The effects of social-emotional development on academic achievement

Olivia Piontek of the Fordham Institute recently wrote a piece reviewing the research on the effects of social-emotional development on student academic achievement. Excerpts appear below:

Can attending schools that promote social-emotional development boost a student’s chance of postsecondary success? A recent study from researchers at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University suggests that the answer is “yes.”  

Using survey, administrative, and test-score data for six cohorts (55,560 students) of first-time ninth-grade students who attended a Chicago public high school between 2011 and 2017, the analysts examine the extent to which some schools do more than others to improve students’ social-emotional development in two major domains—social well-being and work habits—and how such schools impact students’ short and long-term outcomes. 

Of the paper’s many results, one noteworthy finding is that schools that excelled at improving students’ social well-being and rigorous work habits also raised students’ test scores by 6.0 and 5.7 percent of a standard deviation, respectively. This important finding suggests that schools that have a strong history of improving test scores aren’t necessarily focusing on academic achievement alone; rather, strengthening students’ social-emotional development may help facilitate academic success. “Both/and” rather than “either/or” wins the day.

Also of note is that better social-emotional development appears to improve rates of high school graduation and college enrollment. For example, students who attended a high school that excelled in all three domains measured by the study—social well-being, work habits, and test scores—were 1.9 percentage points more likely to graduate high school, and 3.6 percentage points more likely to enroll in a four-year institution within two years of graduation, compared to students attending the average school. Meanwhile, schools with strong test score value-added alone only improved students’ likelihood of graduating by 1.2 percentage points and four-year college enrollment by 2.3 percentage points.

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