Understanding Race Differences in Academic Outcomes, School Climate and Social Emotional Learning to Promote Racial Equity and Policy Reform
Jones, Tiffany Marie
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This dissertation investigated relationships between school climate, social emotional learning (SEL) and racial equity in academic outcomes to understand the role that school climate and SEL can play in the promotion of racially equitable academic outcomes. The setting of the study was the Seattle Public Schools (SPS), a racially diverse school district serving over 50,000 students. All students in grades 3-12 are invited to complete a survey each Spring that covers school climate and SEL. The present study found the student survey to be a reliable measure of student perceptions of school climate and student self-reported SEL, which, after some adjustment, was invariant to race, gender, and home language. This study found that Multiracial students reported significantly less positive perceived school climate, while Asian and Latinx students reported slightly more positive perceived school climate compared to White students. All racial groups of color reported lower levels of self-reported SEL compared to their White peers. School climate did not account for race differences in self-reported grades. SEL accounted for a statistically significant, but small portion of race differences in grades. The strength of the association between SEL and grades was not as strong for Black, Native, Asian, and Multiracial students compared to Whites. Perceptions of school climate were positively associated with grades for all racial groups, although the association was less strong for Asian students. Finally, schools with more positive school climates experienced smaller race differences in student self-reported grades. The moderating effect of school climate on race differences in grades remained after accounting for the poverty level of the school and students’ own perceptions of climate at their school. This moderating effect may be confounded by the effects of school grade-level category (i.e., elementary, middle, or high) since perception of positive school climate was lower in middle and high schools than in elementary schools. Despite the difficulty of disentangling school climate from grade-level category, the findings suggest school improvement strategies focused on school climate may promote racial equity in academic outcomes. Additional research on racial equity in SEL and its role in race differences in grades is also warranted.