Research and Publications

In conjunction with the Devereux Center for Resilient Children (DCRC), our school-age initiative strives to conduct research to provide the evidence base for our resources, advance the state of knowledge in our field, and to provide information that will contribute to advocacy efforts for student’s social and emotional health.

Our Research Team

With over 30 years of combined experience in education, social and emotional learning, and resilience; Aperture Education takes pride in its strong research and development team. Led by our Vice President of Research & Development and former Director of the Devereux Center for Resilient Children, Paul LeBuffe, our team is actively engaged in conducting research and evaluation studies that advance knowledge and practice in the SEL field and support our mission. Below, you will find the research and publications specifically related to our Devereux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA), a key feature of our Evo Social/Emotional system.


The Devereux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA) is a 72-item, standardized, norm-referenced behavior rating scale that assesses eight social and emotional competencies that serve as protective factors for children in kindergarten through the eighth grade. The DESSA-Mini is comprised of four 8-item parallel forms which are designed to be used on a universal (i.e. school- or program-wide) basis to determine the need for social and emotional interventions. The four 8-item forms are standardized, norm-referenced behavior rating scales that screen for social and emotional competencies which serve as protective factors for children in kindergarten through the eighth grade. Considering the use of the DESSA to measure outcomes for individual children, groups of children, and/or for program improvement purposes? Download a document that provides the rationale for examining outcomes along with providing specific approaches for measuring outcomes. View Document.


Aperture Research Analyst Dr. Valerie Shapiro is also an Assistant Professor of Social Welfare and Co-Director of the Center for Prevention Research in Social Welfare at the University of California Berkeley. Valerie has received a Stuart Foundation grant to study the implementation of social-emotional learning strategies in Bay Area schools, using the DESSA as an outcome measure. This research project, in collaboration with Dovetail LearningBerkeley Unified School District, and San Lorenzo Unified School District, will collect information from various sites to understand the naturally occurring variation that exists in implementation activities and outputs. This project will also explore the relationship between program implementation and outcomes, generating recommendations for the routine implementation of social-emotional learning programs.  This research will support the adoption and high-quality implementation of effective social-emotional learning programs in schools, promoting the social and emotional well-being of children.

For full press release click here.

Anchorage, Alaska School District is a leading district in implementing Social and Emotional Learning Standards, adopting them district-wide in 2006.  The district educates almost 50,000 students, speaking 91 different languages, with minority students comprising more than 50 percent of the population.  Anchorage has been using the DESSA and DESSA-mini to guide their SEL work and assess social and emotional competencies since 2008.

Through this collaboration, Aperture has not only helped Anchorage to be effective at implementing SEL through assessment, evaluation, and reporting, but collaborative research shows a direct relationship between social and emotional competencies and success in math and reading!

More recently, Aperture has been able to work with Anchorage to assess and build the protective factors of Alaska Native youth. Aperture is collaborating with Project Ki’L, a Title VII Indian Education Program.  Project Ki’L provides an afterschool and summer program that focuses on the culture of Alaska Native and American Indian boys to increase social-emotional skills and academic success. For this project, DESSA is used by teachers and program administrators to design curricula and measure outcomes. View a news clip about Project Ki’L!

Aperture Education has partnered with SCAN Inc., in Fort Wayne, Indiana to use the DESSA to measure and build the protective factors of children in supervised visitation services. These children have been removed from their home due to allegations of abuse and neglect. Through this partnership a curriculum called the Joan Sherman Program for Resilient Children has been developed which uses a coaching model to help parents engage positively with their children during supervised visits.  This project involves a multi-site research study to evaluate the effectiveness of this program for enhancing parenting skills, developing children’s protective factors, and preventing future abuse and neglect.  For more information on the Joan Sherman Program for Resilient Children, click here.

For more information on our work within the Child Welfare System, click here.


DESSA Research Authored by Aperture Team

LeBuffe, P.A., Shapiro, V.B., & Robitaille, J.L. (2017). The Devereux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA) comprehensive system: Screening, assessing, planning, and monitoring. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology (Online first).

Chain, J., Shapiro, V.B., LeBuffe, P.A., Bryson, A.M., & American Indian and Alaska Native Advisory Committee (2017). Academic achievement of American Indian and Alaska Native students: Does social emotional competence reduce the impact of poverty? American Indian and Alaska Native Mental Health Research, 24(1), 1-30. View Abstract.

