Educators Know Social-Emotional Learning Is Important, But How Should They Measure It?

Educators Know Social-Emotional Learning Is Important, But How Should They Measure It?

What can educators do to measure the success of their social-emotional learning efforts?

When you ask a room of teachers why they entered their profession, you’ll usually hear something along the lines of:

  • “To make a difference.”
  • “To be there for students like Mr./Ms. ___ was for me.”
  • “To help prepare kids for a successful future.”
  • “To give students the educational experience I didn’t have.”

Rarely—if ever—do you hear an educator answer, “I’m here for the data.”
Yet, the truth of it is, data is what drives decisions. School boards, superintendents, administrators, and community members all look to numbers when making decisions that affect staff and curriculum.
Knowing this, as well as the importance of weaving social emotional learning (SEL) skills into the school day, results in the question: What data is there for SEL?
While there are hundreds of studies that speak to the benefits of a robust SEL curriculum, most of the metrics were measured over multiple years, highlighting that the results of teaching soft-skills can appear much later in students’ lives. And while there is software designed to track students’ SEL growth and gaps over their K-12 career, many districts want preliminary data to justify the big price tag.
So, the million-dollar question is: How can you monitor your current students’ growth? It can be hard to tell if what you are doing is working or making a positive impact RIGHT NOW.
We’ve therefore compiled a list below of evidence-based suggestions to help you track this year’s students. While no system is perfect, these methods will position you for further analysis and focused planning of SEL lessons.

The Data You Can Use to Focus Your SEL Efforts

Below are five ways educators can collect helpful data to determine student competencies of SEL standards. For more accurate and comprehensive data collection, we suggest utilizing at least two of these methods in your classroom.

Teacher Surveys and Notes

Educator-collected data, especially for younger students, is a powerful indicator as to whether students are learning SEL skills. Teachers are able to see students in a variety of scenarios: in the hallway, at recess, during downtime in the classroom, engaging in group work, and preparing for assessments, to name a few. These situations provide ample opportunities to monitor student progress of specific soft skills.
Instead of choosing multiple standards to track, the simplest way to accumulate more accurate metrics is by focusing on one specific skill. Before recording any information, it’s important for teachers to determine what behaviors would indicate mastery of the standard and what behaviors would show more practice is needed. Additionally, limiting the student count to six at a time will ensure more focused identification and interventions when necessary.
For these assessments to be user-friendly, we suggest making the tracking sheet one page and carrying it on a clipboard as you walk around the room for easy access and marking.

PBIS Data

A solid Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports (PBIS) infrastructure is critical for SEL success. Many schools focus on Tier 1 proactive supports such as classroom set-up, supervision, and positive acknowledgements. These practices can help prevent unwanted behaviors and support students school-wide.
When schools also have Tier II and Tier III teams that focus on at-risk groups and individual students, teachers and staff develop the habit of tracking different kinds of data. Metrics to consider are attendance rates, visits to the nurse or bathroom, phone calls home, office referrals, and behavioral reminders. This data goes hand-in-hand with the soft skills students are learning and practicing in the classroom.
When this solid framework is in place, teachers feel supported, students rely on expectations, and families understand protocols in place to help all students succeed.

Student Surveys

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Students completing surveys about themselves can provide effective data points. While these metrics may only come a few times a year, and may ebb and flow depending on the student’s current emotional state, it’s important to remember that a student’s perception is their reality.
Focusing on student-identified weaknesses will promote buy-in and motivation from the child and family. Survey results will not only guide Tier I SEL lessons, but can also be shared with the school counselor for small groups and individual practice sessions.
Examples of survey questions include:

  • I know the rules of this classroom.
  • I think about how my choices may impact others.
  • I feel proud of who I am.
  • I know what activities I’m interested in.
  • I plan well for tests and quizzes.
  • I manage my time well when I have multiple tasks to complete.

Family Surveys

SEL doesn’t just fall on educators’ shoulders. By developing solid relationships with families, teachers can partner with them to help track student successes and opportunities for growth. Like students’ assessments, family surveys can be Yes/No questions, feature a likert scale, or include short responses for a more explanatory answer.
It is best practice for an introductory letter to proceed any survey sent home. Some things to include in the letter are:

  • An explanation of what SEL is.
  • The definitions of age-appropriate keywords, including empathy, growth mindset, and ethical responsibility.
  • Links to CASEL’s SEL parent guide, both in English and Spanish.
  • The importance of adults modeling SEL competencies.
  • Teacher contact information for further questions.

Anecdotal Data

It may be hard to place a success metric on a soft skill and measure growth. That’s where witnessed and shared stories come into play. If a student who normally fails to take ownership admits his wrong-doing during a restorative circle, that is progress. If a student can identify three trusted adults in her life, she will know who to go to if a serious situation arises. If a student acknowledges another point of view during a debate, that is a step in the right direction. These anecdotes, which may not be shown on a pretty graph, will help paint a picture of a child’s progress from August until May.

Maximizing Your SEL Efforts in the Classroom

There are ways to be successful without simply relying on numerical data as a success metric. Some additional elements to implement are:

  • Model the behaviors you want to see. If you are focusing on a SEL skill or standard, make a personal reminder in your agenda to model this behavior. Feel free to call it out so students can identify what it looks like, sounds like, and feels like to the recipient. CASEL also has a free resource for staff to complete their own self-assessment to determine personal strengths and ways to model them.
  • Integrate lessons into the everyday classroom. Stand-alone lessons are perfect for explicit instruction, but what does problem solving or positive relationships look like in the real world? By pausing and acknowledging these skills throughout your day, you will help students understand, practice, and apply these skills into everyday situations.
  • Partner with Families. We may sound like a broken record, but partnering with families is beneficial for both the adults and the child. Sending home further information regarding SEL, as well as extension opportunities at home, will help create shared expectations and continued practice for kids in and outside of school.
  • Remember that success is a long game. We don’t enter kindergarten reading Shakespeare. We start with basic concepts and build from there. Similarly, it takes students years of practice to be competent in the five areas of SEL. But by practicing self-regulation, personal responsibility, and goal setting this year, you are helping set them up for future success.

Why Keeping Data is Important, Even If You’re Following a SEL Curriculum

In a perfect world, teachers could simply teach the curriculum and all students would meet the designated standards. Since this isn’t the case, educators of course use data to determine which students are on track and who needs extra support.
An example in an English classroom may look like this:
Mr. Johnson teaches a thesis statement in his first unit of the year. His student Rashawn doesn’t understand thesis statements, and his grade on his Of Mice and Men essay reflects that. Mr. Johnson works with Rashawn on thesis statement revisions and embeds further thesis practice into whole-class and small-group lessons. When Rashawn begins writing his next essay, he feels more prepared to write a thesis statement.
Here, Mr. Johnson acknowledged that Rashawn struggled with thesis statements and retaught the concept, as well as added continued practice before the next assessment.
This is standard procedure for academics. Shouldn’t this same methodology be applied for teaching students other skills, such as self-regulation and engaging positively with peers?
When we step back and look at school as a place to prepare students for the future, it makes sense that their K-12 experience is integrated with routine practice to develop academic skills, but also practice for social, emotional, and executive functioning skills to set them up to be successful adults.

One Last Note About Measuring Your Social-Emotional Learning Efforts

While all of the above methods provide helpful metrics to measure SEL competencies, the best source of data collection is one educators will implement and use with fidelity. Planning, recording, and reflecting on data is a time investment, and it’s therefore imperative to choose sources that you will actually complete and find useful.
By just thinking about your SEL curriculum and measuring your students’ growth, you are on the right track to focusing your efforts in the classroom.

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