Special Issue of Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology Showcases Social-Emotional Assessment in Educational Practice


Clark McKown, Rush University Medical Center and Jeremy Taylor, CASEL


The March 2018 special issue of Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology on social-emotional skill assessment to guide educational practice. The special issue, co-edited by Assessment Work Group (AWG) steering committee members Clark McKown and Jeremy Taylor, includes 10 articles describing innovative methods of assessing children’s social-emotional learning, and innovative ways to use assessment data to guide educational practice.

They conceived of this special issue as an opportunity to bring attention to promising strategies for assessing SEL and to the many ways SEL assessments can and increasingly are being used to advance educational practice. The special issue articles describe SEL assessments that are in use in the field now or are well on their way to being ready to deploy in the field. These articles contain many important and practical lessons for researchers and practitioners and anyone else interested in understanding how to assess social-emotional skills and how to use assessment data to guide practice. Readers will find much helpful content about the characteristics of the measures described and how they are used. In each paper, the authors describe the contexts (policy, practice, and theory) that led them to undertake their assessment effort. They describe what they elected to measure, and how. They report evidence of the reliability and validity of the instruments but focus on the applied interpretation of the data. They describe unanticipated challenges and unintended consequences of social-emotional assessment.

Many questions remain in the field around SEL assessment, some are about the scientific evidence for these measures, while others are about the practical issues of using them. The papers in this special issue address both questions. Six of the papers focus mainly on presenting evidence of the technical merits of the assessments, with discussion of their potential to guide practice. Four papers describe initiatives in which social-emotional assessments have been used as part of large-scale continuous improvement initiatives. Two papers describe assessments that were recipients of AWG Design Challenge awards last year.

Reflecting the breadth of constructs that are considered under the broad umbrella of SEL, the assessments described in this special issue were designed to measure a great many different constructs. The list of constructs measured in assessments described is extensive and includes emotion regulation, impulse control, communication, empathy, cooperation, social initiation, self-management, relationship skills, responsible decision-making, self-awareness, relationship quality, executive functions, emotional intelligence, growth mindset, and self-efficacy.

The long list of constructs measured raises important questions about what exactly SEL is and what it is not. One of the major contributions of the papers in this special issue is that each contributes to our understanding of the nature and significance of a subset of constructs that are routinely described as being part of SEL. In touching many parts of the proverbial elephant, one can nearly discern the whole. The diversity of SEL constructs that are highlighted speak to a larger challenge facing the field — the array of SEL frameworks that exist and the lack of understanding about how they fit together. A subgroup of the Assessment Work Group, to which this blog belongs, is attempting to tackle this important issue.

Finally, all of the papers in this special issue reflect the growing commitment in the field to developing and using SEL assessment data to inform practice. They reflect the early signs of work that will, before long, multiply the range of alternatives available to educators who recognize the difference SEL assessment can make to how and what they do.


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. As the author of Skills-Based Health Education (Jones & Bartlett) I would like to collaborate on assessment. The SEL competencies of Decision Making, Relationship Skills, and Self-management are also the National Health Education Standards. The competencies of Self and Social Awareness are incorporated in Standard 2-Analyzing Influences, and Standard 3-Accessing Information. The assessments for Skills-Based Health Education are authentic. Students learn and practice the skill then demonstrate what they know and are able to do.
    SEL and SBHE are very similar and a partnership would benefit both. The infrastructure of health and physical education are present in schools to make for an efficient implementation. The Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child model is an excellent vehicle to implement the school-wide implementation of SEL/SBHE.

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