Gabriella Charter School

Gabriella Charter School

Boosting SEL Instruction with Real-Time Student Performance Data

Gabriella Charter School in Los Angeles, CA started the 2018-2019 school year with an intentional focus on students’ social and emotional learning (SEL) development. They set out to accomplish three goals in particular: to build fluency of SEL skills and behaviors, to understand and analyze SEL data, and to implement data-informed SEL skill development.

At Gabriella Charter School (GCS), Kickboard and the DESSA are used together in order to improve school culture and foster students’ social and emotional development. Kickboard is an online tool that enables teachers to easily record student behaviors and analyze behavior data. The Devereux Students Strengths Assessment (DESSA) is a tool that measures the social and emotional competencies of children. Used together, Kickboard and the DESSA create an overarching schoolwide support system that fosters social-emotional and behavior development.

A few years ago, GCS began implementing PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports) to address behavior problems and improve school culture. They also wanted to better understand students’ social and emotional strengths and needs, and began exploring social emotional learning (SEL) assessment tools.

In May 2018, GCS conducted a schoolwide trial run of the DESSA to assess students’ social and emotional competencies, and in August 2018 they began using Kickboard to track student behavior that aligned to the SEL competencies. During the 2018-2019 school year, GCS has used Kickboard and the DESSA together in order to support their students’ social-emotional development and improve behavior across the school.

About Gabriella Charter School (GCS)

  • Grades: K-8
  • Location: Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA
  • Vision: Giving all students the opportunity to learn, dance, and succeed.
  • Mission: “We join academic rigor with the creativity of dance to engage the hearts and minds of young people in underserved communities, empowering them to excel both inside and outside the classroom.”
  • Demographics: 85% of students from low-income households
  • 70% speaking a language other than English at home
  • 18% receiving special education services
  • Awards: 2018 California Distinguished School Award, 2018 California Exemplary Arts Program Award, and more

What is Kickboard

The Kickboard platform is an online tool and app that enables teachers to quickly and easily record behaviors in real-time, define and monitor behavior intervention plans, and analyze behavior data on an individual, group, class, or schoolwide level.

Tulane University conducted an analysis of over 152 million behaviors recorded on the Kickboard platform over 7 years. Their analysis demonstrated that using Kickboard to monitor certain behaviors (defined as the Positive School Culture Inventory) was correlated with improvements in school-wide culture and a decrease in suspensions and referrals. In addition, numerous case studies have shown how Kickboard has helped schools improve their culture while simultaneously improving academics.

What is the DESSA?

The Devereux Students Strengths Assessment (DESSA), published by Aperture Education, is a standardized, strength-based measure of the social and emotional competencies of children in kindergarten through 8th grade. Aperture Education’s 8 social and emotional learning (SEL) competencies are directly aligned to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning’s (CASEL) highly-regarded five SEL competency framework. Grounded in resilience theory (a strengths-based approach), the DESSA provides user-friendly, practical tools that meet the highest professional standards.

Conducted 2-4 times during the school year, the DESSA provides an overarching view of a student’s social & emotional development. In addition to the full, 72-item DESSA and 43-item DESSA-HSE (High School Edition), the DESSA-mini (a shorter, 8-item assessment) can be used to monitor students’ social and emotional development throughout the school year, providing actionable data to steer quality SEL intervention. Users also have access to a full suite of growth strategies and foundational practices. With the DESSA, parents, teachers, and out-of-school-time staff can assess a child’s social and emotional skills and promote healthy outcomes.


DESSA and Kickboard: A Complementary Approach

Kickboard and the DESSA are both evidence-based tools that provide important information about student competencies. While Kickboard enables schools to collect and record data daily, the DESSA provides a comprehensive measure of students’ social-emotional strengths and needs at key intervals during the school year. Kickboard provides up-to-date information about students’ behaviors, and enables schools to monitor specific behaviors on an individual and school-wide level. The DESSA provides a broader view of students’ skills with norm-referenced scores indicating “strength”, “typical”, or “need for instruction” for eight specific social-emotional competencies at set times throughout the year.

While Kickboard gives an in-the-moment view of concrete behaviors, the DESSA provides a more “big picture” view of the many social-emotional skills that influence student behavior. These two sets of data, looked at together, provide a clearer picture of a student’s individual behavior patterns and overarching skills than either tool individually. Using these complementary tools can make a huge difference in school culture and individual student growth.


  • Evidence-based
  • Teacher/adult completes tool
  • Broadband, norm-referenced assessment of social-emotional skills
  • Administer and view reports 2-4 times per year


  • Evidence-based
  • Teacher/adult records behavior
  • Collects specific student behavior data that is most relevant at a given time
  • Collect and record data daily

How did GCS use Kickboard and the DESSA in combination?

Gabriella Charter School set three goals for the 2018-2019 school year:

  1. Build fluency of SEL skills and associated behavior
  2. Understand and analyze collected SEL skill and behavior data
  3. Implement data-informed SEL skill development

In order to achieve these goals, GCS implemented Kickboard and the DESSA and made a structured plan for how these tools would work together.

Kickboard and DESSA Plan

Step 1: Choose Initial Behaviors to Record

Teachers at GCS met in “pods” by grade (K-2, 3-5, 6-8) before the 2018-2019 school year began. Each “pod” decided which behaviors to prioritize for daily recording in Kickboard so that they could start the school year with a focus in mind. Behaviors fell within categories aligned to DESSA’s SEL competencies, and included positive and corrective behaviors.

