Bringing Social and Emotional Skills Research to School Leaders

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Social and emotional skills, such as exhibiting empathy and managing emotions, are just as crucial to student development as literacy and math proficiency, according to the National Academy of Sciences.

Understanding the importance of these factors, school leaders around the globe are looking for ways to assess and foster social-emotional learning within classrooms to improve students’ educational performance and later-life outcomes.

However, data in this area are limited, making decisionmaking difficult for school leaders when implementing policies and programs to support and develop social and emotional skills in students, despite how important and connected they are for long-term academic and nonacademic outcomes.

To address insufficient research in this area, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) designed an international study of 10- and 15-year-old students from cities in nine different countries. In addition to surveying students, the study also collects information from students’ parents, teachers and principals to identify social and emotional development factors in students’ home, school and peer environments. All participants answer questions directly related to emotional regulation, task performance, open-mindedness, collaboration and engagement with others, as well as traits related to self-efficacy, achievement and motivation.

In 2018, Houston and the Houston Independent School District (HISD) were selected as the study’s site representative for the United States with local data collection and analysis managed by the Houston Education Research Consortium (HERC) at Rice University, a research-practice partnership collaborating with HISD and 10 other area school districts.

The U.S. portion of the study is generously supported by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative; Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; Houston Endowment, Inc.; Spencer Foundation; and Wallace Foundation. Other global locations for the study are Ottawa, Canada; Manizales, Colombia; Bogotá, Colombia; Sintra, Portugal; Istanbul, Turkey; Helsinki, Finland; Moscow, Russia; Daegu, South Korea; and Suzhou, China.

“Houston is the most diverse city in the country and is representative of where the nation will be in 20 to 30 years, so conducting the study here is a great match,” said Holly Heard, a HERC senior research scientist and the Houston program manager for the study.

“Through our city’s diversity, the study will benefit from a core number of student respondents who come from different contexts and how their situations inform their social and emotional skills.”

In fall 2018, HERC staff coordinated with 32 HISD schools to survey approximately 1,300 students, 300 parents, 300 teachers and 20 principals as part of the pilot study. In fall 2019, the main study was scaled up to include 119 schools and HERC researchers surveyed nearly 6,500 students, 1,100 parents, 1,400 teachers and 111 principals.

The OECD will release an international report using data collected across all study sites in December 2020. Meanwhile, HERC will produce a series of research reports with locally collected data linking HISD students’ social and emotional skills to their academic outcomes. These reports will help HISD decisionmakers, particularly in the district’s social and emotional learning and wraparound services departments, evaluate and implement policies and practices that support their goals, and deploy resources to campuses with the greatest needs.

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— Nehemiah Ankoor
Program and Community Engagement Manager

— Megan Dillingham
Communications and Development Manager


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