SEL & Equity

Data Supports Social-Emotional and Equity Curricula for 'Whole Child' K– 12 Education

Parents and educators know that academic excellence depends considerably on students’ holistic development and a strong, positive learning environment. Unfortunately, many schools lack access to the tools needed to support students’ personal growth and to measure and reflect on their climate for learning.

Research shows that social-emotional learning (SEL) programs improve student success, yet many K–12 schools across the country only measure academic milestones. In one study, schools that created strong, supportive environments were at least 10 times more likely to show substantial gains in reading and math compared to schools with few supports in place.

Data Supports Social-Emotional and Equity Curricula for 'Whole Child' K– 12 Education

The SEEAL Model

Our small, highly diverse public school district in St. Louis is using data to change this. At The School District of University City, we developed a unique approach to integrative learning with a focus on equity and social-emotional learning, looking at students as a whole person rather than solely relying on their academic merit.

This approach is referred to as our SEEAL model, or social-emotional, equitable and academic learning. Our team focuses on building curriculum and teaching strategies that include all three areas of learning, which promotes the wellbeing of students beyond academics.

Over the last year and a half, paying close attention to the mental health of our students became increasingly important to ensure they were learning and thriving in the midst of two pandemics: COVID-19 and heightened concern about racism.

Often, student support and academic services are siloed, but our integrative SEEAL team allows us to incorporate SEL, equity and academic testing to better inform curriculum and mental health services. We strive to prepare our students for successful lives through college or post-secondary career pathways and beyond. Integrating SEL and equity into every aspect of our schools helps us prepare the whole student for success after graduation.

Social-Emotional Learning

To properly assess the non-academic needs of our students, we use data from Panorama surveys that students, staff and some parents complete each semester. Panorama allows schools to select from more than 50 topics to measure in the areas of social-emotional learning, student feedback, school climate and family and community engagement.

This helps us track the SEL data that isn’t as easy to see and interpret as academic data. This information is used to identify students who need more support with non-academic challenges such as self-efficacy, anxiety and social awareness, while also informing curriculum changes and teaching strategies to accommodate common needs.

Our wellbeing specialists, counselors and social workers are tasked with interpreting the data and reaching out to students and staff to help provide the best possible supports based on their needs indicated in the survey results.

One of our administrators, who is also the parent of one of our students, shared that the information from their child’s SEL scores has been more beneficial than their academic testing data. We are working to use the data we gather on SEL to not only intervene when a student is scoring low on a certain SEL competency, but also as a preventive measure to create supports and opportunities for students to prevent non-academic learning challenges before they arise.

This administrator expressed that student-level data is imperative to identify individual student needs, which is much more beneficial than collective, anonymous results.

Funding for our Panorama surveys is made possible by The Opportunity Trust as part of their “Better Measures” initiative to provide grant funding for public schools to go beyond academics to measure success. They support schools financially, allowing them to collect and analyze critical data on social-emotional development and school culture. The Better Measures initiative also includes professional development for practitioners to learn how to interpret the data and make connections with other districts to share best practices.


We look at our curriculum from an SEL and equity framework to move beyond relying on academic markers to gauge student success. Our equity screener looks at our curriculum to see if it reflects our student population from race, gender identity, physical disabilities, socioeconomic status and more to make sure every student feels that the materials they are engaging with reflects them.

For history and English curricula, for example, we determine if our Black student population is represented in the texts studied, as they account for 80% of our school’s student body. This is often not the case, which requires us to make adjustments and choose alternate texts. Combing through our curriculum with this equity screener is a long process that takes years to complete, but it is well worth it in the pursuit of ensuring our students feel included in the learning process.

For other schools hoping to incorporate a similar SEEAL model, an integrated approach is key. Bring in the voices of diverse educators, administrators, students and parents to inform decision-making.

Consider implementing surveys that capture the non-academic needs of your students, staff and families to identify areas for improvement. Show in your regular communication with all stakeholders the need to connect and form relationships. From there, train and dedicate staff to interpret the data and provide supports for the students and staff who need it. Incorporating equity into every aspect of curriculum and teaching strategies is critical to ensuring each student feels represented and cared for in their learning environment.

About the Authors

Sharonica Hardin-Bartley is superintendent, The School District of University City

Gary Spiller is executive director of student services and innovation, The School District of University City

Joe Miller is senior director of wrap-around services, Wyman