A new school year is here, and you are sold on the importance of social and emotional learning (SEL) in improving student engagement and academic success. As the year kicks off, you are likely busy getting your SEL program up and running, training educators on how to teach SEL, and establishing school-wide SEL practices and policies.

To ensure maximum success of your SEL program, consider how you are planning to measure your program’s effectiveness over time. You can avoid frustrations at the end of the school year by taking some time now to create a plan to define your SEL goals and measure outcomes. Begin by establishing what success means ― what SEL learning outcomes do you want students to master? Once you have clear standards in place, select an SEL assessment that will help you measure how well your program helped you meet your SEL goals.

Clearly Defined Standards

It makes sense that you first need to define what you want to measure. All 50 states utilize learning standards for core academic subjects such as math, language arts and science. These standards are defined by each state’s department of education and clearly define what students are expected to learn in each core subject and each grade level. Teachers are trained to support these standards by ensuring that students master the required concepts for grade promotion and achievement on standardized tests.

As SEL gains more traction, states are recognizing the importance of setting standards around the social and emotional competencies students need to succeed. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), 12 states currently have SEL standards in place for one or more grade levels. By establishing learning goals around SEL, schools can more effectively train educators to support SEL and also measure student progress in developing these important skills.

Need ideas to get started on defining SEL standards for your state or district? Illinois has one of the most comprehensive set of SEL standards and includes the following components:

  • Goal 1: Develop self-awareness and self-management skills to achieve school and life success.
    • Identify and manage one’s emotions and behavior.
    • Recognize personal qualities and external supports.
    • Demonstrate skills related to achieving personal and academic goals.
  • Goal 2: Use social awareness and interpersonal skills to establish and maintain positive relationships.
    • Recognize the feelings and perspectives of others.
    • Recognize individual and group similarities and differences.
    • Use communication and social skills to interact effectively with others.
    • Demonstrate an ability to prevent, manage, and resolve interpersonal conflicts in constructive ways.
  • Goal 3: Demonstrate decision-making skills and responsible behaviors in personal, school and community settings.
    • Recognize the feelings and perspectives of others.
    • Recognize individual and group similarities and differences.
    • Consider ethical, safety and societal factors in making decisions.
    • Use communication and social skills to interact effectively with others.
    • Demonstrate an ability to prevent, manage and resolve interpersonal conflicts in constructive ways.

Each of these goals includes benchmarks and “performance descriptors” that clearly detail what students should know and be able to do in each grade level. You may want to use this framework as a guide as you go through the process of establishing your own SEL standards.

Choosing the Right Metrics for Your School or District

Once your state or district has clearly defined SEL standards, you now need a high-quality SEL assessment to measure student progress in developing these skills. So how do you go about selecting the right tool for your district? Here are some questions to consider:

  • Does the assessment provide a universal screener that can assess all of your students?
  • Is the assessment tool flexible to monitor your district’s SEL program, rather than limited to a specific intervention or population?
  • Does the assessment measure a broad spectrum of social and emotional skills, including CASEL’s five core competencies?
  • Is the assessment research-based, valid, and reliable?
  • Does the assessment tool offer data reporting and a user-friendly interface to help educators easily run reports and use data to guide instruction?
  • Does the assessment provide population and/or student-level reporting?
  • Can the tool monitor change over time, i.e. through pre/post tests and progress monitoring?

To help educators select the best SEL assessment tools for their needs, the Raikes Foundation recently commissioned a report to examine a wide variety of SEL assessments to determine which were the most reliable, valid and usable for schools to measure SEL program effectiveness over time. The researchers required assessments to “have sound psychometric properties, be suited for program evaluation, be readily available for schools to access and obtain information on, and not be designed to assess specific programs.” Of the 73 assessments evaluated, 10 were found to meet the researchers’ criteria and are recommended by the commission.

Aperture Education’s social and emotional learning assessment tool, the Devereux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA), was among the effective SEL assessments identified in this report. The DESSA is a high-quality, standardized SEL assessment tool that measures a broad range of social and emotional competencies in students grades K-8. Educators can use the DESSA to measure how well their SEL program supported their SEL goals over time.

Have fun kicking off the new school year and getting started with your SEL program. Set your program up for success by taking some time to define SEL standards and how you are going to measure the reliability of your SEL program’s expected outcomes over time. Contact our SEL experts to learn more about how the DESSA can meet for your district’s needs for a quality, evidence-based SEL assessment.

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