Supporting students’ social-emotional, mental & physical health
There is increasing recognition among educators, researchers, policymakers, and the broader public that schools should play a role in students’ mental, physical, and social-emotional health.
This “whole child” approach is designed to ensure that all students in California, particularly those who are historically underserved, have the opportunities and supports they need to thrive academically, socially and emotionally, and in college, career, and life.
A key part of PACE’s research in this area is driven by the CORE Districts’ surveys of students in grades 4-12 on their school’s culture and climate (CC) and their own social-emotional learning (SEL), including growth mindset, self-management, self-efficacy, and social awareness. Our work aimed to better understand SEL/CC measurement and to provide guidance for how schools can better serve students needs in this area.
There is growing agreement that schools and teachers can and do affect the development of students’ social-emotional skills. In a study of “outlier” schools in the CORE districts, PACE researchers described a wide range of practices that schools implement to support SEL with the goal of offering ideas and lessons that may benefit other schools and districts seeking to implement social-emotional learning at scale. Other research using CORE’s SEL survey has shown that schools and classrooms contribute to growth in students’ social emotional skills, but that these measures vary substantially from one year to the next and should not be used to evaluate teacher or school performance.
Access to school-based health care and mental health services has high value for children, schools, and the state, but researchers have found that California ranks at or near the bottom for student access to these services at school even though needs are high. There are two problems to solve that would improve services for California students: 1) Health care and mental health services could be brought up to a basic level for less than $100 per pupil of additional spending; and 2) California is leaving federal money on the table by having unusually low levels of Medicaid spending per student on school-based health care and mental health services.
Because SEL measurement at scale is so new, there has been a lack of research examining how social-emotional skills develop over time, particularly for different student subgroups. PACE researchers have examined how social-emotional skills develop from grades 4 to 12, and how these patterns vary by gender, economic disadvantage, and race/ethnicity. Better understanding how students’ social-emotional skills develop, including how specific competencies shift with age and vary across subgroups, should help educators, policy makers, and researchers to interpret patterns they observe in their students and discern how best to support them.
A growing number of districts and states are considering using SEL measures to better understand student success and to define school quality more holistically. For example, in California, districts are expected to measure school climate under state Priority 6 and nationwide, states could measure and report SEL and CC as a “school quality or student success” indicator. CORE’s instruments are available online for anyone to use, and recent work provides concrete information to help educators make use of the data, including reports with benchmarks from the CORE districts, guidance for target setting within schools, and information about how SEL and CC measures can be used together to identify areas of improvement within schools.
While the importance of social-emotional learning for student success is well established, educators and researchers have less knowledge and agreement about which social-emotional skills are most important for students. PACE research shows strong predictive power of both growth mindset and self-management for achievement gains, even with unusually rich controls for students’ background, previous achievement, and measures of other social-emotional skills. Importantly, research has shown that improvements in students' social-emotional skills are also associated with improvements in academic and behavioral outcomes.
Because SEL measurement at scale is so new nationally, studying the properties of these measures and their use is a central focus of the research coordinated by the CORE-PACE Research Partnership. A large body of work on measurement work has explored how students are interpreting the questions, whether students are taking the survey seriously, and how the SEL measures should be scored and reported for highest reliability. A summary piece describes how the existing body of work aggregates evidence of validity of the SEL surveys.