Effects of Social Emotional Learning Factors on Achievement Gains

This study investigated the moderating roles of motivation, social engagement, and self-regulation in predicting academic achievement in grades 11-12 for 3,281 7th-9th graders. Standardized assessments of college readiness (ACT Explore and the ACT test) and student self-report measures of social emotional learning factors (ACT Engage Grades 6-9) were used in the study.

The results showed that females in grades 7-9 scored higher than males for motivation and self-regulation. Motivation and social engagement moderated prior achievement in predicting later achievement in grades 11-12, while self-regulation moderated both gender and prior achievement in predicting later achievement. Specifically, among female students, effects were positive for females with higher prior achievement (PR ≥ 95) and negative for females with lower prior achievement (PR ≤ 5) for self-regulation in predicting achievement in grades 11-12.


Social emotional learning (SEL) factors, such as motivation, social engagement, and self-regulation, play key roles in classroom learning. Motivation refers to self-regulatory mechanism to achieve academic success via certain personality characteristics and attitudes, such as Academic Discipline, Commitment to School, and Optimism.

Social engagement refers to students’ perception of their family’s engagement, particularly family members’ attitudes regarding the value of education and their involvement in school activities, relationships with school personnel, and perception of school safety climate.

Self-regulation refers to the degree to which students appropriately regulate and express their feelings and behaviors, as well as how they think about the consequences of behavior in school contexts. Students need to be highly motivated to learn well in school, to recognize and use the social supports that can facilitate their learning, and to regulate their behaviors and manage their feelings.

From a broader perspective, SEL factors and prior academic achievement have been demonstrated to predict later achievement in both K-12 and higher education settings. However, it is unclear how SEL factors interact with prior academic achievement and gender when predicting subsequent academic achievement.


Yi-Lung Kuo, PhD: Yi-Lung is an associate professor at Beijing-Normal University-Hong Kong Baptist University United International College and a visiting scholar in Design Based Research at ACT. He specializes in social and emotional learning and test development.

Alex Casillas, PhD: Alex is a principal research psychologist in Design Based Research specializing in assessment design and behavioral predictors of performance and persistence in education and work settings.

Jeff Allen, PhD: Jeff is a statistician in the Research division at ACT. He specializes in longitudinal research linking test scores to educational outcomes and student growth models.