Shapiro, V.B., Accomazzo, S. & Robitaille, J.L. (2017). In the same ballpark or a whole new ball game? Staff as raters of youth behavior. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 26(4), 1051-1055. View Abstract.

Shapiro, V.B., Kim, B.K.E., Accomazzo, S. & Roscoe, J.N. (2016). Predictors of rater bias in the assessment of social-emotional competence. The International Journal of Emotional Education8(2), 15-35. View Abstract.

Shapiro, V.B, Kim, B.K.E., Robitaille, J.L., & LeBuffe, P.A. (2016). Protective factor screening for prevention practice: Sensitivity and specificity of the DESSA-Mini. School Psychology     Quarterly. Advance online publication. View Abstract.

Shapiro, V.B., Accomazzo, S., Claassen, J., & Fleming, J.L. (2016). The choices, challenges, and lessons learned from a multi-method social-emotional / character assessment in an out of school time setting. Journal of Youth Development: Bridging Research and Practice10(3), 32-45. View Abstract.

Shapiro, V.B. (2015, March). Resilience: Have we not gone far enough? A response to Larry E. Davis [Editorial]. Social Work Research, 39(1), 7-10. View Editorial.

Naglieri, J. A., LeBuffe, P. A., & Shapiro, V. B. (2014). The Devereux Student Strengths Assessment – Mini (DESSA-Mini): Assessment, technical manual, and user’s guide. Charlotte, NC: Aperture Education. (Original work published 2011)

LeBuffe, P. A., Shapiro, V. B., & Naglieri, J. A. (2014). The Devereux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA): Assessment, technical manual, and user’s guide. Charlotte, NC: Aperture Education. (Original work published 2009)

LeBuffe, P.A., Naglieri, J.A., & Shapiro, V.B. (2014). The Devereux Student Strengths Assessment – Second Step Edition (DESSA-SSE): Assessment, Technical Manual, and User’s Guide. Charlotte, NC: Aperture Education. (Original work published 2012)

Smith, G.T., Shapiro, V.B., Sperry, R.W., & LeBuffe, P.A. (2014). A strengths-based approach to supervised visitation in child welfare. Child Care in Practice, 20(1), 98-119. View Abstract.

LeBuffe, P.A., Ross, K.M., Fleming, J.L., & Naglieri, J.A. (2013). The Devereux Suite: Assessing and promoting resilience in children ages 1 month to 14 years. In S. Prince-Embury & D. Saklofske (Eds.). Resilience in Children, Adolescents, and Adults: Translating Research into Practice (pp. 45-59). New York: Springer. View Abstract.

Naglieri, J., LeBuffe, P., & Ross, K., (2013). Measuring Resilience in Children: From Theory to Practice. In  S. Goldstein & R. Brookes (Eds.), Handbook of resilience in children, (pp241-259), New York, NY: Spring-Verlag. View Abstract.

Naglieri, J.A., LeBuffe, P.A., & Shapiro, V.B. (2011). Universal screening for social-emotional competencies: A study of the reliability and validity of the DESSA-mini. Psychology in the Schools – Special Issue on Resilience in the Schools, 48(7), 660-671. View Abstract.

LeBuffe, P.A., Robison, S., & Chamberlin-Elliott, D.J. (2010). Residential treatment centers for children and adolescents with conduct disorders. In R. C. Muirrihy, A. D. Kidman, & T. H. Ollendick (Eds.) Clinical handbook of assessing and treating conduct problems in youth. (pp. 333-364). New York, NY: Springer. View Abstract.

Naglieri, J., Goldstein, S., & LeBuffe, P. (2010). Resilience and impairment: An exploratory study of resilience factors and situational impairment. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 28(4) 349-356. View Abstract.

LeBuffe, P.A. & Shapiro, V.B. (2008). Supporting parent-professional collaboration through strength-based assessment. In C. Newman, C. Liberton, K. Kutash, & R. Friedman (Eds.). A System of Care for Children’s Mental Health: Expanding the Research Base, 20, 263-266. View Abstract.

Shapiro, V.B. & LeBuffe, P.A. (2007). Strengths that matter: An empirical investigation of elementary school student success. In C. Newman, C. Liberton, K. Kutash, & R. Friedman (Eds.). A System of Care for Children’s Mental Health: Expanding the Research Base, 19, 107-110. View Abstract.

Shapiro, V.B. & LeBuffe, P.A. (2006). Using protective factors in practice: Lessons learned about resilience from a study of children aged five to thirteen. In B.M. Lester, A.S. Masten, & B. McEwen (Eds.). Resilience in Children. Annals of the New York Academy of the Sciences, 1094, 350-353. View Abstract.

