Measuring Social Emotional Learning: Keeping a Pulse on Students

Educator Impact

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Social emotional learning (SEL) is the process of learning the skills and attitudes to empathize with others, develop relationships, and make meaningful decisions. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), SEL is developed through “authentic school-family-community partnerships.” It is as essential as any academic outcome for students but may appear to be difficult to measure. How can school districts determine if students are successfully progressing in their SEL? What are the best practices for measuring social emotional learning?

Here, we’ll discuss key factors to measure when implementing an SEL curriculum at your school.

Steps to Measuring SEL in Schools

There are three parts of measuring social emotional learning: preparing to assess, selecting an assessment, and using assessment data.

According to the SEL Assessment Guide, the first part of the process involves developing the bigger picture of the SEL curriculum, including choosing a “set of competencies to emphasize, consistent language, guidance on SEL development, resources to support implementation, and curriculum and assessment tools.” Next in this first stage comes choosing the aptitudes that you want to assess and determining the best practices for assessing them.

The second stage involves reviewing your assessment options and choosing the ones that will most effectively assess the competencies that you have identified. These assessment tools include the following:

  • Observations and ratings scales
  • Self-reporting questionnaires
  • Performance-based assessments

Choosing the right assessment will depend on what proficiencies and levels you intend to focus your assessment on and your purpose for the assessment.

The third and final stage asks you to carry out the assessment that you have chosen. Who are the stakeholders? Who will complete the assessment? What is the timeline? After the data is collected, use the results of your assessment to modify your SEL curriculum as necessary.

The writers of the SEL Assessment Guide explain, “[D]ata can be used for formative purposes, such as to foster effective SEL instruction, elevate student voice, improve implementation strategies, and support an equitable learning environment, among other uses. Data from SEL competency assessments can also be used for summative purposes, such as to evaluate the impact of an SEL classroom program or to report to stakeholders about the progress of SEL initiatives.”

Using the SEL Assessment Guide and RAND Education Assessment Finder

Created by CASEL and the SEL Assessment Work Group, the SEL Assessment Guide is the most frequently used tool for measuring social emotional learning. The guide includes several different measures that school leaders can use, depending on their particular goals and intended outcomes.

Some school leaders choose to use the RAND Education Assessment Finder instead of or in tandem with the SEL Assessment Guide. This second tool includes more than 200 assessment options that measure “interpersonal, intrapersonal and higher-order cognitive competencies.” Leaders can use this guide to find assessments that measure the specific proficiencies that they’re looking for and determine the validity and reliability of each possible assessment. They may also use the tool to identify how much of a burden each assessment option places on students and staff.

School leaders can use the Assessment Guide and Assessment Finder together for a comprehensive guide of assessment measures in place. The two tools will provide a repository of the most effective SEL measurement practices currently in practice. The RAND Assessment Finder is broader in its scope than the Assessment Guide and provides more information about validity and reliability.

Though some school leaders may be overwhelmed by the number of SEL assessments available, they should be decisive in choosing the measurements that most accurately collect data on their chosen capabilities and populations.

Jeremy Taylor, the director of assessment and continuous improvement at CASEL, writes, “Administrators who choose to assess students’ social and emotional development, despite limited time and resources, and share these findings with stakeholders, signal that they are committed to creating a culture of SEL and developing the full range of competencies students will need to lead fulfilled, successful lives.”

Helping Students Determine Their Own Feelings

One of the best ways to assess if SEL benchmarks are being met is involving students in the process of wellbeing tracking.

Senior behavioral scientist Laura Hamilton writes, “Educators could, for example, help students engage in self-reflection about their competencies, or model how data might be used for decision-making and problem-solving. Involving students in this process gives them a sense of ownership over their own learning and likely will increase their motivation, engagement and sense of agency.”

With this in mind, students can be asked to track how they’re feeling with Educator Impact’s Pulse. With guidance from teachers encouraging students to identify and report their feelings, Pulse offers them an anonymous platform to share their responses with the app. For instance, ei Pulse will ask a question like, “How excited are you about going to your classes?” and students will be given a series of responses ranging from “Not at all excited” to “Extremely excited.”

Measuring SEL in Your School

SEL is undeniably important in schools, but like any other skill or competency, it needs to be measured to ensure that students are progressing. The first step is identifying benchmarks that will indicate students’ increasing SEL competency, followed by measuring this achievement. Finally, collecting useful data will determine if students are meeting the SEL expectations that you have outlined.

Here at Educator Impact, we help school leaders keep a pulse on their students’ wellbeing and empower them with tools that leverage real-time student insights to inform SEL strategies, identify which students need further support, and enable them to continually improve their SEL initiatives.

To see how we can help you do the same for your school community, feel free to reach out to our SEL and wellbeing experts today!