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SEL as a Remedy for Course Failures? What You Need to Know

Jenna Buckle
Jenna Buckle
SEL as a Remedy for Course Failures? What You Need to Know



Course failures are huge early warning signs for students. Studies like this one from the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research point to the magnitude of failing grades—even one F in ninth grade can reduce a student's probability of graduating by 30 percent.

So why do kids fail courses, and what can we do to prevent that? These are big questions with no simple answers, but one starting point is to figure out what variables are most correlated with course failures.

Existing research already makes the case that course failures are connected to traditional student metrics like attendance, in-class behavior, and assessment scores. We set out to expand on this research by putting social-emotional learning into the mix.

In our newest study, we explored how variables across traditional metrics, demographics, and SEL can impact students' academic performance. And you might be surprised at what we found.

Download our research brief to see the complete findings.

Watch this episode of Research Minute with Dr. Sam Moulton, Research Director at Panorama, for a rundown of our new research linking course failures to SEL.

SEL and Course Failures


What variables are most associated with failing grades?

To answer this question, we analyzed data from over 100,000 students in nearly 200 schools across the country. We grouped variables into three categories:  

  1. Traditional metrics that students are evaluated on, such as assessments, classroom behavior, and school attendance.
  2. Social-emotional learning variables such as self-management, growth mindset, and classroom engagement.
  3. Demographic variables such gender, race/ethnicity, and poverty.

After looking at over 30 variables, here's what we found:

social emotional learning research

Failing grades are most predicted by Math and English Language Arts (ELA) assessments—followed closely by self-management, a social-emotional learning variable. Next, we find a mix of other variables including self-efficacy, classroom behavior, race/ethnicity, and attendance.

We see that a diverse mix of variables predicts failing grades, with some SEL topics at the top of the list. Social, motivational, and emotional experiences matter, and grades capture this reality.

To make the relationship between social-emotional learning and failing grades really concrete, let’s focus on classroom engagement.

classroom engagement

As you can see in the chart, out of 100 kids who report being disengaged, 47 of them will fail a course that year. However, out of 100 kids who report being highly engaged, only 18 of them will fail a course.

This means that students who report high classroom engagement are 62 percent less likely to fail courses.

The key takeaway here is that targeting students’ social and emotional needs may be just as—if not more—important in detecting and preventing course failures than targeting behavior and attendance.

That’s it for today. We want to hear from you about what educators can do to prevent course failures; send us an email at research@panoramaed.com with your questions, comments, and insights.

For more findings from this study, download our research brief on the connections between SEL and the "ABCs" of student success (attendance, behavior, and coursework).

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