Nickerson, A.B., Brosof, A.M., & Shapiro, V.B. (2004). Predicting positive outcomes for students with emotional disturbance. The California School Psychologist, 9, 39-49. View Abstract.

Externally Authored DESSA Research and Evaluation

Jones, S., Brush, K., Bailey, R., Brion-Meisels, G., McIntyre, J., Kahn, J., Nelson, B., & Stickle, L. (2017). Navigating SEL from the inside out: Looking inside & across 25 leading SEL programs-A practical resource for schools and OST providers. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Graduate School of Education. Retrieved from:

Doromal, J.B., Cottone, E.A., & Kim, H. (2017). Preliminary validation of the teacher-rated DESSA in a low-income, kindergarten sample.Journal of Pyschoeducational Assessment (Online first).

Melnick, H., Cook-Harvey, C. M., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2017). Encouraging social and emotional learning in the context of new accountability. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute. This report can be found online at

McNeeley, J.T. (2016). An evaluation of the Second Step social emotional learning program in a public charter elementary school (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. View Abstract.

Anderson, R.E. (2015). Focusing on family: Parent-child relationships and school readiness among economically impoverished black children.  The Journal of Negro Education, 84(3), 442-456.  View Abstract.

Bacal, E.B. (2015). The relationship between placement and social skills in gifted students (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ASU electronic dissertations and theses. View Abstract.

Braden, J.P. (2013). Psychological assessment in school settings. In I.B. Weiner, J.R. Graham & J.A. Naglieri. Handbook of psychology, assessment psychology (pp.291-314). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. View Book Synopsis.  View Chapter Excerpt.

Denham, S.A. (2015). Assessment of SEL in educational contexts. In J.A. Durlak, C.E., Domitrovich, R.P. Weissberg, & T.P. Gullotta (Eds.), Handbook of Social and Emotional Learning: Research and Practice (pp. 285-300). View Book Synopsis.

Edwards, C.M. (2015). A Family Visitation Program For Families Involved In The Child Welfare System: A grant proposal. (Master’s thesis). Available from PQDT Open. Retrieved from: View Abstract.

Jenson, J., & Peña S.L. (2013). Research brief number 29:  Participation in Second Step Program improves social and emotional skills in 2012-2013. The Bridge Project. The Graduate School of Social Work University of Denver, Denver, Co. View Research Brief. Learn about The Bridge Project.

Kong, T. (2013). Socioemotional competencies, cognitive ability, and achievement in gifted students (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ASU electronic dissertations and theses. View Abstract.

Low, S., Cook. C.R., Smolkowski, K. & Buntain-Ricklefs, J.B. (2015). Promoting social-emotional competence: An evaluation of the elementary version of Second Step®. Journal of School Psychology, 53, 463-477. View Abstract.

Maras, M.A., Thompson A.M., Lewis, C. Thornburg, K., & Hawks, J. (2015). Developing a tiered response model for social-emotional learning through interdisciplinary collaboration. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 25, 1-26. View Abstract.

Nickerson, A.B., & Fishman, C. (2009). Convergent and divergent validity of the Devereux Student Strengths Assessment. School Psychology Quarterly, 24(1), 48-59. View Abstract.

Nickerson, A.B., & Fishman, C. (2013). Promoting mental health and resilience through strength-based assessment in US schools. Educational and Child Psychology, 30(4), 7-17. View Journal.

Pendry, P., & Roeter, S. (2012). Experimental trial demonstrates positive effects of equine facilitated learning on child social competence. Human-Animal Interaction, 1(1), 1-19. Sign Up for Free Access to this Article.

Perham, H.J. (2012). Interpersonal skills of gifted students: Risk versus resilience. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ASU electronic dissertations and theses. View Abstract.

Rossi, Jessica. (2015). Teacher Child Interaction Training as a Universal Prevention Program in Preschool and Kindergarten Classrooms.  Dissertations 2014 -. Paper 11. View Dissertation.

Tsang, K.L.V., Wong, P.Y.H., & Lo, S.K. (2012). Assessing psychosocial well-being of adolescents: A systematic review of measurement instruments. Child: Care, Health and Development, 38(35), 629-646. View Abstract.

Williams, T., Gomez, E., Hill, E., Milliken, T., Goff, J., & Gregory, N. (2013). The resiliency and attitudes skills profile: An assessment of factor structure. Illuminare: A Student Journal in Recreation, Parks and Leisure Studies, 11(1), 16-30. View Abstract. View Article.

