Playworks Is Ranked a Tier I Social-Emotional Learning Intervention for Elementary Schools

December 12, 2017   


Playworks Is Ranked a Tier I Social-Emotional Learning Intervention for Elementary Schools

National Nonprofit Meets Evidence Requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act

 OAKLAND, CaliforniaA recent review conducted by the RAND Corporation and commissioned by The Wallace Foundation found that Playworks offers one of the few social and emotional learning interventions for elementary schools that meet the highest criteria for evidence of impact under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  This is the first comprehensive review to examine which social and emotional learning interventions qualify for federal funding under ESSA.

The review highlights Playworks, the leading national nonprofit that leverages the power of play to transform children’s social and emotional health, as an evidence-based SEL intervention that states and school districts can apply ESSA funding toward in order to achieve student outcomes of interest. Qualifiers show how Playworks’ school programming is designed to help students build valuable intrapersonal skills and to help schools build positive school climates to get kids in the game and to help schools build stronger communities.

Under ESSA, formally known as the U.S. Elementary and Secondary Education Act, federal funding is distributed to states and school districts to pay for evidence-based learning interventions that impact a variety of outcomes, including enhanced school climate or student engagement. The goal is to provide K-12 students with a well-rounded education that facilitates improved school climate and safety, relationship building and workforce readiness.

The RAND review examined more than 24,000 citations for U.S.-based social and emotional learning (SEL) interventions for K-12 students to determine SEL interventions that should be eligible for federal funds through ESSA. Two independent researchers used the National Research Council framework to examine assessment and outcome data for each eligible study. This framework defines three categories of competencies that contribute to successful experiences in school, the workplace, and beyond: cognitive competencies, intrapersonal competencies and interpersonal competencies.

Overall, 60 evidence-based SEL interventions were identified by RAND to meet ESSA evidence requirements, with 40 at the elementary school level. Studies had to have at least one statistically significant positive result and no statistically significant negative results on an outcome of interest. Playworks was one of only seven elementary school interventions that showed “strong evidence” of impact. Programs included in this tier of evidence were defined as having a randomized control trial conducted in at least two states, localities or districts on a large analytic sample of over 350 participants.

Playworks was one three elementary school programs which ranked in the strongest tier of evidence on eight or more outcomes. Program outcomes of interest where Playworks saw significant findings include class readiness, on-task behavior, transitioning from recess to learning, bullying, inclusiveness, student ownership of recess activities, student safety and student use of positive language.

The review examined outcomes of the Playworks Coach model, which includes classroom, outside of classroom and out of school time components. Playworks Coach is one of the nonprofit’s services implemented in 23 U.S. cities in elementary schools where at least 50 percent of the student population qualifies for free and reduced lunch. Through this model, Playworks staff members work onsite at partner schools year-round to ensure every kid can experience safe and healthy play during school, especially during recess, and after-school.

Reviewers focused on Playworks’ impact on 4th and 5th grade students. They examined a 2013 randomized control trial that evaluated the implementation and impact of Playworks programming. The study, conducted by Stanford University and Mathematica Policy Research, revealed that compared to non-Playworks schools, Playworks schools see:

  • a 43 percent difference in the way teachers rated bullying and discipline issues
  • a 20 percent difference in the way teachers rated students feelings of safety on the playground
  • a 43 percent difference in the amount of time spent in vigorous physical activity during recess
  • a 34 percent difference in time spent transitioning from recess to the classroom

By 2020, the nonprofit has set a goal that there be safe and healthy play reaching 3.5 million kids in 7,000 elementary schools nationwide every day. For more information, visit:


About Playworks

Playworks is the leading national nonprofit leveraging the power of play to transform children’s social and emotional health. Through onsite direct-service coaching, trainings, and consulting, Playworks partners with elementary schools, districts, and after-school programs to integrate physical activity and social-emotional learning skill-building during recess. The goal is to create a safe and welcoming place for every kid on the playground so students feel included, are active and develop valuable social and emotional skills needed to thrive in the classroom and beyond. Playworks is building a play movement to change school culture and shape tomorrow’s citizens. During the 2017-2018 school year, the nonprofit will ensure 1 million kids at 2,000 schools in experience safe and healthy play every day. For more information, visit: For more information, visit:


Allison Epstein