Rating Framework

Tables 1 and 2 rate preschool programs. Tables 3 and 4 rate elementary school (K-5) programs. Tables 1 and 3 present “Program Design and Implementation Support” ratings. Tables 2 and 4 show “Evidence of Effectiveness” ratings. A few programs provide lessons for both preschool and elementary-school students. For these programs, placement in just one set of tables or both was determined based on whether they conducted research studies documenting behavioral impacts in social or academic domains with preschool and/or elementary-school students.

The tables incorporate a standard set of symbols. An empty circle indicates a minimal level of a particular element. A half circle indicates an adequate level, and a full circle indicates the element can be found extensively in the program. Each of the levels is explained in greater detail in the following descriptions.

For some elements we use a check mark to indicate whether the element is present in the program or not. The content of the ratings is based only on a review of the preschool and/or elementary school materials even though some programs have materials available for students beyond fifth grade. 

Tables 1 and 3 list programs in alphabetical order focused on program design and implementation support. These tables provide information about seven topics: (1) grade range covered, (2) availability of a grade-by-grade scope and sequence, (3) average number of sessions per year, (4) classroom approaches to teaching SEL, (5) opportunities to practice SEL skills, (6) contexts that promote and reinforce SEL, and (7) assessment tools for monitoring implementation and student behavior.

  • Grade range covered. For each program in the table, we list the grade levels for which there are classroom lesson plans and training materials.
  • Grade-by-grade sequence. Ideally, every student should receive planned, ongoing, systematic SEL education every year from preschool through elementary school. Some programs provide guidance and lesson plans for preschool through grade 5 while others only target a subset of grades or involve repetition if the materials are used in multiple grades. A check mark for this element indicates when the materials allow for sequenced programming for each grade level across the grade range covered. If this element is blank, we provide additional information about grade levels covered in the program description in Appendix A.
  • Average number of sessions per year. The program design table indicates the average number of sessions each year, where ”session” is defined as a set of activities designed to take place in a single time period on one day. Programs vary in terms of the amount of class time they provide or require, ranging from 8 to 140 sessions annually. Some programs do not have a defined set of lessons, and instead enhance teacher practices and methods generally. For those approaches, number of sessions or length is not applicable, since the program is designed to change the overall climate and culture through ongoing classroom instruction. These programs receive a “not applicable” (N/A) rating for this element.
  • Classroom approaches to teaching SEL. We rated three primary research-based approaches to the classroom-based promotion of SEL.
  1.  Explicit SEL skills instruction. Some programs provide explicit lesson plans with content and instruction designed specifically to promote social and emotional skills. These lessons typically focus on teaching skills that can be broadly applied to a variety of situations such as making friends, working cooperatively with others, coping with stress, making decisions about potentially risky behaviors, and resolving interpersonal conflicts. Such programs may also include positive youth development efforts in domains such as health, citizenship, or character development or strategies to prevent problem behavior such as violence, substance use, or bullying. A program was considered an “explicit skills instruction” approach when it contained lesson plans and when coders could identify specific examples of where and how social and emotional competencies were explicitly taught.
  2. Integration with core academic subjects. Some programs embed the teaching of social and emotional skills in a core academic subject. A program was considered “integrating with academics” when it had lessons that covered core academic content while also developing social and emotional competencies. For these, the core academic subject area is noted. For example, a program that integrates with English Language Arts (ELA) might use literature to promote perspective taking through character analysis, or it may ask students to identify alternative solutions or anticipate consequences of situations while reading. Many programs suggest optional strategies for integrating SEL into a core academic subject area, and this is noted in the table.
  3. Teacher instructional practices. Some classroom-based programs focus on instructional processes, pedagogies, and management approaches to promote a positive classroom climate. These programs actively engage students in learning at the same time they support social and emotional development. A program was considered to promote “teacher instructional practices” when it focused primarily on creating a positive classroom experience through pedagogical methods or classroom routines. These practices (e.g., authentic praise, involving students in decision making) support positive relationships among teachers and students and foster conditions for learning.

Some programs use more than one approach, and the above categories are not mutually exclusive. For this element programs were rated according to whether they included each method as a primary emphasis.

