New CCRS Center Brief: Improving College and Career Readiness by Incorporating Social and Emotional Learning

On May 6, the College and  Career Readiness and Success (CCRS) Center and National  High School Center released a brief titled, Improving College and Career Readiness by Incorporating Social and Emotional LearningThe brief was written to assist state policymakers better understand how social and emotional learning (SEL) can help students to be college and career ready and includes a short description of what SEL is, why it is needed, and what it looks like in practice. In addition, examples of standards that support SEL at the federal and state levels, current SEL initiatives and programs, and outcomes and measures that can be used to assess SEL programming are described.

SEL involves the processes through which students and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. Research evidence suggests that these five core SEL competencies can help students develop other academic and lifelong learning skills, including higher-order thinking skills (e.g., problem solving, critical thinking), academic success and employability skills (e.g., organization, teamwork), and civic/consumer/life skills (e.g., civic engagement, social media). These skills have been identified by today’s employers and educators as important for success in the workplace and postsecondary settings.

The brief discusses how SEL can be incorporated into college and career readiness initiatives within the context of the three strands of the CCRS Center’s College and Career Development Organizer:

  • Goals and Expectations. Standards exist at the federal, state, and organization level which support SEL programs and practices. For example, Illinois, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and New York have adopted policies that support the inclusion of SEL in K-12 education settings. Several additional states (e.g., Washington, Vermont) and organizations that develop national curriculum standards (e.g., Joint Commission on National Health Education Standards and National Council for the Social Studies) have adopted standards that incorporate one or more SEL skills.
  • Pathways and Supports. There are major initiatives and specific evidence-based programs that support students’ acquisition of SEL skills. Descriptions of the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments, The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the RULER Approach, and the Collaborating Districts Initiative are shared as examples of three major initiatives advancing the field of SEL. In addition, the brief highlights three SEL programs: Check and ConnectLions Quest Skills for Action, and Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.
  • Outcomes and measures. It is important to collect information on both program outcome measures (i.e., measures focused on assessing the impacts of programs on students, adults, and schools) and program implementation measures (i.e., measures focused on understanding how well and which part of the program is being implemented) associated with SEL programming. Examples of both types of measures as well as how to align measures to different outcomes associated with SEL programs are discussed.

The brief concludes with specific recommendations for how states can support schools and districts to implement SEL based on these three strands of college and career readiness.  For example, regarding goals and expectations, statewide standards for SEL should be established and supports should be provided to help teachers, district-level, and school-level practitioners create explicit links between content standards and SEL skills. Regarding pathways and supports, structures should be put in place to help districts and schools develop comprehensive SEL supports and programs, and foster collaborations so that students receive coordinated SEL programming in and out of school as they transition through the PK-20 spectrum. Regarding outcomes and measures, schools should provide teachers with professional development and time to help teachers gather data on program implementation and program impacts and use this data to inform their classroom practices.

Allison Dymnicki, Ph.D, is a researcher at the American Institutes for Research.

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