One District’s Journey: From Commitment to Assessment

By: Christine Igoe and Lisa Xagas, Naperville District 203

Background Information

Naperville Community School District 203 (D203), located in the western suburbs outside of Chicago, serves nearly 17,000 EC-12 students. In the 2013-2014 school year, the district spearheaded a community engagement series to gather feedback and input for developing Focus 2020, the district five year strategic plan.  At that time, the community, families, and staff expressed the need to educate the whole child to ensure students learned not only academic content but also gained the social-emotional skills necessary to be successful in life.  As a result, the journey towards a comprehensive social-emotional learning plan became a key initiative within the district five year strategic plan.

Initial planning began by establishing a partnership with CASEL and engaging in an extensive review of research which lead to the development of the vision, mission, and belief statements that guided all future work. Building from the foundation, the team developed a framework for implementation which included 4 key components:

  • building a comprehensive professional learning plan to build knowledge and expertise of the core components of SEL for all teachers, administrators, and staff;
  • actively engaging parents in the learning and supporting of SEL in the home;
  • developing a comprehensive curriculum that includes explicit instruction, and systematic integration of skills into content; and
  • ensuring each classroom and school has a positive climate and culture.

To construct  a comprehensive SEL curriculum, we employed the same curriculum development process that is applied to all other content areas.  A diverse group of EC-12 classroom teachers came together to:

  • Develop a deeper understanding of the Illinois SEL learning standards;
  • Establish year long curriculum maps that allow for natural and logical progression of skills from one grade level to the next;
  • Create core unit maps, design or select common assessments, and identify resources to support the implementation of the maps; and
  • Create a plan to evaluate the effectiveness of the new curriculum.

Measuring Proficiency

A key component of any curriculum writing process is determining assessments for the purpose of evaluating student’s progress towards the standards, as well as, determining the overall effectiveness of the curriculum. At the core of our curriculum was the idea that social-emotional skills can and should be taught to all students.  Therefore, it was imperative that our assessments measure skill attainment similarly to core content areas such as literacy or math.

Throughout our journey, the committee considered numerous SEL assessments that were commercially available, but failed to find any that aligned with the district curriculum or the Illinois SEL standards. The team also considered adopting rating scales and perception surveys but determined that they did not align with the district philosophy or CASEL’s guidance to use formative assessment measures when assessing social-emotional skills.  Ultimately, the team determined the assessment tool needed to be internally created.

The committee identified priority standards for each grade level and created performance based rubrics to measure proficiency.   As a standards-based reporting district, the committee adopted the language used to represent proficiency in other content areas: beginning, approaching, and secure.  It is important to note, the team deliberately excluded the exemplary category on the SEL rubrics as our main goal is to ensure students are secure in these skills and not to extend or enrich learning experiences beyond the standards.  This was a change from other content areas but aligns to the district’s MTSS process.


REPORTING STANDARD Sets a short-term goal and monitors progress toward achieving the goal. (1C.2a, 1C.2b)
Beginning – 1 Approaching – 2 Secure – 3
With teacher modeling and support, sets a short-term goal.


Sets a short-term goal and monitors progress on achieving a short-term personal goal with support. Sets a short-term goal and monitors progress on achieving a short-term personal goal with minimal support.

The figure above provides an example of a 4th grade performance rubric.  The rubric language identifies the level of proficiency required to demonstrate mastery of the priority standard.

In year 1 of SEL curriculum implementation the curriculum team piloted the performance rubrics by gathering evidence to support how a student was growing towards the priority standards.   Initial feedback from the team was related to the importance of using the rubrics as a formative assessment tool and not as an avenue to identify student’s deficits.   As a result of the pilot, the curriculum team revised the rubric language to ensure a stronger focus on strengths.

Reporting Proficiency

The district believes the purpose of the report card is to communicate students’ progress toward specific standards so that teachers, students, and parents/guardians can work together to advance student learning. At the core of our beliefs is that social-emotional skills are as critical to student success as academic skills.  And, similarly to academics, social-emotional skill acquisition should be measured and reported to students and parents. After multiple conversations with our community, staff and teachers, it became clear that the SEL priority skills should also be included in the report cards.  In the fall of 2018, SEL reporting standards were included on the K-5 report card and were piloted in grades 6-8.

In preparation for the launch of adding SEL standards to the report card, the SEL curriculum team developed guidebooks, mirroring the structure of the content area teacher guides, in an effort to provide additional support through the implementation.  The SEL/SBR guidebooks contain the reporting standard, reporting timeline, performance rubrics, and possible evidence the teacher may collect to determine student’s level of proficiency.  Some examples from the guidebook are below.

Example: 2nd Grade

Example: 4th Grade

Prior to the launch, classroom teachers were provided opportunities to engage in learning modules within their PLC teams to deepen their understanding of the philosophy behind measuring and reporting on student’s mastery of the social-emotional learning benchmarks.

Teachers were provided with a common slideshow for curriculum nights presentations that shared the rationale and logistics of SEL reporting with families.  Parents were also provided a grade level SEL snapshot to share the priority skills, along with strategies for reinforcement of these skills within the home.

Moving forward in our journey, data regarding student’s proficiency in each standard will be utilized to measure programmatic success in addition to individual student growth.  Reflection and feedback from classroom teachers will be gathered annually and revisions to the curriculum and performance rubrics will be completed as necessary based upon an analysis of the feedback and data from student report cards..   Additionally, SEL reporting will grow to junior high and high school students in the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years.

As you initiate or continue your SEL journey, what are you hoping to accomplish with students?  How will you measure success?


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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