Evidence-Based Practices For Assessing Students’ Social And Emotional Well-Being

Heather Hough and Joe Witte | Policy Analysis for California Education at Stanford University
Caroline Wang | Education Analytics
Dave Calhoun | CORE Districts

Breaking Down the Issue

  • Disruptions to students’ mental and emotional health, social systems of support, and learning environments require a new focus on social and emotional well-being.
  • Although the need to assess students’ social and emotional well-being in a virtual environment is new, we can still draw from assessments that were developed and validated prior to the pandemic.

Strategies to Consider

  • comprehensive system for monitoring student well-being should help educators support students in schools and classrooms and allow for tiered referrals for special services. Many validated instruments on social and emotional well-being, learning conditions, and other nonacademic measures are available to schools and districts at no financial cost.
  • Well-being assessments are only effective as part of a larger strategy for supporting students.
  • Student surveys are an important tool for understanding things that cannot be observed, such as student mindsets and circumstances, and can supplement screeners and monitoring strategies. However, surveys should be concise and efficient.
  • Privacy concerns can be taken seriously without compromising the usefulness of well-being assessments.

Strategies to Avoid

  • Some survey questions can have the unintended effect of re-traumatizing, stigmatizing, or marginalizing students. Schools and districts are encouraged to use the resources in the previous sections, but those who wish to design their own surveys should be mindful of equity concerns.
  • Surveys often run into design pitfalls that make results impossible to interpret. Leveraging existing validated surveys can help avoid these issues.

Bringing Evidence-Based Decision Making to School Safety

Micere Keels | The University of Chicago

Breaking Down the Issue

  • We can expect an increase of students, particularly Black students, experiencing and displaying behavioral dysregulation at school, as well as students whose behavioral challenges signal a need for support rather than disciplinary sanctions and policing.
  • Over the past 30 years there has been a dramatic rise in the prevalence of police officers stationed in school buildings; the overwhelming majority of officers have minimal training on practices that meet the developmental needs of children and youth. Increased police presence in schools is associated with increased “detection” of security incidents, but there is no evidence that police in schools have increased student safety or improved school climates.
  • There are large racial and ethnic disproportionalities in exposure to police officers in schools and in the negative effects of increased police presence in schools.

Strategies to Consider

  • Research consistently places practices to improve mental health as well as social and emotional skills at the center of evidence-based school safety interventions.
  • Strong information-gathering and information-sharing protocols, coupled with a culture of caring, are necessary for proactively monitoring the school climate and identifying students who need targeted mental health supports.
  • Information-gathering and information-sharing protocols will improve school safety only if schools also have a plan for delivery of school-based mental health services, as well as robust referrals and followthrough for nonschool mental health services.
  • School climate interventions are an effective way of proactively providing social and emotional supports that have been shown to improve school safety.

Strategies to Avoid

  • Efforts to shift to the use of social and emotional strategies will likely be unsuccessful at advancing safety if schools are not allowed to preserve funding that had been allocated for police officers.
  • Strategies that emphasize the maintenance of police presence by focusing on increasing funding for specialized training have shown little usefulness in reducing the criminalization of student behaviors.

Preparing Schools to Meet the Needs of Students Coping with Trauma and Toxic Stress

Micere Keels, Sonya Dinizulu, & Shipra Parikh | The University of Chicago

Breaking Down the Issue

  • Trauma disrupts the development of core cognitive, social, emotional, and behavioral competencies that are needed to succeed in school.
  • Trauma is broadly experienced across the U.S. student population, but disproportionately concentrated among members of racially and ethnically marginalized and lower-income communities.
  • The pandemic has placed increased pressure on schools to provide mental health support, especially for schools serving racially and ethnically marginalized students, and those living in lower-income communities.
  • Many teachers and staff members report that they need more training in recognizing and responding to student trauma.

Strategies to Consider

  • Investments in staff mental health can improve outcomes for both students and staff members.
  • Whole-school (Tier 1) strategies for addressing trauma tend to be more effective than strategies that focus only on identifying individual students for secondary intervention.
  • A limited set of school-based trauma-focused Tier 2 interventions have demonstrated effectiveness in helping children and youth recover from traumatic experiences.
  • Schools can increase their capacity to meet the needs of students coping with trauma by creating a school-wide plan that includes all staff, in addition to family and community stakeholders.

Strategies to Avoid

  • Plans that place the burden for supporting students on clinical staff, such as school social workers and counselors, are unlikely to be effective.
  • One-shot awarenessbuilding professional development that doesn’t connect to strategies for how educators can respond to students’ needs are unlikely to lead to improved student outcomes.

Engaging Parents and Families to Support the Recovery of Districts and Schools

Nancy Hill | Harvard University
Latoya Gayle | Boston School Finder

Breaking Down the Issue

  • Schools are demanding more than ever from parents even as parents lack specific guidance and supports from schools to meet many of the demands.
  • The disruption of ongoing school routines is already having detrimental effects on families while limiting access to mental health and wellness services.
  • Legacies of discrimination and marginalization in schools and inequities in access to highquality education undermine trust in ways that shape the possibilities for family engagement.

Strategies to Consider

  • Communications with families are most effective when they are regular, well-timed, and include actionable support strategies.
  • Schools will be more successful involving parents in academics when the asks focus on helping students establish good work habits and time management rather than supplementing instruction or academic content.
  • Schools must ensure genuine representation across parental communities to promote authentic engagement.
  • Schools can reduce family anxiety by providing a sense of routine for students and families. Older students benefit from a role in shaping these routines.

Strategies to Avoid

  • Lowering academic standards and workload with the goal of helping families balance students’ broader socioemotional needs is unlikely to reduce parental anxiety.
  • Communication strategies that wait until the end of the quarter or semester are unlikely to shift parent or student behavior.

Leveraging Community Partnerships for Integrated Student Support

Velma McBride Murry | Vanderbilt University
Reuben Jacobson | American University
Betheny Gross | Center on Reinventing Public Education, University of Washington Bothell

Breaking Down the Issue

  • The pandemic revealed and exacerbated problems that have pushed schools and districts beyond their existing capacity to effectively respond.

    Partnerships between school districts and community organizations let schools draw on rooted community assets to confront key areas of concern, including basic family needs, technology access, childcare, and academic enrichment.

Strategies to Consider

  • Evidence supports the use of comprehensive school-site partnerships, such as full-service community schools, to leverage existing resources and provide a structure for families and community members to strengthen the school.

    Integrated or wraparound services, where schools partner with community organizations to provide students with direct nonacademic supports, also show meaningful evidence of success.

  • Extended learning time programs provided by community partner groups can be adapted in innovative ways to support students during the pandemic.
  • Community-based assets are able to coordinate their schoollevel efforts most effectively when supported by systemslevel coordinating infrastructure.

Strategies to Avoid

  • Community-based organizations will likely not be able to assist school districts in addressing additional needs during this period without additional resources.
  • Establishing partnerships on unspoken expectations, or without having full knowledge of the skills, capacities, and resources of new partners, can lead to misalignment on expectations and desired outcomes.
  • Systems that move forward to address new demands without assessing existing resources can fail to uncover assets that are already available in the broader community.