Not a member yet? Register now and get started.

lock and key

Sign in to your account.

Account Login

Forgot your password?

Connecting Social-Emotional Development and Academic Indicators Across Multiple Years

Comments Off on Connecting Social-Emotional Development and Academic Indicators Across Multiple Years
Connecting Social-Emotional Development and Academic Indicators Across Multiple Years

By Robert Balfanz and Vaughan Byrnes

Executive Summary

Connecting Social-Emotional Development and Academic Indicators Across Multiple Years builds on the work conducted for a previous study, “Connecting Social-Emotional development, Academic Achievement, and On-Track Outcomes: A Multi-District Study of Grades 3 to 10 Students Supported by City Year AmeriCorps Members.” Released in May of 2020, that study explored the connections between students’ social-emotional skills and various measures of their academic outcomes (attendance, course grades, and achievement tests).

Among the study’s findings was that students’ levels of social-emotional skills are not fixed points but, rather, vary over the course of time and are, therefore, malleable and open to improvement. Following that, another finding was that students’ social-emotional skills are significantly related to their academic outcomes and are as strong a predictor of academics as is family background. Taken together, these two findings reaffirmed for researchers and practitioners that addressing students’ social-emotional skills is a viable path to raising their academic outcomes.

This was further supported by additional evidence presented in the study that students who received greater amounts of social-emotional and academic support from City Year AmeriCorps members also had stronger social-emotional and academic outcomes. The more hours students spent working with a City Year AmeriCorps member, the less likely they were to struggle at the end of the year with social-emotional competencies such as self-awareness, decision making, goal-directed behavior, self-management, optimistic thinking, relationship skills, personal responsibility, and social awareness. The analyses also revealed that the more hours a student spent receiving support from a City Year AmeriCorps member in either English or math, the higher their outcomes were in the related subject, as well as their attendance rates. The findings emphasize that human-centered, relationship-focused, school-based interventions such as City Year’s can be successful in developing students’ social-emotional skills along with their academic outcomes (directly and indirectly through improved social-emotional skills).

The original study was made possible through data provided by City Year’s network of schools. Of which two features make the results noteworthy. First, City Year partners primarily with systematically under-resourced schools in large urban school districts. Within those schools, the students who receive support as part of City Year’s program, and for whom data was available, are those whom teachers have identified as needing additional support in one or more areas (math, English, attendance, and social-emotional). The sample, while not representative of the national population of schools and students, did serve as a purposive sample providing excellent representation of the types of schools and students that state and federal agencies typically identify as those in need of support in order to raise student outcomes. Therefore, the patterns highlighted in the original work between students’ socio-emotional learning levels and their academic outcomes are likely to be representative of the students that public and non-profit organizations are most interested in supporting. Second, the sample was very large in scale, including data for over 38,000 students from 326 schools in 28 cities and spread across 20 different states. Students in the sample were in grades 3 through 9 covering the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Therefore, the sample made the study one of the largest to examine the relationship between students social-emotional skills and their academic outcomes while also providing results for key sub-population of critical interest.

This current study uses additional years of data from the City Year network to expand on the findings of the original study in the three following ways:

  1. Using a second year of data from the 2018-19 school year, we tested to see if the results from the original study were replicable with a second sample. The findings, based on the second sample, are almost identical to the original in terms of the observed patterns and the size and significance of the relationships. Students’ social-emotional skills are positively related to their academic outcomes in a manner that is both statistically significant and educationally substantial. Broad-scale student-level interventions such as City-Year’s are also linked to stronger social emotional skills and academic outcomes for students. The fact that the results were replicated so closely with a second sample of data, adds to the reliability of the original findings. That the second sample was also larger and more robust than the first also raises the external validity of the findings and their applicability to a wider range of students and settings.
  2. By combining the data sample from the original study (2017-18) with the additional data (2018-19), we examined how the established relationships operate beyond a one-year time frame. We found that students’ SEL skills from one year (2017-18) were as strongly related to academic growth over a two-year time-period (2017-19) as they were to the growth over a one-year period. In terms of statistical significance, the nominal size of the relationship, as well as which sub-skills are relatively most important. In terms of City Year intervention, we found that the academic benefits last beyond the first year, and that exposure to the supports for more than one year may lead to even stronger social-emotional and academic impacts. Although these analyses of academic outcomes over a two-year period are based on small sub-samples, the results do provide additional exploratory evidence of the lasting relationship between students’ SEL skills and their academic outcomes, and the further benefits of the City Year support program.
  3. Lastly, by including data on students’ social-emotional skills from a third school year (2019-20), we were able to model a growth curve of students’ SEL skills over time. We found that students’ social-emotional levels (as measured by the DESSA adult rating instrument) experience a slow but steady increase over their school years, grades 3 to 10. Within this slow rate of growth over time are cyclical patterns that see students’ social-emotional levels rising significantly from September to June before falling back over the summer months. Along the way, students also experience pronounced drops in their SEL skills at the start of middle school and again with high school as they transition to different and more challenging school settings. However, the largest finding from this set of analyses is that roughly half the variation in students’ social-emotional scores was between timepoints. That is to say that there is as much difference between the social-emotional levels of the same student at two different timepoints, as there is between two different students. The patterns we observed in the growth of students’ SEL skills over time and grade, while significant, are relatively small and explain only a small fraction of the rises and falls those students experience in their social-emotional levels. This last finding leaves us calling for an examination of the classroom environment and settings in which students find themselves, as well as of the relationships they have with their peers and teachers. Do these factors help to explain the large variation in students SEL outcomes, and do they play a part in determining if gains made in students’ SEL skills are long-lasting?

Follow this link for the full report.