Social and Emotional Learning


What Is Social and Emotional Learning? 

Social and emotional learning (SEL) refers to to a wide range of skills, attitudes, and behaviors that can affect a student's success in school and life. Critical thinking, managing emotions, working through conflicts, decision making, and team work—all of these are the kind of skills that are not necessarily measured by tests but which round out a student’s education and impact his/her academic success, employability, self-esteem, relationships, as well as civic and community engagement. 

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) identifies five competencies of SEL: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. Other definitions of social and emotional learning focus on career-readiness skills. These skills are learned in a variety of places, including the home, preschool and schools. States set their own definitions of SEL, and determine what, when, where and how SEL works in the classroom. For example, many states have found that SEL is best emphasized in preschool, while a handful of other states have set SEL standards in the later grades as well. 

Under the federal law, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states may decide to account for the social and emotional learning happening in their schools, and to use that data to make decisions about how best to support schools. For example, many states are considering using social and emotional learning indicators, like school climate or student engagement, in their new state accountability systems.

However, reliable methods for accurately measuring SEL are still being developed, raising the concern that using potentially faulty methods for measuring SEL to judge schools as a part of ESSA won’t serve students well. As such, some parents and policymakers may question whether SEL should be a responsibility for teachers and schools, or is best left to parents and families. 

Research demonstrates that social and emotional learning can:

  • Improve academic achievement—In a 2011 meta-analysis of 213 school-based SEL programs spanning kindergarten through high school, researchers found that SEL participants demonstrated improved academic performance in an 11-percentile-point gain in achievement.
  • Make a lifelong impact on students—A 2015 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found significant associations between social-emotional skills in kindergarten and young adult outcomes across education, employment, criminal activity, and mental health. 

SEL in Afterschool Programs

Afterschool programs have long supported skills-building and positive development in children and youth and can be an effective setting for supporting SEL because of the flexibility they have in their programming. Research demonstrates that children and youth who regularly attend afterschool programs that utilize evidence-based practices benefit from improved self-perception, positive social behaviors, reduction in student discipline programs, and increased achievement and attendance. The SEL that occurs in afterschool programs can also contribute to increased employability skills and career readiness. 

State Legislation

In the 2017 legislative session, two states passed measures related to SEL. As of June 2018, 16 bills and resolutions related to SEL have been introduced.

Legislation Related to SEL
Bills Summary

Colorado SB 114

FAILED—Encourages schools to develop suicide prevention programs that focus on social and emotional learning, life skills, and resiliency training.

Hawaii HB 579 & Hawaii SB 496

FAILED—Requires the Department of Education to provide training on social and emotional learning to all youth-serving educators, health care professionals and counselors, and agencies and programs, as well as parents of students enrolled in public schools or public charter schools; appropriates funds to the Department of Education to conduct training on social and emotional learning.

Illinois Senate Joint Resolution 10

ADOPTED—Establishes the Statewide Task force on Developing Opportunities for Youth and Young Adults Who Are Jobless and Our-of-School; requires the task force to examine policies, programs and other issues related to developing a variety of successful approaches using best program practices for out-of-school and jobless youth students, with the goal of improving their education, work-related and social development skills. 

Illinois HB 4442

PENDING—Establishes a parenting instruction pilot program that includes social and emotional learning competencies.

Kansas HB 2445

FAILED—Requires the state Board of Education to establish social and emotional learning accountability measures.

Maine SB 450

PENDING—Creates a pilot program to recruit early childhood consultants to train teachers in social emotional health.

Maryland HB 920

ENACTED (2017)—Requires the State Board of Education to require, beginning on or before July 1, 2018, specified school personnel to complete training, by a method determined by each county board of education, in specified knowledge and skills required to understand and respond to the social, emotional and personal development of students.

Michigan HB 5605 & HB 5598

PENDING—Requires teacher preparation programs to include instruction on social and emotional learning.

Minnesota House File 836 & Minnesota Senate File 736

FAILED—Modifies character development education responsibilities, making character education the shared responsibility of parents, teachers and members of the community. 

New York Assembly Bill 7063 New York SB 5563

PENDING—Creates a statewide pilot program to improve social and emotional learning in schools supported by community-based organizations and provides funding. 

Oklahoma SB 404

FAILED—Creates the Character Education Revolving Fund. Specifies that the money in the fund may be expended by the state board of education for the purpose of implementing character education programs. 

Tennessee HB 357 & Tennessee SB 4

FAILED—Prohibits the state board of education from adopting standards or competencies for social and emotional learning. Prohibits the department of education from providing instruction or competencies in social and emotional learning to fulfill the requirements for character education.

Washington SB 5883

ENACTED—Appropriates money from the general fund for a social and emotional learning work group.


The National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development (SEAD)

This Aspen Institute Commission is led by co-chairs Linda Darling Hammond, president and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute and Charles E. Ducommun Professor Emeritus at Stanford University; Governor John Engler, immediate past president of the Business Roundtable and former Governor of Michigan; and Tim Shriver, co-founder and chair of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and chairman of the Special Olympics. The Commission’s 25 members include two sitting governors, two leading school superintendents, and represent wide-ranging experiences and viewpoints from multiple fields, including education, research, business, policy, and the military.

Since its inception, NCSL has been a part of the Commission's partners collaborative, a group that offers advice on direction and feasibility and engages their members around the work. On January 15, 2019, the commission released its culminating report, From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope, and accompanying recommendations in research, policy and practice.

State Standards

State standards determine what SEL looks like in each state. Every state has comprehensive, free-standing standards for SEL with developmental benchmarks in preschool, however, just eight states have standards for SEL development for early elementary students and eight more expand their standards to K-12 grades. For an overview of CASEL's state standards scan, click here.

Additional Resources


Preschool SEL standards only

Preschool and early elementary SEL standards

Preschool and K-12 SEL standards

Click on states for additional external link.


The map above links to preschool standards in the states. The chart below hyperlinks to both the preschool and K-12 standards in the states that have them.

Preschool and K-12 Standards


Preschool SEL Standards

While Alabama has free standing standards for character development, CASEL does not categorize them as comprehensive or systematic across grade levels.


Preschool SEL Standards

Connecticut has free-standing SEL standards through 3rd grade


Preschool SEL Standards

Idaho has free-standing SEL standards through 3rd grade


Preschool SEL Standards

Illinois is one of six states with free-standing, comprehensive P-12 standards for SEL with developmental benchmarks


Preschool SEL Standards

Kansas is one of six states with free-standing, comprehensive P-12 standards for SEL with developmental benchmarks


Preschool SEL Standards

Maine is one of six states with P-12 standards and has a set of Guiding Principles that feature SEL


Preschool SEL Standards

Massachusetts has SEL standards for kindergarten, and also provides guidelines for SEL implementation.


Preschool SEL Standards

Missouri is one of six states with P-12 standards; Show-Me Standards which emphasize key pieces of SEL

New York

Preschool SEL Standards

New York does not have SEL standards, but does provide resources to support SEL


Preschool SEL Standards

Ohio has SEL standards through 3rd grade


Preschool SEL Standards

Pennsylvania is one of six states with free-standing, comprehensive P-12 standards for SEL with developmental benchmarks


Preschool SEL Standards

Tennessee offers guidelines to support SEL


Preschool SEL Standards

Vermont has the Vital Results Standards which address SEL and include standards for grades P-2. 


Preschool SEL Standards

Washington includes SEL standards through 3rd grade as part of their aligned standards

West Virginia

Preschool SEL Standards

West Virginia is one of six states with comprehensive P-12 standards with developmental benchmarks

 Additional Resources