Is social-emotional learning linked to academic performance?

A study published in Contemporary Educational Psychology looks at the benefits of a school-based social and emotional learning (SEL) intervention in relation to academic achievement by examining how the four main components that underlie the SEL model (children’s social-emotional competence, school connectedness, mental health problems and academic achievement) interact over time.

Margarita Panayiotou and colleagues from Manchester Institute of Education used data drawn from a major cluster randomised trial of the Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS) curriculum to present a three-wave (annual assessment, T1, T2, T3) longitudinal sample. The sample included 1,626 pupils from 45 primary schools in north-west England. They examined the relationship over time between social-emotional competence (T1), school connectedness (T2), mental health difficulties (T2), and academic achievement (T3), and whether exposure to an SEL intervention (in this case PATHS versus usual provision) had any effect on these relationships.

Social-emotional competence at T1 had a positive influence on school connectedness and mental health difficulties at T2. However, SEL was only a significant predictor and mediator of academic achievement at T3 after controlling for gender and prior academic performance. Pupils who had greater social-emotional competence at T1 were reported to experience fewer mental health difficulties at T2, and this in turn predicted higher academic achievement at T3 (p<0.01). However, greater connectedness to school at T2 did not predict later academic achievement. Intervention exposure did not appear to influence these relationships.

Source: An empirical basis for linking social and emotional learning to academic performance (January 2019). Contemporary Educational Psychology, Volume 56

Effects of youth mentoring programmes

Mentoring programmes that pair young people with non-parental adults are a popular strategy for early intervention with at-risk youth. To examine the extent to which these types of interventions improve outcomes for young people, Elizabeth B Raposa and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of outcome studies of one-to-one youth mentoring programmes written in English between 1975 and 2017.

Their analysis included 70 studies with a sample size of 25,286 children and young people (average age = 12 years), and considered five broad outcome categories: school, social, health, cognitive and psychological outcomes.

The findings from their meta-analysis suggest no significant difference in effect sizes across these five types of outcomes. Overall, they found an average effect size of +0.21 across all studies and outcomes, which is consistent with past meta-analyses that have shown overall effect sizes ranging from +0.18 to +0.21.

Programmes that had a larger proportion of young males who were being mentored in the sample, a greater percentage of male mentors, or mentors who worked within the helping profession showed larger effect sizes, as did evaluations that relied on questionnaires and youth self-report.

Source: The effects of youth mentoring programs: A meta-analysis of outcome studies (January 2019), Journal of Youth and Adolescence

An evaluation of PACE Center for Girls

Megan Millenky and colleagues from MDRC have released a new reporton an evaluation of PACE Center for Girls. PACE, a Florida-based organisation, provides academic and social services to at-risk middle and high school girls. According to the report, PACE operates daily, year-round; on a typical day, girls attend academic classes and receive additional support such as individual counselling, academic advice, and referrals to other services.

The research team used a random assignment design to evaluate the impact of PACE. From August 2013 to November 2015, a sample of 1,125 girls were enrolled in the study (673 in the programme group, and 452 in the control group). Data sources included administrative records, a survey, and interviews.

Key findings from the study were as follows:

  • The programme group received more academic and social services — and received them more often from a professional source — than the control group.
  • Over a one-year period, PACE increased school enrolment and attendance for the girls it served, compared with the control group. Girls in the programme group were also more likely to be “on track” academically than those in the control group.
  • Girls in both the programme and control groups appeared goal-orientated and hopeful about their futures and reported relatively low levels of risky behaviour one year after study enrolment.
  • The cost of PACE’s holistic package of services is, on average, $10,400 per pupil more than the cost of the services received by control group members through academic and social services provided in the community. The additional cost is largely driven by PACE’s extensive social services; the cost of academic services is similar to those of Florida public schools.

The authors note that further follow-up research would be necessary to see whether PACE affects longer-term academic and delinquency outcomes and to complete a full benefit-cost analysis.

