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States Skip Social Emotional Learning for Accountability Under ESSA — But That Doesn’t Mean It’s Not In Their Plans


October 10, 2017
Kate Stringer
The 74

The Every Student Succeeds Act’s notorious fifth indicator left the door wide-open for states to measure student achievement in ways other than academic, but when it came time to choose, social emotional learning skills were largely ignored.

That’s according to an analysis by Education Week, which looked at all the ESSA plans handed in (though not all approved) to the U.S. Department of Education. While several states did include school climate surveys, most chose measurements like chronic absenteeism and college and career readiness to paint their more “holistic” vision of student success.

But just because states don’t include social emotional learning as an accountability measure doesn’t mean they haven’t incorporated them into their ESSA plans. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning — CASEL — reported, for example, that Massachusetts will include SEL training in its professional development for teachers, Connecticut will use federal funds to improve learning environments in schools, and South Carolina incorporates skills like “self-direction” and “perseverance” in its graduate framework.

Measuring soft skills like perseverance, empathy, or self-control is not only difficult, but it could also prove risky under the harsh spotlight of federal accountability laws, researchers said.

“It’s not an easy thing to put into the accountability system if you’re not already doing it statewide,” Linda Darling-Hammond, president and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute, told The 74 in April. “It makes sense to me that very few states would be incorporating school climate into their accountability systems.”