Key Questions

1. Can student surveys about social-emotional development and school climate reveal which high schools best support social-emotional development?

2. Does attending a school that supports social-emotional development improve students’ long-term outcomes?


This study examines results from a detailed annual survey about social-emotional development and school climate administered to students in the Chicago Public Schools. Through value-added analysis, the authors identify individual high schools’ impacts on ninth-grade students’ social-emotional development and test scores. They then trace the effects of attending a school that excels along each of these dimensions on short-term outcomes, such as absenteeism and school-based arrests, as well as on longer-term outcomes, like high-school graduation and college enrollment.

Analysis confirms that some schools are better at supporting students’ social-emotional development than others. But these effects are not all the same. School effects cluster in two domains, social well-being and work habits, and some schools are better at one than at the other.

Results show that students’ own assessments of their social well-being and work habits provide valuable information about their development. They also show that these surveys can be used alongside traditional indicators like test scores to provide a more complete picture of how schools prepare students for the future. This analysis represents an important early step toward understanding how schools influence the social-emotional development of adolescents, how that can be measured, and how this can be useful for policy.

Key Findings

  • Compared to test-score value-added, measures of social-emotional value-added are nearly as predictive of a high school’s impact on test scores. This suggests that fostering social-emotional development may be foundational to academic success.
  • Schools with strong social-emotional value-added help students stay on track and miss school less often in ninth grade. This indicates that students have stronger ties to school, which may help explain positive effects on graduation and college enrollment.
  • Attending a high school with higher value-added to social-emotional development increases students’ likelihood of graduating and enrolling in a four-year college.