Which Skills Predict School Success? Socioemotional Skills and the Achievement Gap

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This cross-sectional study examined the relations of four socioemotional skills with academic achievement among ethnic minority (e.g., Asian, Black, Latino/a, and multiethnic) and White elementary school students.

Method: Participants included public school upper elementary students (N = 257; Mage = 9.71; 58% female; 10% Black, 5% Asian, 6% Latino/a, 12% multiracial; 61% White). Measures included student-reported grit, growth mindset, engagement, and emotion regulation, in addition to a student literacy achievement performance task (Test of Silent Reading Efficiency and Comprehension, TOSREC) and student reading achievement scores (Measures of Academic Progress in Reading; MAP-R).

Results: Across all analyses, socioemotional skills were more related to literacy achievement for ethnic minority students than for White students. While simple regressions supported several skills’ relation to achievement for both groups of students, multiple regressions suggested that grit was the sole significant predictor of achievement, and it was only predictive of minority students’ achievement. Although literacy achievement differed between the full samples of ethnic minority and White students, moderation analyses indicated that this achievement gap disappeared among high grit students. Yet, while these regression and moderation results suggested grit’s unique role as a predictor, SEM analyses suggested that the magnitude of all of the socioemotional skills’ prediction of achievement were more similar than different. These findings support a novel but cautious approach to research on socioemotional skills and the achievement gap: results suggest that the skills operate differently in students of different ethnicities, with grit playing a uniquely predictive role for minority students. The skills, however, may be more similar than not in the strength of their association with literacy achievement.