Committee for Children Blog

The Future of SEL: Navigating Success Through Assessment Partnerships 

A teacher working with her students on their tablets.

How do you ensure that your social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum is not only engaging, but also effective? Reimagine assessment as an integral part of the learning journey.  

Committee for Children is thrilled to announce its partnership with Aperture, the leading provider of assessments that measure the outcomes and effectiveness of SEL curricula. Together, we have developed a set of strength-based, DESSA-aligned assessments for Second Step® Elementary (K–5) and Second Step® Middle School (6–8).  

This partnership brings together decades of expertise, innovation, and passion for nurturing the social-emotional development of children. We sat down with Andrea Lovanhill, Committee for Children’s CEO, and Jessica Adamson, chief strategy officer at Aperture, to learn more about the new assessment tools. 

Why are Aperture Education’s DESSA Assessments important for districts and schools who use Second Step® K–8 programs?  

Andrea: School leaders want to be able to understand the impact of their SEL programs and see how much students are growing. They want to know how to fine-tune their approaches and implementation so they’re providing the best support for students to meet personal and academic goals. That’s why this partnership is so important. We’re able to give school communities what they want most—concrete pathways to student success.  

The DESSA strength-based assessment tools measure eight different social-emotional competencies for multiple grade levels. They help identify and provide insightful data so educators can take actionable steps to support student learning, like tailoring curricula and implementing interventions. Aperture is an expert in the SEL research space and has been the trusted leader in assessments for 65 years. Committee for Children has been the leading provider of SEL curricula for 45 years. Together, we are a powerhouse team of SEL experts working to ensure that kids are learning the skills they need for school and life.   

Jessica: We’re thrilled to partner to create DESSA assessments specifically designed to measure the social-emotional skills taught through Second Step curricula. This partnership allows us to provide data and reports using language and concepts that Second Step users are familiar with. In a time when educators are asked to do more with less time and money, having tools that work together efficiently reduces frustration and maximizes value. 

How are the assessments created and how do you ensure their validity?  

Jessica: Developing our assessments is a scientific process grounded in the latest research. Our assessment tools exceed professional standards for psychometric rigor, ensuring they are reliable, valid, standardized, and free from bias.  

Once we identify which skills we want to measure, we work alongside teachers, students, and other experts to design questions that are easy to understand and relevant to the diverse cultures we serve.  

We run many studies to ensure that we minimize bias and that our assessments reliably measure what we have set out to measure, even when assessed by different people at different times.  

Andrea: By choosing Aperture as our partner, we’re confident that research best practices are incorporated to develop psychometrically sound assessments. Additionally, the assessments use the shared vocabulary of skills learned in our programs to accurately measure success.  

We’re also committed to data security and integrity. School leaders should know that while these assessments align with Second Step Elementary and Second Step Middle School, Committee for Children does not have access to any school’s assessment dashboards, so their data remains private and unbiased.   

How will this partnership benefit educators and students who use the Second Step elementary and middle school programs?  

Jessica: Our assessments are independent of Second Step programs, yet they are seamlessly integrated within students’ learning journey. By logging into the Aperture platform, educators and students can access valuable, reliable, real-time data to help guide their instruction.  

In less than five minutes, elementary and middle school educators can review and understand a student’s social-emotional strengths and skills.  

Middle school students can self-report about their strengths and immediately see their own results, empowering them in their personal development.  

Andrea: Our partnership offers four co-developed assessments demonstrating the impact of our K–8 curricula. The offerings will include options for elementary and middle school observational reporting, and middle school student self-reporting. 

For districts or schools looking to improve the usage and effectiveness of their program, the assessments—which are entirely strength-based—will show social-emotional competencies where students are making gains and what skills have yet to be learned. School leaders will get real-time data on which classrooms need additional implementation support, what program strategies may need to be revisited, and how the program is positively influencing the school community. By having this information as part of our solution set, we can help our school partners and communities achieve greater impact, and more broadly, improve how SEL delivers positive outcomes for each student. 

How will you define partnership success? 

Jessica: A successful partnership is not only about the goals of the organizations, but about those individual moments of growth for educators and support for students. One of my favorite things is seeing a teacher have an “aha” moment when our assessments help them more clearly see the growth of strengths of a student who has been struggling with behavioral issues. It opens a new lens for understanding how students learn and how to support them. When teachers have a more balanced view of students’ skills, they approach working with students more constructively and are more likely to feel optimistic about students’ abilities to respond to instruction. Plus, we know that when we use high-quality assessments, educators can proactively identify kids that need more social and emotional support.  

Andrea: With the shared expertise of our two organizations, success means we’re now able to provide school and district leaders with validated assessments and research-based methods to evaluate the return on their commitment to Second Step programs. Our partnership will provide useful districtwide insights, such as which classrooms and schools may need additional implementation support, or which students may benefit from additional strategies.  Together, we can make ongoing improvements to deliver powerful SEL curricula that continue to provide positive outcomes for kids and their school communities! 

Committee for Children and Aperture expect to offer the new DESSA Second Step® Assessments starting April 4, 2024.   

Learn more about Second Step programs and visit our assessments page for an overview of assessment goals and tools.  

Visit Aperture’s website to learn more about the DESSA Second Step® Assessments.