Frequently Asked Questions

We’ve pulled together a list of our most frequently asked questions. Looking for something specific? Email us:


SEL is defined by CASEL as, “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

Social and emotional skills are important for both children and adults to build and maintain healthy relationships and to develop a strong and balanced sense of self. These skills are vital in school, after school and in the workplace.

Social and emotional skills have always been an integral part of a school’s environment, but are now more clearly defined and practiced. From self-management to relationship skills, students are confronted each day with situations where social and emotional skills can be used as a toolkit for success.

There are a number of ways you can support SEL at home. If your child’s school has an SEL program in place, there may be resources available to supplement what they are learning. Make sure to check out our free SEL resources page just for parents and families to find activities.

Social and emotional learning, grit, growth mindset, resilience, and personalized competencies are just a few of the terms used to describe the “soft skills” linked to student success. Learn more about each of these terms here.


An SEL assessment is a series of questions that are used to understand a child’s level of social and emotional competence. SEL assessments provide important information to educators to guide social and emotional instruction.

The DESSA stands for the Devereux Student Strengths Assessment, a nationally normed and standardized, strength-based assessment for students in kindergarten through 8th grades. The DESSA was co-authored by our VP of Research & Development, Paul LeBuffe, to assess and understand a child’s social and emotional competence. It has been tested and validated by extensive research, and emphasizes a student’s social and emotional strengths rather than deficits. The DESSA measures eight social and emotional competencies across 72 items: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, Personal Responsibility, Decision Making, Goal-Directed Behavior, and Optimistic Thinking. The DESSA can be administered on Aperture Education’s SEL system, Evo Social/Emotional.

The DESSA asks educators to rate a student using a likert scale (selecting never, rarely, occasionally, frequently, very frequently) based on observations during the past 4 weeks. The DESSA asks things like “During the past 4 weeks, how often did the child…
-learn from experience
-remember important information
-accept another choice when his/her first choice was unavailable”

The DESSA-mini is a brief measure of a student’s overall level of social and emotional competence. It is similar to the DESSA, but is shorter and was developed to quickly screen the social and emotional competence of a large number of students, such as all students in a school or out-of-school time program. The DESSA-mini is only 8 items in length, so it does not provide detailed information about social and emotional competencies like the full 72 item DESSA. It can be completed by parents, teachers, and out-of-school time staff.

No. The DESSA and the DESSA-mini, can be completed without student involvement. However, raters should know the student for at least four weeks. All ratings are based on observable student behaviors and are typically completed by teachers, parents, or out-of-school time staff.

The DESSA has garnered critical acclaim in several publications. It has also been recognized by CASEL, the American Institutes for Research (AIR), and the Raikes Foundation. Learn more.

Raters can include parents, guardians, teachers, and out-of-school time staff. The DESSA was tested to ensure its accuracy is not dependent on who is rating the student. All raters complete the same set of items, which helps to facilitate collaboration across settings. Learn more.

Yes. The DESSA and the DESSA-mini have been tested for reliability and validity. This means that studies have been done to ensure the measures provide consistent and accurate results. Learn more.

The DESSA and the DESSA-mini can be rated digitally on the Evo SEL platform. It can also be printed to create paper record forms.

Scores on the DESSA and the DESSA-mini are presented as numeric T-scores and percentile ranks. Three descriptive terms are also used to help interpret the results: the “strength”, “typical”, and “need for instruction” ranges. High scores on the DESSA and the DESSA-mini reflect social and emotional “strengths”. The middle range of scores represents the “typical” range; most students receive scores in this range. Low scores on the DESSA and the DESSA-mini reflect a “need for instruction”, meaning the student would benefit from additional social and emotional instruction to help build their skillset.

Yes. The DESSA-mini and the DESSA are available in both English and Spanish.

School staff sometimes use the DESSA at the beginning and end of the school year to assess changes in social and emotional competence over time.  Meaning, for example, they assess one time before teaching social and emotional lessons to understand the baseline strengths and needs of children and again after delivering the lessons to determine if students’ demonstrated improvements in social and emotional skills throughout the school year.


Students should never be labeled or graded negatively if they show a “need for instruction” on the DESSA-mini or DESSA. The purpose of the DESSA is to help identify areas of social and emotional strengths as well as social and emotional skills that need to be developed. Students may need help developing these skills and the DESSA provides teachers, counselors and parents with an objective, reliable and valid way of understanding what skills students need to develop as well as monitoring whether the strategies we use to develop the skills are working. If you are concerned about how your student’s school or program leadership is using the DESSA results, we encourage you to have an open conversation with them about these concerns.

Aperture’s Evo SEL online system will maintain the records for as long as your school, district or program maintains a license to use the system but that does not mean that the score will go onto any official school record. The purpose of the DESSA is to help educators understand the strengths and needs of students so they can teach students the social and emotional skills they need to be effective in school and out of school. If you have specific concerns regarding how DESSA data is being used, we encourage you to have a conversation with your principal or program administrator.

Absolutely. Security is our top priority at Aperture Education. We ensure security of student data by hosting our system on the most comprehensive coverage of any provider. Learn more about our dedication to security on our Privacy Page.

Parents are typically entitled to see the results of any of their children’s assessments. Please ask your school or organization for more details.