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How One Charter Title I School Strategized SEL for Their Students

PeeDee Math, Science, and Technology Academy (PDMSTA) describes itself as a school that “implements a strategic educational program that teaches students through an innovative curriculum.”

When PDMSTA Director Keith Bailey recognized that the best strategy to strengthen student behavior, respect and responsibility was by doubling down on their social and emotional learning curriculum, he made the difficult but important decision to allocate his very limited personnel budget to this priority, staffing out a new Director of SEL position, occupied now by an experienced outdoor and experiential educator, Aimee Cox-King.

Then, at the ASCD Annual Conference, Keith set out to find an assessment system for his SEL initiatives. He was targeting a system that could inform their school-wide priorities, provide valid and reliable information about their individual students, and deliver them resources for enhancing SEL instruction and programming. He found and selected ProExam Tessera as his complete solution to meet those needs.

PDMSTA, a small charter Title I school in rural South Carolina, educates children in grades K–7, and next year will expand to eighth grade as well. Their commitment to whole child education and restorative justice, Aimee explained, was what led them to look more deeply into SEL, because they wanted to get ahead of bad behavior, preempting it rather than reacting to it. Tessera has fit right into that approach: 

“Tessera has been very valuable to us in better understanding which noncognitive areas we should be emphasizing, and how to frame our work, and now we are using Tessera to understand where our students are now and how they need to grow.”

Aimee explains that there are many ways in which she is beginning to use the Tessera reports. In her small school, she is able to personalize some of her work, and currently she is doing individual goal-setting in one-on-one meetings with students, and helping them to use the reports to set those goals and monitor progress. She is also using the data when creating a Peer Council, strategically organizing that group “so that those students scoring lower on leadership can serve in that capacity and have the opportunities and experiences to grow those skills.” And next year, she intends to deploy Tessera for pre- and post-assessments, so she “can better evaluate the effectiveness of some of her programming,” she explains.

She’s equally excited about some of the other resources Tessera is providing. The Tessera Professional Learning Community (T-PLC) is already giving her great insight into her program development; though she had to miss the first live T-PLC webinar, she accessed the session recording, watched it carefully, “and took a bunch of great notes. It was so helpful to see how other schools are using the results.” Of particular interest to her were how the other schools were sharing Tessera results with students and parents, and how, in the future, like-school cohort data reporting would allow her to better compare her students' skills with schools serving similar demographics.

The new Tessera Teacher Playbook is also a huge boon to her work, she reports. 

“I’m really going to dive in and use the Playbook lessons regularly in my own work, and more importantly, for training and empowering teachers in how they can be more knowledgeable about SEL generally.”

She’s not limiting her Tessera plans to her own school either. She still has her hand in several out-of-school programs, including outdoor experiential education and after-school centers, and she sees a very valuable role for Tessera in those spaces as well.