Paper Summary

Direct link:

Exploring the Relationship Between Changes in Social-Emotional Skills and Achievement

Fri, April 17, 4:05 to 5:35pm, Virtual Room


This study seeks to address the following questions: 1. Are changes in self-reported social-emotional learning constructs predictive of concurrent changes in student achievement? 2. Are changes in self-reported social-emotional learning constructs predictive of future changes in student achievement?

Social-emotional learning (SEL), as referenced here, consists of four distinct constructs: growth mindset, social awareness, self efficacy, and self management. These skills evolve over an individual’s development, especially during adolescence. A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies finds that “Adolescence is marked by less distinct patterns of mean-level change and a lower level of rank-order consistency… adolescence is a time not only of exploration in terms of identity but also of flux and exploration in terms of dispositional qualities” (Roberts, Walton, and Viechtbauer, 2006, 19-20).

Previous work has also found a positive relationship between self management and achievement (e.g., Author, 2018). Additionally, Author (2019) find that mindset also has an effect on achievement. Both of these establish a cross-sectional link between SEL skills and achievement, but work needs to be done to explore temporal links.

This study employs standard econometric analyses appropriate for work with panel data, including fixed effects regressions and change-on-change models. Our sample is drawn from the CORE districts (Fresno, Garden Grove, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento City, San Francisco, and Santa Ana Unified School Districts) across a three year period (2015-2017). We focused on students in grades four through seven, as these students had yearly achievement tests (SBAC ELA and SBAC Math) and SEL surveys over this time period. The pool of students in each observation year ranged from 168,990 in 2015 to 177,424 in 2016. We observed approximately 190,000 students who had two sequential years of SEL and SBAC data and approximately 34,000 students who had three sequential years of SEL and SBAC data (though this number varies depending on the specific SBAC test and SEL construct examined).

In preliminary results, we find a small (but statistically significant) relationship between changes in the four SEL constructs and changes in test scores within the same time period. That is to say, a self reported increase in any of the SEL constructs is associated with an increase in SBAC achievement test scores over the same time period.

This study contributes to the SEL literature in two main ways. First, little research exists documenting the relationship between changes in SEL constructs from student self-report and their academic outcomes. Especially considering the size and diversity of our sample, this study is well-suited to begin filling this gap. Second, because we look at concurrent and previous changes in SEL skills, this work serves as a source of concurrent and predictive validity evidence that can be used to construct validity arguments around scores derived from this SEL survey. Practitioners can also benefit from this work, because if year-to-year changes in SEL are predictive of changes in academic performance, SEL survey results could help identify students for academic interventions.