How are States Incorporating SEL into their ESSA Frameworks?

There are many ways states have integrated social and emotional learning (SEL) in their new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans. Here is a snapshot of the ways a few states ─ Illinois, Washington, and Wisconsin ─ are embedding SEL in their ESSA plans. Consider these examples as you think through ways to expand your own SEL initiatives.


SEL efforts within the state of Wisconsin are supported by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) as well as by significant stakeholder involvement. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (WDPI) has built a framework that aligns Wisconsin early-learning standards with SEL to improve outcomes for all PreK-12 students.

Within its plan, WDPI describes social and emotional priorities as:

  • Understanding and managing emotions
  • Setting and achieving positive goals
  • Feeling and showing empathy for others
  • Establishing and maintaining positive relationships, and
  • Making responsible decisions.

The ESSA plan further asserts that “[s]tudents with strong social and emotional competencies will be more highly engaged with peers and adults and be better equipped to make responsible decisions as they navigate across the educational continuum.”

  • WDPI’s plan promotes the development of students’ social and emotional skills in the following ways:
  • Emphasizes embedding SEL into core curricula and afterschool programs.
  • Uses SEL as an interventional strategy to support student transition into middle and high school.
  • Makes SEL a key component of the state’s Safe​ ​and​ ​Supportive​ ​Schools efforts, which among other things supports students’ mental health needs through the Mental Health Framework.
  • Includes SEL in the state’s staff professional development plan. For example, Title​ ​IV,​ ​Part​ ​A:​ ​Student​ ​Support​ ​and​ ​Academic​ ​Enrichment​ ​Grants support staff training around issues such as social and emotional learning, suicide prevention, conflict resolution, violence prevention, drug abuse prevention, bullying and harassment prevention, and screening for mental health issues.

Access the WDPI’s ESSA plan to learn more.


The Washington School Board of Education’s (WSBE) ESSA plan emphasizes that when schools systematically implement positive student support systems, they see:

  • A healthy and productive school climate.
  • Improved quality of instruction.
  • Students who are better supported to achieve high academic, social, emotional, and behavioral outcomes.
  • Strengthening of the school’s ability to engage, identify, refer, and address student needs positively and proactively.

The Washington State Multi-tiered System of Supports (WA-MTSS) is a key component of the state’s ESSA plan, and SEL is described to support WA-MTSS as a “tiered support system that integrates evidence-based supports for behavior, achievement, and social emotional needs.”

In addition to its inclusion in the WA-MTSS, SEL is embedded in the Washington State Early Learning Plan. This plan focuses on the need to support the whole child, which WSBE defines as students’ “physical and mental health and well-being, as well as intellectual and social-emotional development skills.” As an example of how SEL contributes to and actually helps define these goals, to receive full day kindergarten funding, school districts must create classrooms that are “developmentally appropriate, promote social emotional growth, provide experiences in many different disciplines and content areas, promote creativity and provide hands-on learning experiences.”

SEL is also embedded in the state of Washington’s plans to address the ESSA Accountability, Support, and Improvement for Schools requirement. WSBE outlines the strategy to include several metrics, including academic, social and emotional, climate, and schools’ capacity to meet student needs.

Access the WSBE ESSA plan to learn more.


The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has written SEL into their ESSA framework in several ways, including:

  • Explicitly writing into the plan the need for creating a strong culture and climate, which “emphasizes environment and supports needed for the sustainability of a safe school where productive work can occur (e.g., data competency, resource management, building leadership capacity, cultural awareness, communication strategies, professional learning communities, Universal Design for Learning, social and emotional learning).”
  • Using Title I, II, III and IDEA dollars, the ESSA plan increases priority on a number of social and emotional-related initiatives, including: social and emotional skill development; cultural, racial, and socio-economic competence; conflict management; restorative practices; cultural competence; anti-racism; and recognizing implicit bias.
  • Placing a greater emphasis on social and emotional development within core content areas that emphasize the tenets of differentiated instruction (e.g., ELA, mathematics, science, social studies, fine arts, physical education, and foreign language).
  • Reinforcing in the plan the premise that the academic, physical, social, emotional, and behavioral development of youth must be a shared effort and the responsibility of parents, educators, and community members.
  • Focusing on supporting “the whole child,” which recognizes that people are composed of many interacting parts (e.g., cognitive, social and emotional, physical) and lives within overlapping environments (e.g., the home, school, and community).

Access the ISBE ESSA plan to learn more.

SEL is becoming more and more of a priority in schools’ efforts to maximize student achievement. To learn how your state is incorporating SEL into its ESSA plan, this interactive map provides helpful links, resources, and updates. Contact our experts at Aperture to learn more about how SEL can help strengthen your ESSA plan and the academic outcomes of your students.


Want to learn how your state can use SEL in your ESSA implementation? Watch our webinar, How SEL fits the ESSA Requirements, with Dr. Jenny House from RedRocks Reports, by filling out the form below.

Request Quote