Choosing and Using SEL Competency Assessments:

What Schools and Districts Need to Know

measuring SEL and RAND

What are SEL competencies?

SEL competencies are essential knowledge, skills, attitudes, and mindsets that individuals need to succeed in life. SEL competencies are the product of social and emotional learning (SEL), which can be defined as the process through which schools and districts implement practices and policies that allow children and adults to acquire and effectively apply those competencies.

Specifically, SEL competencies and the ability to apply them to everyday life are developed through:

  • A supportive learning environment.
  • Positive interactions with adults and peers.
  • Explicit SEL instruction.
  • The integration of SEL into academic instruction.

SEL can take place in a number of settings. They include the home, schools, and after-school programs. When schools are committed to SEL, it shapes their partnerships with families and community members, highlighting engagement, trust, and collaboration.

SEL is developmental. Social and emotional learning occurs across various stages in an individual’s life. At certain developmental stages, some competencies are more likely to develop than others. For example, self-management skills tend to develop in preschool and elementary school, while mindsets and values tend to develop during the middle school and high school years, respectively[1] (see the Developmental aspect of SEL in the “Considerations for SEL competency assessment” section).

SEL competencies are often organized according to those that are intrapersonal and those that are interpersonal.

Intrapersonal competencies refer to ways of dealing with oneself, including ones’ thoughts and emotions. These are the awareness, beliefs, and skills directed and applied inwardly.

Interpersonal competencies refer to the knowledge, skills, and attitudes directed toward other people, institutions, or social structures.

In addition, these competencies can also be organized according to whether they refer to one’s “awareness” or one’s “skills.” The matrix in Table 1 uses these two axes (Intrapersonal/interpersonal and awareness/skill) to represent the range of SEL competencies discussed in this guide.

Table 1. Categories and Examples of SEL competencies

Intrapersonal: Knowledge, Skills, and attitudes directed toward oneself Interpersonal: Knowledge, skills, and attitudes directed toward other people, institutions, or social structures
Awareness: Mindsets, knowledge, beliefs, or understandings Intrapersonal Awareness (e.g., growth mindset, self-efficacy) Interpersonal Awareness (e.g., empathy, social awareness)
Skills: Learned abilities to carry out a task with intended results or goals Intrapersonal Skills (e.g., self-control, goal-setting, stress management) Interpersonal Skills (e.g., social perspective taking; collaborative problem-solving)


[1] Nagaoka, Farrington, Ehrlich, & Heath, 2015