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ESSA Standards: States Set Social-Emotional Learning Criteria

Social-emotional learning: It’s a concept lauded for its ability to help students develop important life skills that go beyond academics.

At the same time, the crux of what exactly a good social-emotional curriculum is and how to measure it is often hard to pin down.

How do we ensure students master the social skills required to navigate unending challenges in their lives? What are the best ways to teach abstract emotional concepts, such as empathy? How do we measure their ability to develop these skills over time?

In August, eight states—California, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Washington—announced an agreement designed to solve these and other challenges.

The collaborative will work to develop standards for social-emotional learning and strategies for encouraging local districts to embrace the concept, as outlined recently in Education Week.

These standards could play a role in how districts and states gauge their progress under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Setting standards
“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,” Linda Dusenbury, a senior researcher at The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), told Ed Week.

CASEL will assist the eight participating states in creating strategies for implementing SEL in their schools.

For each state, CASEL will help develop statewide, grade-appropriate standards for assessing school progress in SEL, shareable guides for introducing SEL-related lessons into traditional academic work, and strategies for implementing the new standards.

For states like California, the goal is to get this work done before ESSA takes effect.

New standards for ESSA?
Under new ESSA accountability rules, states must add at least one non-academic indicator to measure school progress.

It’s an important and long overdue step, education research guru Dr. Stephan Knobloch writes in a recent guide from K12 Insight on the impact of ESSA.

“Savvy school leaders have long known that test scores alone provide a very narrow window into student achievement—and that non-academic factors such as climate and engagement play a significant role in helping students succeed in school and beyond.”

SEL implementation could also play a huge role—at least that’s the hope of states such as California.

A group of California districts recently said that including SELs in accountability standards under ESSA could ignite the adoption of social-emotional learning in schools throughout the country, reports Ed Week.

But experts, including those at CASEL, say that it’s too early to start using SEL as an accountability measure. Instead, they’re focusing on collaborations, such as the one announced in August, to continue to develop standards.

Whether states are allowed to include SEL as an accountability indicator will be determined over the next couple of months, as states and the U.S. Department of Education review comments on proposed ESSA accountability rules.

This marks a key time for school communities to make their voices heard, Knobloch told educators in a recent webinar. (Watch: Everything you need to know about ESSA: How to demystify non-academic indicators.)

“If they (the public) don’t participate, my fear is that we’re going to be regretting it and we’re going to have a backlash, something similar to NCLB ten years into the actual legislation, rather than taking the ownership now and getting it right,” he said.

If your state or district is hoping to include SEL as a performance indicator under ESSA, now is the time to make your voice heard. And community members can be among your best and most vocal advocates.

In the meantime, these eight initial states are working to create a model for SEL that other schools and states can use.

How do you engage your school community about SEL and ESSA? Tell us in the comments.

Will ESSA affect your district’s strategies in the future? Here’s one way to give your community a real voice in how success is measured under the new law.