By Paul LeBuffe
Research by DCRC and others has shown the strong relationship between social and emotional skills and academic achievement. For instance, in our work with the Allentown School District in PA we found that for students in grades 3 through 5 who had “typical” or “strength” ratings on the DESSA-mini, nearly 70% performed in the proficient or advanced level on a state-wide measure of reading achievement (the PSSA). In contrast, for those students who had a “need for instruction” (i.e., low social and emotional skills), only about 25% performed at the proficient or advanced level. The same pattern of results was found for math achievement and also with middle school students.
Interestingly, social and emotional skills make a big difference even for gifted students. In her doctoral dissertation Tiffany Kong looked at the relationship between IQ, social and emotional skills measured by the DESSA, and academic achievement in 276 elementary school students who had been classified as gifted. Two of Dr. Kong’s findings are of particular interest. First, although all of the students had very high academic performance, as a group their social and emotional skills were only slightly higher than average. So academically gifted students do not necessarily have strong social and emotional skills. Second, for the group as a whole, once you knew the DESSA scores, IQ did not help you predict academic achievement any better; that is, it had no additional predictive value. However, if you started with IQ, the DESSA scores did add additional value and helped you predict achievement. These findings indicate that social and emotional competence is critical to academic achievement for all students. So, to help all children succeed in school and life, we should be focusing on their social and emotional skills in addition to academics.