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Teaching Social Emotional Learning Skills Can Reduce the Achievement Gap

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August 25th, 2016

As many are well-aware, there are student achievement gaps that exist among various groups in the U.S. and around the world. One well-documented gap is observed across the economic spectrum with students from low income families performing well below that of higher income families.

However, recent studies indicate that socio-economic status (SES) accounts for only 8.3% of the variance in reading performance and 6.8% of the variance in math scores when controlling for SES. Clearly, there are other variables at work that could perhaps explain this gap in a more robust model.

New research is beginning to illuminate the multivariate aspects of this income achievement gap. Social emotional learning (SEL) skills are clearly emerging as an important variable in explaining these performance differences.

A recent study indicated that in reading, SEL competencies explained 16.5% of the variance in the achievement gap, which is twice that of income status alone. In math, a similar pattern emerged with SEL competencies accounting for 15.8% of the variance in student performance.

The implications of this research are compelling. Educators can use the following general conclusions as an action plan to address this critical achievement gap:

  • SEL skills are malleable and within schools’ span of control and improvement
  • There are highly reliable and valid measures of SEL to universally screen and measure the progress of learning SEL skills
  • Good evidence-based programs exist for promoting SEL competencies
  • Students with low initial SES show greater change as a result of SEL instruction than students that did not receive this instruction
  • Teaching SEL skills presents a very robust pathway for reducing the income achievement gap


Illuminate Education is a provider of educational technology and services offering innovative data, assessment and student information solutions. Serving K-12 schools, our cloud-based software and services currently assist more than 1,600 school districts in promoting student achievement and success.

Ready to discover your one-stop shop for your district’s educational needs? Let’s talk.

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  1. Maria Guzman on November 17, 2016 at 9:30 am

    Can you please send me or post the citations of this new research? Thanks!

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