Choosing and Using SEL Competency Assessments:

What Schools and Districts Need to Know

measuring SEL and RAND

Why assess SEL competencies?

Assessment is a cornerstone of effective instruction and student learning.[1]  This is true for SEL, just as it is in academic disciplines such as mathematics and science. In fact, a recent PDK poll indicated that the vast majority of Americans agree that measurement of SEL competencies is important, with 84% of a nationally representative sample saying they believe schools should assess students’ interpersonal skills.[3] Student SEL competency assessment provides a range of benefits for educators at multiple levels. Specifically, these assessments can help schools and districts to:

Communicate SEL as a priority. It’s often said, “what gets assessed gets addressed.” With time and resources typically limited, the decision to dedicate resources to assessing and reporting SEL sends a clear message that promoting students’ SEL competencies is a top priority.

Establish a common language for SEL. By choosing an assessment that aligns with the school’s SEL framework, the school can establish and reinforce how SEL is described so the district, staff, students, and parents can better communicate about SEL.

Deepen understanding of how SEL competencies manifest in students over time. Through training, use of assessments, review of score reports, and subsequent discussions about the assessment results, teachers and other school staff develop a more profound knowledge about how SEL competencies develop. This will allow schools and districts to set achievable goals for student growth across different competencies and developmental levels and highlight which competencies to emphasize in instruction and practice. Students and families will similarly deepen their understanding of the development of SEL competencies over time, a critical step for the buy-in to SEL.

Continuously improve SEL instruction and implementation. Through formative uses of assessment, educators can measure how SEL implementation is impacting instruction and whether any adjustments need to be made. Formative assessment can be thought of as assessment for learning. It is done frequently, is usually embedded within and even considered part of instructional practice and is designed to provide information to guide instruction and practice. Formative assessment is discussed later in this document.

Evaluate the effectiveness of SEL programming and approaches. Through summative uses of assessment, districts can undertake a higher-level examination of the effectiveness of districtwide or schoolwide SEL implementation, as well as classroom-based programs. Summative assessment can be thought of as assessment of learning. These data are also valuable for reporting to stakeholders about progress with SEL initiatives. Summative assessment is discussed later in this document.

Support equitable outcomes in education. According to the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development (NCSEAD), “when done well, an integrated approach to social, emotional, and academic development benefits each and every child and can be part of achieving a more equitable society.”[2] Systemic SEL is a key lever for supporting equity in schools because of its emphasis on improving learning environments and its strength-based approach. SEL competency assessment is a critical part of this systemic approach. It can help to reveal disparities in the degree to which students’ needs are being supported by schools and districts.



[1] Soland, Hamilton, & Stecher, 2014; National Research Council, 2013

[2] The Aspen Institute, 2018

[3] Phi Delta Kappa International, 2017