Data Use in Practice

Data Use in Practice

Clark McKown, xSEL Labs


I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon. But I know enough to understand that the distance between one rim and the other is vast and only traversed with monumental effort (or a helicopter).

The field of school-based social-emotional learning has its own Grand Canyon. On the one side: assessment data; on the other: teacher practices. Between them: a vast distance not easily spanned.

The Practical Social and Emotional Assessment Work Group was formed with the increasing recognition that educators need usable and practical methods to assess students in ways that can inform instruction.

That last sentence had the canyon in it. Did you recognize it? On the one side: student assessment. On the other: instruction.

Let’s back up and do a quick review of the state of the art in SEL assessment.

As co-chair of the Design Challenge subgroup that reviewed 20 new SEL assessment efforts (check out winners here), I have learned about exciting and innovative developments in the world of SEL assessment.

I predict that in the not-too-distant future, district decision-makers will have an array of really good SEL assessment systems to choose from. There will be direct assessments of SEL skills, simple and powerful rating scales, social-emotional indicators built into educational technologies, and more.

If I’m right, soon, educators will have a lot of SEL assessment data available to them. Imagine you are an educator in a school that has adopted a tool that assesses student social awareness, relationship skills, and self-management. Imagine that children’s skills in these areas can be summarized in five highly informative scores that reflect state standards that say what children should know and be able to do at different grade levels.

Welcome to the Grand Canyon.

You’re sitting on the rim with a whole lot of great information. I hope you brought snacks. And binoculars. Because you’re straining to see across the chasm where instructional practices are looking back at you, equally puzzled.

Okay, the metaphor is getting strained.

The point is, now that you know what children’s strengths and needs are, how do you use the information in ways that guide instructional practices and curricular decisions in ways that build on student strengths and address student needs?

Here are a few ideas for your consideration. I am certain only that this is not an exhaustive list, and that some of these ideas are better than others. Take a look:

  • Include scores from SEL assessment in grade-level “data days” to review how students are doing in reading, math, and SEL, and discuss how to address needs in all three arenas.
  • Use what you learn about student needs to tailor your use of one of the evidence-based SEL programs listed in CASEL’s program guide. If lots of children have difficulty with self-management, for example, spend more time and energy on lessons related to self-management.
  • Use a targeted approach to teaching skills that need work. Imagine social problem-solving needs work, for example. You might lean heavily on a problem-solving skills focused program, like Myrna Shure’s “I Can Problem Solve.”
  • Find “teachable moments” in student behavior. When a child becomes dysregulated, for example, cue them to use a self-regulation strategy you have taught them.
  • Find “teachable moments” in the curriculum. When reading a book out loud, for example, stop and ask students to say what they think a character thinks and feels and how they know. This gives them a chance to practice social awareness.

But most of all, we want to hear from you!  

Have you ever used any of these approaches?  Did they work?  

Do you have other ideas or great examples for bridging the canyon between SEL data and instruction?


Would you be willing to blog about your approach to using data to inform instruction? If so, let us know via email to Teresa Borowski at


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.

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  1. We have developed emotional check in software that provides students with 1) an array of facial emotion icons and corresponding words to choose from; 2) a sliding scale for how intensely they feel this emotion; 3) a sliding scale to indicate how motivated they are to do well in school; 4) an area to journal any explanation for their feelings. All responses are automatically entered and analyzed, incorporated into cummulatice charts, and for certain responses (e.g, “negative” emotions such as anger or anxiety) automatic email alerts to coinselors, teachers and principals. As such responses are addressed to both support, encourage and provide feedback, in real time

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