Using SEL Assessment Reports with Students: Insights for Empowering Growth

By Jonathan E. Martin, Director of K12 Consulting Services and a member of the SEL team at ACT.

Who are the figures most important to the work of developing Social Emotional skills in the students in our schools: Teachers, Parents, Administrators, or Counselors?

How easy it is to forget that the best answer is always the student him or herself!

As students at City High School, a charter school in Tucson, ready themselves for college and careers, they’re eager to receive an affirmation of the skills they already have, and also to better understand what they should focus on improving before making their giant leap beyond secondary schooling—but not only in their academic subjects.  They also want to know how they are doing in their critical personal attributes, such as teamwork, tenacity, and resilience. They know how important these skills are, and yet, to their frustration, they get only comparatively very little feedback in this crucial domain.

Using a new assessment tool called ACT Tessera, City High School’s Director of College Access Eve Rifkin is carefully assisting her students in thoroughly examining and reflecting upon their SEL assessment results.  Doing so has created a ripe opportunity for her students in developing data literacy, generating more knowledge about the significance of these skills, and most of all, developing deeper understanding about themselves and how they can improve.  Data without insight can be limiting, even discouraging or demotivating; fortunately, useful assessments are increasingly ensuring that their reports carefully provide strategies for growth immediately adjacent to the performance ratings.

City High School students in Rifkin’s classroom are responding to their SEL assessment reports by crafting a thorough and thoughtful response to their data, one that will serve as a capstone assessment and used as an oral report to be made to their advisor and parents. Rifkin says she believes that for seniors soon to graduate, these skills often make the difference between success in college and dropping out, and accordingly, “this may be the most important thing we do in this class to prepare them for college completion.”

Across the country, ninth graders at a private boarding school in Connecticut, Pomfret, are using the assessment each fall to learn more about themselves.   As the school’s Academic Dean Don Gibbs explains, they complete the assessment early in the Fall semester, and then, during Parent weekend in October, use the results to inform a conversation they have with their advisors and parents in reflecting upon their strengths and setting goals for their high school career.

Far too often, the discussion about SEL measurement in education gets quickly bogged down in debates over school accountability and faculty evaluation, topics that understandably raise flags.  But as the 2015 EdWeek educator survey found, three of the four most popular uses of  SEL assessment data had directly to do with how teachers can better help  students succeed,  (the other had to do with program evaluation), and one of those four was exactly what’s described here: “feedback to students regarding their social-emotional skills.”

Students, like all of us, are eager to understand themselves better—especially in the personal skills they use every hour of every day.  Don’t we owe it to them to move forward with providing them valid and reliable insights and guidance about their social and emotional skills?


What do you think are the key elements of SEL assessment reporting that will help students be most successful when receiving and using this feedback?

How can we best advise teachers and counselors in how to make the most of SEL assessment as feedback to students?


Education Week Research Center.  Social and Emotional Learning: Perspectives from America’s Schools. 2015.  Editorial Projects in Education. Bethesda MD.


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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