Policy brief

Using Surveys of Students' Social-Emotional Skills and School Climate for Accountability and Continuous Improvement

Heather J. Hough
Policy Analysis for California Education, Stanford University
Demetra Kalogrides
Stanford University and Brown University
Susanna Loeb
Stanford Graduate School of Education


This report and accompanying policy brief show that there is good reason to pursue the measurement of social-emotional learning (SEL) and school culture/climate (CC) as a way to better understand student and school performance. Using data from California's CORE districts, we show that SEL and CC measures demonstrate reliability and validity, distinguish between schools, are related to other academic and non-academic measures, and also illuminate dimensions of student achievement that go beyond traditional indicators. We also show how the SEL and CC measures can be used to identify areas of improvement within schools, such as identifying subgroup gaps or differences in reports between various respondent groups.

Summary and Policy Implications

  • Policy makers, educators, and the broader public increasingly agree that students’ development of social-emotional skills is important for success in academic and life outcomes. Research provides evidence that schools can facilitate the development of these skills, both directly and through the implementation of policies and practices that improve a school’s culture and climate and promote positive relationships.
  • Growing confidence that schools can contribute to students’ social-emotional development has led some districts and states nationwide to consider including measures of of socialemotional learning (SEL) and school culture and climate (CC) in systems of school accountability and continuous improvement.
  • This policy brief summarizes our recent research using data from the CORE districts— districts serving nearly one million students who have embraced systematic measurement of SEL and CC—to provide guidance for state and local policy makers about the suitability of SEL and CC surveys as school performance indicators and how they can be used in a broader set of measures.
  • We find that the CORE measures of SEL and CC demonstrate validity and reliability, distinguish between schools, are related to other academic and non-academic measures, and illuminate dimensions of student achievement that go beyond traditional indicators, all initial indications of the measures’ promise for informing school improvement.
  • Our results also demonstrate the importance of reporting SEL and CC measures by subgroup, as African American and Hispanic/Latino students report lower SEL and CC compared to peers even within the same schools.
  • While the measures of SEL and CC provide new information for school improvement, given remaining questions about the measures’ sensitivity to change over time, the effect of schools on improving SEL and CC outcomes, and the potential for measures to be gamed, further research is needed to understand the advantages and disadvantages of incorporating them into higher stakes accountability systems.
Suggested citationHough, H. J., Kalogrides, D., & Loeb, S. (2017, March). Using surveys of students’ social-emotional skills and school climate for accountability and continuous improvement [Policy brief, report]. Policy Analysis for California Education. https://edpolicyinca.org/publications/using-surveys-students-social-emotional-skills-and-school-climate-accountability