Step 2: Daily Behavior Recording Throughout the School Year

When the 2018-2019 school year started, teachers began recording student behavior daily, tracking the behaviors they had selected during the summer. Students received “points” in Kickboard for exhibiting positive behaviors, and lost points when demonstrating corrective behaviors. Teachers gave students in-the-moment feedback about their behavior, using Kickboard as a classroom management tool. They also sent home weekly reports to parents, and gave parents access to daily student data through Kickboard’s app.

Step 3: Conduct Fall Screening and Assessment

In October 2018, teachers at GCS completed an 8-item DESSA-mini screener for all students in grades K-8. Additionally, a full 72-item DESSA assessment was completed for any students who had scored in the “Need for Instruction” category range on the DESSA mini.

Step 4: Analyze Fall Data

GCS teachers met in November 2018 to analyze their DESSA and Kickboard data. They considered several questions while they analyzed this data.

DESSA assessment outcomes:

  • How do GCS students’ DESSA results compare to national averages?
  • How do DESSA results in each class compare to school and national averages?
  • For students with full DESSA reports, what are their relative strengths and needs?
  • Are these results what you would have expected, or were they surprising?
  • Which social-emotional skill areas do many students need further instruction on?

Kickboard data recorded to date:

  • What student behaviors are we recording most often?
  • What positive behaviors are students excelling at?
  • What positive behaviors are we not seeing enough of?
  • What corrective behaviors are students struggling with most?
  • How do these results mirror or differ from the DESSA data?

Teachers and leaders at GCS made a plan for how to maximize this collective data and analysis. They used this valuable information in order to respond to behaviors and provide specific interventions on the group and student level. For example, teachers in the grades 3-5 pod noticed that their DESSA results indicated Goal-Directed Behavior was a common area of need for many students. They decided to focus greater attention on building students’ skills for engagement, a key component of the Goal-Directed Behavior competency.

Step 5: Update Behaviors Recorded Based on Identified Needs:

In December 2018, GCS teachers prioritized behaviors they were recording in Kickboard. For example, based on their fall DESSA and Kickboard results, teachers in the grades 3-5 pod added the following behaviors to their priority list to address areas of need that their analysis had revealed:

Next Steps: The Cycle Continues

In January 2019, the DESSA was re-administered, and in February 2019 new data was reviewed and analyzed, answering the same focus questions as in the fall. Each “pod” met again to update and align their prioritized behaviors for daily recording in Kickboard, and to make a plan for further SEL skills instruction and behavior interventions.

Preliminary analysis shows improvement in at least one focus area: engagement. Across the grades 3-5 pod, students showed a significant increase in engagement in January and February compared to prior months, as demonstrated in the following graph.

Engagement Interactions by Month and Grade at Gabriella Charter School

(August 2018 to February 2019, Grades 3-5)

Teachers continue to track behaviors daily in Kickboard, and the DESSA will be re-administered in April 2019 for the data cycle to repeat again and inform planning for next school year.

One Student’s Journey

To illustrate the power of combining Kickboard and DESSA, we looked at GCS’s experience with a single student. In the early months of school, this student struggled with several behaviors, particularly in the Goal-Directed Behavior domain (i.e. “takes active role in learning”). Furthermore, this student demonstrated an overall need for social-emotional instruction based on the fall administration of the DESSA-mini as well as in most social-emotional competency domains on the full DESSA.

Based on an analysis of this collective data, GCS staff decided in December 2018 to start focusing attention with this student on skill-building for Goal-Directed Behaviors. As of February 2019, some success was evident. The graph below shows monthly recordings of Goal-Directed Behavior interactions for this student.

Single Student at Gabriella Charter School Goal-Directed Behavior Interactions

(August 2018 to February 2019)

What steps can I take to effectively use Kickboard and the DESSA at my school?

Gabriella Charter School provides an excellent model for how to use Kickboard and the DESSA together in order to improve school culture and support students’ social-emotional development. Their approach using these complementary tools relies on a consistent ongoing cycle of data collection and analysis. The repeated steps of choosing which behaviors to prioritize (1), recording daily behaviors in Kickboard (2), completing the DESSA assessment (3), and analyzing data and trends to inform future adjustments (4) ensures that schools are adapting with students and providing targeted supports that are relevant to students’ needs at any given time. These strengths-based approaches enable schools to identify and address students’ social-emotional and behavior needs over time and help foster a supportive school culture. Collectively, these improvements help to reduce discipline referrals, address chronic absenteeism, strengthen student wellbeing and raise student achievement.


About Kickboard

Kickboard ( partners with K-12 schools and districts to facilitate their climate and culture initiatives and positively impact student achievement, attendance, discipline, and more. A unique combination of technology and personalized leadership coaching, the Kickboard school culture system helps educators streamline and simplify behavior management and interventions, positive behavior reinforcement, classroom management, and district-wide school culture analysis. The result is a positive environment where effective teaching and learning can thrive.

About Aperture

Aperture Education (, the publisher of the DESSA, is committed to ensuring that all members of school and out of school time communities, both children and adults, have the social-emotional skills to be successful, productive, and happy. We achieve this by providing teachers, out-of-school-time staff, parents and students with accurate and actionable data about their social and emotional strengths and needs. We pair this data with research-informed strategies and resources leading to improved outcomes.

Together, the Kickboard software and leadership coaching are pushing our schools to think differently about what makes students and teachers successful, how they can create stronger cultures, and how they can sustain this improvement over time.


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