Innovation Zone Approach to SEL Accountability & Improvement

Innovation Zone Approach to SEL Accountability & Improvement

by Noah Bookman, Core Districts

The CORE Districts have long been proponents of measuring student social emotional learning. There is powerful evidence that academic outcomes improve when schools focus on SEL.  As California develops its Every Student Succeeds Plan, we are urging policymakers to create an Innovation Zone wherein social emotional learning and other locally-focused improvement measures can count for accountability purposes beginning in the 2017 school year.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) supports states’ ability to promote the kind of innovation that has prioritized student social emotional learning in many districts. Under ESSA, as compared to NCLB, states have greater authority to design accountability systems that best advance positive education change. ESSA includes a waiver provision that gives states authority to pursue innovative ideas beyond statutory requirements to further improve student outcomes.

The CORE Districts’ goal is to uphold local control and accountability in California’s accountability system by allowing any interested local educational agency to choose to participate in an Innovation Zone. Districts that volunteer would be held accountable for all the state’s accountability measures, plus measures, such as SEL, that the state and local educational agencies agree should be tested and measured for future inclusion in the state’s accountability system.

Currently, there are 50 urban, rural and suburban school districts sharing state and locally-generated data in the CORE network on academic growth, high school readiness, SEL and school culture climate that could consider being partners in California’s Innovation Zone.

What schools, districts and states measure matters. Measurements are the focus for local educators. The CORE Districts believe that SEL should be counted in the Innovation Zone so they continue to matter locally. An Innovation Zone would allow California to benefit from local learning, keeping continuous improvement front and center in the state’s new accountability system.

Continuous improvement means constantly looking at data and then changing practice based on what is working best to improve student learning.  California can continue be a national leader on education policy by establishing an Innovation Zone that allows local education agencies to partner with the state to improve our new school accountability system over time.

California State Board of Education president Mike Kirst, describes California’s new school accountability system as a “work in progress.”  He says that it “will be a far more valuable tool one year from now and three years… as feedback is incorporated.” We are confident that an Innovation Zone can help further the kind of continuous improvement Kirst and other education policy leaders envision.


What do you think an Innovation Zone should look like?

Would you want to work in a SEL innovation Zone as proposed in California?  Why or why Not?



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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  1. If we are really about setting up a continuous improvement framework rather than a point and blame culture, then the Innovation Zone becomes a viable sandbox for inquiry into how schools can get better. SEL needs to be a part of our inquiry.

  2. I think SEL is imperative in students’ success in school. Not only academically during the school years, but beyond. Goldstone Park Elementary in Surrey BC, Canada has been focusing on SEL since the school’s opening. The students are taught through an empathetic and compassionate approach and the there is a large focus on community. The administration at the school is instrumental in providing a safe learning and teaching environment. Strong bonds are made between teachers and students, teachers and parents, and with in the community as a whole.

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