Methods. Data come from the 2015-16 TOOLBOX Implementation Research Project, a quasi-experimental study of the school-based universal SEL program, TOOLBOX™. The sample consists of 1,766 K-2 students within the same school district (66.3% under TOOLBOX condition; 48.6% female; Mean baseline age = 6.05 years; 55.3% Hispanic, 13.6% Asian, 10.9% Black, 7.5% White; 48.2% ELL; 8.0% SPED; 67.8% FRL). Student SEC was measured three times over the academic year using the DESSA-Mini, a teacher-completed behavior rating scale. Multigroup latent growth modeling was conducted to compare student SEC growth trajectories across sociodemographic subgroups between TOOLBOX and non-TOOLBOX conditions. The Wald test of parameter equality was conducted to examine whether the sociodemographic differences in SEC growth trajectories differed by intervention condition.
Results. Under both conditions, girls (vs. boys) and older (vs. younger) students had higher baseline SEC; Black (vs. full-sample average) and SPED (vs. non-SPED) students had lower baseline; and Asian students (vs. full-sample average) showed more growth. Only Black students showed a statistically different growth rate between two conditions (χ²(1)=3.73, p=.05). In the intervention condition, Black students' growth rate did not differ from the average, whereas Black students in the comparison condition showed less-than-average growth.
Conclusions/Implications. This study suggests that student SEC growth trajectories can differ by gender, age, race/ethnicity, and SPED status. It also suggests that a universal SEL intervention may prevent disparities from widening for Black youth throughout the school year. This could imply that universal SEL might enable some marginalized racial groups, who otherwise might have shown a less favorable social-emotional developmental trajectory, to grow at the same rate as their classmates. We call for more rigorous replication studies and the general disaggregation of intervention effects by student sociodemographic subgroups. Just examining “average” outcomes is likely insufficient to the strategic pursuit of greater equity in youth behavioral health.