Locating and Identifying a Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Assessment

Educators are more likely to choose a better product if the appropriateness and relevance of different options are examined and evaluated systematically. Therefore, this guide describes a systematic process for locating and identifying a social and emotional learning (SEL) assessment that aligns with the needs of the educational program and the setting in which the assessment will be used. This process is ideally completed with a group of individuals who have knowledge of SEL programs, expertise in assessment/measurement, and who will use and interpret SEL assessment results.

When locating and identifying potential SEL assessments the process should include the following three steps:

Clarify the purpose for SEL assessment.
What SEL competencies are you interested in measuring?

Specify and clearly define SEL competencies so that decisions about what assessment to use are consistent with the intended competencies.

SEL frameworks help educators understand how competencies are defined; how they develop in students over time; and how they link to standards, curricula, and instructional tools. For more information about SEL frameworks, refer to Adopt an SEL framework (p. 11-12) in Choosing and Using SEL Competency Assessments: What Schools and Districts Need to Know (2018).

What specific decisions will be informed by the SEL assessment results?

Assessment occurs in order to better inform various uses, and there are a broad range of intended uses that can be informed after assessing SEL, such as determining students’ strengths and needs, evaluating an SEL program, tracking SEL over time, and improving school quality. Not every assessment is designed for every intended use, so by articulating how SEL assessment results will inform intended uses, you will be better able to evaluate and select an assessment that was intended for that purpose.

Ideally, SEL assessment should be implemented along with a conceptual model that links the implementation of SEL programs or practices to specific short- and long-term learning goals. For more information about conceptual models, refer to Develop a Theory of Change (p. 12-13) Choosing and Using SEL Competency Assessments: What School Districts Need to Know (2018).

For what students and in what school setting will SEL assessment be used?

Assessments are designed for a particular group of students in a particular setting and then developed with representative sample(s) of those students and in those settings. Selecting an assessment that aligns with the students and the setting in which the SEL assessment will be used is important for valid interpretation of scores. A few example considerations include school type (public, private, charter); ages or grades of students; and student demographics, particularly in regard to ethnicity/culture, multilingual learners, and students with disabilities.

How will SEL assessment be administered and scored?

Consider early in the process who will be responding to the SEL assessment and who will be administering and scoring the assessment. Some assessments may require formal training or specialized practice for administration, and failure to use specially trained administrators could lead to improper administration/scoring, interpretation of results, and invalid decision-making. In addition, different assessment formats have strengths and limitations that should be balanced with factors such as time, cost, in-depth assessment of narrow areas, and less in-depth assessment of broad areas. The assessment you select may require compromises, so it is helpful to think about these early in the process.

Typical forms for SEL assessment include self-rating scales, observation or interview protocols, and/or performance assessments. For a detailed listing of the strengths and limitations of different assessment formats, refer to Step 4: Review the Assessment Options (p. 15-17) Choosing and Using SEL Competency Assessments: What School Districts Need to Know (2018).

Identify appropriate SEL assessments.

Keeping in mind the purposes clarified above, you can now attempt to identify SEL assessments that might be appropriate for those purposes. Below are several sources that could be used to create a list of one or more SEL assessments that appear relevant for your purposes and are candidates for further inquiry into technical quality prior to selection. These include both specific sources for identifying SEL assessments and more general, comprehensive sources.

SEL-specific sources for identifying assessments

Two sources provide lists of assessments specifically related to SEL. These sources can be helpful in your initial search for an appropriate measure, but the identification alone is not an endorsement of its match with your local purposes or the technical quality of the measure.

  • The RAND Education Assessment Finder is a web-based, searchable tool with information for approximately 200 assessments of interpersonal and intrapersonal competencies as well as cognitive abilities. Each assessment listing includes basic information such as a brief summary of validity and reliability evidence, and populations from which available technical evidence has been collected.
  • The American Institutes for Research (AIR) offers a Tools Index with a list of several dozen SEL assessments organized by age/grade level that provides basic information such as target constructs, time for completion, and authors. The site indicates plans to update the list annually and that several assessments are available but not sold commercially.
Comprehensive sources for identifying assessments

There are also four more comprehensive sources that include SEL assessments within a broader listing of assessments.

