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SEL and Attendance: How They Impact Each Other

Jenna Buckle
Jenna Buckle
SEL and Attendance: How They Impact Each Other



Educators have long known that social and emotional learning (SEL) matters for students in school and life. But how does SEL relate to attendance, behavior, and course performance (the "ABCs")? Do students with higher SEL tend to have better grades, test scores, and attendance?


Social Emotional Learning Research
Hi, I'm Sam from Panorama.


Social-Emotional Learning and the ABCs of Student Success

We know from research that attendance, behavior, course performance, and assessments are powerful indicators of whether a student is on track for graduation. We also know that SEL variables of motivation, self-regulation, and social connection are as or more important than cognitive ability for success in school and life.

As researchers and educators, our challenge now is to figure out how to put these data together. How can the ABCs and SEL be combined into whole child measurement, effective early-warning systems, and holistic student support?

It's important to ground this challenge in data, so we asked the question: How does SEL correlate with attendance, behavior, and course performance? Here are the three key takeaways from our research.

Key Takeaways: Attendance, Behavior, and Course Performance 

First, we found that SEL has significant, positive correlations with traditional metrics of student success. This means that students with higher SEL usually have better grades, assessment scores, behavior, and attendance than students with lower SEL.

SEL Research

Second, we found that these correlations vary meaningfully in their size. They range from relatively small in the case of attendance, to relatively large in the case of GPA.

Compared to students with low SEL, students with high SEL are twice as likely to have above-average grades, 60 percent less likely to have one or more behavior incidents over the course of a year, and half as likely to be chronically absent.

And finally, the relationships between SEL skills and the ABCs are not entirely constant. They change across elementary, middle, and high school.

Line Chart on how SEL correlates with the ABC's (attendance, behavior, course performance)

For attendance, the correlations peak in high school—perhaps because as students grow up they have more control over their attendance. For grades, behavior, and assessments, however, the correlations with SEL peak in middle school. Not only is middle school a challenging time for students socially and emotionally, it’s also the time when students’ social-emotional functioning is most closely linked to their academic performance.

So, to recap:

  • SEL variables have significant, positive correlations with the ABCs.
  • SEL correlates most with grades and least with attendance.
  • These SEL-ABC correlations vary meaningfully across school levels.

We’ve been talking about SEL in a generic way, and there is value in doing that. But SEL is not monolithic. Self-regulatory facets such as emotion regulation are not the same as more social facets, like belonging. 

Attendance and the Achievement Gap 

We know the value of attendance in promoting student achievement. In fact, Panorama’s research finds that the largest achievement gap in schools exists between students who regularly show up and those who are chronically absent. Chronically absent students are twice as likely to fail one or more courses than regularly attending students.

Graph on trends of chronically absent students

So as educators focus on learning recovery, it's crucial that they have ways to identify students in need of attendance support and strategies to support these students. Focusing on certain SEL skills is part of that effort.

Which Skills Are Most Closely Correlated With Attendance?

To answer this question, Panorama's Data Science and Applied Research team analyzed data from over 100,000 students in nearly 200 schools across the country. We looked at the correlations between absenteeism and topics from our student surveys including classroom effort, classroom engagement, emotion regulation, self-efficacy, and self-management. Here’s what we found:


bar graph on how SEL correlates with attendance

Absenteeism is most correlated with classroom engagement. After that, it is self-management, or how well students manage their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. The third most correlated topic is self-efficacy, or how much students believe they can succeed in school. 

Classroom Engagement and Attendance

Let’s focus on classroom engagement to unpack the links between SEL and absenteeism. Out of 100 students who report being disengaged, 23 of them will be chronically absent that year. 

However, out of 100 students who report being highly engaged, only 11 of them will be chronically absent. This means that students who report low engagement are more than twice as likely to be chronically absent.

graphic illustrating what a group of students who are chronically absent look like.

That’s a striking difference, and shows the potential of targeting students’ skills—such as self-efficacy and self-management—to get to the root causes of chronic absenteeism. Attention to students' social and emotional well-being is an important part of supporting stronger attendance. And by prioritizing students’ social and emotional growth, districts can support learning recovery efforts and improve student well-being.

Next Steps for School and District Leaders

With this research, educators can make informed decisions about what to target if they hope to impact attendance, behavior, and course performance. For example, educators that want to address chronic absenteeism should consider focusing on engagement, self-management, and self-efficacy skills. Understanding these connections between SEL and the ABCs can help educators better support the whole child. 


Download the full research brief—and share with your colleagues!

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