Success in school requires not just academic knowledge and skills, but also a broad range of social and emotional behavioral competencies. Increasingly schools are implementing social emotional learning (SEL) curricula, practices, and programs to help students develop critical skills for competencies such as understanding and managing emotions, setting and achieving positive goals, feeling and showing empathy for others, establishing and maintaining positive relationships, and making responsible decisions.
How do schools know if their SEL efforts are producing positive results? Are teachers tailoring lessons and interactions with students to meet individual needs? As with other curricular areas, gathering and examining data is key to SEL implementation effectiveness. A continuous improvement cycle that includes data collection and reflection as well as planning and taking action with adjustments to instruction and interventions can help. Such a cycle ensures that investments of time and resource in SEL curricula, practices, and programs are addressing student needs and improving student outcomes.
Schools collect SEL data for a range of uses that may include one or more of the following:
Likewise, schools have a variety of options for collecting SEL data, including surveys of students and teachers, real-time recording of student behavior, direct measurement through student performance on tasks or forced choice survey items, or use of proxy measures such as absenteeism, discipline referrals, and suspensions. Schools can employ one or more measures that best address their specific needs and adjust their selection over time based on their reflections on the data. For example, a measure like the Devereux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA) is effective for universally screening, assessment for multi-tiered systems of support, and universal formative assessment of student strengths and needs. Schools can complement this with progress monitoring using the DESSA SEL Inventory on the Kickboard platform for real-time recording of students’ SEL skills and behaviors.
The power of data lies in analysis, reflection, and utilization. Schools can study data on multiple dimensions to answer questions that are important to students’ needs and schoolwide culture. For example, a school can consider who the data references (e.g. individual students, class), what SEL competencies are explored (e.g. self-awareness, self-management), when the data was collected (e.g. baseline and follow-up, monthly), and how data was reported (e.g. student self-report, teacher report). Some additional examples for these dimensions are listed in table below.
Professional learning communities are a great approach to creating time and expertise for data reflection. Schools can also allocate time during staff, grade-level, or department meetings. Some common reflections that schools might engage in include: monitoring progress towards increased SEL competency goals, identifying strengths and needs to inform instruction and intervention, and evaluating effectiveness of SEL programming.
Planning is important step in any continuous improvement cycle but often gets short shrift. Schools can plan for data-informed adjustments to SEL instruction by tailoring curriculum implementation or adjusting SEL practices. Teachers and counselors can collaborate on planning data-informed SEL interventions for students in need of targeted instruction. Administrators can plan for changes in SEL programming, measurement, and budgeting or changes in communications and engagement with families around SEL. Schools can leverage teams or individual staff in planning sessions or conduct planning as a schoolwide, all-staff activity. Depending on the speed and frequency of the measurement cycle, planning could occur annually, once per semester, or as frequently as monthly or weekly for smaller adjustments. Every school can establish a planning process that suits its students, staff and culture.
Finally, with data and analysis in hand and a plan of action ready, schools can integrate data-informed universal SEL instruction and targeted SEL interventions. Sometimes adjustments are small, for example re-teaching an SEL lesson or using curriculum extensions for a skill that many students struggle with. In other cases, schools may be starting new SEL interventions for a targeted cohort of students. For some educators, action could involve professional development and implementing a brand new SEL approach. The good news is that outcomes will be measurable as schools continue with data collection for the next iteration through the cycle.