Can Social and Emotional Learning Close Achievement Gaps in Education?

achievement gaps in education
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In the past, academic achievement was often linked to cognitive intelligence, or IQ. Recently, as more research is published exploring achievement gaps in education, studies show that emotional intelligence—or EQ—also significantly impacts educational achievement.  Social and emotional learning programs take place at the district level, at school, in preschools and daycares, and even at home. Could these programs help close the achievement gap?

Emotional Intelligence vs. Cognitive Intelligence

While cognitive intelligence measures how you interpret and process abstract ideas, solve problems, and reason through challenging concepts, emotional intelligence is a measure of how you manage your own emotions, as well as your emotional response to others. EQ affects how we engage socially, and it helps determine how well we can self-regulate our own feelings appropriately.

How Does Emotional Intelligence Help Kids Succeed at School?

People with high EQ instinctively understand how to disarm a negative situation without confrontation. They also know how to read their peers’ nonverbal cues and interpret emotional states, so they can empathize and respond appropriately.

While EQ might not seem as though it would impact educational performance and achievement, the manner in which an individual regulates their own emotions and behaviors does affect how they perform in the classroom. EQ involves self-regulation, as well as predicting and reading the emotions of others, and this self awareness helps you make good choices beyond just the ability to engage well in social situations.

EQ encompasses the whole emotional response of the individual—self-management and social management both affect the measure. As educators and psychologists have learned more about emotional intelligence, they have continued to explore the weight of EQ on school success.

achievement gaps in education

SEL Programs and Achievement Gaps in Education

According to a 2015 study, social and emotional learning programs help at-risk students increase their proficiency on achievement tests. Students who participated in SEL programs increased from a below basic proficiency to basic proficiency in areas of reading, math, and writing.

While the achievement gap is often attributed to poverty and socioeconomic hardships, many note that these issues cannot be overcome through school intervention. Schools have no control over poverty. However, schools can help children with self-regulation, which can benefit a child’s academic success.

According to the Committee for Children, while a child may live in poverty, if they have good self-regulation skills, their performance isn’t affected to the same degree as those with a low EQ living in poverty. Social and emotional learning may be the bridge across the expansive achievement gap that exists between low-income, at-risk students and their peers.

The Bottom Line: Schools Need SEL

Schools looking for ways to help students achieve in the classroom need to explore SEL programs that they can integrate into the learning environment. While the reason for not implementing SEL programs may stem from a lack of time–or pulling time from important instruction periods—many programs can be incorporated into the education setting without disrupting lessons or instruction.

SEL programs help struggling learners and at-risk students so they can develop the EQ needed to self-regulate and make good decisions. By integrating SEL programs to help develop stronger EQ, schools can help bridge the divide between those who succeed and those who are left behind. The results speak for themselves, so take the plunge and integrate SEL into your curriculum today.

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