The Bridgeport Public Schools Social and Emotional Learning Initiative seeks to grow and sustain a district-wide learning model that actively engages all initiative stakeholders to deepen their knowledge base, understanding, and commitment to the academic, social, and emotional growth of BPS students, families, and staff. Now in its ninth year, the BPS SEL Initiative seeks to build on the positive results achieved to date and continue to enhance SEL efforts within the district and the community at large. Since the Initiative’s inception, partners have included: Bridgeport Public Schools, Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition and the Parent Leadership Training Institute at RYASAP, Optimus Healthcare, Southwest Community Health Center, The Consultation Center at Yale, and Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

Progress Snapshot

The Bridgeport Public Schools Initiative (BPS SEL Initiative) is arguably TFF’s flagship investee, 19,449[1] children in the 2020-21 school year. The Initiative has received approximately $1.5 million in funding since 2013, as well as a significant time investment from TFF staff, in response to the complexity of the Initiative and the number of partners. A reasonable estimate for the cumulative total of those touched by the Initiative over eight years of investment to date is close to 30,000 children. Without TFF’s investment and efforts to secure additional funding partners, the BPS SEL Initiative “wouldn’t have happened,” believes Fran Rabinowitz, Executive Director, Association for Connecticut Public School Superintendents. Rabinowitz, a Bridgeport native who served as BPS’s interim superintendent from 2014-2017, had experience with the RULER Approach to SEL in her previous superintendency in nearby Hamden, CT. In Bridgeport, she led the development and execution of an ambitious three-year improvement plan, and championed SEL expansion from a pilot school, Wilbur Cross Elementary, to the entire BPS district during her leadership tenure.

The BPS SEL Initiative has been documented in detail by previous reports and case studies including: Social and Emotional Learning in Bridgeport Public Schools: An Initial Report to the Community (2016) and Bridgeport Public Schools Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Partnership Community Update (2018). The reports, co-published by BPS, The Consultation Center at Yale, and Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, offer detailed implementation timelines and summarize compelling implementation and outcome data around the SEL Initiative’s effectiveness.

Bridgeport Public Schools Composition, 2020 - 21

The decision in 2014 to implement RULER in all 37 of BPS’s diverse schools marked one of just a handful of medium-to-large, urban school districts in the US embarking on district-wide SEL, with CASEL’s Collaborating Districts Initiative notably leading the way in demonstrating the feasibility and power of systemic SEL. By the end of 2015, each BPS K-8 school had sent an SEL team of educators to RULER training and begun to implement RULER with its teachers. By the fall of 2016, all K-8 schools had begun to implement RULER with their students. Remarkably, BPS has had four superintendents over the past eight years, yet it has sustained its focus on student social and emotional well-being, evolving its approach in response to the district’s needs and advances in the field’s science. Since 2012 the district has been led by Paul Vallas, Fran Rabinowitz, Aresta Johnson (a stalwart SEL advocate who maintained a strong commitment to SEL after Rabinowitz’s departure), and current Superintendent, Mike Testani. Rabinowitz and Testani both attribute many positive changes to the SEL Initiative’s catalytic influence, including the district’s implementation of not only evidenced-based SEL programming, but trauma-informed practices, culturally responsive pedagogy, restorative justice, and disciplinary policy changes which decreased out of school and in school suspensions and increased attendance. Graduation rates also rose during the majority of the investment period (view analysis of eight years of the BPS SEL Initiative’s outcome data here.) These leaders agree that the TFF-instigated SEL Task Force, which includes representatives from the Bridgeport community, has bolstered the Initiative’s staying power by ensuring a systemic, inclusive approach, offering external accountability, and increasing community buy-in.

The SEL Task Force consists of 42 members representing the district, parents/caregivers, community-based organizations and health centers, and other community stakeholders, and meets virtually on a regular basis. A smaller, more agile SEL Core Team, spearheads planning and works closely with TFF.

A career education leader, Rabinowitz marvels at the unusual level of community enthusiasm for the SEL Initiative. While not all school board members necessarily understood the endeavor during her tenure, she explains, district families and the wider Bridgeport community appeared to appreciate it more fully. In the second school year of TFF’s investment (2014-15), more than 250 people attended a community gathering to learn more about SEL, an excellent turnout for a community where many people work multiple jobs and time is a precious commodity, Rabinowitz reports. By the end of Rabinowitz’s superintendency, multiple cohorts of parents/caregivers had participated in RULER’s train-the-trainer model, as had school security guards, community groups such as Bridgeport Caribe Youth Leaders, and the Bridgeport police department.

