Working paper

Trends in Student Social-Emotional Learning

Evidence from the CORE Districts
Martin West
Harvard University
Libby Pier
Education Analytics
Hans Fricke, Inc.
Heather J. Hough
Policy Analysis for California Education, Stanford University
Susanna Loeb
Stanford Graduate School of Education
Robert H. Meyer
Education Analytics
Andrew Rice
Education Analytics


Mounting evidence demonstrates that social-emotional skills are important for students’ academic and life success, yet there is limited evidence on how these skills develop over time and how this development varies across student subgroups. This study uses the first large-scale panel survey of social-emotional learning (SEL) to describe how four SEL constructs—growth mindset, self-efficacy, self-management, and social awareness—develop from Grade 4 to Grade 12, and how these trends vary by gender, socioeconomic status, and race/ethnicity. The results are based on self-report student surveys administered in the 2014–15 and 2015–16 school years to roughly 400,000 students within the CORE districts, a network of urban school districts in California. The study simulates cohort trends for students continuously enrolled in six districts within CORE by adding the mean change at each grade level observed among students surveyed in both years to the mean scores of Grade 8 students in 2015–16. It finds that, with the exception of growth mindset, social-emotional skills do not increase monotonically as students move through school. Self-efficacy, social awareness, and, to a lesser degree, self-management decrease after Grade 6. Trends in SEL also vary by subgroup. Female students report higher self-management and social awareness than boys, but their self-efficacy drops sharply relative to boys in middle and high school. Economically disadvantaged students report lower levels of each social-emotional construct, but gaps in self-management, growth mindset, and self-efficacy narrow in high school. White students report higher levels of social-emotional skills than African American and Latinx students; Asian students report levels of self-management similar to white students but exhibit declining self-efficacy over time. While the findings cannot be generalized beyond the California districts in the study, the scope and scale of the data far exceeds anything in the extant literature.

Suggested citationWest, M., Pier, L., Fricke, H., Hough, H. J., Loeb, S., Meyer, R. H., & Rice, A. (2018, May). Trends in student social-emotional learning: Evidence from the CORE districts [Report, working paper]. Policy Analysis for California Education.