The Topic of the Research: The impacts of high schools on students’ social-emotional development. 

Citation:  Jackson, K., Porter, S.C., Easton, J.Q., Blanchard, A. & Kiguel, S. (February 2020). School Effects on Socio-emotional Development, School-Based Arrests, and Educational Attainment. CALDER Working Paper No. 226-0220 

The Premise of the Study: Social-emotional development has been the focus of studies in many areas like economics, sociology, and psychology. This study argues that social-emotional development is strongly related to positive educational and adult outcomes. In response to a heavy focus on traditional school outcomes, many schools have begun to attend more to the social-emotional development of their students. This study asks if high schools can influence students’ self-reports of social-emotional development (SED), and does it matter in the long run? 

Summary and Findings: Many issues confound a definite relationship between the impact of schools on students’ social-emotional development. To account for these numerous issues detailed in the working paper, the authors created a school value-added model (linear regression model used for prediction.) These types of models predict the causal impacts of schools by comparing year-end and other long-term outcomes like attendance, grades, discipline, test scores, school completion, and college enrollment with other SED variables gained from survey instruments given to students over multiple years. 

Using surveys given to Chicago public high school students created by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, the authors found that school effects cluster together in two large dimensions: promoting hard work and promoting social well-being. For these two domains, the authors created a hard work index and social well-being index for each school. They also used a test improvement index measured by how test scores improved over multiple years in schools. 

By using a value-added model, the authors showed that some schools influence more hard work and social-emotional development in students than others. Using these indices, the authors explore how attending a school that increases SED improves short-term and long-term outcomes. 

Here is what this research uncovered:

  • Schools at one standard deviation higher than the median of all schools improve student social well-being by 8.9%. According to the authors, “compelling evidence that schools can, and do, impact reported social well-being and that these impacts are persistent over time.”
  • Almost all variation in schools’ social well-being is captured by the social development dimension versus the test dimension or hard work dimension.
  • Interestingly, the value-added SED measure is almost as good a predictors on test scores as the test score dimension suggesting that SED may be foundational for academic success
  • For test scores, adding the SED dimension increases the explained variance of schools by 42 percent relative to using the test score dimension only.
  • In sum, schools that raise test scores are not always those that improve SED.
  • For attendance, the fact that SED is the most predictive of reduced absences suggests “that more well-adjusted students, who feel a greater sense of belonging, are more likely to attend school.”
  • For high school graduation, the variance of school impacts explained by the work hard dimension is 87 percent larger than that explained using the test score dimension. Using the SED dimension increases the explained variance for schools by over 160 percent relative to using the test score dimension alone.
  • For college enrollment, using the SED dimension increases the explained variance for schools by 113 percent relative to using the test score dimension alone. This finding suggests that schools that have a higher focus on SED tend to get more college enrollment.  
  • For four-year college enrollment, a one standard deviation increase in predicted school impacts (based on all three dimensions) would increase four-year college-going by 3.48 percentage points. Using the SED dimension increases the explained variance by over 180 percent relative to using test score value-added alone
  • The findings from this study are indicative of the power of social-emotional development for students. First, schools can foster SED beyond elementary school. Second, some schools are better at influencing SED and hard work skills in students. Relative to using the test score dimension alone, adding the SED dimension increases considerably our ability to identify school impacts on longer-run outcomes. In sum, “school impacts on SED have more significant effects on short- and long-run outcomes than schools’ test score impacts which have important implications for how policy-makers measure school quality

Questions and Applications:

  • Which findings make the most sense to you?
  • Do you have an implicit versus explicit social development focus at your school?
  • How do you or can you measure the impact of your social development focus at your school?
  • How can you get your teachers to focus more on the social development of heir students? 
  • Does your school have a social-development and hard work culture or improve test score culture?