New Criteria for Judging SEL Providers Unveiled by Influential Group

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An influential research organization focused on social-emotional learning has revised the criteria through which it judges the quality of programs created by commercial companies and other providers.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, or CASEL, announced the revisions, the first it has made in five years, this month.

The criteria will shape how companies and organizations are evaluated within the CASEL Guide to Effective Social and Emotional Learning Programs, a document billed as a Consumer Reports-style set of reviews for district officials looking for “well designed, evidence-based SEL programs” for their schools.

The guide is also written for federal, state, and district policymakers to identify practices and programs backed by evidence.

The full guide is scheduled to be updated in the coming year, and CASEL officials wanted to give program providers advance notice on the criteria on which they were going to be judged.

“It is a way to communicate to the field the evolution of the science, and how the field of SEL has been evolving in its research base and its evidence base,” said Alexandra Skoog-Hoffman, CASEL’s director of research-practice partnerships, in an interview.

Developers of SEL-focused materials typically apply to have their resources evaluated in CASEL’s program guide.

The guide has evolved as the research around SEL has evolved and become stronger, said Rob Jagers, the vice-president of research for CASEL.

To be considered for inclusion in the guide, SEL programs must be “universal,” or designed for use with all students, delivered during the school day, and created for students in the preschool to high school grade range, by all students, according to CASEL.

Programs must also have written documentation of their approach to promoting students’ social and emotional development and enough detail to ensure they can be delivered in a high-quality and consistent way.

“As the field grew, and the science and art of doing social-emotional learning programs grew,” Jagers said, which has given CASEL a greater ability to “identify high-quality, evidence-based programs.”

Among the new criteria CASEL will use to evaluate SEL programs:

  • The criteria will place a new emphasis on programs showing they can achieve a significant impact on a behavioral student outcome — not just academic outcomes. CASEL officials felt that it was important that programs show that they can influence schools and students beyond GPA and standardized test scores, though it also recognizes that those measures of achievement are also important.
  • Programs will be held to higher research standards. The new program guide will require that organizations submitting SEL programs for evaluation have a minimum of 100 participants in the final sample size, with the treatment and control groups roughly the same size. While the 100-participant measure is below the evidence standards in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, the organization believes it can still provide adequate “statistical power” to demonstrate a program’s influence on students and teachers, said Skoog-Hoffman.
  • The criteria put a stronger emphasis on programs improving student “belonging,” and “student connectedness” or how they perceive their engagement and belonging in their schools. CASEL points to research that shows that connection to school is a “cornerstone of high-quality” social-emotional learning programs.

Skoog-Hoffman said CASEL believes strongly in “communicating the evidence base” to districts and organizations developing products, and the revised criteria reflects that goal.

At the same time, CASEL officials also believe that their standards should reflect “practice-based evidence,” and evolve out of the perspectives of both educators and organizations trying to develop high-quality products for schools, Skoog-Hoffman said.

“We are trying to maximize the probability that social-emotional learning is appropriately integrated into the educational experience. That’s really the goal,” she said.

As such, she said, the organization wants to consider “we’re hearing from the field, and what are we hearing from practitioners and educators.”

The organization tries to juxtapose research on SEL from those in-school experiences, she said, to “inform not only what’s included in the guide, but how we support users of the guide.”

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