How Non-Academic Factors Affect Academics

Students spend a mere fraction of their lives within the schools they attend, and success both in and out of school is dependent on multiple factors. Although quality education, which includes social emotional learning or SEL, is an important component in developmental success, it can’t replace benefits children can receive outside of school from certain familial, socioeconomic and social advantages.

The skills that social and emotional learning addresses are those that would otherwise be developed through experience and support outside of the school: self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.

When students haven’t developed these, it is often indicative of issues in the foundation of life outside of the school setting. These non-academic elements and academics are always intertwined and understanding how they exist together leads to more meaningful learning.

Socioeconomic Status

Few factors outside of school impact all aspects of a child’s life like socioeconomic status. Students from low-SES homes encounter more physical and mental health difficulties and are more likely to have attendance issues. They are also less likely to have access to enriching experiences that can increase fluency and reading comprehension, including exposure to proper grammar and a broad vocabulary.

Children who come from households with low-SES are statistically more likely to have issues with language, cognitive development and memory. Their literacy skills are typically several years behind those of students from high-income homes. Schools located in low-SES areas are more likely to be underfunded and lack the resources necessary to give low-achieving students the support they need, and students from low-SES homes are more likely to drop out than students in any other income group.

Parental Valuation of Education

From the time they are born, children’s ideas about learning are being shaped by their parents. How much parents value education has a great influence on how children approach school. If parents believe that education is a worthwhile pursuit and urge children to be invested in it, research shows that their children will perform better, with students who are encouraged by their parents to do well in school bringing home higher grades than those who are not.

Socioeconomic status plays a part in this, as many low-income families lack the resources to help their children with schoolwork. This can be due to work schedules, lack of parental education, limited access to support resources or a combination of these. For children of parents who don’t speak English, this issue can be even more complex.

Access to Quality Childcare

When parents can’t watch their children due to work or other obligations, they must find someone else to entrust their child with. Unfortunately for many, quality childcare is out of reach due to exorbitant costs or lack of availability. So-called childcare deserts, or areas in which there is inadequate child care for the number of children who need it, are a pervasive concern in America. This issue was exacerbated by the pandemic, as childcare centers closed for a time with many never reopening to full capacity or, in some cases, at all.

If parents can’t find quality child care, children are often stuck with whoever is around to keep an eye on them. Although children may be safe with these individuals, caregivers can lack the resources to help children with cognitive development and language acquisition when they are very young, and schoolwork as they grow older. Other children may be left entirely alone with no one to watch or help them.

This leads to greater long-term educational disparities between students who have received quality childcare and those who have not. Students who have been enrolled in high-quality childcare are less likely than those who haven’t to need special education services, fail a grade, quit school, or become incarcerated.

Mental and Physical Health

Student health, both mental and physical, plays a significant role in a child’s educational success. Illness frequently causes absences, and absences lead to gaps in learning that can be extremely difficult to overcome. Those who struggle with mental health issues, especially those who remain undiagnosed and untreated, can experience similar struggles with attendance and may find themselves frequently in trouble or unable to succeed in the classroom environment.

Many students do not have access to healthcare services they need and their education can suffer for it. This is particularly true of those from homes with low-SES status, who are least likely to receive the regular care they need to remain mentally and physically healthy.

Experience with Violence

A student’s experience with violence has a significant impact on their ability to function not only in the school environment but throughout their lives. The violence may come in the form of community violence, where students witness it in their broader community and not necessarily at home. They may witness domestic issues between their parents or other adult figures responsible for their care, or they may be on the receiving end of the violence themselves.

The impact of violence on a child’s life can be profound. Children with violence in their homes are commonly placed in social services and experience frequent changes in home and school placements. This lack of continuity can contribute to children giving up, as the struggle to overcome these profound difficulties may not seem worth it, particularly when they have no consistent adults whose approval they are trying to obtain with their success. They also may grow up believing they are unlikely to live long enough for investing in their education to be worth it.

Drug and/or Alcohol Abuse

The abuse of drugs and/or alcohol in either parents or students themselves can cause serious issues for students. Drug and alcohol use in pregnant mothers can result in significant cognitive and physical impairment that, aside from substantial impacts on life outside of school, can make learning and retention extremely difficult.

Likewise, the use of alcohol and drugs in students can cause problems in school settings. Those who abuse drugs and alcohol are more likely to have attendance issues, and substance use can cause considerable damage to still-developing bodies.

Social-emotional learning can help students impacted by non-academic factors gain the skills they need to overcome life’s difficulties and achieve success in education, that is one of the many reasons why Shmoop created Heartbeat®.