A Contemporary Meta-Analysis: The Impact of Universal School-Based SEL Interventions

Reference: Cipriano, C., Strambler, M. J., Naples, L. H., Ha, C., Kirk, M., Wood, M., Sehgal, K., Zieher, A. K., Eveleigh, A., McCarthy, M., Funaro, M., Ponnock, A., Chow, J. C., & Durlak, J. (2023). The state of evidence for social and emotional learning: A contemporary meta-analysis of universal school-based SEL interventions. Child Development, 94(5), 1181–1204. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.13968 

Summarized By: Ariel Ervin

About this Study

Over a decade ago, Durlak et al. (2011) released a groundbreaking meta-analysis that established people’s foundational understanding of universal school-based (USB) social and emotional learning (SEL) interventions (nurtures youth inner- and intra-personal skills to promote physical & psychological well-being for students in a given school or grade). Their analysis of two hundred thirteen USB SEL initiatives, involving two hundred seventy and thirty-four K-12 students, highlighted notable improvements in academic achievement, social & emotional skills, social behaviors, and attitudes about others and the self. It also demonstrated significant reductions in emotional distress and conduct problems and mobilized changes in practice and policy. This paper takes up the mantle by conducting an updated study on USB SEL programs from 2008 to 2020, shedding light on its implementation and its impact on various outcomes and populations. 

Key Findings:

  • Students who engage in USB SEL interventions show improvements in social-emotional skills, civic & prosocial behaviors, attitudes, academic achievement, school functioning, and school climate (encompasses students’ sense of belonging, safety, inclusion, and connectedness to school. It can also refer to students’ attitudes about education/school). Participation also alleviated external & internalizing issues. 
  • Program and implementation features moderated SEL intervention effects.
  • Programs that had high-quality implementation, met SAFE criteria, used a multicomponent approach, integrated SEL into academic content, were carried out by classroom teachers, focused on school climate, taught intrapersonal skills first, and those studies with high-quality designs improved students’ skills, attitudes, beliefs, and academic outcomes differently.
  • The significant heterogeneity in USB SEL implementation quality, intervention features, content, and contexts moderated student outcomes and experiences.  
  • Although there was significant heterogeneity, the overall findings demonstrate the effectiveness of USB SEL interventions worldwide. 

Implications for Mentoring 

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rising rates of youth mental health issues, the imperative for effective USB SEL interventions is more pressing than ever. This study highlights their potential to promote academic achievement, foster healthy behaviors & attitudes among students, and promote supportive and inclusive school environments. Researchers and practitioners need to recognize that USB SEL interventions come in various forms and can target specific contexts and outcomes. Stakeholders must carefully consider which evidence-based approaches work best for them. Moving forward, scholars need to continue conducting rigorous research across diverse contexts and features to advance people’s knowledge and utilization of USB SEL and its role in promoting the socio-emotional well-being of youth worldwide. 

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