Designing Direct Assessments – Lessons Learned and Award Winners

By Clark McKown and Noah Bookman


Earlier this year, the Assessment Work Group created an assessment design challenge to identify direct assessment tools to supplement districts’ current emphasis on teacher and student surveys that measure SEL competencies.


Direct assessments include all forms of assessment in which social and emotional learning is measured from a child’s performance on a challenging task. This includes but is not limited to naturalistic technology-enhanced simulations, performance tasks, game-based data, and live structured social simulations. Direct assessment is distinct from other forms of assessment, such as observations, student self-report, or teacher or parent ratings of students’ skills.


To stimulate work to design direct assessments that complement, build upon, and extend the existing measurement approaches, the Assessment Work Group created a design challenge seeking submissions of innovative direct assessments of social-emotional skills. The design challenge will occur annually, in 2017, 2018, and 2019. Through the design challenge, the committee aims to learn from innovative methods of assessing social-emotional skills and construct and refine a set of key design principles that should guide the development of novel direct assessments and stimulate the development and adoption of social-emotional assessments that support effective instruction and positive student development.


The Assessment Work Group gave out seven awards to submissions received in 2017. Each of the seven winners of this year’s challenge will be featured on our blog in the coming weeks. See our website for details on the winning assessments.


The results of the first year’s challenge led to the creation of three key design principles, articulated in a recently published brief, to help drive the next generation of SEL direct assessments:

  • Assessments should be transparently relevant, clarifying how the skills they measure are relevant to life in school, or tied to the broader move to implement SEL policies and practices.
  • They should be practical to use, taking 30 minutes or less and classroom-based.
  • The assessment data should help guide practice, helping teachers use the results to improve their instruction.


Many of you followed the Assessment Work Groups’ first annual Design Challenge and have been wanting to learn more about what direct assessments are and how they can measure social-emotional competence. Here’s how you can join the conversation.


  • Join the webinar! On September 29th at 1pm EST, four Design Challenge winners will share information about their direct assessments through a webinar. Register here! Note: If you’re not able to attend the live event, go ahead and register. We will send you a recording of the webinar to watch at your convenience.
  • Comment below on this blog to let us know how you are using direct assessments, or how you would like to use them.
  • Read our weekly blog which will feature a post every Monday from each winner throughout the next two months. We encourage you to engage with them by sharing your reactions and questions in the comments.
  • Read our new brief on direct assessments! On September 25th, we published a brief summarizing our key learnings from the Design Challenge. Read the brief to see how these learnings inform our mission to establish a set of principles to guide the creation of future direct assessments that inform effective teaching and learning.


Readers: please share your thoughts about direct assessment in a comment below. For example, what has been your experience with trying direct performance assessments?  What did you learn from the experience? What SE competencies would you like to see measured more directly?



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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