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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

September 2018


What research exists on the relationship between social and emotional learning and educational outcomes among K–12 low-income students and students of color?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and descriptive studies on the relationship between social and emotional learning and educational outcomes among K–12 low-income students and students of color. For details on the databases and sources, keywords, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Bavarian N., Lewis, K. M., DuBois, D. L., Acock, A., Vuchinich, S., Silverthorn, N., … Flay, B. R. (2013). Using social-emotional and character development to improve academic outcomes: A matched-pair, cluster-randomized controlled trial in low-income, urban schools. Journal of School Health, 83(11), 771–779. Retrieved from Full-text available at

From the ERIC abstract: “Background: School-based social-emotional and character development (SECD) programs can influence not only SECD but also academic-related outcomes. This study evaluated the impact of one SECD program, Positive Action (PA), on educational outcomes among low-income, urban youth. Methods: The longitudinal study used a matched-pair, cluster-randomized controlled design. Student-reported disaffection with learning and academic grades, and teacher ratings of academic ability and motivation were assessed for a cohort followed from grades 3 to 8. Aggregate school records were used to assess standardized test performance (for entire school, cohort, and demographic subgroups) and absenteeism (entire school). Multilevel growth-curve analyses tested program effects. Results: PA significantly improved growth in academic motivation and mitigated disaffection with learning. There was a positive impact of PA on absenteeism and marginally significant impact on math performance of all students. There were favorable program effects on reading for African American boys and cohort students transitioning between grades 7 and 8, and on math for girls and low-income students. Conclusions: A school-based SECD program was found to influence academic outcomes among students living in low-income, urban communities. Future research should examine mechanisms by which changes in SECD influence changes in academic outcomes.”

Bierman, K. L., Coie, J. D., Dodge, K. A., Greenberg, M. T., Lochman, J. E., McMahon, R. J., & Pinderhughes, E. (2010). The effects of a multiyear universal social-emotional learning program: The role of student and school characteristics. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78(2), 156–168. Retrieved from Full-text available at

From the ERIC abstract: “Objective: This article examines the impact of a universal social-emotional learning program, the Fast Track PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies) curriculum and teacher consultation, embedded within the Fast Track selective prevention model. Method: The longitudinal analysis involved 2,937 children of multiple ethnicities who remained in the same intervention or control schools for Grades 1, 2, and 3. The study involved a clustered randomized controlled trial involving sets of schools randomized within 3 U.S. locations. Measures assessed teacher and peer reports of aggression, hyperactive-disruptive behaviors, and social competence. Beginning in first grade and through 3 successive years, teachers received training and support and implemented the PATHS curriculum in their classrooms. Results: The study examined the main effects of intervention as well as how outcomes were affected by characteristics of the child (baseline level of problem behavior, gender) and by the school environment (student poverty). Modest positive effects of sustained program exposure included reduced aggression and increased prosocial behavior (according to both teacher and peer report) and improved academic engagement (according to teacher report). Peer report effects were moderated by gender, with significant effects only for boys. Most intervention effects were moderated by school environment, with effects stronger in less disadvantaged schools, and effects on aggression were larger in students who showed higher baseline levels of aggression. Conclusions: A major implication of the findings is that well-implemented multiyear social-emotional learning programs can have significant and meaningful preventive effects on the population-level rates of aggression, social competence, and academic engagement in the elementary school years.”

Castro-Olivo, S. M. (2014). Promoting social-emotional learning in adolescent Latino ELLs: A study of the culturally adapted “Strong Teens” program. School Psychology Quarterly, 29(4), 567–577. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The current study evaluated the effects of the culturally adapted “Jóvenes Fuertes” (“Strong Teens”) Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) program on the social-emotional outcomes of Latino English language learners (ELLs). A quasi-experimental design with random assignment by classrooms was used to assess the intervention’s effects on students’ knowledge of SEL and resiliency. A sample of 102 Spanish-dominant Latino ELLs enrolled in middle or high school participated in this study. The results indicated significant intervention effects on SEL knowledge and social-emotional resiliency. The findings are discussed in terms of their implications for preventive, culturally responsive SEL programs in school settings.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405–432. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This article presents findings from a meta-analysis of 213 school-based, universal social and emotional learning (SEL) programs involving 270,034 kindergarten through high school students. Compared to controls, SEL participants demonstrated significantly improved social and emotional skills, attitudes, behavior, and academic performance that reflected an 11-percentile-point gain in achievement. School teaching staff successfully conducted SEL programs. The use of 4 recommended practices for developing skills and the presence of implementation problems moderated program outcomes. The findings add to the growing empirical evidence regarding the positive impact of SEL programs. Policy makers, educators, and the public can contribute to healthy development of children by supporting the incorporation of evidence-based SEL programming into standard educational practice.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Farahmand, F. K., Grant, K. E., Polo, A. J., & Duffy, S. N., & Dubois, D. L. (2011). School-based mental health and behavioral programs for low‐income, urban youth: A systematic and meta‐analytic review. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 18(4), 372–390. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “A systematic and meta-analytic review was conducted of the effectiveness of school-based mental health and behavioral programs for low-income, urban youth. Applying criteria from an earlier systematic review (Rones & Hoagwood, 2000) of such programs for all populations indicated substantially fewer effective programs for low-income, urban youth. The meta-analysis similarly failed to indicate effects of the typical program on primary outcomes. Effectiveness was evident, however, for programs that targeted internalizing problems or had a broader socio-emotional focus and those delivered to all youth (i.e., universal). In contrast, negative effects were apparent for programs that targeted externalizing problems and were delivered selectively to youth with existing problems. Distinctive characteristics of low-income, urban schools and non-school environments are emphasized as potential explanations for the findings.”

