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Three Steps for Effectively Measuring SEL Program Effectiveness

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For the past 10 years or so, school districts have wrestled with implementing social and emotional learning (SEL) standards within their schools.

To support the social emotional needs of their students, school districts have attempted a variety of solutions, including hiring student support staff members such as guidance counselors, social workers, and/or psychologists to provide targeted interventions and support for students. Some districts have purchased research-based curricula, student response surveys, and strategies for teachers to incorporate into their daily lessons.

While districts are actively exploring the best means to deliver social emotional supports for students, one struggle clearly remains: How does a school district measure the effectiveness of their SEL programming?

Determining outcomes related to the SEL needs of students is difficult, as so much can be outside the control of the school. A student’s basic needs, including their social and emotional needs, are meant to be addressed both at home and in the school building, but frequently those lines are blurred.

As a result, districts must answer three basic questions as they relate to SEL outcomes:

  1. What do we want to measure?
  2. How do we want to measure it?
  3. Based on the results, what action will we take?


What do we want to measure?

For a school district to tackle such a multifaceted topic as the social emotional wellness of their students, it must first establish its goal. A district must ask itself, “What do we want to measure as it relates to SEL?”

A place to begin is by analyzing national or state social emotional learning standards. Identify generally accepted key standards, and then use those as the basis for developing your district’s goals. This analysis of standards is best done with a small, core decision-making team that is representative of administrative, instruction, student services, and/or additional key stakeholders. These voices will all be critical in messaging your goals and action plans, so engaging them at the goal setting stage is crucial.

Once you’ve completed this process, establish a goal or set of goals for your district. Be sure to keep them simple — something that can easily be communicated to all stakeholders, including school boards, students, staff, and parents. Additionally, try to keep the goals targeted, and to no more than three total. This will provide you with greater focus as you begin your planning and communication.

How do we want to measure it?

The next step is to establish the methods for measuring your progress against your goals. The outcomes and measurement tools should be directly aligned with your goals, since (and please forgive me for using a sports analogy) you will want to know what the score is for each quarter of the game.

Key points of data many of our clients use to measure their various SEL goals include:

  • Attendance rates
  • Office visits — to guidance counselors, social workers, nurses, etc.
  • Student grades — specifically, multiple failing grades
  • Participation in student support groups
  • Survey results — from the students’ perspective
  • Behavioral data — including suspensions and discipline referrals

Typically, there is no “one thing” that indicates the social emotional wellness of a student. As educators, we must listen and evaluate multiple indicators to ensure each student is on a path to success and on track for their next grade and/or post-secondary goals. This complete picture will provide schools with a 360-degree view of the whole child and, if necessary, will allow the opportunity for targeted interventions and supports.

Based on the results, what action will we take?

In talking with clients and prospective clients of Frontline’s Student Analytics Lab, one of the first actions taken on an administrative level is the creation of one set of data dashboards in which all key team members can view important data points as they relate to the district’s SEL goals.

Instead of a variety of spreadsheets housed in different offices within the district, a dashboard tool, like that provided in Student Analytics Lab, gives each critical team member the “on-demand data” he or she needs to drill from a district-level view to a student-level view in a few clicks.

From there, a district or school team member can gain a “whole child” view of a student, including their academic performance, behavior incidents, and SEL survey responses. This critical view can become central to daily, weekly, or monthly intervention team meetings. Not only can the district’s intervention team analyze the data on a “right now” basis, they can also track performance year-over-year on these multiple measures.

Once the data is viewed by the necessary team members, the group can determine the proper action to take, whether at the district, school, or student level. Certainly, implementing a new program or hiring new staff may be an appropriate action to take if the data calls for such an action. However, often having a conversation with a child and/or his/her parent or guardian provides key insights into the root of the SEL issues, and positive next steps are created to support the student.

These critical conversations are at the core of any social emotional issue. People need to feel a sense of belonging, and children need to know that the adults in their school care about them. SEL data dashboards provide tools schools can use to ensure that no student’s “cry for help” will go unnoticed or unsupported.

If your district is interested in learning more about how our clients are efficiently using data dashboards to support SEL and academic decision-making, you can schedule a personal demonstration with a member of our team.