District Practices in Setting Goals for Social-Emotional Learning Vary Greatly

Associate Editor

About 60 percent of principals and teachers say they set goals for students’ growth in social-emotional learning, according to a study released earlier this year by the RAND Corporation.

Principals in urban districts are more likely to say that their administrators are setting SEL goals. A 20-point difference exists between urban and non-urban principals on this question of district-wide goal-setting.

In both urban and non-urban districts, principals were more likely to report setting goals for improvement in social-emotional learning at their schools than were teachers in classrooms, the researchers found in their nationally representative survey. But principals and teachers are often not on the same page when it comes to setting objectives: 58 percent of principals say they set goals, but only 44 percent of teachers say their principals do.

The disconnect between teachers and principals could be explained by the fact that SEL is relatively new as a “standalone concept” that educators are monitoring, said Christopher Joseph Doss, the lead author of the study, in an interview. “For a new space, this is not necessarily uncommon,” he said, and teachers may be setting goals informally rather than formally.

From a district-level perspective, more urban principals indicated that their districts set goals for SEL growth (58 percent) than do nonurban principals (37 percent.)

Although the study does not address how schools are pursuing their goals, these aims can be an important precursor to decisions that will be made about SEL curricula or programs that schools are developing or purchasing. Exclusive research from EdWeek Market Brief found that demand for SEL products is high—and expected to grow—this year.

Doss said the vendor’s viewpoint is not part of the RAND research, but he added, “What principals and vendors should ideally be doing is figuring out what the goals are and tailoring the product to those goals.”

An exclusive survey for EdWeek Market Brief members found that concerns about how to measure success in social-emotional learning weighs on district leaders, too.

Assessments in SEL are a missing piece for many districts, the RAND researchers concluded.

“SEL is a relatively new field to be teaching as a skill in its own right,” said Doss. “The assessment world needs to figure out what validated, reliable assessments can be administered” in schools for social-emotional learning, he added.

Many districts see assessments—often in the form of surveys related to school climate—as an SEL need, to be paired with efforts to improve curriculum and other steps, as my colleague Sean Cavanagh has covered in a recent Market Brief story about what districts are buying to address their social-emotional learning needs.

The findings were based on two questions answered in 2017 by a panel of 13,800 teachers and 4,500 principals.

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