Bridgeport’s current superintendent, Mike Testani, is a BPS veteran having spent 19 years in administration and site-based roles. He began his career as a school counselor, so his understanding of SEL’s importance is anchored in those early years. He asserts that SEL “always benefits students. It is hard to measure but it is so essential.” Testani also believes: “TFF’s investment has been the driving force for recognizing the impact SEL has on children in our district, to the point we are trying to push it to the next level.” Testani detailed some of the district’s goals for the future: “RULER is great, we’ve added Restorative Practices, and now we’re stepping it up again” with equity-centered policy shifts and additional programming. During hybrid and remote learning in 2020-21, BPS promoted  Move This World, a video-based SEL program, for use by students and families at home. And, as students returned to in-person classes, BPS continued to build staff capacity through professional learning on trauma-informed SEL.

Mike Testani, Bridgeport Public Schools Superintendent

Accessing federal American Rescue Plan Act funds, the district is adding counselors and social workers, and collaborating more intentionally with community-based partners to provide wrap-around supports to students and families. Bolstered by a national movement to reduce racial disparities in student discipline, Testani aims to reduce the number of security officers in six of the district’s schools, employing Restorative Practices facilitators instead. “If we’re going to make systemic changes, we need to take it to another level outside of training and be more aggressive in living up to what our promises are.” Testani admits that even with BPS’s long-term focus, a few teachers continue to feel “SEL isn’t their responsibility,” prompting the district to, among other activities, supply every BPS educator with Jeffrey Benson’s book, Improve Every Lesson with SEL. Benson’s book focuses on SEL and academic integration to bolster student engagement and more equitable outcomes.

Bridgeport Public Schools rightfully celebrates the SEL Initiative’s progress while also acknowledging that sustaining district-wide change is difficult–even without the far-reaching impacts of widespread societal unrest and poverty against the backdrop of a global pandemic. Though the SEL Initiative remains a district priority, like all districts, BPS requires substantial central office staffing to support its school-based SEL teams. Established in 2017, the SEL Coordinator role was designated a Teacher on Special Assignment position and energetically filled by Carrie Ramanauskas until summer 2021, when she returned to the classroom. The SEL Coordinator role has since been absorbed into the Coordinator of Family and Community Engagement, a newly established position. Between 2017 and 2021, Ramanauskas co-chaired the district SEL Task Force and worked to make SEL practical and accessible to adults, students, and families alike. Tools such as CASEL’s Implementation Rubrics and the Illinois SEL Standards, paired with the Learning for Justice Social Justice Standards helped teachers set student learning objectives. In her SEL Coordinator role, Ramanauskas offered a menu of professional learning, coaching, and networking options to schools, allowing her to differentiate support based on a school’s implementation progress. Beginning in 2017, the district began including Restorative Practices and RULER in their new hire training for all educators and leaders. Each new hire receives a detailed binder and access to RULER’s curriculum and resources via their online platform. Ramanauskas acknowledges turnover as a challenge to SEL sustainability, but also points to the districts deep bench of trained staff including: several central office RULER trainers; each school’s 5-person SEL team; and, approximately 30 licensed Restorative Practices trainers–certified through the International Institute for Restorative Practices. Given the commitment to iteratively building capacity within the district, she feels BPS is well positioned to utilize the embedded knowledge effectively.

Carrie Ramanauskas, Bridgeport Public Schools

Funded by TFF, BPS partnered with The Consultation Center at Yale (TCC) from 2013-2019 to support SEL implementation quality and data-driven continuous improvement. Beginning in 2015-16, TCC helped BPS to survey administrators, teachers, and staff 2-3 times per year to collect information about SEL implementation. TFF also funded BPS’s adoption of the Panorama survey platform to survey students annually about school climate, SEL, and related outcomes for students. Ramanauskas experienced the TCC partnership as highly beneficial in ensuring the surveys were as useful as possible: “we could ask for the data we wanted and needed, like measures of cultural competence, given we were training around it. Without Mike [Strambler] and Joanna [Meyer] we wouldn’t have had the expertise to do it correctly. They made a big difference to our understanding of what data to collect and how to use it well.” As SEL Coordinator, Ramanauskas would meet with school SEL teams to review school-level results from the SEL Implementation staff survey and the School Climate and SEL student survey and help staff strategize around sustaining or improving school-wide practices in response to the data. The survey questions TCC developed in partnership with BPS staff, which included select items from Panorama’s surveys can be viewed on OSFHome, an open-source research platform. BPS surveys continue to evolve based on district priorities and preferences and examples of Panorama survey questions used during the 2021-22 school year can be viewed in the Appendix.

