Measuring to Improve Your SEL Program Outcomes

Educator Impact

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While the demand to incorporate social emotional learning (SEL) is strong and growing, many schools have not adopted policies that prioritize a commitment to evidence-based data and assessments. A data-informed approach to SEL empowers educators to make the best decisions for their students and focus on the wellbeing of the “whole child.” Guiding principles that support a data-informed approach to SEL give schools and alternative learning environments a strong framework within which to build, expand, and continuously improve an effective SEL program and curriculum.

Improving a SEL Program: Four Guiding Principles

Use research to deepen understanding.

According to Transforming Education, “What matters needs to be measured, and SEL matters to student’s success.” Using timely data to understand students’ competencies and design programming to meet their needs in real time is crucial. By critically analyzing relevant research, schools can identify individual students’ needs as related to the core SEL competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. They can also identify trends influencing different cohorts—emergent bilingual students, for example. High-quality research provides leaders with usable information and builds confidence around making decisions that are inclusive and impactful.

Advance equity by ensuring that the data collection honors all subgroups and is bias-free.

Data triangulation, combining methods qualitative and quantitative, ensures that fundamental biases arising from the use of a single method or single observer are overcome and heightens the validity of outcomes and results in inclusive, equitable programs. It is always best to adopt a strength-based stance and build out while carefully analyzing and using the data to identify students’ assets and any systemic barriers. A strong SEL-infused curriculum can advance equity through its focus on relationship-based practice, uplifting and promoting the understanding of diverse individuals and communities, giving voice to everyone and engaging the entire learning community.

Leverage policy flexibility through ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) and other funding streams.

Funds have been increased for SEL as awareness around its importance and the impact of a strong SEL program has grown. Schools can take advantage of resources to expand SEL interventions that meet ESSA’s evidence-based, data-driven requirements. School improvement efforts, effective instruction, well-rounded education initiatives, and healthy and safe school conditions are intrinsic to SEL and align with ESSA policy.

Work toward continuous quality improvement and analysis.

Advancing a culture dedicated to frequent data collection ensures that practices are working for all students and guides future decisions. By choosing to analyze SEL competencies, schools will understand what is working and can be confident that resources have a meaningful impact. Using data effectively informs practice and builds capacity, which in turn, attracts resources. Nowadays, funders demand and expect high-quality data reflecting results, combined with anecdotal data from the people being directly impacted by their investments.

Schools and learning environments that want to fully embrace SEL should be asking themselves the tough questions:

  • Does every student in our school have at least one strong relationship with an adult?
  • Is our SEL program reaching every student in a culturally competent and equitable way?
  • Who is being left out and why? What do we need to do better?
  • Are there differences in students’ perceptions of safety, fairness, and expectations around achievement by race/ethnicity, poverty level, or disability status? What trends are we seeing?
  • Are we listening and being responsive to what the data is telling us?
  • Does our school have a management system based on prevention and changing behaviors rather than reaction or punishment? Are we fair-minded and willing to have the difficult conversations necessary to be so?
  • Are our teachers and other staff fully versed in SEL, and can they model it effectively in their classrooms? Is there room for improvement?

Answering these questions requires dedicated leadership and a multi-faceted approach that encourages sharing information, student and family participation, and community engagement. In addition, a crucial component of an effective SEL program includes high-quality research. Through comprehensive data collection, ei Pulse can provide answers to the tough questions and give educators a clear view into how SEL programming is working in real time.

ei Pulse is an inclusive technology platform that collects actionable wellbeing data on every student. It is easy to use and can be accessed from any smart device at any time. As schools implement programming that is reflective of the feedback, trust increases and usership grows. Students understand that they are being listened to and that their voices matter. The platform also promotes inclusivity and relationship-based practice. Vulnerable students can connect with a trusted adult on their own terms, when they are ready. Giving students choices empowers them and fosters positive decision-making.

Student wellbeing data and continuous quality improvement that leads to impactful SEL programming go hand in hand. The regular stream of meaningful data generated by ei Pulse provides schools with the information that they need to keep them ahead of the curve and helps ensure effective SEL for the entire learning community.

Here at Educator Impact, we help school leaders keep a pulse on their students’ wellbeing and empower them with tools that leverage real-time student insights to inform SEL strategies, identify which students need further support, and enable them to continually improve their SEL initiatives.


To see how we can help you do the same for your school community, feel free to reach out to our SEL and wellbeing experts today!