Assessing SEL in School-Community Partnerships

By: Saskia Traill, Senior Vice President, ExpandED Schools

ExpandED Schools helps schools and partnering after-school providers create a shared vision for working with young people. The schools and community-based organizations (CBOs) bring together their resources and expertise to give youth more opportunities to develop their talents and develop as a whole child—including socially, emotionally and academically. The result is a holistic and coherent learning day with a range of educators, including certified teachers, teaching artists, and youth development professionals.

Over the past three years, with a generous grant from the New York Life Foundation, we focused on the depth and integration of SEL to reach all young people in participating middle schools along with their after-school providers. We found that a more intentional and aligned focus on SEL enables school-CBO teams to:

  • Build adult competencies to support their own social and emotional well-being and model social and emotional competencies;
  • Offer more time in the day for young people to develop socially and emotionally through both school-day and after-school activity selection and lesson planning;
  • Support direct instruction for SEL grounded in strong pedagogy and youth development;
  • Integrate practices throughout the learning day to ensure terminologies, practices, and focus areas amplify each other rather than drown each other out or compete for young people’s attention.

To assess our SEL efforts, ExpandED uses a continuous improvement model in which our research team and coaches work together with school teams to support data analysis. As an after-school intermediary supporting school teams, we leverage the role of the Program Manager as SEL coaches. They serve as liaisons from ExpandED to school teams in implementation and assessment, facilitating data conversations with their school teams, weaving in their knowledge of the nuances at each site and connecting their plans to that team’s particular SEL strategy. Behind the scenes, our research staff oversees the collection of data from all school-CBO partners in the network. This includes SEL measures selected by the school-CBO team aligned to their social-emotional learning goals, and other information they may want to connect to social-emotional competencies, such as enrollment, program and activity attendance data, and academic progress. Data are translated into a visual format that is easily accessible to a broad audience with varying data and research backgrounds.

We meet internally to walk through a sample site’s results to ensure that all Program Managers feel prepared to facilitate a discussion with school teams. And, we discuss patterns across the partnerships to uncover common challenges and successes. This analysis allows coaches to provide additional context to the data when sharing back with their school-CBO teams, and allows ExpandED to identify teams that are especially successful to which we can turn for best practices.

Equipped with this pre-analysis and cross-site review, Program Managers then return to each school-CBO team to serve as data coaches, discussing the results and developing course corrections and future action steps. They solicit feedback, which is shared back with the research team, ensuring our research team is listening and responding to the voices of the school-CBO teams to meet their needs as they evolve. This process was highlighted by the Bridgespan Group in 2016 (See Figure 1).


Figure 1. ExpandED’s continuous improvement cycle (Brohawn, 2016).


Since ExpandED began focusing on the importance of coherence of SEL in school-community partnerships, and implemented this continuous improvement process as an after-school intermediary and across school-CBO teams, we have learned a few key lessons:

Select assessments that build engagement among all adults. Our most successful schools built in time and strategy to build engagement among all adults, including the most reluctant, so that long-term implementation and assessment would be effective. Their assessment plan matched this strategy. They selected assessment tools and processes that bolstered the partnership, avoiding tools that might overburden some staff or preference one group’s goals over another. For example, while team members deeply invested in SEL understood that SEL does more than reduce negative behaviors in the classroom, in some schools, we assessed those measures to build buy-in for adults who were initially motivated by those desires, and then built their understanding about aspects of SEL that go beyond behavior expectations, such as agency and belonging.

Focus on continuous improvement in assessment to build partnerships. We found it critical to have a multi-step continuous improvement process in which coaches and a research team helped organize the collection of relevant data, analysis and presentation, and development of future action steps. Researchers also collected and analyzed information on the impact of our work and outcomes for students to demonstrate the importance of SEL to leaders, but the focus of our discussions with practitioners was on improvement.

Build system-level buy-in for aligned goals. Assessing SEL across the work of school and CBO teams requires alignment in their strategies and goals. This is facilitated by system alignment. In New York City, for example, the Department of Education (DOE) and the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) oversee school-day and after-school learning, respectively. Both agencies adopted the CASEL framework. This alignment between agencies has helped to create a common framework for stakeholders throughout the city to talk about SEL and accelerate the success of efforts by individual schools and CBOs.

The selection of assessments is one of the most dynamic areas of our process to implement SEL. The availability of strong assessments has changed markedly since we began working with our schools, and we continue to explore which assessments will engage new adults in the process of SEL, ensure thoughtful discussion about continuous improvement, and help us as a field identify and amplify best practice. Our SEL work has been in deep collaboration and partnership with Every Hour Counts, and many of the intermediaries within its network. We look forward to continuing to evolve with an ever-growing field.

Please reach out with questions and ideas at You can read more about ExpandED’s work in SEL in Social and Emotional Learning in Out-Of-School Time Foundations and Futures.



Disclaimer: The Assessment Work Group is committed to enabling a rich dialogue on key issues in the field and seeking out diverse perspectives. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Assessment Work Group, CASEL or any of the organizations involved with the work group.

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