Woodland, S., Porter, R.E., & LeBuffe, P.A. (2011). Assessing strengths in residential treatment: Looking at the whole child. Residential Treatment for Children and Youth, 28(4), 283-302. View Abstract.

Ysseldyke, J., Lekwa, A.J., Klingbeil, D.A., & Cormier, D.C. (2012). Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 22, 21-43. View Abstract.


For a summary and technical information on the DESSA and DESSA-mini tools, click here.

Selected Excerpts From Reviews

“The DESSA is a well-thought-out, appropriately developed test that holds great promise of value for those working with children who face adversity in their lives. The emphasis on identifying positive behaviors is a major attribute of the DESSA.”

Devereux Student Strengths Assessment. (2010). In R. A. Spies, J. F. Carlson, & K. F. Geisinger (Eds.), The eighteenth mental measurements yearbook. Lincoln, NE: Buros Institute of Mental Measurements.  What is Buros Mental Measurements Yearbook?


The Devereux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA) Spanish Equivalency Study

Devereux Center for Resilient Children. (2014). The Devereux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA) Spanish Equivalency Study. Villanova, PA: Sean Woodland, Gabriel Smith, Jennifer Fleming, Kylie O’Neill-Mullin, Alex Shortall, & Katherine Ross.

An Examination of the Devereux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA) as Related to the Social and Work Skills Subscales on the ABAS-II with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and Co-occurring Autism Spectrum Disorders

Devereux Center for Resilient Children. (2013). An Examination of the Devereux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA) as Related to the Social and Work Skills Subscales on the ABAS-II with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and Co-Occuring Autism Spectrum Disorders. Villanova, PA: Richard Allen.

The Devereux Student Strengths Assessment and its Relationship to Academic Achievement

Devereux Center for Resilient Children. (2009). The Devereux Student Strengths Assessment and its Relationship to Academic Achievement. Villanova, PA: Amanda Ball.

Examining the Contextual Validity of the DESSA and DESSA-mini for use in Primary and Middle School Settings

Devereux Center for Resilient Children. (2009). Examining the Contextual Validity of the DESSA and DESSA-mini for use in Primary and Middle School Settings. Villanova, PA: Paul LeBuffe, Amanda Ball & Christopher Hughes.

DESSA-mini: A Strength-based Universal Screener of Students’ Social-Emotional Competence

Devereux Center for Resilient Children. (2009). DESSA-mini: A strength-based universal screener of students’ social-emotional competence. Villanova, PA: Christopher Hughes.



Be a Part of Bringing Evo SEL for Social Emotional Learning in Schools to High School Students

Bring the Evo Social/Emotional Assessment and Intervention System and the DESSA assessment to high schools across the nation. There is a great need for high schoolers to possess strong social and emotional competencies since these skills are critical for success in school, college, and the workplace. The assessments and strategies within the Evo SEL system can strengthen these competencies, but they are currently only available for students in grades K-8.

The DESSA-High School Edition (DESSA-HSE) is currently in the exciting process of being nationally normed and standardized. The DESSA is a strength-based assessment that measures a student’s social and emotional skills, and it is integral to the Evo SEL Assessment and Intervention System.

We need your help to bring the DESSA to the high school level. So Evo SEL can provide social and emotional learning in schools of all grades, DESSA-HSE ratings are needed from high school students, parents, teachers, and out-of-school-time staff so the assessment can be normed. Read more on how your high school can benefit from the DESSA-HSE and Evo SEL—and what you can do to participate.

Partnerships And Collaborations

The Aperture Education team is interested in pursuing partnerships with universities, state and local agencies, and individuals who are planning to embark on research projects involving the DESSA. If you are interested in a partnership with our research team please contact us by clicking the button below.

Student Research Opportunities

Aperture Ed is happy to support graduate students undertaking research projects that involve the DESSA.  Support from us could include consultation with research staff, networking with other researchers or DESSA users in the field, discounted materials, and/or opportunities to present or publish research findings.

Contact us below with your two page research proposal so that we can assess the best way we might be able to support you. Please be sure to include the name of the graduate program in which you are enrolled, the degree sought, and the contact information for your faculty advisor.

Already Doing Research With The DESSA?

Are you already doing research with the DESSA that you’d like to share with us? Contact us below to share your work with the Aperture Ed research team. We would love to hear how you’re using our school-age resources!

Contact Us