Garner, P. W., Mahatmya, D., Brown, E. L., & Vesely, C. K. (2014). Promoting desirable outcomes among culturally and ethnically diverse children in social emotional learning programs: A multilevel heuristic model. Educational Psychology Review, 26(1), 165–189. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The primary goal of this article is to situate the findings from evidence-based studies of social emotional learning (SEL) interventions into a broader social context by reframing the discussion to consider how aspects of sociocultural competence impact the development and delivery of programs. The limitations of current SEL intervention efforts are discussed and a multilevel heuristic model that identifies and defines the theoretical constructs that we believe are culturally bound and associated with the content, implementation, and evaluation components of SEL intervention programs is presented. We point out constraints associated with this effort and offer specific strategies and activities by which school personnel involved in these activities can be encouraged to embrace socioculturally based SEL practices in their classrooms and offer guidance for future research.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Gregory, A., & Fergus, E. (2017). Social and emotional learning and equity in school discipline. Future of Children, 27(1), 117–136. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Beginning as early as preschool, race and gender are intertwined with the way US schools mete out discipline. In particular, black students and male students are much more likely than others to be suspended or expelled—punishments that we know can hold them back academically. These disparities, and the damage they can cause, have driven recent reforms, including some that incorporate social and emotional learning (SEL) practices. Anne Gregory and Edward Fergus review federal and state mandates to cut down on punishments that remove students from school, and they show how some districts are embracing SEL in their efforts to do so. Yet even in these districts, large disparities in discipline persist. The authors suggest two reasons current discipline reforms that embrace SEL practices may hold limited promise for reducing discipline disparities. The first is that prevailing ‘colorblind’ notions of SEL don’t consider power, privilege, and cultural difference--thus ignoring how individual beliefs and structural biases can lead educators to react harshly to behaviors that fall outside a white cultural frame of reference. The second is that most SEL models are centered on students, but not on the adults who interact with them. Yet research shows that educators’ own social and emotional competencies strongly influence students’ motivation to learn and the school climate in general. Gregory and Fergus describe how one school district is striving to orient its discipline policies around a conception of SEL that stresses equity and promotes both adults’ and students’ SEL competencies. Although such reforms hold promise, they are still in the early stages, and the authors call for rigorous empirical work to test whether such efforts can substantially reduce or eradicate racial and gender disparities in discipline.”

January, A. M., Casey, R. J., & Paulson, D. (2011). A meta-analysis of classroom-wide interventions to build social skills: Do they work? School Psychology Review, 40(2), 242–256. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Outcomes of 28 peer-reviewed journal articles published between 1981 and 2007 were evaluated quantitatively to assess the effectiveness of classroom-wide interventions for the improvement of social skills. All interventions included in the study were implemented with intact classrooms that included both socially competent children and those with social skills difficulties. In general, the overall effect of school interventions on social behavior was positive but small (effect size = 0.15). Studies were further analyzed according to several variables of interest (e.g., grade of intervention, socioeconomic status, length of intervention, and so on). Several variables moderated the outcome. Particular attention was given to the finding that early interventions were more effective than interventions with older students. These results suggest that resources in classroom-based social skills interventions are best invested in younger students, particularly those in preschool and kindergarten.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Lewis, K. M., Vuchinich, S., Ji, P., DuBois, D. L., Acock, A., Bavarian, N., ... & Flay, B. R. (2016). Effects of the “Positive Action” program on indicators of positive youth development among urban youth. Applied Developmental Science, 20(1), 16–28. Retrieved from Full-text available at

From the ERIC abstract: “This study evaluated effects of ‘Positive Action,’ a school-based social-emotional and character development intervention, on indicators of positive youth development (PYD) among a sample of low-income, ethnic minority youth attending 14 urban schools. The study used a matched-pair, cluster-randomized controlled design at the school level. A multiple-measure self-report protocol assessed four key strengths and resources for PYD: self-concept, peer affiliations, ethics, and social skills. Students (n = 1,170) were assessed from grades 3 to 8; the duration of the intervention, with drop-outs and late entrants, was included in analyses. Growth curve analyses revealed evidence of favorable program effects on each of the four types of resources. The study contributes to PYD research by providing evidence for school-based interventions in low-income, urban contexts for ethnic minority youth.”

