Social Emotional Learning (SEL) programs abound in schools worldwide, adopted in large part on limited and varied evidence that the social/SEL skills acquired in these programs contribute to academic achievement. However, large-scale studies with the most common SEL program in the United States (Second Step®) have yielded no evidence of academic benefits, despite revisions to the Second Step® measure (i.e., DESSA – SSE) to include “skills for learning” (i.e., executive functioning skills). The dearth of academic effects could reflect programmatic or measurement flaws. The purpose of this paper is to explore the latter and unpack the core “inputs” of Second Step® to determine whether the social-emotional or executive functioning components may be differently related to academic achievement. Such questions have important implications for evaluating program theory/logic and for the SEL field more broadly. The current study addresses this broader aim by assessing the longitudinal, bi-directional relationship among Executive Functioning, Prosocial Skills (as a proxy for SEL skills), and academic achievement in Kindergarten and Grade 1 students (N = 3,029) from rural and urban schools (N = 61). Widely utilized curriculum-based measures of reading and math tests were administered directly to students to assess academic achievement, while teachers reported on students’ Prosocial Skills using an established measure. A bi-factorial measure of executive functioning was derived from exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses from teacher-reported rating scale data. Results based on autoregressive cross-lagged panel model using accelerated longitudinal design lend some support for a longitudinal bidirectional relationship between the executive functioning components of shifting and emotional regulation (EF 2) and Prosocial Skills. Furthermore, while results support extant research that the executive functioning components of working memory, planning, and problem solving (EF 1) positively predict academic achievement, the executive functioning components of shifting and emotional regulation (EF 2) and Prosocial Skills are not meaningful nor consistent predictors of academic achievement. Implications and limitations are discussed.
- Cascade Model of Executive Functioning, Prosocial Skills, and Academic Achievement
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- Partial requirement for: Ph.D., Arizona State University, 2021
- Field of study: Family and Human Development