Every Student Succeeds Act

States to Partner on Social-Emotional Learning Standards

By Evie Blad — August 23, 2016 3 min read
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In a step that organizers call a “critical moment for the movement,” eight states will work together to create social-emotional learning standards and plans to encourage schools to embrace teaching students about the growing field.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, which is also known as CASEL, announced the joint effort last month and will assist the states through consultation with its own staff and a panel of experts.

Organizers hope the effort will help school and district level educators deepen their emphasis on building students’ social and relational skills in addition to traditional academic work.

“We have amassed so much research by this point that we’re now ready, I believe, to really be helping to inform education through things like policy and learning standards,” said Linda Dusenbury, a senior research scientist at CASEL. “And what’s really exciting is that the states seem very eager to partner in that effort.”

Unique Plans

The participating states are California, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Washington. Additional states that originally applied to join the collaborative will have access to the materials it develops.

Each participating state has a unique plan for teaching social-emotional skills. Many of those plans include creating age-appropriate standards that show how social and emotional skills are demonstrated at each grade level, developing materials to infuse traditional classroom subjects with social-emotional learning concepts, building strategies for state-level support, and figuring out how to prepare teachers and principals to emphasize those skills in the classroom.

“Having state standards helps inform districts, central offices, and boards of education what might be prioritized,” said Roger Weissberg, the chief knowledge officer for CASEL.

The work comes as the Every Student Succeeds Act, the new federal education law, places a greater emphasis on nonacademic concepts and “whole child” issues.

ESSA also requires states to add an “additional indicator” to their school accountability systems beyond traditional factors like student test scores. While the law lists examples such as school climate and student engagement, some advocates and educators, including a coalition of California districts, have suggested that including measures of social-emotional learning in accountability might be an effective way of spreading it to more schools. But some prominent researchers in the field say measures of social-emotional competencies are not yet reliable enough to be used for judging how schools are performing.

Going Deeper

CASEL is not encouraging states in the collaborative to measure students’ social-emotional skills for accountability, Weissberg said.

To this point, the most comprehensive work in social-emotional learning and noncognitive skills has been done at the school and district levels. The state collaborative was inspired in part by CASEL’s work with a group of large, mostly urban, school districts that have committed to using districtwide SEL plans and allowing researchers to study their results, Weissberg said. That project receives some funding from the Novo Foundation, which also helps support coverage of social-emotional learning in Education Week.

Just three states currently have state social-emotional learning standards that span all grade levels: Illinois, West Virginia, and Kansas, CASEL researchers found. Twenty-six states applied to join the new collaborative, and eight were selected based on outlines of their plans and CASEL’s capacity to work with them.

State education leaders in participating states said the collaborative will give them a chance to build on existing work and develop more formal strategies.

“We really feel a responsibility to create some tools to give to schools,” said Mona Johnson, the director of student support for the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

A version of this article appeared in the August 24, 2016 edition of Education Week as States to Partner on Social-Emotional Learning Standards


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