What’s the matter with ACEs? Recommendations for considering early adversity in educational contexts

Alisha B. Compton, Carlomagno C. Panlilio, Kathryn L. Humphreys, What’s the matter with ACEs? Recommendations for considering early adversity in educational contexts, Child Abuse & Neglect, 2023,106073, ISSN 0145-2134,



Currently, some trauma-informed education practices use “ACE scores,” a number that represents the sum of endorsed items from a survey derived from the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study in 1998. We caution that the survey provides limited information within education, and such scores have limited utility for designing and delivering individualized intervention to support students who have experienced adversity.


We sought to illustrate why ACEs are not well-suited for use in trauma-informed education, provide definitions for adversity-related terms from which a broader and common understanding of adversity can stem, and provide recommendations for integration of adversity-informed approaches to the educational context.


We compiled definitions of adversity-related constructs and made recommendations based on review of relevant research from the fields of psychology and education.


Rather than tailoring educational practices to specific children based on the “traumatic” events they experience, we recommend educators focus their efforts on building supportive classrooms geared toward supporting students with best practices drawn from the Science of Learning, and with the understanding that early adversity can influence heterogeneous trajectories in student development and behavior. In addition, further research on educational practices, including the use of a shared language for describing and defining adversity-related experiences, are the concrete steps needed to better support a goal of adversity-informed education.

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