establish incentives for consistent, positive fidelity observations


We know that most teachers decide what occurs in their classrooms. Teachers are the critical link in ensuring that Project ALERT lessons are delivered with fidelity. In the end, the positive benefits of implementing Project ALERT with fidelity will help youth avoid drug use.






Ennett ST, Ringwalt CL, Thorne J, et al. A comparison of current practice in school-based substance use prevention programs with meta-analysis findings. Prevention Science. 2003;4(1):1-14.


Ringwalt CL, Ennett S, Vincus A, Thorne J, Rohrbach LA, Simons-Rudolph A. The prevalence of effective substance use prevention curricula in U.S. middle schools. Prevention Science. 2002;3(4):257-265.


Backer TE. Finding the Balance: Program Fidelity and Adaptation in Substance Abuse Prevention: CSAP. 2001.


Silvia ES, Thorne J. School-based drug prevention programs: A longitudinal study in selected school districts. Durham, NC: Research Triangle Institute;1997.


Ringwalt C, Vincus AA, Hanley S, Ennett ST, Bowling JM, Rohrbach LA. The prevalence of evidence-based drug use prevention curricula in U.S. middle schools in 2005. Prevention Science. 2009;10(1):33-40.


Hallfors D, Godette D. Will the 'principles of effectiveness' improve prevention practice? Early findings from a diffusion study. Health Education Research. 2002;17(4):461-470.


Elliott DS, Mihalic S. Issues in disseminating and replicating effective prevention programs. Prevention Science. 2004;5(1):47-53.


Wang B, Stanton B, Deveaux L, et al. Factors influencing implementation dose and fidelity thereof and related student outcomes of an evidence-based national HIV prevention program. Implementation Science. 2015;10:44.


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