Better Measures: Partnering with Schools to Assess and Improve Social-Emotional Learning

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We spent nearly a year meeting with families and educators to hear what they wanted and needed from schools to set children up for success. Repeatedly, the team heard a need to focus on more than just academics, to develop a child holistically, and for better data on both academic and non-academic outcomes.

In response, The Opportunity Trust launched Better Measures, an initiative to support schools in measuring and developing the social and emotional competencies vital to success in the 21st century and in life.  Additionally, Better Measures assesses the climate and culture in schools essential to both student growth and teacher efficacy.

A Research-based Approach To Holistic Student Success

In creating Better Measures, The Opportunity Trust reviewed research studies such as the Measures of Effective Teaching report by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and connected with experts at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative who are pioneering research on comprehensive student development.  These research reviews and relationships led to a partnership with Panorama Education, a leader in helping schools measure, reflect upon, and improve social-emotional learning supports for children and school culture and climate for both students and teachers.

“When we did a national scan to see who is doing this best, Panorama Education emerged as an innovator in valid and reliable information in measurement of student non-cognitive development. They are also exceptional at implementing surveys within schools and making the information relevant for school leaders,” says Steve Cartwright, coordinator of the Better Measures grant program.

To start leveraging Panorama’s expertise in St. Louis, The Opportunity Trust invited schools to join a two-year pilot that would include baseline and ongoing surveys combined with training on how to assess the data with strategies and tactics to make improvements at both the classroom and building levels.  Schools were enthusiastic in their responses, and, as a result, students at four districts and ten charter organizations across thirty schools are now benefiting from the program.

The Better Measures pilot grant gives schools financial support to cover the costs of Panorama’s surveys, technology equipment, and four professional development workshops to use the data to drive school improvement. Schools also can engage in a cross-sector learning community.

Samantha Seker of Panorama Education says, “We go onsite to work with educators, so they know how to use the data to the fullest to take action to drive change and impact for students. A benefit of our partnership is that we’re creating a community around social-emotional learning so schools can learn from each other, share best practices, and rely on each other.”

Community Spotlight: Normandy Schools Collaborative Embraces Better Measures

In October 2019, Normandy Schools Collaborative conducted its first official survey and has been working closely with Panorama in virtual and in-person training sessions as they dive into the data to determine action steps.

“We’re now unpacking the data and identifying student needs and how to address them going forward,” says Ben Schimmell, a former classroom teacher and now Education Technology Coordinator at Normandy School Collaborative. “As a school, we’ll decide our priorities. Panorama provided us a great playbook to help us use the measurements to target social-emotional learning (SEL) skills students need to develop. The data also compares similar schools and districts around the country to give us a better sense of where we stand.”

He continues, “It is so gratifying to identify ways to help students develop as a whole person, not just in academics—especially as mental health concerns have become so pervasive. We’re excited to see the difference we can make in impacting the whole child.”

The Opportunity Trust invests in educators and school systems eager to build the capacity required to make significant and measurable change.

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