OECD’s New International Study on Social and Emotional Skills

Miloš Kankaraš, Policy Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills, OECD

Javier Suarez-Alvarez, Policy Analyst, Directorate for Education and Skills, OECD


In response to growing policy interest and increasing body of empirical evidence pointing to the importance of social and emotional skills, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) has recently launched a new study on the social and emotional skills of school-aged children. The Study on Social and Emotional Skills (SSES) is part of wider OECD efforts to place greater emphasis on the development of these skills in schools and other settings. The SSES is a new OECD international survey that assesses 10 and 15 year-old students in a number of cities and countries around the world. Apart from examining the level of children’s socio-emotional skills, the study will gather information on their family, school and community learning contexts, thus aiming to provide information about the conditions and practices that foster or hinder the development of these critical skills.

The overall purpose of the SSES is to broaden the focus of policy makers, practitioners and researchers and include the domain of social and emotional skills. It will do so by emphasising the relevance of these skills for important life outcomes as well as providing valid, reliable and comparable assessment of students’ social and emotional skills across cities and countries.

The SSES will help address numerous questions that are important for policy makers, teachers, school administrators and parents. These include:

  • Which socio-emotional skills predict children’s cognitive, educational, and social outcomes, as well as their general well-being?
  • Which family learning contexts, such as parental styles or learning resources, influence children’s social and emotional development?
  • Which school learning contexts, such as content or type of teaching methods or school resources, influence children’s social and emotional development?
  • Which community learning contexts, such as sport and cultural resources or safety, influence children’s social and emotional development?
  • What are the social and emotional skill gaps according to children’s gender and socio-economic background, and what are their likely causes?


Structure of Social and Emotional Skills

 The study will use the most well-known framework in the field of social and emotional skills – the “Big Five” model – to provide a general outline of how these skills should be organised. Social and emotional skills in this model are arranged hierarchically, with five general skill categories that can be split into more specific, lower-order skills. The broad categories of the “Big Five” are:

  • Open-mindedness (or Openness to Experience),
  • Task Performance (i.e. Conscientiousness),
  • Emotional Regulation (i.e. Emotional Stability),
  • Engaging with Others (i.e. Extraversion), and
  • Collaboration (i.e. Agreeableness).

Each of the dimensions or categories contains a cluster of other mutually related social and emotional skills. For example, Task Performance includes achievement orientation, responsibility, self-control, and persistence. Apart from demonstrating the degree of mutual similarity, this grouping also ensures a systematic, comprehensive and balanced consideration of social and emotional skills of individuals.

The study will assess 15 social and emotional skills spread across the six broad domains – the “Big Five” dimensions and a group of compound skills. Due to reduced response burden that 10-year-olds can endure, a smaller number of 10-12 social and emotional skills will be assessed in this cohort.


Triangulation: Students, teachers and parents

Social and emotional skills of school-age students are the primary focus of this study. These skills will be assessed both directly and indirectly. The student assessment will have a format of standard Likert-type items, with statements describing typical behavioural patterns and response categories representing various degrees of agreement with the given statement. Similar type of instruments for assessing students’ social and emotional skills will be administered to their parents and teachers, thus providing for the possibility of mutual verification and triangulation.

Apart from assessing students’ social and emotional skills, the study will also gather a wide range of information on children’s family, school and community environments from their teachers, parents, school principals, as well as from students themselves. This information will help to place social and emotional skills in the context of other relevant individual, group and community characteristics and factors that are relevant to the development of these skills.

Some of the main topics covered in these questionnaires are quality of parent-child relations, home learning environment, parental styles, learning activities, school climate, teaching practices and pedagogies, etc.


Target population and sample design

The SSES will survey two cohorts of children: children attending schools aged 10 and 15 at the time of administration of the study. There will be 3,000 students per site (i.e. participating city or country) for each of the two cohorts. A two-stage stratified sample design with initial random selection of schools and a follow-up random selection of students within selected schools will be implemented.

The study will include a diverse list of participants, with different administrative units, jurisdictions and sizes. Both individual cities and entire countries will participate since the study design can accommodate different contexts. Official decisions on participation in the study are to be made by 30 April 2018, but several cities and countries has confirmed their intention to participate in the study and are actively participating in the study setup and initial instrument development phases. The maximum number of participating sites is set to 12 in order to keep the study manageable in this first round.


Project management and implementation

Like all OECD large-scale surveys, the SSES is organised as a project with comprehensive management structure, involving multiple stakeholders, national and international institutions, policy advisors, researchers, experts and administrators. The OECD Secretariat has overall managerial responsibility for the project, monitors its implementation on a day-to-day basis, builds consensus among countries and serves as the interlocutor between the sites and the international consortium contracted to implement the Survey.


The international consortium of this study is led by the Center for Human Resource Research (CHRR) at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, USA in partnership with the Drasgow Consulting Group, Urbana, Illinois, US (assessment development and analysis); Sanigest International, San Jose, Costa Rica (quality control); Research Support Services, Evanston, Illinois, USA (translation training adjudication); and cApStAn Linguistic Quality Control, Brussels, Belgium (translation verification).


The project implementation is also coordinated together with the International Advisory Group composed of policy experts from participating and interested cities and countries, and a Technical Advisory Group composed of research experts in social and emotional skills and cross-cultural comparability. Throughout the project, this Group will give their advice and guidance to ensure the robustness of the research.


More information:

A dedicated website for the study is available with useful background documentation and regular updates about developments regarding the study. It is available here: www.oecd.org/edu/ceri/thestudyonsocialandemotionalskills.htm


What would you hope to learn from this study of SEL across cities and countries and why? What concerns does it raise?


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 can not find references to the characteristics of the student body, class group or school, especially in relation to geographic location (rural-urban) with the usual PISA classifications:
    1,000,000: urban big city.
    It is important that this factor be considered for the improvement of educational systems and the visibility of rural education in the world.

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