SEL: A review of the evidence

As many of you know, the Positive Pieces team recently attended the inaugural CASEL Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Exchange in Chicago in early October. It was a fantastic 3 days of learning, networking and sharing. I'm happy to report that CASEL will be holding an SEL Exchange on a yearly basis, and they've confirmed that they want to have even more of an international focus for future events.


One of the highlights of the conference for me was attending a breakout session called The Evidence Base for SEL: Current Status and Future Directions presented by CASEL's Chief Knowledge Officer, Roger Weissberg, Professor Joseph Mahoney, and Senior SEL Consultant for CASEL, Ruth Cross. The presentations examined the various Meta-Analyses conducted on evidence-based SEL programming in schools. The first was the 2011 study on social and emotional learning programs conducted by Joseph Durlak and colleagues that examined 213 Different programs with over 270,000 students, involving kindergarten through to middle school students. The study assessed possible benefits of SEL instruction across 6 domains:


1. SEL skills, such as identifying emotions, goal setting, self management, problem solving, conflict resolution, refusal skills, and decision making.

2. Attitudes about self, school, and social topics

3. Positive social behaviours, such as getting along with others, helping others, showing concern for others, empathy, pro-social problem solving, peace building, and cooperation.

4. Conduct problems, including disruptive classroom behaviour, fighting, hurting others, verbal aggression, bullying, discipline referrals, and delinquent acts.

5. Emotional distress, such as depression, anxiety, stress, and social withdrawal.

6. Academic performance, including reading and math achievement, standardised test scores, school grades, and academic competence from teacher ratings.


The graph below shows the positive impact that an addition of an SEL program taught in schools has to each of the 6 domains:

Findings from this study include:


Long term Impacts

  • Increase in high school and college graduation rates.

  • Decreased mental health disorders, arrests, involvement with juvenile justice system, sexually transmitted infections, and early pregnancies.

Cost Savings

  • Graduating from high school has a lifetime income benefit of $367,687 for each graduating student. Preventing a single case of conduct disorder saves society nearly $4 million.

Strong return on investment

  • The average return on investment for six evidence based programs is 11 to 1, meaning for every dollar invested there is an $11 return, savings from costs not incurred for intervention.

The next meta-analysis discussed, was a 2016 study, measuring the potential impacts of SEL across the same 6 domains as the 2011 study. The below graph shows outcomes of both the 2011 meta-analysis and the 2016 study. As you can see, the positive outcomes across all 6 domains were replicated in the 2016 meta-analysis.

ES = Effect Size. Research terms: a measure of how much an experimental group exceeds a control group, controlling for pretests. Practical terms: an indicator of the treatment’s impact on outcomes. How big is big? Research in schools rarely gets effect sizes as large as +0.20, and only one to one tutoring studies routinely get to +0.50.

A salient study was the 2012 meta-analysis conducted by Sklad et al. that focused on SEL programs in Europe. This was an important study to measure whether SEL programs are feasible and effective in a variety of educational contexts in different countries around the world. Finally, we examined the follow up study to the 2011 Meta-analysis that was conducted in 2017 by Taylor et al. to measure the long-term impacts of SEL. This study reviewed 82 different programs with over 97,000 students involved, from kindergarten through to middle school. Follow up periods were from 6 months to 18 years. These two meta-analyses are compared in the below graph, showing follow-up effects across the 6 domains.


ES = Effect Size. Research terms: a measure of how much an experimental group exceeds a control group, controlling for pretests. Practical terms: an indicator of the treatment’s impact on outcomes. How big is big? Research in schools rarely gets effect sizes as large as +0.20, and only one to one tutoring studies routinely get to +0.50.

Additional Findings from all meta-analyses:

  • SEL is malleable and can be taught

  • Effects were strongest when school personnel delivered SEL

  • Programs need to implemented well to be beneficial

Summary of Results

  • SEL represents a useful way to improve students’ social and emotional skills, which are associated with several enduring positive behavioral and academic outcomes.

  • SEL programs are both feasible and effective in a variety of educational contexts in many countries around the world.


Sources:

  • Durlak, J.A., Weissberg, R.P., Dymnicki, A.B., Taylor, R.D., & Schellinger, K. (2011) The impact of enhancing students’ socia l a nd emotional learning: A meta analysis of school based universal interventions. Child Development : 82 (1), 405 432.

  • Sklad, M., Diekstra , R., De Ritter, M., Ben, J., & Gravesteijn , C. (2012). Effectiveness of school based universal social, emotional, and behavioral programs. Do they enhance students’ development in the area of skill, behavior, and adjustment? Psychology and Schools, 49, 892 909.

  • Taylor, R., Oberle, E., Durlak, J.A., & Weissberg, R.P. (2017). Promoting positive youth development through school based social and emotional learning interventions: A meta analysis of follow up effects. Child Development, 88, 1156 1171.

  • Wiglesworth, M., Lendrum , A., Oldfield, J., Scott, A., ten Bokkel , I., Tate, K., & Emery, C. (2016). The impact of trial stage, developer involvement and international transferability on universal social and emotional learning programme outcomes: A meta analysis. Cambridge Journal of Education, 46, 347 376.

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