McCormick, M. P., Cappella, E., O’Connor, E. E., Hill, J., & McClowry, S, G. (2016). Do effects of social-emotional learning programs vary by level of parent participation? Evidence from a randomized trial. Evanston, IL: Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “A wide and rich body of literature has identified the family as the key context influencing children’s development. In response, school districts and policymakers have sought to engage parents in children’s learning, particularly low-income families. Meta-analyses conclude that efforts to engage low-income parents do improve students’ academic achievement. Such research has prompted developers of some school-based preventive interventions to integrate programming components targeted at students’ parents. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) programs are one such type of school-based preventive intervention. SEL programs aim to improve children’s social-emotional competencies (behavioral regulation, attentional skills, problem-solving, social skills), in order to support their academic development. This paper examines the parenting component of INSIGHTS into Children’s Temperament, an SEL program that includes a manualized curriculum for teachers, students, and parents. Results from a randomized trial revealed that INSIGHTS improved students’ achievement and sustained attention, and reduced their disruptive behaviors. The current study tests whether program impacts on low-income urban kindergarten and first grade students’ academic, social-emotional, and behavioral outcomes differed by levels of parent participation. This study took place in 22 low-income urban public elementary schools. Ninety-one percent of participating children were age five or six when they enrolled in the study. Eleven schools were randomized to INSIGHTS; the remaining eleven schools were assigned to the attention-control condition. Previous research on school-based preventive interventions has typically found that more program dosage—at multiple levels—is associated with larger gains for students. Yet, the results of this study suggest that the dosage story in the INSIGHTS evaluation may be more nuanced than has been previously understood in literature on school-based interventions.”

O’Conner, R., De Feyter, J., Carr, A., Luo, J. L., & Romm, H. (2017). A review of the literature on social and emotional learning for students ages 3–8: Outcomes for different student populations and settings (Part 4 of 4, REL 2017-248). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process by which children and adults learn to understand and manage emotions, maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. This is the fourth in a series of four related reports about what is known about SEL programs for students ages 3-8. The report series addresses four issues raised by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Mid-Atlantic’s Early Childhood Education Research Alliance: characteristics of effective SEL programs (part 1), implementation strategies and state and district policies that support SEL programming (part 2), teacher and classroom strategies that contribute to social and emotional learning (part 3), and outcomes of social and emotional learning among different student populations and settings (part 4). This report presents the outcomes of social and emotional learning in different student populations and settings.”

Payton, J., Weissberg, R. P., Durlak, J. A., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., Schellinger, K. B., & Pachan, M. (2008). The positive impact of social and emotional learning for kindergarten to eighth-grade students: Findings from three scientific reviews. Chicago, IL: Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This report summarizes results from three large-scale reviews of research on the impact of social and emotional learning (SEL) programs on elementary and middle-school students—that is, programs that seek to promote various social and emotional skills. Collectively the three reviews included 317 studies and involved 324,303 children. SEL programs yielded multiple benefits in each review and were effective in both school and after-school settings and for students with and without behavioral and emotional problems. They were also effective across the K-8 grade range and for racially and ethnically diverse students from urban, rural, and suburban settings. SEL programs improved students’ social-emotional skills, attitudes about self and others, connection to school, positive social behavior, and academic performance; they also reduced students’ conduct problems and emotional distress. Comparing results from these reviews to findings obtained in reviews of interventions by other research teams suggests that SEL programs are among the most successful youth-development programs offered to school-age youth. Furthermore, school staff (e.g., teachers, student support staff) carried out SEL programs effectively, indicating that they can be incorporated into routine educational practice. In addition, SEL programming improved students’ achievement test scores by 11 to 17 percentile points, indicating that they offer students a practical educational benefit. Given these positive findings, we recommend that federal, state, and local policies and practices encourage the broad implementation of well-designed, evidence-based SEL programs during and after school.”

