Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

  • Social and Emotional Learning in the New Federal Education Law

    CASEL has joined a growing number of educational organizations across the country in welcoming and applauding the new federal education legislation, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which President Obama signed into law in December 2015. Particularly important are provisions in the law that support SEL. The law includes the following:

    A broader definition of student success. ESSA allows more flexibility to states and local school districts in defining and assessing student success. As part of a state’s newly designed accountability system, at least one additional “nonacademic” indicator of school quality/student success is now allowed. Indicators must be valid, comparable, reliable, and statewide. Student engagement, school climate, and safety, for example, could be among the indicators.

    Language that encourages schools to “establish learning environments and enhance students’ effective learning skills that are essential for school readiness and academic success.” This language appears in two places: in Title II, referring to funds for professional development for teachers, principals, and other school leaders; and in the new program called Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants in Title IV, Part A. This grant program will allow local education agencies to select and implement activities for a variety of uses.

    In Title IV, specific recommendations for “activities to support safe and healthy students.” These include fostering “safe, healthy, supportive, and drug free environments that support student academic achievement,” helping to prevent bullying and harassment, improving “instructional practices for developing relationship-building skills, such as effective communication,” providing “mentoring and school counseling to all students,” and “implementation of schoolwide positive behavioral interventions and supports.”

  • State Planning for ESSA and SEL

    CASEL has published a brief summarizing five key strategies states are using to incorporate SEL into their state plans for ESSA. Watch the webinar discussing the brief.


    The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the Aspen Institute released a 2016 framework showing states how to use ESSA to improve equity in opportunities and outcomes. Addressing students’ SEL is one of the eight recommended priorities.


    The National Association of State Boards of Education published guidelines that include multiple indicators of student success, among them social and emotional learning, for incorporation into states’ ESSA applications (May 2017).


A broader approach to professional development and learning. The new law says that professional development must be “sustained (not stand-alone, one-day, and short-term workshops), intensive, collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, and classroom focused.”

The inclusion of “specialized instructional support personnel” in developing state and district school improvement plans, identifying and supporting students most at risk of school failure, addressing school climate and school safety, and supporting the mental and behavioral health of students.

The School Improvement Program (SIG) and its required interventions are eliminated in the new law. However, beginning in FY2017, states must reserve the greater of: 7% of Title I: Part A funds or the amount the state reserved under Title I-A for school improvement in FY2016 plus the amount the state received under the SIG program for school improvement. ESSA replaces the requirements of the former No Child Left Behind law and allows more leeway to states and school districts in creating their school improvement plans, which can include social and emotional growth as part of a school’s improvement strategies.

A new evidence-based research and innovation program called Education Innovation and Research, similar to the Investing in Innovation program, is established. The program establishes a dedicated funding stream to support the development and scale up of evidence-based practices that encourage innovations in policy and practice.

CASEL will continue to be involved in providing guidance, support, and technical assistance to states and districts across the nation in order to assist with the law’s implementation.

Read the guidelines for Title IV, Part A, published by the Department of Education on Oct. 21, 2016.

Read background information about ESSA here, including the text of the bill, fact sheets, and other materials.