Supporting Pandemic Recovery: Illinois Learning Renewal Social Emotional Learning Study

Teacher with young happy diverse students

The social and emotional consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on students have been profound. Students and teachers had their lives uprooted as connections to friends, teachers and colleagues were abruptly cut off, and school-based supports, such as counseling and special education services were no longer available. Illinois has emphasized that supporting students’ social emotional needs is key to recovering from pandemic-related learning loss. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has stressed that not only is social and emotional learning critical to do well, it is also critical to do first, so that other investments in instruction may have a better chance at taking hold among students who are currently stressed and disengaged.

Please email us for more information about the study.

ISBE has adopted a multicomponent approach to address learning and recovery from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, prioritizing social-emotional learning by establishing Learning Renewal—Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) programs across the state. Learning Renewal—SEL comprises three activities: SEL Hub professional learning supports to districts and schools; REACH, a trauma-responsive education approach; and Community Partnership Grants to promote student, staff, and family well-being by connecting community-based organizations and mental health providers to schools.

Study Overview

The Evaluation of the Learning Renewal—Social Emotional Learning Programs for Supporting Pandemic Recovery is a partnership between the AIR and ISBE. The three-year study has two main aims: (a) to examine the implementation, outcomes, and costs of the three Learning Renewal—SEL programs, and (b) to provide useful feedback about effective strategies for implementing and scaling programs that address students’ and staff’s social-emotional well-being.

Four primary study activities will support this work:

  • Interviews with Illinois regional leads and social-emotional leads and coaches: This study will include interviews with regional, and SEL Hub leads and coaches to understand the current landscape of recovery efforts and assist the state in understanding the breadth and depth of SEL programs, training, and activities.
  • Interviews with teachers, staff, school, and district administrators: This study will conduct key informant interviews at the regional, district, and school levels and use a cross-case comparison approach to identify and understand factors influencing LR-SEL implementation. Through more than 250 planned interviews during the course of this study, we expect to be able to develop a robust set of recommendations regarding quality improvement for the LR-SEL activities. We will also collect data on costs to document the resources and costs of the three Learning Renewal-SEL programs.
  • Social Emotional Learning and Well-Being (SEL-W) Survey for students and staff: This study will support ISBE to administer the SEL-W survey across the state. The aim of this survey is to gain insight on whether the Learning Renewal—SEL programs have supported improvements in student and teacher social emotional health and well-being. 
  • Analysis of Illinois state data: The main outcome evaluation will use a quasi-experimental design (QED) with matching to compare student and teacher outcomes between schools that participate in the Learning Renewal-SEL programs and similar schools that do not participate in these programs. The study will examine whether the Learning Renewal-SEL programs lead to improvement in school climate; teacher attendance, retention, and well-being; and student academic and social-emotional outcomes.

The research reported here was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305X220015 to the American Institutes for Research. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education.