As it's becoming more clear that the non-academic elements of students’ lives impact their ability to perform academically, educators are feeling increased pressure and desire to take action in the classroom. Why does social-emotional learning matter for schools and districts? Studies show that 75% of mental health support comes in a school setting. The question for educators becomes, where to start?

It’s a well-accepted best practice with any effort to take a baseline of where you are so that you can understand where/if you are improving. We’re seeing this best practice take hold in the classrooms via static climate surveys that are issued to all students on an infrequent basis throughout the school year. The goal of this blog is to help educators understand why this is a mistake and why it won’t move the needle for the broad student base long-term.

The intent of taking a population baseline in any effort is taking action for the population. The majority of action plans that are attempting to make whole-child improvements become very focused on higher-needs students due to resource constraints, the natural reactive vs proactive approach that specific kids need, and a general leaning back on what resources they have (a handful of counselors per/district). If the action plans are limited to these efforts - the purpose of baselining the entire student population becomes irrelevant. Most schools & districts already know that these same students need more directed assistance with or without a survey.

This leads to the second intrinsic issue with analytics in general. Data for data's sake. Data that requires action from an already extremely strained system will never be used. The intent of the educational system is to improve outcomes for students, period. A report that takes significant cognitive effort from an educator to understand, let alone action on, will never change outcomes for students. The second half of this issue is the student experience with data. Student-focus should be the core of any edtech tool. A tool that exists only to produce data without adding direct and significant value to a student should not exist in the classroom. This will become a larger problem as frontline educators and students naturally push back on this type of tool.

Finally, the quality of data and the collection of it is crucial. The old adage “garbage in, garbage out” is one of the staples of data work. Most SEL survey tools for students have little to no framework with questions developed by “experts” that have to fill gaps due to a lack of objective clarity. When thinking about the non-academic elements of a student’s life, atomic-level factors have to exist. A strong example that’s prevalent in today’s market is a vendor that asks students if they have “hope”. Not only is transparent self-report a problem, but “hope” is the aggregate of many elements of a student’s life. Understanding the underlying elements is the key to helping them change outcomes.

There are only 2 real solutions to helping change outcomes in this space and both involve adding cognitive power to the classroom so that students get personalized help. The first is to dramatically lower the teacher-student ratio (not going to happen), and the second is to use technology to bolster that cognitive reach of support for ALL students. Tools that understand students through research-based frameworks, provide real-time insights & actions directly to the students, and lower the barrier of entry to a conversation with educators and adults are the future. Surveys alone cannot do any of these things. Bringing the student back to the core of this work helps make these gaps more clear. We hope to be able to spread this expertise to all districts making a change in this space.

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