New Study Finds Long-Term Impacts of Social-Emotional Learning on Students’ Academic Skills


The Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness recently posted an article, “Long-Term Effects of Social-Emotional Learning on Academic Skills: Evidence from a Randomized Trial of INSIGHTS” by Meghan McCormick, Robin Neuhaus, Erin O’Connor, Hope White, E. Parham Horn, Samantha Harding, Elise Cappella, and Sandee McClowry, that offers new findings from a joint study done by MDRC and New York University. Students in the study attended schools for kindergarten and first grade that were randomly assigned to a social-emotional learning program called INSIGHTS or to a short reading intervention.

INSIGHTS is a school-based program that works with students, teachers, and parents to provide self-regulatory strategies to support children’s social-emotional skills and behaviors. All schools enrolled in the study served a high percentage of low-income students and families; the large majority of students in the sample were Black or Latinx. In collaboration with the Research Alliance for NYC Schools, the researchers accessed information on participating students’ standardized test scores when they were enrolled in third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grades. The team compared the English/Language Arts (ELA) and math test score outcomes in these grades for students assigned to INSIGHTS or to the comparison group — and also tested whether long-term impacts in these grades varied by students’ academic skills when they began elementary school.

The study reports three main findings:

  1. Students enrolled in a school randomly assigned to INSIGHTS in kindergarten and first grade had higher scores on the ELA standardized test in third and fourth grade, compared to students enrolled in a school assigned to the comparison group.
  2. Students who began elementary school with better academic skills outperformed similar students in the comparison group on the ELA standardized tests in fourth, fifth, and sixth grade.
  3. There were no effects of INSIGHTS on math standardized test scores in any of the grades or for any subgroups.

Results indicate that social-emotional learning programs like INSIGHTS can have lasting effects on students’ academic skills, although benefits vary by grade and outcome domain. Moreover, programs may have differential benefits depending on students’ skills at school entry. Additional supports for children beginning school with lower levels of school readiness are likely needed.

“Considering evidence-based programming to support social-emotional learning in early elementary school may be one approach that schools and districts can use to make investments that can have longer-term payoffs for students,” said lead author Meghan McCormick, an MDRC research associate. “However, because effects vary across students, time, and outcomes, schools may also want to examine how to combine these early interventions with targeted supports for academic skills and for continuous social-emotional learning as children advance through later schooling.”