Houston ISD students struggle to manage stress, new research shows

Experts say stress levels could have negative long-term impact on children

Student Studying

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, students in the Houston Independent School District (HISD) struggled to manage stress, reporting low levels of stress resistance that could have a lasting impact on their academic achievement, employment, health and overall well-being.

Student Studying
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Rice University's Houston Education Research Consortium (HERC) also found some groups of students — including those who were Hispanic, economically disadvantaged, current English learners, special education students or children who were otherwise considered at risk — generally reported lower levels of social and emotional skills than their peers.

"This means that these individuals could lag behind their peers when it comes to long-term success, not only in school but in life," said Ming Yin, a HERC researcher and the lead author of the briefs.

Those findings are included in two new research briefs analyzing the social and emotional skills of more than 6,000 10-year-olds and 15-year-olds attending HISD schools. The briefs include data from the Study on Social and Emotional Skills, part of an international effort led by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The data was collected in the fall of 2019, before the COVID pandemic temporarily shut down teaching in Houston classrooms.

The research found the 10-year-olds generally showed high levels of tolerance, curiosity, creativity, cooperation, motivation and self-efficacy, but they reported lower levels of assertiveness and stress resistance. The 15-year-olds in the study generally showed high levels of tolerance, curiosity, creativity, empathy, cooperation and self-efficacy, but they reported lower levels of trust and stress resistance.

Overall, this research provides a comprehensive snapshot of the social and emotional well-being of HISD students. It also identifies which groups of students need of more support when it comes to developing important social and emotional skills, Yin said, and it indicates which skills each group of students needs help developing.

"There is a growing consensus that social and emotional skills -- which include the ability to adapt, be resourceful, be respectful and work with others, and take personal and collective responsibility -- are just as important as literacy or numeracy skills that get citizens better prepared academically, professionally and civically," Yin said. "Awareness of and more research on social and emotional learning is of great importance."

"Social and Emotional Skills of 10-Year-Old Students in the Houston Independent School District" and "Social and Emotional Skills of 15-Year-Old Students in the Houston Independent School District" are available online at https://herc.rice.edu/research/social-and-emotional-skills-students-houston-independent-school-district. The briefs were co-authored by HERC researchers Holly Heard, Julia Szabo and Nehemiah Ankoor.