Tool measures how states are prioritizing social-emotional and academic development

A new tool developed by The Education Trust in collaboration with CASEL allows interested parties nationwide to view how their state is prioritizing students’ social-emotional and academic development (SEAD).

The resource looks at what states have already done, and what they could potentially do, to begin determining best practices and ensure local educational agencies are properly supporting young people as they deal with disruptions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the onset of the public health crisis, educators have reported students facing academic, behavioral and personal challenges that cause hardships related to learning, school engagement and overall mental health.

“While most children are facing these struggles, these challenges fall disproportionately on Black, Latino, and students from families who are low-income and rural,” according to Ed Trust. “U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy have called for increased investments in social and emotional learning as it has become clear that supportive school environments are central not only for students’ academic growth but also for their social and emotional development and well-being.”

The tool, which highlights what policy areas can holistically support students’ social-emotional needs and academic achievement, analyzes state policy in the categories of discipline; professional development; rigorous and culturally sustaining curriculum; student, family and community and engagement; and wraparound services.

California’s SEAD efforts were rated as follows:

  • Discipline: Partially supportive
  • Professional development: Most supportive
  • Rigorous and culturally sustaining curriculum: Supportive
  • Student, family and community engagement: Supportive
  • Wraparound services: Supportive

The state does not establish clear goals around decreasing the use of exclusionary discipline or disparities in discipline, according to the report. “The state should use its position to send a clear message to schools and districts that reducing exclusionary discipline and disparities in discipline is a priority,” Ed Trust states. “For a promising example, see New York’s Every Student Succeeds Act plan.”

The state also doesn’t have “human resources” within the California Department of Education to support LEAs with technical assistance and implementation of positive discipline practices. Ed Trust suggests it should consider establishing a state team, state lead or partner with an external organization make sure technical assistance is available to LEAs. It partially met ideal policy, guidance and funding actions and met data collection and supporting standards.

California was rated highly overall in terms of support for professional development, though there is still room for improvement. While the state has a “clear, actionable goal for professional development,” there isn’t specific language about providing the necessary skills to support student wellbeing.

California partially met the state goal of having established clear, actionable goals for using rigorous and culturally sustaining curricula and met the criteria for having clear, actionable goals to equitably enroll and ensure success in advanced coursework opportunities. It was cited, however, for issues such as failing to require LEAs to equitably enroll students in advanced coursework opportunities or provide guidance or funding to help expand enrollment in advance courses.

California met desired criteria under the student, family, and community engagement umbrella. Ed Trust cited positive actions like publicly reporting “disaggregated data about student, family, and community engagement with a climate survey at the school and district level” and explicitly including student, family and community engagement in ESSA and/or strategic plans alongside approaches that will be taken to ensure use of evidence-based practices at the district level.

For wraparound services, a majority of criteria surrounding state goals; policies, guidance and funding; and data collection and reporting were also met. Actions like improving student to school counselor ratios could be beneficial, however.

“Removing policies that undermine SEAD is not sufficient for states to receive high ratings in this analysis. State leaders should move beyond a compliance mindset and adopt clear goals to encourage schools and districts to prioritize social, emotional, and academic development,” according to Ed Trust. “Moreover, state leaders should provide clear and evidence-based guidance, policies, and resources to ensure schools and districts have the capacity to meet these goals and ensure data systems are strong enough to monitor progress … By using this tool as a starting point, state leaders and advocates can explore and adapt strong policies and ideas from other states to improve their own.”