Social and Emotional Learning Assessment Technical Guidebook

Assessments can provide educators with information about students’ status and growth in desired competencies. This information can then be used with internal and external constituents for both accountability and improvement. In the case of social and emotional learning (SEL) where policies and practices are dynamically evolving, many PreK-12 educators struggle to select technically sound assessments that can appropriately guide practices and contribute to valid interpretations of student learning.

Contact Information

Dr. Jessica L. Jonson

Five reasons why selecting and using SEL Assessments can be difficult

Lack of consensus about SEL definitions

Consensus definitions of SEL are not widely recognized; as such, there are several frameworks that advance a variety of competencies. Definitions and frameworks play central roles in prioritizing skills that assessments measure and educators teach.

A focus on SEL strengths instead of problems

Traditionally assessments of social and emotional functioning have focused on problem behaviors, rather than social and emotional strengths children should know and be able to demonstrate. Current SEL competency frameworks emphasize more of the latter strengths than the former problems.

Alignment between SEL assessments and the purpose for assessing SEL

Technically sound assessments are needed for different purposes and few have been designed for all of these purposes. These purposes include identifying students’ SEL skill development needs and making decisions about student and program outcomes. In particular, the technical quality of many SEL assessments has not been substantiated with comprehensive methods and representative samples of students.

Use of a wide array of informants and methods in SEL assessment

SEL assessments collectively use different types of respondents (e.g., students themselves, teachers, parents, and peers) and various formats (e.g., behavior rating scales, problem-solving situation tests, knowledge tests). This array of respondents and formats results in assessments that vary on important dimensions such as administration time, content coverage, cost, and threats to the validity of score inferences.

Accessibility and fairness of SEL assessments

SEL assessments, like all assessments used to make important decisions that influence students’ education, must be accessible and fair. To date, most SEL assessments have not demonstrated through rigorous research that they are both accessible and fair for students of different genders, ages, cultures, and linguistic backgrounds.

For these reasons, the Spencer Foundation funded a project led by the Buros Center for Testing to develop a user-friendly technical guidebook for educators involved in selecting and overseeing the use of SEL assessments with students in PreK through Grade 12. The result are three guides that provide steps and resources for identifying an SEL assessment, questions to ask when evaluating the measurement quality of an SEL assessment, and recommendations for appropriately using an SEL assessment once a high quality measure has been identified  We encourage educators to review, share, and apply these guides when engaging in the selection and use of SEL assessment.