Bridging Research & Practice to Expand the Definition of Student Success

By Katie Buckley & Sara Krachman


A large and growing body of research demonstrates that success in life requires both academic and social-emotional skills. When young people develop these interconnected sets of competencies, they are more likely to be healthy, engaged in their communities, financially secure, and empowered to pursue goals of their own choosing. Inspired by this body of research, Transforming Education (TransformEd) and NewSchools Venture Fund (NewSchools) have embarked on a multi-year partnership to support schools in expanding their definition of student success to include academics, social-emotional competencies, and the positive learning environments that support students’ development in both of these domains. Through this partnership, TransformEd provides school leaders with the data, research, and support they need to improve student outcomes. We also seek to conduct novel research that is relevant to educators and that contributes to the broader national dialogue around expanding the definition of student success.


To further these goals, we have been collecting data on students’ social-emotional development as well as students’ and teachers’ perceptions of school culture and climate across more than 40 schools in NewSchools’ Invent portfolio for the past two years. To make these data actionable, we have conducted twice-yearly meetings with participating schools in which we focus on helping school leaders understand their data and identifying appropriate next steps to improve school culture and foster healthy social-emotional development. In the second year of this partnership (school year 2017-18), we have seen leaders truly embrace the portfolio’s shared definition of success and begin to use data more actively to help educators throughout their schools in order to support students’ holistic development.


Through this partnership, we also aim to bridge the research-practice divide by working with participating schools, NewSchools Venture Fund, and a range of external experts to explore research questions that are relevant to educators. As Jones, Farrington, Brackett and Jagers suggest in their recent report for the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development, next generation research “requires a new practice-based science of social, emotional, and academic development that is relevant and responsive, organized around practical questions and knowledge of developmental needs and developmental interactions, situated in the real-word, and executed by practitioner-researcher teams.”[1]


In that vein, we tackled a number of research and learning questions during the 2017-18 school year, all of which focus on understanding which factors influence students’ social-emotional development and using social-emotional and school climate data to inform the work of educators. First, we explored the validity of the social-emotional and culture/climate surveys used as a tool to inform instructional practice. Next, we looked at the relationship between student and teacher reports of social-emotional competencies. Third, we explored the various factors that influence students’ perceptions of the school climate/culture. And finally, we identified a number of schools that demonstrate consistently strong social-emotional and culture/climate outcomes so that we can learn more about what’s working within these exemplar schools.


Ultimately, we believe that focusing on an expanded definition of student success can empower young people to chart their own course and catalyze more equitable outcomes for the next generation. In order to realize this vision, we must continuously draw from the latest research on psychology, neuroscience, and related fields and make those findings actionable for educators. At the same time, we must identify the bright spots that already exist within our nation’s schools and seek to understand what they can teach us about how to support all students – particularly those from marginalized groups – in reaching their full potential. If we do both of these things well, then our work has the power to transform education for our nation’s young people so that all students can thrive.


For further information on the NewSchools-TransformEd partnership, including how we selected the components of this expanded definition of student success, see Embracing and Measuring an Expanded Definition of Student Success.


These components comprise the expanded definition of student success co-developed by NewSchools Venture Fund and Transforming Education.



Jones, S., Farrington, C., Brackett, M., and Jagers, R. (2018) Social, Emotional, and Academic Development: A Research Agenda for the Next Generation. The Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, & Academic Development, p. 6.


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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