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?
On this episode of Research Minute, Dr. Sam Moulton, Research Director at Panorama, shares new SEL research exploring these questions. After gathering data from more than 100,000 students across nearly 200 schools, we can finally dig into the connections between SEL and key student outcomes.
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.
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 kids with low SEL, kids 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.
For attendance, the correlations peak in high school—perhaps because as kids 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 kids 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.
Finally, one important note: 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.
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.