Connect Your Criteria

Review the following definitions of CASEL’s metrics and think about what to prioritize given your unique context.

If you want to learn more, access CASEL’s updated criteria brief.

Looking for a quick, downloadable PDF version of the following? Access here.

Evaluation Metrics

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To be considered for inclusion in the CASEL Guide to Evidence-Based Social and Emotional Learning Programs, a program or approach must have an evaluation that meets each of four evidence criteria. These criteria involve (a) the type of research design used, (b) the setting in which the program was implemented, (c) the statistical findings, and (d) the types of outcomes demonstrated in the evaluation. 

    • CASEL reviews evaluations with demonstrated statistically significant, positive effects on treatment student and or teacher outcomes.

      • Improved positive social behavior: Statistically significant improvement on measures of students’ positive social behaviors (e.g., positive peer relations, conflict resolution behaviors).
      • Reduced problem behavior: Statistically significant reduction on measures of students’ problem behaviors related to students’ socio-emotional competencies (e.g., aggression, substance use).
      • Reduced emotional distress: Statistically significant reduction on measures of students’ emotional distress (e.g., anxiety, depressive symptoms).
      • Improved identity development/ agency: Statistically significant improvement on measures of students’ positive identity development or agency (e.g., race/ethnic identity, self-efficacy).
      • Improved school connectedness: Statistically significant improvement on measures of students’ connectedness to school (e.g., school belonging, engagement).
      • Improved school climate: Statistically significant improvement on measures of school climate perceptions (e.g., safety, interracial climate).
      • Improved academic performance: Statistically significant improvement on measures of students’ academic performance (e.g., grades, standardized achievement or cognitive abilities test scores).
      • Improved SEL skills and attitudes: Statistically significant improvement on measures of students’ SEL skills, attitudes, beliefs, values, or intentions that may not be described in the other categories (e.g., gratitude, expressed intention to intervene).
      • Improved teaching practices: Statistically significant improvement on measures of teaching practices that foster student SECs or contribute to a supportive learning environment (e.g., classroom management skills, instructional practices that promote meta-cognition).
    • Understanding details about the characteristics of the context and students engaged in the evaluation studies submitted for review can be helpful in selecting the best program for your district or school.

      School characteristics

      • Urbanicity: Urbanicity describes the geographic community of the school(s) in which the evaluation was conducted (e.g., urban, rural, suburban, remote).
      • Location: Location describes where in the U.S., or if the location is outside the U.S., of the school (s) in which the evaluation was conducted.

      Student characteristics

      • Race/ethnicities: Studies included over 10% of student population with a particular race/ ethnicity
      • Low-income: Students may be a part of a family that is considered low-income and/ or attend a school that serves many low-income students. Low-income can be conceptualized in a variety of ways at student- level (e.g., eligible for FRPL, parent education level) or at the school-level (e.g., Title 1, Head Start).

Design Metrics

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After a program meets the criteria from the outcome evaluation portion of the review process and is determined to satisfy either the SELect or Promising level of evidence, CASEL reviews and codes the program’s design materials and reviews their training and implementation supports to determine if they meet CASEL design inclusion criteria for the CASEL Guide. Below is a summary of the current design criteria for SELect, Promising, and SEL-Supportive programming.

Note: If a program meets SELect or Promising evaluation criteria AND SELect, Promising, or SEL-Supportive design criteria, its final designation will be the lower of the two. For example, a program meeting SELect evaluation criteria and Promising design criteria would receive a final designation of Promising.

    • Programs in this guide reflect one or more of the following approaches:

      • Integration of SEL (lessons and/or practices) and academic instructional content and practices (such as an ELA, social studies, or mathematics curriculum that incorporates SEL lessons or practices).
      • Free-standing lessons that are explicitly designed to enhance students’ social and emotional competencies (such as a lesson that teaches students strategies for coping with stress or anxiety).
      • Organizational strategies designed to create schoolwide structures and supports that promote students’ social and emotional development, including a schoolwide culture conducive to learning.
      • Teaching practices designed to create optimal conditions for the development of social and emotional competence, including strategies that promote reflection by students or build positive and supportive relationships in the classroom.
    • CASEL’s framework takes a systemic approach that emphasizes the importance of establishing equitable learning environments and coordinating practices across the key settings of classrooms, schools, families, and communities. Providers are asked to comment on strategies included in their program as part of the review process. We share these strategies on the program description pages. See below for examples of what these strategies can look like in practice. Contact the provider to learn more about the specifics of their approach.

      Strategy includes things like….


