Eight Key Design Principles for Direct Assessment of Student SEL

By: Lindsay Read, University of Chicago

Three years ago, members of the Assessment Work Group (AWG) began a multi-year Design Challenge effort to help inform a set of design principles for the direct assessment of student’s’ social and emotional skills. Today, the AWG releases the results of this effort – a set of eight design principles in a final brief that also captures examples that emerge from the third annual effort. 

If you are interested in how to capture what social and emotional skills youth can actually demonstrate, we urge you to review the principles below (or the more extended discussion in the brief) and then let us know what you think by taking this very quick survey.

Background — When this effort began in 2016, it was clear that direct assessments could provide unique insights into individuals’ social and emotional competence, including dimensions of social and emotional learning that are not easily observed, by creating the opportunity for one to perform challenging social and emotional tasks. For example, direct assessments could take a measure of social perspective taking (the thinking skills required to understand what other people are thinking and feeling). However, despite the promise of direct assessments, few had been designed for use in schools and few schools were using them.

The AWG led the Design Challenge from 2017 to 2019 with the goal of establishing a set of design principles to help stimulate the development, continuous improvement, and adoption of direct assessments of social and emotional competence. These design principles were created, in part, by identifying, recognizing, and studying 18 award-winning efforts through three annual challenges. Our 2017 and 2018 briefs detail the approaches and winning efforts for the first two cycles. For the final cycle in 2019, the Design Challenge prioritized those assessments that had demonstrated success in educational settings and, as such, identified six assessments already in use in schools and out-of-school-time programs.

We applaud all of the submissions we received over the course of the Design Challenge and especially those 18 selected as exemplars. Together, they contributed significantly to the generation of the design principles.

The Principles — Below is a high-level view of the design principles. A richer discussion is available in the final brief [link], where we provide full definitions and descriptions of each principle, as well as summaries of our three design challenges and descriptions of the 18 winning assessments.

Our hope is that these principles help assessment developers think more fully about issues of importance to practitioners and help provide people trying to find good direct assessments a set of criteria they can use in reviewing potential assessments.  One of the challenges which emerged is related to the first principle – just how direct an opportunity to perform the skill is needed for it to be consider a direct assessment. Examples illustrate differences in approaches, affirming the need for a measure to have strong and direct link to real or virtual opportunities where the youth can demonstrate the use of a skill became the starting principle.  While no measure is likely to succeed fully on all principles, how they address each issue and the way they balance all these criteria is important for ensuring future measures are both feasible and useful in practice.

Request — what do you think about these principles? Are the feasible? Useful? Practical? Please complete our short survey as your feedback is crucial to this effort! Take just a few minutes to

  • Review the design principles (either in this blog or the full brief)
  • Respond to this short survey (it takes less than 2 minutes)

We are eager to hear what you think!

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