Examining the Factors That Impact Social and Emotional Skills: Data from ERB SelfWise

At ERB, we know whole student growth extends beyond measuring just academic performance. It’s also about being able to effectively navigate relationships, manage emotions, and make responsible decisions. Effective social and emotional development is critical to driving positive academic outcomes and can impact students in the long term.

This growth takes place in the classroom and across the school community, even in students’ daily interactions with their teachers and peers—and it’s at the core of the newly relaunched ERB SelfWise self-report inventory to measure social and emotional skills. SelfWise is driven by the five core social and emotional competencies identified by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL): self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.

What Independent Schools Need to Know to Support Social and Emotional Development

Independent schools, with their unique curricular flexibility, are positioned to support student success with a focus on social and emotional skills, but they may lack the data they need to build and iterate effective programs. 

In response to this need, ERB created the SelfWise inventory which asks students to choose a rating from a scale as they respond to statements aligned with the CASEL core competencies. SelfWise inventories are intended to be administered twice each school year at any time, though we recommend administering once in the fall and once in the spring. The inventories typically take students about 15 minutes to finish. 

During the 2022-2023 school year, ERB conducted a pilot program of SelfWise with 14 member schools and over 2,000 students in grades 4-8. In addition to administering the inventory, the schools provided demographic data that ERB does not normally collect, including the student’s self-identified race and ethnicity, gender, financial aid status, and whether they have a documented learning difference. The findings of the pilot study, which will be examined in detail in an upcoming ERB white paper, offer important lessons for educators and school leaders as they build and iterate SEL programs.

14 pilot schools

participated in our ERB Pilot Study for the SelfWise self-report student inventory.

2,000+ students

in grades 4-8 responded to the ERB SelfWise inventory as part of the pilot study.
1. Moderate levels of challenge can foster SEL skill development.

Social and emotional skill development in the school community is influenced positively and negatively by many factors. Students develop confidence in social-emotional skills like social awareness through practice.

In the pilot, some situations that draw on social and emotional skills—like starting at a new school—helped students gain confidence in their abilities. However, students facing more significant challenges, like the transition to middle school, reported lower confidence in their skills, suggesting that students may need additional support through major changes.

2. Significant, continuous challenge may impede SEL skill development.

One school that participated in the SelfWise pilot admits only structurally disadvantaged students, and these students showed lower self-assessed confidence in their social and emotional skills. Similarly, across the pilot program, students with documented learning differences rated themselves more poorly across the CASEL dimensions, likely because they face greater challenges in the school environment.

Focused curricula in social-emotional learning can make a significant difference for students no matter their background, but educators must meet them where they are.

3. Pedagogy can influence social and emotional skills.

Across participating schools, higher academic scores correlated closely with higher self-reported self-management and responsible decision-making. The correlation between academic scores and self-awareness, social awareness, and relationship skills was generally much lower. However, in the pilot schools that reportedly emphasize problem-based learning by student teams, self-awareness and social awareness were much more closely associated with academic outcomes compared with the other pilot schools. 

This finding suggests that certain teaching approaches may engage and develop students’ social-emotional skills more effectively.

4. Gender and adolescence can impact social and emotional growth.

Across the pilot, the SelfWise inventory showed measurable differences between boys’ and girls’ self-perceptions of their social and emotional skills. 

While boys rated themselves higher on the more inwardly focused competencies of self-awareness and self-management, girls had higher scores on social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Boys’ perception of their social awareness dropped significantly starting in the sixth grade; otherwise, the gaps remained largely the same as students of both genders age.

Help Students Thrive with Data-Driven Insights

Social and emotional skill development is a complex process affected by factors ranging from a student’s gender to their teachers’ pedagogical approach.

Screenshot: SelfWise reporting, available in ERB 360 Access, for a fictional individual student.

As more schools work to support students’ social and emotional growth, it’s critical to measure individual and group progress and to track the impact of different programs and interventions. An ERB white paper published last fall provides the complete findings of the pilot study and is available to ERB members or per request.

Learn more about the SelfWise inventory and how ERB can support your school’s efforts in measuring students’ social and emotional skills, or request information about the pilot study white paper, ERB membership, or our portfolio of assessments.

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