Social Detective: Design Challenge Winner, 2nd place

By Samuel Moulton, Panorama Education


At Panorama Education we help educators collect, understand, and act on measures of social-emotional learning, school climate, and family engagement. Our survey-based measures are reliable, valid, and also useful: Students, teachers, and leaders from over 350 districts rely on them to receive feedback on their teaching and learning efforts.


We’ve seen firsthand how districts like Fresno Unified and Washoe County have used SEL measurement to drive positive, system-wide changes for their students. At the same time, we’ve been inspired to explore new ways to advance SEL measurement, including performance tasks.


CASEL’s inaugural competition offered us a unique opportunity to design and prototype an innovative SEL assessment, Social Detective, that measures and develops students’ social perspective-taking skills. Social perspective-taking is the ability to understand other people’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations—to put yourself “in someone else’s shoes.”


We chose social perspective-taking because it is a (if not the) foundational SEL competency, underpinning a vast range of students’ social-emotional functioning at school and in life. Past educational research has shown that students who more accurately perceive others’ thoughts and feelings tend to learn more, perform better on achievement tests, receive higher grades, adjust better socially, have fewer behavioral problems, appreciate diversity more, and demonstrate more empathy. And unlike some other SEL competencies, social perspective-taking is both malleable and teachable—a product of motivational and strategic variables that can be developed through practice and influenced by teachers.


In our Social Detective task, students first watch short videos of “real” people (not actors) authentically answering a range of questions (such as “What makes a good friend?”). Their task is to be a “social detective,” carefully observing the interviewee so that they can figure out the other person’s thoughts, feelings, preferences, goals, and values.

The students then describe the person in their own words and answer a series of multiple-choice questions about her or him (such as “What is more important to this person, loyalty or honesty?”).

To assess how well students can engage in social perspective-taking, we simply compare their predictions of the interviewee’s responses with the interviewee’s actual responses to the same questions. As feedback, we show students how well they did on the task, the correct answer to each question, and strategies for becoming better “social detectives.”

We developed Social Detective with several key design principles in mind. First, our task had to be an evidence-based, psychometrically-valid assessment that predicts real-world outcomes and can be implemented at scale in schools. Second, we strived for a student-centered, highly-engaging task that authentically recreates the real-world context in which students need to exercise social perspective-taking. And finally, we wanted a flexible task that could evolve over time as educators and students discover innovative ways to embed it within their teaching and learning environments (an assessment for learning).


In the months and years ahead, we view Social Detective as a starting point for future performance tasks and innovative measures of SEL. A couple open questions we have:

  • How interested are educators in SEL performance tasks in general or a task such as Social Detective in particular?
  • What do you like about this task or our approach, and what can we improve?

If you have thoughts on these questions or are interested in learning more, you can email our team at


You can see our Design Challenge awardees present on their measures by following links to the Recording and Slide Deck from our webinar as well as our Brief.


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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