Working paper

Identifying students who are off-track academically in 9th grade: The role of social-emotional learning trajectories


By: James Soland, Megan Kuhfeld


Research shows that successfully transitioning from middle school to high school is pivotal for students to remain on track to graduate. Studies also indicate that a successful transition is a function not only of how prepared the students are academically, but whether they have the social-emotional learning (SEL) skills to succeed in a more independent high school environment. Yet, little is known about whether students’ SEL skills are stable over time, and if they are not, whether a student’s initial level of SEL skills at the start of middle school or change in SEL skills over time is a better indicator of whether the student will be off track academically in 9th grade. We use several years of longitudinal SEL data to fit growth models for three constructs shown to be related to successfully transitioning to high school. In so doing, we examine whether a student’s mean SEL score in 6th grade (status) or growth between 6th through 8th grade is more predictive of being off track academically in 9th grade. Results indicate that, while status is more frequently significant, growth for self-management is also predictive above and beyond status on that construct.

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