Source: Focusing on girls’ futures: Results from the evaluation of PACE Center for Girls (January 2019), MDRC

Evidence of disciplinary bias against sexual minority females

LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning) pupils are coming out at earlier ages and becoming more visible in schools, creating a need for research on their educational experiences and outcomes. Exclusionary bias studies, which look at the proportions of pupils suspended or expelled, have historically focused on the bias against pupils of colour, yet sexual minority pupils face similar risks.

Joel Mittleman of Princeton University introduced a new data source for research on sexual minority pupils: The Fragile Families and Childhood Wellbeing Study. It is comprised of data on 4,898 children born in 20 US cities between 1998 and 2000, and at baseline was representative of all births at this time in cities with more than 200,000 people. The recent Year 15 follow up includes information on sexual orientation. Dr Mittleman used this data to relate sexual orientation to educational experiences and outcomes. He found that compared to teenagers solely attracted to the opposite gender:

  • Same-sex attracted teenagers are 29% more likely to experience exclusionary discipline.
  • This risk is stratified by gender, increasing to 95% higher odds of discipline among females. Yet based on parent report, Mittleman attributes only 38% of these disciplinary actions to behavioural problems.

This unexplained gap in discipline raises a red flag indicating that homophobia in schools is not gender-neutral, and warrants further research into the treatment of sexual minority status females versus males.

Source: Sexual orientation and school discipline: New evidence from a population-based sample (January 2018), Educational Researcher, Volume: 47 issue: 3

The effect of a World Cup on pupils’ effort and achievement

A study published in the Journal of Public Economics examines how leisure time can impact pupils’ effort and educational achievement by looking at the overlap of major football tournaments (the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA European Championship) with GCSE exams in England.

Using seven years of subject data on pupils in England, taken from the National Pupil Database, Robert Metcalfe and colleagues estimated the overall effect of a tournament by comparing within-pupil variation in performance during the exam period between tournament and non-tournament years.

Overall, they found a negative average effect of the tournament on exam performance, as measured by whether pupils achieved a grade C or higher in at least 5 subjects at GCSE. In tournament years, the odds of achieving the benchmark of a grade C or higher in at least 5 subjects fell by 12%. For pupils who are likely to be very interested in football (defined as likely to be white, male, disadvantaged pupils), the impact is greater, with the odds of achieving the benchmark reduced by 28%. This result is important as this group is already the lowest performing, with only 21.3% achieving a grade C or higher in at least 5 subjects at GCSE in non-tournament years.

An earlier study reported in a previous issue of Best Evidence in Brief also found that some pupils perform less well in their GCSEs in years when there is a major international football tournament taking place.

Source: Students’ effort and educational achievement: Using the timing of the World Cup to vary the value of leisure (January 2019), Journal of Public Economics, Volume 172

Do EAL pupils need an extra year to learn English?

Since 2002, all third grade (Year 4) pupils in Florida are required to obtain specific state-wide reading test scores in order to progress to the fourth grade (Year 5). A new NBER working paper considers whether this third grade retention policy, which includes additional teaching and support in reading, might be particularly beneficial for pupils with English as an additional language (EAL).

David N Figlio and Umut Özek used longitudinal data for all pupils between grades three and ten (Years 4 to 11) from 12 US school districts in Florida in order to examine the short-, medium- and long-term effects of repeating the third grade on EAL pupils’ English skills, as measured by their reading test scores, the length of time needed for them to reach required levels of English proficiency, and their course choice in middle and high school.

The results find that repeating the third grade (Year 4) can help to improve the English skills of EAL pupils, and that the benefits are even greater for EAL pupils born outside of the US, pupils whose first language is Spanish, and pupils in lower-poverty elementary schools.

Specifically, they suggest that EAL pupils who repeat the third grade:

  • do better on reading test scores in elementary and middle school
  • reach the required levels of English proficiency in half the time
  • are less likely to take a remedial English course in middle school
  • are more likely to take an advanced course in maths and science in middle school
  • are more likely to take college credit-bearing courses in high school.

Source: An extra year to learn English? Early grade retention and the human capital development of English learners (January 2019), NBER Working Paper No. 25472, National Bureau of Economics Research