Promoting student engagement and voice are important parts of BPS’s equity-focused SEL Initiative, with youth leadership and participation helping to build the Initiative’s influence and impact. In addition to adult SEL teams, each school has a team of Student SEL Ambassadors. While participation differs from school to school, Student SEL Ambassadors plan and carry out events and activities aimed at deepening connections, building community, and demonstrating inclusion and kindness within their schools, including running trainings on building positive school climate and other timely topics for adults and students. A student and SEL Ambassador at Central High School, explained some ways Ambassadors support new students by helping them “come out of their little shells . . . sometimes that can be hard because I was a bit shy myself, but whenever you get to speak to people you can relate to, it can help you know who you want to be around and what you want to accomplish in high school.”

Ramanauskas appreciates TFF’s efforts to amplify BPS students’ stories, both to spread good news about a place best known for its challenges, and to encourage additional funding: “We have so many incredible students and that’s not really what gets publicized, so I think bringing people [funders] in to know who they’re impacting is so important. It’s just a lack of opportunity for our students [to showcase their talents] . . . when they have opportunities, they just bloom.” Since its inception, social and emotional learning at BPS has received financial support from 10 additional funders, both national and local, many of which were introduced to district leaders by TFF. Though the Initiative must continue to evolve in response to student and community needs, Testani feels there is “no question,” that SEL is a permanent fixture at BPS.

“I want people to know we have a lot of potential. As Bridgeport students, we aren’t always looked on as people with potential or kids with talent. We’re often looked upon as though ‘Oh they’re dangerous, they’re bad kids.’ But we have a lot of potential–everyone in Bridgeport has potential–down to the babies up to the grandmas and grandpas. I definitely think a light needs to be shone upon kids of our generation. There are so many changes being made, and when you look at who is making the changes, it’s the kids! We are the future. So, definitely show that we are the change and we have a lot of potential.”

– Student and SEL Ambassador at Warren Harding High School

Outcome Data Analysis

Based on data from the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE), district-level rates of chronic absenteeism in BPS decreased between 2012-13 and 2016-17 for grades K-8 and between 2012-13 and 2015-16 for grades 9-12. Values were somewhat higher between 2017-2018 and 2019-20, followed by a substantial increase for grades K-8 in 2020-21, the first full school year of the pandemic. Note that the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting transition to remote and hybrid learning dramatically affected school attendance in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years (Fig. 4).

Source of data: CSDE data from
* In the 2019-20 school year, all schools closed in March for in-person learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
** In the 2020-21 school year, many students attended school remotely/virtually for part or all of the school year.

The percentage of BPS students with one or more exclusionary discipline sanction (in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, or expulsion) has decreased steadily between 2012-13 and 2019-20 (Fig.5). It is important to note that sanctions data from the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years are not comparable to data from the previous years, given that exclusionary discipline is used mainly during in-person schooling and many students attended school remotely for a substantial portion of these two school years. Please also note that the case study team was unable to determine rates separately for students in grades K-8 and grades 9-12.

Source of data: CSDE data from
* In the 2019-20 school year, all schools closed in March for in-person learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
** In the 2020-21 school year, many students attended school remotely/virtually for part or all of the school year.

Although BPS has used a variety of reading and math assessments to monitor student progress across each school year, those data were not available for this report. Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) achievement scores from the CSDE indicate that the percentage of grade 3-8 students proficient in math increased steadily between 2014-15 and 2018-19, whereas the percentage of grade 3-8 students proficient in English Language Arts (ELA) generally increased between 2015-16 and 2018-2019 (Fig. 6).

Source of data: CSDE data from

As shown in Fig. 7, school-day SAT tests completed by high school students show more variable rates of proficiency in ELA and math between 2014-15 and 2018-19. Please note that comparable SBAC or SAT data is not available for the 2019-20 or 2020-21 school years. Schools did not administer these assessments during the 2019-20 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These assessments were administered during the 2020-21 school year, but the CSDE reported results separately for three groups of students, based on the learning mode: mostly in-person, hybrid, or mostly remote.

Source of data: CSDE data from

It is also notable that four-year graduation rates for BPS students increased steadily from 2014-15 through 2018-19, the final year before the pandemic (Fig. 8).

*Note that the COVID-19 pandemic began in March of 2020, affecting the graduating class of 2020. Source of data: CSDE data from

Since 2015, BPS has administered a school climate survey each spring to students in grades 3-8; high school students participated in this survey during some years. Please note that the survey was not administered in 2020, when schools were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This case study focuses on survey results from grades 3-8, the grade levels that have participated in the survey consistently. Although different versions of the survey are administered in grades 3-5 and 6-8, several of the same domains are included in both versions. One such domain is student-teacher trust, which measures student perceptions about the level of trust in student-teacher relationships in their school. A high percentage of BPS students responded favorably to these items, with percentages generally rising over time (Fig. 9).

