The District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) has prioritized efforts to support students' social and emotional learning (SEL) competencies, such as perseverance and social awareness. To measure students' SEL competencies and the school experiences that promote SEL competencies (school climate), DCPS began administering annual surveys to students, teachers, and parents in 2017/18. DCPS partnered with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Educational Laboratory to study how the district could use these surveys to improve students' outcomes. The study found the following:
- Students' SEL competencies and school experiences are the most favorable in elementary school and the least favorable in middle school and the beginning of high school. This pattern suggests that schools might provide targeted supports before or during grades 6-10 to promote SEL competencies and school experiences when students need the most support.
- The trajectories of students' SEL competencies and school experiences differed in different schools, to a similar degree as trajectories in academic measures like test scores. To understand why changes in SEL competencies and school experiences differ across schools, DCPS could explore differences in practices between schools with better and worse trajectories. In addition, DCPS could provide targeted support to schools with lower levels of positive change.
- Of the SEL competencies and school experiences in DCPS's survey, self-management—how well students control their emotions, thoughts, and behavior—is most related to students' later academic outcomes. Programs or interventions that target self-management might have the most potential for improving students' outcomes compared to those that target other SEL competencies or school experiences.
- In statistical models designed to predict students' future academic outcomes, SEL competency and school experience data add little accuracy beyond prior academic outcomes (such as achievement test scores and attendance) and demographic characteristics. Prior academic outcomes and demographic characteristics predict later outcomes with a high degree of accuracy, and they may implicitly incorporate the SEL competencies and school experiences. These findings suggest that DCPS would not need to use SEL competencies and school experiences to identify whether or not students are at risk of poor academic outcomes.
- Student, teacher, and parent reports on SEL competencies and school experiences are positively related across schools, but they also exhibit systematic differences, suggesting that some respondent groups may not be aligned in their view of SEL competencies and school experiences. These differences may serve as a tool to help DCPS target efforts to improve communication among students, teachers, and parents.