About the Program Guide

The adoption of evidence-based programs is key to providing consistent, high-quality SEL opportunities for all students. To support educators in selecting a high-quality SEL program, our Program Guide serves as a Consumer report-style product that showcases well-designed, evidence-based SEL programs (pre-kindergarten through high school) and the impact they have on student and/or teacher outcomes.

Our Program Guide has four goals:

  • Provide a systematic framework for evaluating the quality of classroom-based SEL programs
  • Apply this framework to rate and identify well-designed, evidence-based SEL programs with potential for broad dissemination to schools
  • Share best-practice guidelines for district and school teams on how to select and implement SEL programs
  • Offer recommendations for future priorities to advance SEL research, practice, and policy

Our Program Guide has evolved over time

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Our Program Guide has been used by thousands of educators around the world since it was first published in 2003.

We began publishing our reviews of research evidence and features of SEL  programs to help districts and schools choose programming that was effective in supporting students’ positive social and emotional development and academic performance. In 2020, we updated our evaluation criteria to better reflect our updated definitions of SEL and the significant progress the field has made in areas such as academic integration, equity, adult SEL, and school partnerships with family and community programming. This edition of our Program Guide reflects the new criteria.

Guidelines for inclusion

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To be considered for inclusion, programs must be universal (i.e., for use with all enrolled students), delivered during the regular school day, and designed for Pre-K – 12 grade students. Programs must also have written documentation of their approach to promoting students’ social and emotional development and provide a sufficient level of detail to ensure the consistency and quality of program delivery. Finally, programs must be developmentally appropriate and have rigorous evidence documenting their effectiveness, including at least one high-quality evaluation study with a comparison group (i.e., a group of students and or teachers with no exposure to the SEL program) and written documentation of study results.

The latest guide includes several important, new features:

  • Inclusion of strategies that directly support educational equity
  • Greater emphasis on student voice
  • Greater emphasis on the importance of promoting and assessing students’ connections to school (e.g., belonging, engagement, climate)
  • Inclusion of strategies offered by each program at the classroom, school, family, and community levels

Educators can use the Program Guide in several ways:

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  • Better understand how we define “high-quality” programming
  • Identify an evidence-based program
  • Compare programs based on priorities and needs
  • Create an inclusive process for selecting the right program for your district or school.

View our PDF Quick Guide for more on how to use the Program Guide.

Determining if an SEL program may be aligned with ESSA tiers for use with your student population 

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The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) defines the kinds of research needed by districts and schools to demonstrate that a funded intervention is evidence-based (for more information, see Accessing and Assessing Research and Evidence and Using WWC to Find ESSA Tiers of Evidence). To do so, ESSA uses tiers to categorize the strength of evidence. CASEL’s three designations (i.e., SELect, Promising, SEL-Supportive) are closely aligned to the two most rigorous ESSA tiers: Tier 1 (strong) and Tier 2 (moderate)

There are several components needed for an intervention research study to quality for ESSA Tiers 1 or 2: (1) there was a statistically significant positive effect on student outcomes, (2) there were at least 350 students included in the intervention evaluation(s), and (3) there were at least two school districts included in the intervention evaluation(s).  

  • For an intervention to qualify for ESSA Tier 1, it must include the above three components and (a) there was an evaluation that was conducted using a randomized control trial (RCT) design and (b) both the evaluation setting and the evaluation sample characteristics must overlap with the setting and sample characteristics of the interested purchaser. 
  • For an intervention to qualify for ESSA Tier 2, it must include the above three components and (a) there was an evaluation that was conducted using a pre-post quasi-experimental (QE) design and (b) the evaluation setting or the evaluation sample characteristics must overlap with the setting or sample characteristics of the interested purchaser. 

Information regarding all components for ESSA Tiers 1 or 2 are available in the Evaluation details and the Significant evaluation outcomes expandable boxes on each SEL program’s webpage (view all programs’ webpages). Comparing this information about the evaluation setting and sample characteristics against your school- and student-level characteristics should help you determine if the SEL program could qualify for ESSA Tiers 1 or 2. Once you have narrowed down your search to a handful of programs that may work for your students and staff, we encourage you to reach out to individual SEL programs to learn more about their evaluation evidence and how it fits with your needs 

Support for the CASEL Guide to Evidence-Based SEL Programs is provided by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative™ and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. We are deeply grateful for their support and collaboration. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of our funders. 

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