As Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) continues to grow in prominence, more and more states and districts are adopting SEL standards. Just as with academics, SEL standards ensure accountability and help educators plan, implement, and assess student learning. For this reason, schools need access to well-researched, evidence-based assessments that align to SEL best practices and the goals of SEL instruction.

But not all SEL assessments are created equal.

Before selecting an SEL measurement tool, know the difference between evidence-based, validated assessments and less formal SEL surveys. To achieve the best SEL implementation results, schools must select a quality, research-based assessment that will help streamline instruction, tailor supports to achieve predefined learning goals, and effectively measure outcomes. Consider several domains when determining if an SEL assessment will align to standards and maximize student outcomes.

Is the tool research-based, reliable, and valid?

Many SEL surveys claim to be “research-based” but do not meet rigorous standards. To ensure the accuracy of the data you collect, the SEL assessment should be standardized and norm-referenced, ideally through a large and diverse national sample of students. It must also have high reliability and strong assessment validity to support the intended uses of the assessment.

Does the tool support your SEL standards?

In an academic setting, you wouldn’t utilize an assessment that only measures factual recall if your objective is to teach analytical skills. The same is true for SEL assessments: In order to measure and tailor instruction to specific social and emotional competencies, you need a tool that is research-based and aligned to SEL standards. Otherwise, how can you be sure the data you’re collecting is valid, accurate, and supports your SEL program goals?

Does the tool accurately identify student needs and help guide instruction?

One of the most important reasons to collect SEL data is to identify individual student strengths and areas where improvement is needed in order to inform social and emotional instruction. The quality of the measurement tool is critical — the data must be accurate to ensure you’re focusing on the correct skills and maximizing instructional impacts.

Are you able to document progress and support RtI?

Less formal SEL surveys may be limited in their ability to document progress as students learn social and emotional skills throughout the year. Applying a Response to Intervention (RtI) framework enables you to collect SEL data throughout the year and use this information to modify teaching strategies, redirect your teaching focus, and help students achieve higher rates of success. 

Can the tool help with accountability?

Quality SEL assessments can support schools’ accountability for having systems in place that teach social and emotional skills to students. SEL data can guide and improve instruction and demonstrate and document progress toward ensuring all students attain social and emotional competence. Research-based SEL assessments support these systems by providing consistent and accurate information that can be used throughout the SEL implementation process.

When choosing an SEL assessment, start by examining the goals of your SEL implementation. Look for a standardized assessment that is shown to have high reliability and validity. The tool also should be evidence based and measure the social and emotional skills that align to your goals and standards, which often fit into the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) framework. And finally, the assessment should provide pre/post data as well as facilitate progress monitoring that can take place during implementation.

The Devereux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA) is a nationally recognized and award-winning assessment that meets rigorous research standards. The DESSA is standardized and norm-referenced, with a standardization sample of 2,494 ratings completed by teachers, out-of-school time staff, and parents on students grades K-8. It meets or exceeds recommended standards for reliability and validity, is grounded in social and emotional learning and resilience theory, and aligns with CASEL’s five core SEL competencies. Additionally, the DESSA-mini, a brief 8-item version of the DESSA, can be used by schools and districts to quickly and accurately screen students’ social and emotional competence and conduct progress monitoring throughout the year. Learn more about the rigorous research behind the DESSA and DESSA-mini and how these measurement tools can support your SEL program.