CASEL Guide: Preschool and Elementary Edition

  • The CASEL Guide: Effective Social and Emotional Learning Programs—Preschool and Elementary School Edition provides a systematic framework for evaluating the quality of classroom-based SEL programs. It uses this framework to rate and identify well-designed, evidence-based SEL programs with potential for broad dissemination to schools across the United States. The primary goal of the Guide is to give educators information for selecting and implementing SEL programs in their districts and schools. It also documents the significant advances the SEL field has made in the past decade, establishes new and more rigorous standards for SEL program adoption, and provides suggestions for next steps for SEL research and practice.

    Although many worthwhile programs are currently available, to be included in the CASEL Guide and designated as CASEL SELect, programs had to:

    • Be well-designed classroom-based programs that systematically promote students’ social and emotional competence, provide opportunities for practice, and offer multi-year programming.
    • Deliver high-quality training and other implementation supports, including initial training and ongoing support to ensure sound implementation.
    • Be evidence-based with at least one carefully conducted evaluation that documents positive impacts on student behavior and/or academic performance.

    CASEL began the tradition of identifying SELect programs in 2003, when it released Safe and Sound: An Educational Leader’s Guide to Evidence-Based Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Programs (CASEL, 2003). This ground-breaking document offered an overview of the SEL field and reviewed widely available SEL programs for kindergarten through twelfth grade. The current Guide builds on the tradition of Safe and Sound but goes much further in capturing the significant advances of the field of SEL. We now know that SEL programs are one of the most successful interventions to promote the positive development of students. Research findings from 213 controlled studies indicate that SEL programming improves students’ academic achievement and positive social behavior while reducing their conduct problems and emotional distress (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011). We also have a better understanding of factors that can make SEL programs more effective, which program approaches are most successful, and what it takes to achieve effective program implementation.

    The CASEL Guide provides information on many programs that vary in the approach they take to promoting students’ social and emotional skills, but all have documented impact on students’ behavior and/or academic performance. Traditionally, most SEL programs have used explicit lessons to teach students social and emotional skills. This was the most common approach of the SELect programs included in the 2013 Guide. This Guide also identified several evidence-based SEL programs that provide teachers with academic content while simultaneously promoting SEL. Other programs emphasize using teacher instructional and classroom management practices to create classroom environments that foster social, emotional, and academic competence.

    The CASEL Guide summarizes objective information about the characteristics of these nationally available, multi-year programs in a clear, easy-to-read “consumer report” format. CASEL considers the characteristics that are reviewed especially important for high-quality programming. They include the grade range that each program targets, whether the program offers students the opportunity to practice skills that are taught, and the settings (classroom, school, family, community) in which the program promotes and reinforces the target skills. Information about professional development and implementation support is also provided, along with details about the findings of the programs’ evaluation studies. If your district or school is just beginning to explore SEL, the Guide will help in your planning and selection of strong, evidence-based programs that serve your students’ needs. If you are seeking to deepen SEL practice you have already begun, the Guide will help you reflect on and augment your efforts.

  • For an updated list of programs, visit program descriptions


CASEL takes pride in collaborating with colleagues to advance academic, social, and emotional learning. We are extremely grateful to NoVo Foundation and the 1440 Foundation for their generous support of this effort. We want to express our sincere appreciation to the CASEL Board of Directors for providing the leadership, commitment, constructive critiques, and enthusiasm that drive our work. A team of colleagues at CASEL and the University of Illinois at Chicago Social and Emotional Learning Research Group produced this guide. Special thanks goes to Linda Dusenbury who served as project director and supported the writing team, the consultants who worked on CASEL’s Collaborating Districts Initiative reviewed and commented on a preliminary draft of the Guide, Hank Resnick who served as editor, and KSA Plus Communications who designed and published the report. We remain grateful to the developers of the programs featured in this Guide for their submissions and responsiveness to our requests for materials and background information. We salute the program providers’ efforts to bring academic, social, and emotional learning into classrooms and schools at scale. The 2013 CASEL Guide and its previous version, Safe and Sound: An Educational Leader’s Guide to Evidence-Based Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Programs (CASEL, 2003), have been inspired by the late Mary Utne O’Brien. Mary’s commitment to improving the lives of all children through the development of academic, social, and emotional skills and competencies is remembered and modeled daily at CASEL. We dedicate this Guide to her passion and spirit.