Source of data: BPS School Climate and SEL Survey for students
*The school climate survey was not administered in 2020 due to pandemic-related school closures.

Another shared domain is emotional climate, which measures student perceptions of the social and emotional support that they receive from their classmates and the adults in their school. Although a smaller percentage of BPS students responded favorably to these items, compared to student-teacher trust, the percentage also seems to be increasing over the investment period (Fig. 10). Other domains administered at both grade levels include rules and norms, personal safety, peer relationships, sense of belonging, and academic engagement. More information about the BPS School Climate and SEL survey for students is available here.

Source of data: BPS School Climate and SEL Survey for students
*The school climate survey was not administered in 2020 due to pandemic-related school closures.

The BPS school climate survey also includes items that ask students to rate their own social and emotional skills. Two domains are included in the version of the survey for grades 3-5 and the version for grades 6-8: emotion self-regulation and behavior self-regulation. About half of BPS students report strong emotion self-regulation skills, with the percentage generally increasing over time (Fig. 11).

Source of data: BPS School Climate and SEL Survey for students
*The school climate survey was not administered in 2020 due to pandemic-related school closures.

Over three-quarters of BPS students report strong behavior self-regulation skills, with percentages decreasing slightly over time (Fig. 12).

Source of data: BPS School Climate and SEL Survey for students
*The school climate survey was not administered in 2020 due to pandemic-related school closures.

The strength of SEL implementation varies over time among schools and within schools. From fall 2015 through fall 2019, BPS used a SEL implementation survey developed by The Consultation Center at Yale (TCC) to collect SEL implementation data from K-8 teachers and other staff members 2-3 times per year. High schools began to participate in the survey in fall 2018. The SEL implementation survey asks respondents to report on many aspects of SEL practices and perceptions, and the survey is not designed to produce a single composite value.

Source of data: BPS SEL Implementation Survey for Teachers and Staff

Between fall 2015 and fall 2019, TCC produced detailed district-level and school-level reports for each survey, which were shared with district and school leaders. In addition, TCC selected four SEL implementation indicators in 2015 on which TCC presented results periodically in the district’s monthly meeting for school and district leaders.

Source of data: BPS SEL Implementation Survey for Teachers and Staff
*From fall 2015 to spring 2018, this survey item asked how often teachers had used the Mood Meter in the past week. In fall 2018, the item was modified to ask how often teachers had used the Mood Meter in the past month. For all years, the graph reports the percentage of teachers who indicated they used the Mood Meter at least weekly over the period specified.

There are some important caveats to consider when interpreting results from the BPS SEL implementation survey. First, although the survey was administered by TCC and respondents were assured that their responses would remain confidential, teachers may not have felt comfortable reporting accurately on their classroom practices and professional opinions related to SEL. In addition, response rates were variable across schools and over time, which affects the representativeness of survey data. When and where response rates were low, survey data may not accurately represent the overall population, especially given that teachers who are highly invested in SEL or strongly opposed to SEL may be more likely to participate in the survey.

Source of data: BPS SEL Implementation Survey for Teachers and Staff
*From fall 2015 to spring 2018, this survey item asked about teachers’ level of comfort with teaching RULER lessons. In fall 2018, the item was modified to ask about teachers’ level of comfort with teaching SEL lessons, including RULER, Restorative Practices, ACES/trauma‐informed practices, cultural competency, etc. This change may explain the dramatic increase in values for fall 2018 to fall 2019.

Despite these caveats, the case study team believes this survey provides valuable insight into district- and school-level SEL implementation. Figs. 13-16 describe how district-level values for four SEL implementation indicators vary over time through fall 2019, the final SEL implementation survey administered before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Source of data: BPS SEL Implementation Survey for Teachers and Staff
*From fall 2015 to spring 2018, this survey item asked about teachers’ perceptions about the value of RULER. In fall 2018, the item was modified to ask about the value of SEL in general, including RULER, Restorative Practices, ACES / trauma‐informed practices, cultural competency, etc.

Examining the association between school-level SEL implementation and outcomes in BPS. (The full analyses for this section can be viewed in the BPS SEL Initiative’s Full Quantitative Analysis document in the Appendix.)

SEL implementation varies across schools; in addition, there is variation across schools in the behavioral outcomes (chronic absenteeism and exclusionary discipline sanctions), academic outcomes (reading and math proficiency), school climate outcomes (student-teacher trust and emotional climate), and self-reported SEL skills (emotion self-regulation and behavior self-regulation) presented at the district level. For this reason, the case study team elected to use school-level values for these variables to examine the relationship among these factors.