      • SEL lessons: Presentation of an SEL concept or competency, discussion and/or reflection, and opportunities to practice.
      • Instructional practices: Guidance around instructional practices that promote SEL, such as asking reflective questions, cooperative learning, or project-based learning.
      • Relationship building: Guidance on creating positive and supportive relationships between teachers and students and among students themselves.
      • Positive classroom management: Guidance around creating supportive, developmentally appropriate environments where expectations are clear, and teachers communicate high regard for all students’ abilities. This includes guidance on the use of restorative practices.
      • SEL generalization: Suggestions for taking advantage of “teachable moments” beyond the SEL lesson and creating opportunities for students to practice their new competencies in authentic contexts.
      • Shared agreements: Suggestions to involve all students in co-creating a set of classroom goals, norms, or behavioral guidelines.


      • Systemic support for SEL: Guidelines for building a schoolwide sense of community and/or or to support SEL planning, implementation, and sustainability.
      • Adult SEL: Guidance for supporting adult competency development and capacity to model SE competencies and/or promoting adult well-being.
      • Group structures: Guidance for organizing all the students in the school or grade level into small groups that meet regularly with an adult leader for the purpose of social and emotional explorations and development.
      • Peer mentoring: Guidance for cross-age or cross-subjects peer mentoring to provide academic support and/ or enhance students’ sense of connection to peers.
      • Student supports: Guidance for working with students who need additional support in tier 2 or tier 3 settings.

      Family and caregivers

      • Family engagement component: Guidance for communicating directly with families and caregivers through informational sessions on SEL, two-way communication structures, and/ or sharing around the school’s SEL rollout plans.
      • School involvement: Guidance for actively engaging and including families as valuable members of the school community, including soliciting parent input and inviting them to help design school events.
      • Connecting families with community supports: Guidance for connecting families with community partners to help families access social and emotional supports outside of school.
      • Activities and resources for home: Activities that involve parents/caregivers and extend SEL into the home in culturally responsive ways or informational resources that can be sent home to connect families to their student’s learning.
      • Individualized communication: Program materials include strategies for communicating with all families about their children’s progress.


      • Service learning: Guidance for engaging students in service activities that highlight for them their power and potential to make concrete contributions to the lives of others in their community.
      • Community partnerships: Guidance for creating meaningful partnerships with community groups, local organizations, and/or local businesses.
      • Community volunteer activities: Guidance for creating activities in which students spend time engaged in meaningful school- or community-based volunteer work.

      Strategies that support educational equity

      In addition to the strategies across settings listed above, CASEL reviews programs for four strategies that directly support educational equity. Strategies Includes things like….

      • Understanding context: Activities or sessions during initial training and/or ongoing implementation support that explicitly facilitate teachers and other school staff learning about the cultural backgrounds, history, everyday experiences, and perspectives of the students and families with whom they work.
      • Working with bias: Activities or sessions during initial training and/or ongoing implementation support that focus on increasing awareness of, and ways to effectively remedy, the negative effects of teacher and staff biases and assumptions about themselves and/or others.
      • Youth action projects: Opportunities for students to critically examine root causes of inequity and/or develop projects that co-create solutions to community and social problems in developmentally appropriate ways.
      • Customizing for context: Program materials include strategies for teachers to reflect on the context in which they are teaching and/or solicit student perspectives and adjust lessons and instructional practice accordingly.

      To learn more about these strategies that support educational equity, please see our criteria rationale.

Understand the SEL Program Designations

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    • The designation indicates that a program promotes students’ social and emotional competence in a SELect category, provides opportunities for practice, and offers multi-year programming; and delivers high quality training and other implementation supports. Student outcomes that fall into the SELect category are:

      • Improved positive social behavior
      • Reduced problem behavior
      • Reduced emotional distress
      • Improved student-reported identity/agency
      • Improved school connectedness*
      • Improved school climate*

      *If the evaluation involved adolescents (i.e., students enrolled in middle or high school), then outcomes must be student-reported to qualify for SELect designation.

    • The designation indicates that a program promotes students’ or teachers’ social and emotional competence in a Promising category and provides comprehensive SEL programming. Outcomes that fall into the Promising category are:

      • Improved academic performance
      • Improved SEL skills and attitudes
      • Improved teaching practices
      • Adolescent programing: non-student reported school connectedness or school climate *

      *If the evaluation involved adolescents (i.e., students enrolled in middle or high school), outcomes assessed with non-student-reporters qualify for the Promising designation.

      A program may also receive a promising designation if they demonstrate SELect evaluation outcomes, but do not meet all SELect program design criteria. You can learn more about program design criteria here.

    • The designation indicates that a program meets the SELect or Promising evidence criteria for promoting student or teacher outcomes but does not fully meet all necessary program design criteria. These programs could be a beneficial part of systemic SEL implementation.

      If you want to learn more, access CASEL’s updated criteria brief.

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