  • Opportunities to practice social and emotional skills. Practicing newly learned behaviors is an essential component for developing social and emotional skills (Durlak et al, 2010; Durlak et al., 2011). Practice that takes place outside the lesson in real-world settings has the potential to be especially powerful. By definition all SELect programs provide students with opportunities to practice SEL skills. The rating for this element reflects the extent to which the programs provide active learning opportunities during or beyond classroom sessions. Programs received the highest rating if they provided consistent opportunities for practice of skills both within classroom lessons and beyond lessons in daily situations. Practice within the program typically includes role plays or guided self-management techniques. Practice beyond the program lessons includes applications of social and emotional skills to real-life situations, such as using self-calming or problem-solving skills during      classroom or playground conflicts. The mid-level rating was given if programs provided these opportunities only during program sessions. Given the inclusion criteria, no programs received the lowest rating on this element.
  • Contexts that promote and reinforce SEL. Because of the importance of promoting and reinforcing SEL skills across multiple settings, each program was rated for the extent to which it provided practices for extending its concepts into four different contexts: (1) the classroom beyond the SEL program lessons, (2) schoolwide, (3) the family, and (4) the community.
  1.  Classroom beyond the SEL program lessons. All SELect programs include classroom-based lessons. Examples of practices that extend program concepts beyond the lessons include morning meetings, peace centers, and daily check-ins. These routines support SEL throughout the day in the classroom, particularly for those programs that contain explicit lessons conducted only at specific times in the day.
  2. Schoolwide. Examples of schoolwide practices include creating a process that promotes collaboration among and between different classrooms, grade levels, or through engaging nonteaching personnel in activities to promote students’ social and emotional competencies throughout the day.
  3. Family. A program received credit for extending into the family if it provided routine “homework” assignments to be completed with family members or offered SEL workshops with training for parents about social and emotional learning.
  4. Community. A program received credit for promoting SEL in the community if it provided opportunities for personal contacts, ongoing relationships, or interactive involvement of students and community members. This could take place in the classroom or outside the school building.
  • Assessment tools for monitoring implementation and student behavior. Programs sometimes offer tools to monitor implementation, either through teacher self-report measures or assessments completed by observers. Two columns in the table indicate whether or not each program provides these tools. The third column for this element indicates whether the program offers tools that can be used to assess the program’s impact on student behavior.

Tables 2 and 4 list the programs in alphabetical order focused on evidence of effectiveness. These tables present information and ratings for four topics: grade range covered, characteristics of research sample, study design, and evaluation outcomes. Additional details about the program evaluations can be found in the individual program descriptions in Appendix A.

  • Grade range covered: For each program we list the grade levels for which there are classroom lesson plans and training materials. In some cases this includes middle and high school. However, the ratings in this Guide are based on a review of only the preschool and/or elementary school materials.
  • Characteristics of research sample: The ratings for this element reflect four characteristics of the study sample in the qualifying evaluations: the grade levels, the geographic locations (urban, suburban, rural) where the studies were conducted, student race/ethnicity, and the percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch included in the study samples. Many of the preschool evaluation studies were conducted in Head Start programs. Given the income eligibility levels set by Head Start, we assumed all (100%) participants in those studies qualified for free and reduced lunch.
  • Study design. Ratings for this element are presented across two columns. They indicate whether there were quasi-experimental or randomized clinical trials and how many of each.
  • Evaluation outcomes: Evaluation outcome ratings are based on the outcomes reported in at least one qualifying evaluation study. The ratings for this element are represented in four columns. They represent the outcome domains that were reviewed for program inclusion. SELect programs had to demonstrate a positive impact on a behavioral or academic performance indicator in at least one of the domains[1]. A check mark indicates that a significant program effect was documented on an outcome in that domain as measured by observations, school records, or ratings made by teachers, parents, or students. The definitions of each outcome domain are:
  1. Improved academic performance: This includes significant program effects on student academic performance (i.e., grades, test scores).
  2. Improved positive social behaviors: This includes significant program effects on measures of positive social behavior (e.g., works well with others, positive peer relations, assertiveness, conflict resolution).
  3. Reduced conduct problems: This includes significant reductions on measures of conduct problems (e.g., aggressive or disruptive behavior).
  4. Reduced emotional distress: This includes significant reductions on measures of emotional distress (e.g., depressive symptoms, anxiety, or social withdrawal).

Because the purposes of the qualifying program evaluations varied, in some cases the evaluators may not have collected data on academic performance or conduct problems. The absence of a check for a particular outcome area may mean that a program has yet to assess its impact in that area.