Key Questions

1. What is the impact of attending an effective school—one that positively contributes to socioemotional development, test scores, and behaviors recorded by schools—for students’ short-run (end of ninth grade) and long-run (eleventh grade through college) trajectories?

2. What matters most for students’ short- and long-run trajectories: school impacts on students’ socioemotional development, test scores, and/or behaviors?

3. What characterizes the climate and organizational context of effective schools?


This report shines light on what schools can do well to positively affect students’ long-term trajectories. The findings show the value of taking a holistic view of adolescents, and that fostering students' engagement and a challenging, supportive environment for them are the most important things schools can do.

The findings and interpretive summary offer notable insights on some of the most-discussed K-12 policies and practices today, including test scores, school quality metrics, school climate, and student voice.

Key Takeaways

  • When schools foster socioemotional development (SED), students are more likely to thrive in high school and beyond.
  • Many 'school quality' measures miss the important ways in which high schools foster student thriving. 
  • School climate is strongly and positively tied to school effectiveness.
  • Effective schools are rigorous and relationship-oriented. 

Key Findings

  • High schools that fostered eighth- to ninth-grade student growth across multiple dimensions positively influenced students’ social and academic trajectories.
    • Researchers called these schools ‘effective schools’ and measured three dimensions of growth:
      • Self-reported socioemotional development, including social well-being (e.g., sense of connectedness to school) and academic effort and work (e.g., engagement, study habits)
  • Supporting multiple dimensions of student growth had up to double the positive impact of fostering only test score growth on:
    • Ninth-grade self-reports socioemotional development, test scores, and observed behaviors
    • Eleventh-grade arrests on school grounds
    • High school graduation
    • Post-secondary enrollment and attendance in year two
  • Students’ long-term trajectories were most strongly influenced by fostering student growth on socioemotional development (high school graduation and post-secondary enrollment/attendance) and behaviors (arrests on school grounds in eleventh grade).
    • In the short-run, one of the most remarkable findings was that fostering socioemotional development and fostering test score growth had nearly identical impacts on ninth-grade test scores
  • High schools that supported students’ development on all dimensions of growth were characterized by strong culture and climates.
    • Supportive environments in which students feel safe, supported, and find teachers trustworthy and responsive to their needs
    • Ambitious instruction, such that classes are challenging and engaging, the instruction is clear and well structured and students are encouraged to build on their prior knowledge
    • Collaborative teachers teachers who are active in school improvement efforts, committed to their school, and engaged in professional development activities

Click below to view an episode of GO FIGURE, with Shanette Porter explaining Figure 2 of this research (September 12, 2023).