Committee for Children Blog

Top 6 Considerations for Measuring Social-Emotional Learning

Social-emotional learning measurement and assessment in schools

Do you currently support students’ development of social-emotional learning competencies? If so, chances are you’re thinking about social-emotional learning (SEL) assessments. One of the challenges you may have encountered when thinking about how to measure SEL in your own setting is that the field is still emerging. There are a limited number of valid and reliable tools. The available tools may not align with the standards or framework of your state. Or they may not be feasible to use.

Good news. Over the past few months, several new resources became available to help with SEL assessment decision-making, including the Assessment Guide from CASEL (you’ll need to fill out a brief form to access it). CASEL’s guide was developed from two years of collaboration among a large group of researchers, practitioners, and others with extensive knowledge of topics such as social-emotional learning practices, research, and assessments. When making decisions about SEL assessments, start with these “Big 6” SEL measurement considerations that emerge from those resources.

1. Remember the Purpose—Take a Strengths-Based Approach

CASEL’s Assessment Guide cautions against using social-emotional learning assessments to screen for emotional or behavioral deficits; there are other tools for that purpose. Instead, a focus on student strengths promotes positive growth and prevents problems from emerging, so the guide recommends SEL assessments to be used to promote healthy development of students’ attitudes, knowledge, and skills.

2. Keep a Developmental Lens

Because social-emotional learning is a process of development, and success at developmental tasks and skills varies across ages and grade levels, state SEL standards should include different developmental tasks at different age levels, and assessments should mirror that to best inform instruction. This can be incorporated through tools such as a rubric that shows how the competencies change and how they can be addressed differently across ages.

Methods for assessing social-emotional learning competencies should also be developmentally appropriate. For example, interviews may be a more appropriate method for older students than for younger grades. For more on developmental considerations, read Susanne Denham’s new brief on keeping a developmental lens when assessing SEL competencies.

3. Gather Takeaways from Others Who Already Do Social-Emotional Learning Assessments

Many districts have already invested much time and energy into SEL assessment planning and are deep into the process of measuring SEL and using data to inform their work. Learn from them by reading their stories and examples. Start with these: Hoosick Falls, Austin ISD, Naperville, Council Bluffs, and Washoe County Schools.

4. Focus on the Environment

Social-emotional learning develops in the context of a positive climate and strong positive relationships. Good SEL assessments foster conversations about needed adjustments in the environment, such as adult supports and instructional practices. Consider using SEL assessment data to guide decisions about how to adjust environmental supports—and stay away from assessments that lead to conversations about how to “fix” children.

5. Ensure Equity

Social-emotional learning measures should recognize cultural assets and validate people for who they are and what they bring. That means capturing strengths from the perspectives of all cultures, not just the dominant culture.

6. Explore Existing Tools First

To find the right social-emotional learning assessment tool, start by looking into research-based tools that are both reliable and valid. Programs like Second Step help ease the challenges of SEL assessment by providing measurement resources that align with states’ curricula and the competencies supported within them. Second Step resources also guide you in how to use the assessment tools. These are two of my favorites:

Although your decisions about the how and what of SEL assessment take careful thought and deliberation, the resources in this post should give you a good start. Happy planning.