Ch 1: About the Guide

  • The four goals of the Guide are:

    • To provide a systematic framework for evaluating the quality of classroom-based social and emotional learning (SEL) programs;
    • To apply this framework to rate and identify well-designed, evidence-based SEL programs with potential for broad dissemination to schools across the United States;
    • To share best-practice guidelines for district and school teams on how to select and implement SEL programs; and
    • To offer recommendations for future priorities to advance SEL research, practice, and policy.

    SEL: Social and emotional learning involves the processes through which children 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. These intrapersonal and interpersonal competencies can be taught and measured, and research shows that students with these skills do better in school and in life (National Research Council, 2009, 2012; Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011; Goleman, 2005; Greenberg et al., 2003).

    Why evidence-based programs: CASEL strives to advance SEL science, evidence-based practice, and policy. We strongly recommend that schools use evidence-based classroom SEL programs as a core component of their efforts to promote students’ social, emotional, and academic learning. When implemented well, these programs have a documented record of significantly improving school climate as well as students’ behavior and academic performance. Many SEL programs are available to schools, but not all of them have been carefully evaluated to determine their quality and impact. This Guide highlights effective programs—we call them “CASEL SELect”—and provides information for educators on how to select and implement them. CASEL views this Guide as a valuable resource for educational leaders and teams aspiring to implement research-based approaches to promote students’ social-emotional development and academic performance. The Guide will also be helpful to program developers who seek to improve their SEL programs, researchers who evaluate SEL programs, and policymakers who want to encourage the use of best educational practices.

    History: CASEL published its first review of SEL programs almost 15 years ago. Many advances in SEL research, practice, and policy have occurred since the publication of Safe and Sound: An Educational Leader’s Guide to Evidence-Based Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Programs (CASEL, 2003). For example:

    • A growing body of research links SEL to improved attitudes about school, prosocial behavior, and academic achievement, and reductions in aggression, mental health problems, and substance use
      (Durlak et al., 2011; Greenberg et al., 2003; Zins, Weissberg, Wang, & Walberg, 2004)
    • There is increased interest in going beyond classroom-based implementation of one SEL program to coordinated, systemic school-wide and district-wide SEL programming
      (Devaney, O’Brien, Resnik, Keister, & Weissberg, 2006; CASEL, 2013)
    • A scan of 50 states indicates that many states have established preschool through high school student learning standards that emphasize social and emotional competence
      (Dusenbury, Zadrazil, Mart, & Weissberg, 2011)

    Because of the advances in SEL research and practice over the past few years, the current CASEL Guide differs in several ways from Safe and Sound. Most notably, the current Guide is more selective and the criteria for inclusion are more rigorous than they were in the previous review.

    • Our criteria for characterizing programs as “evidence-based” are more stringent. We recommend programs that document improved student behavior only if their research included a comparison group in addition to pretest and post test measurement of behavior.
    • We have broadened the types of programs included in the current review to include lesson-based programs that provide explicit SEL skill instruction, teacher instructional practices and pedagogy, and programs that fully integrate SEL with academic content in specific core content areas.
    • In the previous review we included programs for grades K-12. The current Guide expands our coverage to include preschool approaches. There is increasing recognition of the importance of preschool education to support child development and school readiness (Denham & Weissberg, 2004; Magnuson & Shager, 2010). In fact, all 50 states have preschool social and emotional development student learning standards (Dusenbury et al., 2011). Early childhood education is now a clear priority in federal goals and legislation (e.g., Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge, 2012) as well as state education policies (Dusenbury et al., 2011), and preschool education has expanded in the past decade.
    • This Guide and any future ones will be more developmentally focused. Thus, we are separating the reviews of preschool, elementary, middle, and high school programming. The current Guide focuses on preschool and elementary (K-5) programs. The review of middle and high school programming will be released in 2013.

    Summary: this Guide provides educators with objective information about nationally available multi-year programs for general education classrooms. It summarizes findings in a clear, easy-to-read “consumer report” format, along with brief narrative descriptions of each program. If your district or school is just beginning work in this area, the Guide will help in your planning and selection of strong, evidence-based programs that serve your students’ needs. If you are seeking to deepen practice you have already begun, the Guide will help you reflect on and augment your efforts.