Design Challenge Winner: Measuring Social Reasoning in Children

By: Nicole Russo-Ponsaran


Millions of children in the United States have social challenges that are related to behavioral and academic difficulties. To address this problem, many states are adopting social-emotional learning standards and schools are implementing programs that teach children how to interact positively with others. Yet, educators have surprisingly few tools available to adequately directly measure children’s social-emotional skills and, in particular, social information processing (SIP) skills.


Existing evidence-based SIP assessments engender both strengths and weaknesses such that structured questionnaires or vignette-based assessments provide rich and informative data, but often require high skill levels for administration, scoring, and interpretation on the part of the administrator. Similarly, many existing assessments rely heavily on the expressive and receptive language abilities of the child and that may end up excluding children with lower cognitive abilities or children whose first language is not English.


Building on the strengths of existing models and using the theoretical social information processing (SIP) model by Crick and Dodge, the research teams at Rush Neurobehavioral Center and SoarTech Technology, Inc. developed the Virtual Environment for Social Information Processing (VESIPTM). VESIP’s framework follows that of Crick & Dodge (1994), in which children are assessed on their ability to identify a social problem, select an appropriate social goal for the outcome of a situation, select effective, prosocial solutions, evaluate their emotional response and self-efficacy in a given situation, and determine hostile intent (Crick & Dodge, 1996; Dodge & Schwartz, 1997). VESIP was designed as a web-based direct assessment, appropriate for students in the third to seventh grades, and created such that classroom-wide administration is feasible by educators or administrators. Little expertise and training is required for administration or scoring; automated results are available upon completion. Children are able to login individually at their work stations and take VESIP in English or Spanish. Children with little or lower reading skills are also able to take VESIP without the assistance of an adult because everything is read to them. All that is required is a computer (Mac or Windows), headphones (during mass administrations), and internet connectivity. VESIP allows boys and girls to customize a self-avatar and then respond to different types of challenging situations that are set in everyday school environments, such as ambiguous provocation, bullying, compromise, peer entry into a group, and friendship initiation.


Preliminary evidence has shown reliability and validity in small samples of typically-developing children and children with autism spectrum disorders (Russo-Ponsaran at al., 2018) and it was further supported in a large-scale 2017 field trial with general education students (manuscript in progress).


Administrators can use VESIP to measure the growth and success of school-based social-emotional learning programs, monitor district-level progress toward state social-emotional learning standards, measure treatment outcomes, and develop educational and psychological treatment plans or to supplement existing ones.


Researchers will be collecting national data as part of a norming study during the 2018-2019 academic year. Anyone interested in using VESIP should contact the Principal Investigator or Project Coordinator listed below.


To view a demo clip in English, please click here.


VESIP is a child-based assessment tool that helps users understand how students navigate challenging social situations. It is designed and validated for youth in the 3rd through 7th grades.


Contact Information:

Nicole Russo-Ponsaran, PhD

Research Director, Rush NeuroBehavioral Center

Assistant Professor, Department of Behavioral Sciences

Rush University Medical Center



Irene Wu, MS

Research Study Coordinator III, Rush NeuroBehavioral Sciences

Department of Behavioral Sciences, Rush University Medical Center



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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One Comment

  1. I am looking for a measuring tool for SEL. I am starting my dissertation for an alternative education program in Illinois. I am looking to answer: What effects does SEL have on recidivism? However, I do not want to create a measuring tool. I am looking to locate one that I can use. Any advice? Thanks.

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