Developmental and Equity Lenses: Critical Criteria for Framing, Implementing, and Assessing SEL

By: Dale A. Blyth


This blog has previously noted the importance of SEL frameworks for implementation and assessment as well as the challenges and opportunities that come from the way we frame SEL efforts. The two latest briefs in our ongoing series of SEL Framework Briefs involve two critical criteria or lenses to use as we frame SEL – issues of development and issues of equity.


We know children develop and change as they grow – and with that growth there is both consistency and change over time in the types of social emotional competencies they need to address the wide variety of developmental tasks they face in different contexts.  Susanne Denham from George Mason University and a member of the Assessment Work Group responsible for the Measuring SEL work has authored a powerful brief on Keeping SEL Developmental: The Importance of a Developmental Lens for Fostering and Assessing SEL Competencies.  In it she examines both what changes and what stays the same as children grow and important ways to make sure your SEL efforts recognize and utilize a developmental lens.  The brief is a rich resource and reference on critical pieces on developmental thinking as it relates to and informs SEL. In particular the Denham brief notes the role and importance of standards or guidelines that help to spell out what SEL competencies look like at different points in development. As of late fall 2018 fourteen states currently have K-12 SEL standards but only ten have explicitly done so by grade levels or age groups.   Many other states are in the process of developing such standards.  These state standards will be the subject of a future brief in our Comparative Series after the first of the year.


Because of the depth of the developmental brief we also asked Elizabeth Noland and Elena Saavedra from the American Institutes for Research to create a shorter summary of the brief to make sure practitioners and policy makers could get the essential takeaways quickly.


While considering development may seem obvious when talking about the learning and development of SEL competencies, according to AIR’s Identifying, Defining, and Measuring Social and Emotional Competencies less than 10% of the 136 frameworks they identified clearly spelled out developmental changes.


The second set of briefs in the Special Issue Series of Framework Briefs tackle the critical issue of equity.  Perhaps surprisingly, more frameworks in the AIR study (but still less than 20%) at least acknowledged the importance of diversity and cultural issues.  Rob Jagers from CASEL (and also a member of the Assessment Work Group), and his co-authors Deborah Rivas-Drake (University of Michigan) and Teresa Borowski  (University of Illinois at Chicago) provide a rich and in depth look at some of the issues and approaches around equity and SEL in their brief Equity and Social and Emotional Learning: A Cultural Analysis. This brief situates equity and SEL in a cultural and historical context and suggest the importance of working toward a transformative approach to SEL.  It also examines the CASEL 5 framework through an equity lens to suggest ways such existing frameworks can more fully incorporate equity issues.  The brief is a rich source of references about promising approaches, programs, and practices that are advancing equity-elaborated SEL from cultural integration to promoting ethnic-racial identity development.  Especially noted is the importance of addressing adult SEL in this area.


Once again, because of the importance of the topic and depth of the full brief, we asked Elena Saavedra and Elizabeth Nolan from AIR to adapt the brief into a summary that would be a quicker read for busy practitioners and policy makers.


Altogether, these briefs highlight the critical importance of both development and equity lenses to effectively understanding and advancing SEL efforts – from the frames we select to the strategies for implementation to the ways we assess SEL competencies. We hope they help advance the field’s thinking and inspire needed action in these areas.


If you have thoughts on or examples of work in either of these areas, please use the comment box below to share them with our readers.

Posted in:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *