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Social and Behavioral Context for Academic Learning


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FY Awards

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Dr. Emily J. Doolittle
(202) 245-7833


The Social and Behavioral Context for Academic Learning topic supports research on social skills, attitudes, and behaviors that support learning and achievement.

Since 2008, NCER has invested over $270,000,000 in 131 research projects that explore, develop, test, or evaluate interventions or assessments to improve the social and behavioral context for learning in schools from kindergarten through high school.

Social and -Behavioral began as a defined topic area in fiscal year (FY) 2008 following an earlier IES investment in a multi-site evaluation of social and character development programs. The primary question for the multi-site evaluation was: can universal school-based programs that aim to promote positive social skills and character improve 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students' social-behavioral competencies and academic achievement relative to typical school practice?

Three important findings emerged:

  • Schools randomly assigned to implement a social and character development program (i.e., the treatment group) reported increases in social and character development practices.
  • Schools randomly assigned to continue their typical practice (i.e., the business-as-usual control group) also reported high levels of social and character development practices.
  • There were no differences between the treatment and control groups in students' social and emotional competence, behavior, academic performance, or perceptions of school climate.

Why didn't these well-designed, evidence-based programs have their intended impacts? Do schools really engage in social-behavioral practices in the absence of formal programs? Questions like these led NCER to create this topic to learn more about ways to help schools support students' social-behavioral competencies.

The 131 research projects in this portfolio explore, develop, test, or evaluate ways to:

  • Teach all students social and behavioral skills to support learning;
  • Provide additional support to students with specific mental health needs; and
  • Help teachers create organized, responsive, and nurturing classroom environments.

See the Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Influences on Learning page to learn more about IES initiatives in this area.