  • The Test Collection at ETS is a freely available, searchable online database with entries for over 25,000 assessments that provide basic information such as target constructs or traits, age or grade ranges, source (e.g., publisher or journal article), and such matters as number of items and time for administration. Not all assessments listed are commercially available but information on how to obtain specific assessments is provided. Note that some entries can be dated given that the listing is cumulative.
  • Tests in Print (TIP) is a reference volume published by the Buros Center for Testing that provides descriptions of more than 2,300 commercially available tests in English. Each listing details such information as test purpose, scores, population, administration time, publisher, and price. TIP is available in hard copy as well as electronically via the searchable EBSCO or Ovid databases in most academic libraries across the country or through the Buros website Test Reviews Online
  • Pruebas Publicadas en Español (PPE),a reference volume also published by the Buros Center for Testing, is the Spanish counterpart to TIP in that it offers descriptive listings of more than 600 commercially available tests offered either wholly or partly in Spanish. Listings are given in both Spanish and English and provide the same information as TIP as well as information about the test’s origin, norms, translation/ adaptation process, and test components available in English and Spanish. PPE is sold in both hard copy and electronic (PDF) formats and may also be accessed online through EBSCO/Ovid databases at subscribing libraries.
  • PsycTESTS is a searchable electronic database available as a subscription or through academic libraries sponsored by the American Psychological Association. It contains approximately 55,000 entries. At least 75% of those listings are available but not sold commercially. Listings provide purpose, constructs, administration information as well as minimal information on reliability, validity, and norms. For some entries, the assessment itself is attached, along with an indication of whether its use requires special permission.
Alternate sources for identifying assessments
  • Professional journals feature articles, or collections of articles in special issues, oriented toward SEL assessments. Some articles will provide listings and brief descriptions of the assessments and other times more evaluative summaries. Such articles, when recent, can be very helpful, but their appearance is quite unpredictable.
  • Other users in your professional circles may be a good source for identifying SEL assessments overlooked in the other sources. However, keep in mind that just because a particular SEL assessment is appropriate for one setting does not necessarily mean it is appropriate for your own setting without further evaluation.
Review technical evaluations of the SEL assessments.

With the identification of a subset of potential SEL assessments that align with your purposes, the next step would be to attempt to obtain existing technical evaluations for those SEL assessments. There are several sources in which technical evaluation typically by qualified professionals can be found.

  • The Mental Measurements Yearbook (MMY) series by the Buros Center for Testing publishes professional reviews of commercially available tests by two qualified professionals. Reviews include a description of the test, development procedures, technical characteristics (reliability, validity, fairness), and a summary commentary on the quality of the test. The most recent edition (the 20th MMY) contains reviews for about 200 tests and is available in hard copy and electronic database form in most academic libraries. Reviews of individual tests may be purchased directly from the Buros Center for Testing’s Test Reviews Online website.
  • Professional Journals, as noted earlier, provide articles that can sometimes assist in identifying SEL assessments as well as provide reviews of the technical quality of the assessments. Keep in mind that authors of the articles may not always be independent in terms of conflict of interests (e.g. author is the assessment developer).
  • Assessment publishers’ technical manuals are the primary source of technical evidence for an assessment, but that evidence may not always align with professional standards and guidelines. Information in manuals can be technical and difficult to read without the help of someone with psychometric expertise. However, an assessment’s technical manual is the primary source for conducting a technical evaluation; any assessment should have a manual or report available that provides detailed information about the assessment’s purpose, development, structure, norms, reliability, validity, and fairness, as well as administration and scoring procedures.
  • Professional consultants may help evaluate the technical quality of the assessments you are considering. Such persons might come from local universities or research centers but should not have a conflict of interest in SEL assessment.