Snyder, F., Flay, B., Vuchinich, S., Acock, A., Washburn, I., Beets, M., & Li, K.-K. (2010). Impact of a social-emotional and character development program on school-level indicators of academic achievement, absenteeism, and disciplinary outcomes: A matched-pair, cluster randomized, controlled trial. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 3(1), 26–55. Retrieved from Full-text available at

From the ERIC abstract: “This paper reports the effects of a comprehensive elementary school-based social emotional and character education program on school-level achievement, absenteeism, and disciplinary outcomes utilizing a matched-pair, cluster randomized, controlled design. The Positive Action Hawai`i trial included 20 racially/ethnically diverse schools (mean enrollment = 544) and was conducted from the 2002-03 through the 2005-06 academic years. Using school level archival data, analyses comparing change from baseline (2002) to one-year post trial (2007) revealed that intervention schools scored 9.8% better on the TerraNova (2nd ed.) test for reading and 8.8% on math; 20.7% better in Hawai`i Content and Performance Standards scores for reading and 51.4% better in math; and that intervention schools reported 15.2% lower absenteeism and fewer suspensions (72.6%) and retentions (72.7%). Overall, effect sizes were moderate to large (range 0.5-1.1) for all of the examined outcomes. Sensitivity analyses using permutation models and random-intercept growth curve models substantiated results. The results provide evidence that a comprehensive school-based program, specifically developed to target student behavior and character, can positively influence school-level achievement, attendance, and disciplinary outcomes concurrently.”

Social and Character Development Research Consortium. (2010). Efficacy of schoolwide programs to promote social and character development and reduce problem behavior in elementary school children (NCER 2011-2001). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Research, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and the Division of Violence Prevention in the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collaborated to conduct a rigorous impact evaluation of programs aimed at improving students’ behavior. For this evaluation, such programs were termed Social and Character Development (SACD) programs. Seven programs were evaluated, and all were coherent in that their activities were integrated and logically organized based on a theory of action (that differed among the programs), school-based in that they were implemented in the schools by school personnel, and universal in that they were to be implemented for all students in all elementary classrooms in a school. This report provides the results from the evaluation of the seven SACD programs on one cohort of students as they moved from third through fifth grades starting in fall 2004 and ending in spring 2007. The evaluation examined the effects on these students of the seven programs, together and separately, after 1, 2, and 3 school years and also estimated the impact on students’ growth in social and character development over the 3 years.”

Taylor, R. D., 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(4), 1156–1171. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This meta-analysis reviewed 82 school-based, universal social and emotional learning (SEL) interventions involving 97,406 kindergarten to high school students (M[subscript age] = 11.09 years; mean percent low socioeconomic status = 41.1; mean percent students of color = 45.9). Thirty-eight interventions took place outside the United States. Follow-up outcomes (collected 6 months to 18 years postintervention) demonstrate SEL’s enhancement of positive youth development. Participants fared significantly better than controls in social-emotional skills, attitudes, and indicators of well-being. Benefits were similar regardless of students’ race, socioeconomic background, or school location. Postintervention social-emotional skill development was the strongest predictor of well-being at follow-up. Infrequently assessed but notable outcomes (e.g., graduation and safe sexual behaviors) illustrate SEL’s improvement of critical aspects of students’ developmental trajectories.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Additional Organizations to Consult

Collaboration for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) –

From the website: “Our mission is ambitious: to help make evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL) an integral part of education from preschool through high school. As a thought leader, field builder, and advocate, CASEL uniquely spans three worlds:
Research to build the evidence base by developing, synthesizing, and disseminating evidence that documents the impact of social and emotional learning.
Practice demonstrates what is possible in classrooms, schools, and communities that prioritize SEL—including our work with partner districts. Our work focuses on implementing, refining, and demonstrating high-quality SEL in school districts, and creating scalable tools and resources (visit our SEL District Resource Center to learn more);
Policy helps pave the way for SEL practices that are scalable and sustainable, setting a new standard for high-quality education in the United States. Through state and federal policy efforts, CASEL is helping create the conditions for success.”

Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Influences on Learning at IES –

From the website: “Social skills, emotions, and behavior provide a context for teaching and learning in schools. Social influences include student relationships with teachers and peers, school climate, and parental engagement. Emotional influences include motivation, persistence, and self-regulation. Behavioral influences include what students do and how teachers direct and respond to that behavior. IES supports research, evaluation, and statistics to better understand these social, emotional, and behavioral influences on learning.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • “social emotion*” equity

  • “social and emotional learning” equity

  • “social and emotional learning” descriptor: “low income students”

  • “social and emotional learning” multicultural

  • “social and emotional learning” descriptor: “minority groups”

  • “social and emotional learning” descriptor: “minority group students”

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched IES and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were included in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Midwest) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.