Compiling school-level data. To conduct these analyses, the case study team compiled school-level data for all BPS elementary/middle schools, using the sources described in the Investee Outcome Data Overview section of this report. The team did not include BPS high schools in these analyses because, compared to elementary/middle schools, high schools:

  • launched the district’s SEL Initiative years later,
  • have systematically higher rates of chronic absenteeism and exclusionary discipline sanctions,
  • have substantially different ways of measuring ELA and math proficiency,
  • did not administer the district’s school climate and SEL survey for students during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years, and
  • did not administer the district’s SEL implementation survey for teachers/staff until the 2018-19 school year.

For the behavioral outcomes (chronic absenteeism and exclusionary discipline sanction rates), the case study team compiled data beginning with the 2012-2013 school year, which was the year before TFF began its investment in the district. For academic outcomes, school climate outcomes, and SEL outcomes, the team compiled data beginning with the 2014-2015 school year, which was the earliest year of data available. In addition, this was the year that school leaders from K-12 schools and SEL teams from BPS elementary/middle schools began to receive RULER training.

Because the case study team planned to analyze whether SEL implementation predicted these outcomes, the team chose to quantify SEL implementation at a single point in time. Given that implementation generally strengthens over the course of time, both within and across school years, the team chose to use data from the final spring administration of the SEL implementation survey before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Analyzing effects. After compiling the school-level data for Bridgeport’s 29 elementary/middle schools, the team analyzed the relationship between each of the four SEL implementation indicators and each of the eight outcomes. After identifying the most appropriate mathematical equation for each of the 32 predictor-outcome pairs (4 SEL implementation indicators x 8 student outcomes), the team used the values produced by a regression analysis to determine whether the outcome changed statistically[2] over time, with the SEL implementation indicator, or both. More details on these analyses are available in the Appendix.

Results. Ultimately, the case study team determined that five of eight outcomes changed statistically over time. This change was linear for two outcomes: math proficiency rates increased steadily over time and exclusionary disciplinary sanction rates decreased steadily over time. Change was non-linear for three outcomes: chronic absenteeism, ELA proficiency, and behavior self-regulation. Although chronic absenteeism, ELA proficiency, and behavior self-regulation rates were predicted by time, the trend was not steady; rates decreased over early years and then increased over later years. Of these five outcomes, none were associated with any of the four SEL implementation indicators (shown in table 1).

Three of eight outcomes did not change statistically over time: student-teacher trust, emotional climate, and emotion self-regulation. This finding likely indicates that school-level values for these three outcomes are quite stable over time, similar to the stability shown on the bar graphs of district level values for these outcomes. (See Figs 13-16 in SEL Implementation section.)

Discussion. There are several possible explanations for the finding that the four SEL implementation indicators do not predict any of the eight outcomes examined. Although contrary to established research, it is possible that these particular outcomes are not affected by the implementation of SEL programming. More likely, the lack of statistical associations is a result of limitations in the data. For example, it is possible that the four SEL implementation indicators do not capture SEL implementation with adequate accuracy and precision. For instance, the survey data may not fully represent the reality on the ground due to imperfections in survey items, bias in teacher responses, teacher participation patterns, etc. Third, the limited statistical power that results from a sample of only 29 schools means that the quantitative analyses can detect only large statistical effects. In other words, it is possible that effects are present, but they are too small for us to detect because of the small sample size. Finally, using indicators of SEL implementation at a single point in time doesn’t capture changes in SEL implementation over time, which may be relevant. For example, a school with a high level of SEL implementation in the spring of 2019 may have had a high level of implementation for several years, or its high level of implementation may be a recent development. Using values from one point in time does not account for differences in different schools’ trajectories on their SEL journeys.

Results of school-level analyses of the association between SEL implementation indicators, student outcomes, and time.

*The quantitative analyses showed that this outcome changed statistically with time in a non-linear way. In other words, the outcome did not increase steadily over time or decrease steadily over time. For more information, please see the full quantitative analyses section in the Appendix.

1 The number of BPS students and the adjoining racial/ethnic composition figure are taken from Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition’s State of the Child 2020 report.

2 In other words, the quantitative team determined whether there was a statistically significant association between each student outcome and time and whether there was a statistically significant association between each student outcome and each SEL implementation indicator. Because the term statistically significant is often equated erroneously with the word significant in the everyday sense of the word (meaningful), this case study describes changes in student outcomes as statistical changes, rather than statistically significant changes. More information on statistical significance is available in the Quantitative Analysis Technical Details appendix.