Examining the Effectiveness of a Social and Emotional Learning Program in Middle School



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Social and emotional learning (SEL) programs focus on life skills that are central to individuals’ health and psychological wellbeing across their lifespan. They are designed to build competence in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Background: Although many researchers have found connections between SEL programming in elementary schools with more positive attitudes toward oneself and with others, there is limited research on the effectiveness of SEL programming in middle schools. Purpose: This study aimed to add to the literature by investigating the effectiveness of a SEL program on social and emotional competencies in middle school students. Methods: This study used archival records of a quantitative pre-experimental intervention with a convenience sample comprised of 5th grade girls, ages 10-11, who received a total of 30 lessons on study skills, digital citizenship, and social and emotional skills from September 2019 through March 2020. The analysis examined the effectiveness of a SEL program as measured by the Washoe County School District Social and Emotional Competency Assessment (WCSD-SECA) by comparing self-reported student scores on the WCSD-SECA before the instruction occurred to WCSD-SECA scores obtained after instruction. Results: Quantitative data from this study indicate several outcomes. First, correlations revealed that students who self-scored highest at pretest also self-scored highest at posttest. Students with low scores also maintain a similar course, implying that, while all students learned valuable skills from the SEL program, students who are not as advanced as other students in social and emotional skills continue along the same trajectory as their classmates, neither catching up or surpassing those who scored highest at pretest. Second, a series of repeated measures t-tests indicated a decline in students’ scores from pretest to posttest in all eight subscales. Though the results showed change in the opposite direction hoped for with some of the students, the students did have a raised sense of awareness about these concepts and began evaluating themselves with a more informed sense of self. Conclusion: Education bias, anxiety surfacing in the Spring of 2020 about the COVID-19 pandemic, and the necessity of administering the WCSD-SECA in a different format—online, rather than as a pen and pencil assessment as was administered for the pretest—are all factors that may have contributed to the results in this study. As the findings of the study show, students have self-perceived strengths and weaknesses about their social and emotional competencies and interventions in schools should be designed to enhance their strengths and address their needs. With this understanding in mind, an action plan was generated to inform educators about how assessments, such as the WCSD-SECA, that identify students’ self-perceived social and emotional competencies can be used to create curriculum for student growth in these areas.



social and emotional learning