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Affirming and Advancing SEL: The Evidence is Here

“Sure, Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) would be a great addition, but there’s no way to add it to the plate; our teachers already have their hands full with preparing students academically, and there’s no way our board will let us direct resources to anything that doesn’t raise test scores.”
“My teachers would love to get more support for Social and Emotional Learning, and would be happy to commit more time to it, but our district office demands that our initiatives be evidence-based, and how do we really know if teaching SEL actually works.”

 How often have you heard variants of one or both of these comments in your school or district?

For educators working with students daily, juggling the myriad of demands enhancing student achievement and navigating the complex regulations burdening them, these are entirely understandable reactions and concerns. It’s not that teachers, counselors, principals, and superintendents don’t care about life skills for their students; of course they do. They know more than anyone what a difference it makes when students can manage their anger, persevere during difficulties, exercise self-discipline in their studies, and get along with others.

 What educators need is twofold.

  1. They need authoritative national or global evidence that SEL programs work for their own sake (for improving SEL) and for improving academic achievement
  2. They need tools by which they can evaluate whether their own programming is working by which they can demonstrate return on investment and generate information for continuous improvement.
Educators can take assurance – the truth is out there. Both these needs can be met. First, the evidence for SEL programming in general has in a recent study been resoundingly reaffirmed and second, the tools for evaluating SEL student growth and assessing SEL’s contribution to student achievement are newly arriving in the marketplace.

 First things first: SEL programming really works.

The new study, published July 2017 in the esteemed peer-reviewed journal Child Development, is entitled “Promoting Positive Youth Development Through School-Based Social and Emotional Learning Interventions: A Meta-Analysis of Follow-Up Effects” by Rebecca D. Taylor (Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning), Eva Oberle (University of British Columbia), Joseph A. Durlak (Loyola University), Roger Weissberg (CASEL, University of Illinois at Chicago).

It is described by CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) as being a follow up to a 2011 meta-analysis that deserves to be widely recognized throughout K-12 education. That study, sometimes referred to as Durlak 2011, reviewed 213 SEL programs involving 270,000 children. The study concluded that “compared to controls, SEL participants demonstrated significantly improved social and emotional skills, attitudes, behavior, and academic performance that reflected an 11-percentile-point gain in achievement.”

Learn more about the new study here.

The new study is based on a study of 82 different interventions involving more than 97,000 students from kindergarten to high school, where the effects were assessed at least six months and up to 18 years after the programs ended, it adds further fuel to the argument for teaching the whole child and supporting out students in all their growth needs. It concludes that these programs have short and long term positive consequences for students; in one particularly dramatic finding, “in follow-up assessments an average of 3.5 years after the last intervention, the academic performance of students exposed to SEL programs was an average 13 percentile points higher than their non-SEL peers, based on the eight studies that measured academics.”

The report also summarizes findings from some of the individual studies contained within the meta-analysis. Among them are that “SEL participants later demonstrated a 6% increase in high school graduation rates, and an 11% increase in college graduation rates. In other cases, SEL participants were less likely to have a clinical mental health disorder, ever be arrested or become involved with the juvenile justice system, and had lower rates of sexually transmitted infections, and pregnancies.”

Educators can take this to the bank—in fact, take it to your local banker, chamber of commerce, city councilor, and certainly your school board as part of an argument that these programs deserve their moral support and their financial support.

 The Next Order of Business: Gather Your Evidence

Having established the compelling benefits of SEL generally, the next order of business is to gather evidence of what is working in your school and district. Are programs, interventions, and initiatives having an impact on student SEL skill development? Which students are benefitting the most, and where is additional support most needed? At what grade levels should skill development be targeted? And when skills do rise, what correlated effects also are identified?

This is where high quality, reliable and valid SEL assessment implemented at your school level can help. ACT Tessera® is exactly that: an innovative, evidence-based system by which you can easily administer assessments and collect data on what’s working and what’s not, and use these data for evaluating the impact of improved social emotional learning. The system also comes with leadership coaching for school administrators looking to improve SEL in their building or district, and with a comprehensive teacher playbook for raising the quality of teaching and learning of these vital skills.

There’s every reason to believe that supporting student growth in these critical areas will result in higher academic achievement and in better high school graduation rates, but wouldn’t it be excellent to be able to prove this fact so as to ensure the continuation of your SEL programs when axe-wielding cost-cutters come to town?

Learn more here: