Connecting the Dots of SEL Assessment: Methodologies that Matter for Students, Teachers, and Policy

By: Christina Cipriano, Ph.D.


You can’t have evidence-based practice without evidence. You can’t have evidence without assessments. But, what are the “right” assessments for SEL?

Assessments that matter for students. Accessible assessments match students’ needs, and their results direct student pathways to engagement and learning.

Assessments that matter for practice. Good assessments capture learning in a meaningful way and promote the building of an evidence base of best practice for instruction. Effective assessments provide real-time information for educators to teach from — scores that support student growth and inform teacher instruction.

Assessments that matter for policy. Formative, summative, and standardized assessment structures play a key role in federal education and accountability mandates, and scores contribute to funding distributions at the federal, district, and programmatic level.


Assessments that Miss the Mark

Unfortunately, a collective history of ineffective assessments precedes us. Can you recall a time when an assessment failed? When a student was tested on a skill they never learned or questioned in a way they could not access? When a teacher felt pressured to teach to a test or felt compelled to administer an assessment just to check a box? When a policymaker made decisions on budget cuts, teacher tenure, or school support allocations based on unreliable or invalid assessment scores?

Assessments that fail do not accurately reflect the student and their learning, the teacher and their teaching, the program and its offering, and the school and its implementation and investment. The result? Disengagement, anxiety, and learned helplessness on the part of the learner; burnout, frustration, wasted time, and inauthentic instruction on the part of the teacher; disinterest, mistrust, and moving on to the next big thing on the part of the policymaker.

Assessments should position the learner and the educator in a place of joyful effort to motivate deep learning and authentic instruction. Accordingly, effective assessments of social, emotional, and academic development produce actionable data that creates connections, sustains growth, and promotes the realization of potential.


Actionable Data

The field of SEL requires assessments that produce actionable data points. A SEL assessment score is only helpful to the extent that it can be translated into ways to promote learning and growth. It is critical for the field of SEL to systematically and collectively build out the landscape of actionable data points for students, teachers, and policymakers. If we want all stakeholders to commit to SEL, we need to arm them with helpful assessments before implementation fatigue sets in.

Students need evidence that SEL skills matter. They need data points that accurately reflect their own competencies across skills, assessments that provide feedback to empower their learning and growth, and authentic teachers to model and invest in these skills so they create the foundation for their learning.

Teachers need evidence to inform their approach to SEL implementation. They need the right assessments to demonstrate discrete learning- assessments that guide them to how, where, and under what conditions to support SEL skill development among students.

Policymakers need evidence to support their decisions to fund these worthwhile programs and approaches – they need data to support their investment in embedding, scaling, and sustaining SEL into the fabric of their school communities.

Indeed, the field of SEL assessment is working diligently to meet the needs of students, practice, and policy to support the authentic and enduring investment in SEL. Our colleagues across the SEL community, and our larger network of funders and collaborators are engaged in rich and active discourse on what we know as a field, what we need to know for practice, and how we build out the most effective assessments to fill these gaps together. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning is leading this discourse at the national level through the Assessment Work Group (AWG), a multi-disciplinary collaboration catalyzed by CASEL with leading researchers and practitioners in the fields of education, assessment, and SEL, focused on expanding knowledge of the use of SEL frameworks and assessments to continuously improve practice.


We Asked; We Listened

Working as thought partners with students, teachers, and policymakers across the country, we at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence are committed to supporting all stakeholders with building and accessing the assessment infrastructure necessary to most effectively understand and promote student social, emotional, and academic growth.

Students asked for data that matters to them in real time- data to empower their voices as change agents in their learning and school. Towards this end, we are building a novel and interactive assessment of high school students’ perceptions of school climate. This measure is designed to capture divergent perspectives and empower student voice and build on a foundation of items from the nationally recognized and validated Comprehensive School Climate Inventory (CSCI). To bridge self-awareness and personalized learning, we are building an interactive digital technology that prompts students to reflect on their emotions in the moment by providing immediate feedback to support their development and access to learning.

Teachers asked for discrete skill sets and benchmarks. We are building benchmarks for student emotion regulation across the academic lifespan, benchmarks that will serve as building blocks for our new teacher-delivered and interpretable assessments of student self-talk and cognitive reappraisal strategies. With these benchmarks, we are providing teachers with real-time data on where their students are and how they can meet them there, teach to their strengths and promote growth.

Policymakers asked for ways to measure SEL implementation fidelity across programs, approaches, and settings. We are building and rigorously testing a suite of implementation fidelity tools to provide multipronged evidentiary points of implementation effectiveness. In time, this suite of tools will be tested for its sensitivity to intervention effects across a wide range of SEL programs and approaches.

Last month, the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development released the report, “From a Nation at Risk, to a Nation at Hope,” calling for the explicit teaching of social, emotion, and cognitive skills to advance the field of SEL, and highlighting the urgency for new paradigms of research to practice partnerships, engaging all stakeholders in contributing to the understanding and use of data to drive social, emotional, and academic learning. SEL assessments that are both ecologically and psychometrically valid are a pivotal pathway towards this end.

In total, we are building nine new actionable data points to contribute to the SEL assessment landscape and have partnered with CASEL and stakeholders across the country to further identify the data points still necessary to fill out the landscape of SEL assessment. Together, we will map and connect the dots of SEL assessment. By connecting these dots, we will make the landscape of SEL impact visible for all stakeholders- driving systemic and sustainable change and promoting an enduring impact on both policy and practice.



Christina Cipriano, Ph.D. is Director of Research at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and Research Scientist at the Yale Child Study Center in the Yale School of Medicine. You can learn more about our work at and



Disclaimer: The Assessment Work Group is committed to enabling a rich dialogue on key issues in the field and seeking out diverse perspectives. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Assessment Work Group, CASEL or any of the organizations involved with the work group.

One Comment

  1. Please send more information about per pupil cost for participation in the SEL assessment process.

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