Expanding the Definition of Student Success:

A Case Study of the CORE Districts



In our latest case study, TransformEd describes how California's CORE Districts created a groundbreaking datasystem that sees students as whole people, not just test scores. The case study provides an in-depth discussion of how social-emotional competencies—a key component of the CORE Districts—were prioritized and assessed. We conclude with lessons learned about the CORE Districts’ innovative system that can inform other next-generation assessment and continuous improvement efforts, including those catalyzed by ESSA.

In particular, this case study addresses the following questions:

  • How have Mindsets, Essential Skills, and Habits (MESH) been operationalized in practice?

  • How can education leaders prioritize a set of MESH competencies and incorporate those into an expanded definition of student success?

  • Are there valid and reliable measures of MESH that districts and states can use to assess students’ development of these skills?

  • What can educators do with MESH data once they have it? 

Embedded throughout the case study, and also accessible below, are links to select tools that states and districts may use to learn from, adapt, or replicate components of the CORE Districts’ approach. With these simple tools, we seek to provide insight into individual pieces of the complex, multi-year undertaking of the CORE Districts and to highlight key elements of their work that may translate to other education systems.

How can you use this case study? The CORE Districts' work occurred under unique circumstances, and it required extensive collaboration with stakeholders. This paper should be read as a helpful resource for states and districts as they consider whether and how to measure MESH, but we do not recommend using the case study as a how-to guide for the creation of an accountability system. At this point, TransformEd recommends using MESH data for formative purposes (e.g., as part of a needs assessment to support school improvement efforts) instead of incorporating these data into a formal accountability system. Please see our forthcoming policy brief on ESSA and MESH for more detailed analysis and recommendations. 

Tool I: Ready To Be Counted: The Research Case for Education Policy Action on Non-Cognitive Skills

This tool, created and published by TransformEd, synthesizes a compelling body of research showing that social-emotional skills have a significant impact on students’ academic, career, and life outcomes.

Tool II: Guiding Questions Regarding Accountability and Continuous Improvement System Values

This tool outlines guiding questions that can help clarify and articulate the values you seek to uphold while designing an accountability and continuous improvement system. 

Tool III: The 3Ms Framework

This tool can help clarify which social-emotional skills you may want to prioritize in your state or district based on the existing body of research. 

Tool IV: Social-Emotional Competencies Selection Process

This tool describes a process that can be used with a diverse group of stakeholders to select and prioritize a limited number of social-emotional competencies for your state or district to focus on.

Tool V: Panorama Education’s Assessment Design Checklist

Using a research-backed approach, this tool can help you improve an existing survey design instrument or select a new one. 

Tool VI: Measuring MESH

This guide, created by TransformEd in partnership with the CORE Districts, provides you with a curated set of survey-based MESH measures used in the CORE districts, along with detailed information on the reliability and validity of those measures. 

Tool VII: Exploring Your Culture-Climate and Social-Emotional Data

This tool supports district and school leaders in guiding teachers through a data inquiry process to identify relevant data points, make inferences based on the data, select actions to take based on their inferences, and test the impact of those actions through a cycle of continuous improvement. 

Tool VIII: Resources and Sample Strategies for Social-Emotional Learning and School Culture & Climate

This tool compiles strategies that educators can use to support students’ social-emotional development and improve school culture/climate.

Tool IX: The Power of Data

This tool demonstrates how you interpret and use data that emerges from survey-based assessments of social-emotional skills and school culture/climate. 

Tool X: Professional Learning Communities Rubric

This tool serves as an implementation rubric to help you identify where you are in the process of developing a professional learning community. 

Tool XI: SFUSD Standards-Based Report Card Teacher Guide

This tool provides you with a concrete example of how one school district has incorporated SE skills into a student report card. 

Please see our free toolkits that can serve as effective resources to help school systems improve outcomes for all students.