Blog Post

American Youth Policy Forum's Capitol Hill Forum: Every Student Succeeds Act

By Charles Smith from David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality

On Friday, September 23rd, 2016, the American Youth Policy Forum hosted a Capitol Hill Forum in Washington, DC focused on the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Entitled “Considerations for ESSA’s Non-Academic Indicator: Bridging Research, Practice and Policy, this discussion was moderated by Caitlin Emma of Politico and featured Dr. Stephanie Jones, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Dr. David Osher of American Institutes of Research; Dr. Jean Grossman of MDRC; Dr. Livia Lam of the Learning Policy Institute and Dr. Charles Smith of the Weikart Center.

With the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and its requirement to include a fifth, non-academic measure in state accountability systems, states have an unprecedented opportunity to consider the various elements that contribute to student success. This forum explored the research around positive youth development and our understanding that positive experiences, relationships and environments contribute to many positive outcomes for children and youth and the applications to experiences both inside and outside of school through social and emotional learning practices, youth engagement, and school climate.

As we’ve come to expect from AYPF, this meeting addressed a leading edge issue with sufficient breadth to understand both the problem and potential responses. Each panelist moved from the assumption that SEL skills are important for lots of life successes, including academic, and that SEL skills can be learned in school and afterschool contexts. From the panelists we learned that:

SEL skills are learned in context – We can identify optimal “conditions for learning” (e.g., quality) that schools and classrooms can improve towards, but we need to help local education agencies (LEAs) develop a shared vocabulary for understanding and acting at high fidelity to achieve these conditions;

School climate promotes SEL practices – Given link between environment and SEL, school climate could potential be one of the measures utilized by states for ESSA’s “fifth indicator,” especially since school climate surveys are currently available free of charge from the Department of Education;

Afterschool programs build SEL – Because of their focus on safety and motivation, afterschool programs are an evidence-based practice for schools seeking to build optimal conditions for SEL skill learning;

Measures of SEL or other non-academic skills need to evolve based upon a young person’s developmental phase - Differences in age and grade need to be taken into account as measures are considered, as well as natural trends.

The Weikart Center looks forward to continuing the conversation on how to measure and support social emotional learning both in school and out, towards the common goal of nurturing a broad range of skills and competencies in children and youth. Resources related to the Capitol Hill Forum can be found here.

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