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What You Need to Know About SEL’s Most Well-Regarded Assessment Suite, the DESSA From Aperture Education

The DESSA suite of SEL assessments empowers educators to build a measurable and actionable social and emotional learning (SEL) program with reliable assessment. The DESSA is an empirical, standardized social and emotional competence (SEC) assessment with editions that support students K-12. The DESSA suite complements many different educational models, including MTSS, RTI, PBIS, and Gifted and Talented. It provides a common lens and language for crafting an SEL program that involves educators, parents, and students. 

Grounded in resilience theory and directly aligned to the CASEL™ framework, the DESSA is a user-friendly, practical SEC assessment that meets the highest professional standards. The DESSA is commonly used to inform the delivery of SEL at Tier 1 or Tier 2 as well as measuring the results of that delivery. The DESSA suite includes assessments and screeners that adapt to K-8 and 9-12 settings.

The DESSA can be completed by teachers, staff at schools, parents/guardians, and child-serving agencies, including out-of-school time (OST), social service, and mental health programs. The assessment is entirely strength-based; meaning that the items query positive behaviors (e.g., get along with others) rather than maladaptive ones (e.g., annoy others). The same form is used for both parent and teacher raters. For each item, the rater is asked to indicate on a five-point scale how often the student engaged in that behavior over the past four weeks.  For students grades 9-12, a self-report is available through Aperture Education’s digital Student Portal.

The DESSA is organized into conceptually derived scales that provide information about eight key social and emotional competencies aligned to CASEL standards. Standard scores can be used to calibrate each child’s competence in each of the eight dimensions and guide school/program-wide, class-wide, and individual strategies to promote those competencies.  

Trusted by Johns Hopkins University, American Institutes for Research (AIR), the Rand Corporation, City Year, and the Y of the USA for use in major studies, the DESSA sets the standard for SEL assessment. The DESSA-mini one-minute screener is the only screener to meet the universal criteria set forth by the World Health Organization and predicts social and emotional competence with 95% accuracy. The suite of assessments has supported over 1 million students.  


DESSA K-8 SEL Assessments and Screeners

DESSA (K-8) 

A teacher rating tool established in over a decade of science and peer-reviewed literature. 

72 questions 

5-8 minutes to complete 

8 competencies aligned to CASEL 

English and Spanish 

DESSA-mini (K-8) 

The only social and emotional screener to meet the universal criteria set forth by the World Health Organization. 

8 questions  

1 minute to complete 

4 forms for screening and progress monitoring, 1 form is used per rating period

Aperture has also collaborated with Committee for Children on the DESSA –Second Step Edition and Kickboard on the DESSA SEL Inventory. 


DESSA 9-12 SEL Assessments and Screeners

DESSA-High School Edition (DESSA-HSE) (9-12) 

A teacher-rating tool to help high school staff and students dig deeper into student strengths and growth opportunities. 

43 questions  

3-5 minutes to complete 

DESSA-High School Edition mini (DESSA-HSE mini) (9-12) 

A teacher-rating screening tool to help high school staff quickly identify student strengths and growth opportunities. 

8 questions  

1 minute to complete 

DESSA-Student Self-Report (DESSA-SSR) (9-12) 

A student self-rating that delivers real-time results and immediate strategies directly to students to drive change. 

55 questions 

5-7 minutes to complete 

Real-time feedback directly to students through the Aperture Student Portal 


About Aperture

Aperture Education empowers over 3,000 schools and out-of-school-time programs across North America to measure, strengthen, and support social and emotional competence in K-12 youth and educators. This system enables education leaders can make strategic, data-based decisions about SEL within their organizations. The Aperture system includes the DESSA suite of strength-based assessments, CASEL-informed intervention strategies, and robust reporting, all in one easy-to-use digital platform. Aperture has supported over one million students in their social and emotional growth and continues to develop innovative solutions to bring the whole child into focus. If you are ready to learn more about how the DESSA can help your K-12 students, contact us at sales@apertureed.com.

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