Mental health and children's social and emotional learning skills have become a necessary part of the education system. Skills such as following instructions, sharing, ethical behavior, good decisions, and understanding emotions are all needed to function not only in the classroom but in life (Bierman et al., 2016). These behavior traits are sometimes lacking in the child’s environment, and it is becoming apparent that if a child does not learn these skills at school, they may not learn them at all. Therefore many school districts have started initiating SEL programs as part of the curriculum for all students, whether it be embedded into current subjects or a separate subject altogether. Choosing the right curriculum can be daunting, but an even greater problem arises when there is no way to assess student growth. Students may conform to classroom rules, but are they really acquiring these skills that are so crucial to becoming effective members of society? How can teachers measure the success of their students’ SEL behavior?
Before one can measure growth, it is important to determine what domains or subsets are actually being measured. Many frameworks exist to identify SEL skills, but one, in particular, has gained the most attention; The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning which has determined a framework known as the CASEL five. This includes Self-Awareness (recognizing how one’s own emotions influences behavior), Social Awareness (relating to another culture or background), Relationship Skills (the ability to get along with others), Self Management (regulating ones’ emotions or behaviors), and Responsible Decision Making (the ability to make good choices based off of ethics, safety, and consequences) (CASEL, 2015). CASEL has been paramount in the development of worldwide school-based intervention initiatives for a child’s SEL, and for many districts, these are the skills that are being taught and now need to be assessed to determine student growth.
Why are SEL Assessments or Surveys so important?
The Measuring SEL group stated that while 95% of all administrators believe SEL is important, only 37% know what assessments are available and only 33% think their teachers would know how to use the data from these assessments. This 2020 summary report from a summit between the Catalyzing Future Directors of Social and Emotional Learning Assessment Project, Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, and CASEL determined that assessing SEL enabled equity and engaged the voice of the youth. Students are empowered in their own SEL growth when they are involved in their SEL assessment. This process allowed them to be problem solvers and take ownership in the journey, encouraging greater motivation and engagement. In addition, SEL surveys integrate the student, teacher, and school and can be embedded into larger systems to help determine the growth of the whole district (Zieher, et al. 2020).
In another summary, the National Practicition Advisory Group on Using Data to Inspire SEL Practice (NPAG) stated that assessments help show team growth over time and not just the finite outcome. These small milestones to ultimate success encourage all involved. Also, when teachers interpret the data it improves how they implement SEL into their classrooms because they begin to see progress in the right direction and know which methods work. And the SEL implementation does not only improve SEL skills, but as students’ SEL competencies improve, often their academic performance does as well. Having that academic data and SEL data hand in hand is highly effective to show how SEL benefits the whole child (Franklin et al., 2019).
CASEL has been paramount in the development of worldwide school-based intervention initiatives for a child’s SEL.
A final benefit of SEL surveys is that it provides the teachers with actionable data on the student's SEL skills (NWEA, 2017). Instead of teaching general lessons on how to be kind, good, or ethical, teachers have exact data targeting students’ exact weaknesses that lessons can center around. If the whole group has mastered the skill, the teacher does not spend massive amounts of time reteaching that lesson. Once the majority of the students in their class have learned to add, then the teacher moves on to how to subtract. Only, the students who still struggle to add will be pulled for extra help in that subset. It is the same for SEL. If all of the class understands how to have good relationships but struggles with self-management, it should be the self-management lessons that the teacher spends more time on. Those that still struggle with relationship skills can be pulled for targeted interventions.
Challenges to SEL Surveys and Assessments
One of the biggest challenges to implementing SEL surveys is often the amount of time that it takes for a teacher, parent, or student to complete the assessments to determine the results. Mckown (2020) summarized that completing lengthy questionnaires on each student posed a burden on the teacher. Another challenge is that once the data is collected, principals and teachers are unsure about what to do with it. There is often no guidance on the next step to these lengthy assessments. Mckown stated that another problem was that it was difficult for students to complete if they still struggled to read.
It is understandable why only a third of all school districts have effectively implemented SEL practices in their schools. It is time-consuming, expensive, and difficult to understand the data or how to implement the curriculum. That’s why Satchel Pulse is such a valuable resource - it makes every step of the process painless. The student surveys are easy to understand, and the students even have the option of having the questions automatically read to them. Teacher screeners can be completed in as little as a planning period and yet still add valuable data to each student profile. And most importantly, students are automatically tiered and grouped according to competency and subskill, providing clear direction for that actionable data. Satchel even offers an intervention library full of curriculum teachers can pull from for every CASEL competency.
Mental health and social and emotional learning are important. But assessing students through surveys is just as important. Students need targeted interventions based on assessment data to foster SEL growth. It is then that we will see benefits for the whole child, the school, and the community.
Anthony, C. J., Elliott, S. N., DiPerna, J. C., & Lei, P.-W. (2020). Multirater assessment of young children's social and emotional learning via the SSIS sel brief scales – preschool forms. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 53, 625–637. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2020.07.006
Bierman, K. L., Greenberg, M. T., & Abenavoli, R. (2016). Promoting social and emotional learning in preschool: Programs and practices that work. Edna Bennet Pierce Prevention Research Center, Pennsylvania State University.
Elliott, S. N., Anthony, C. J., Lei, P.-W., & DiPerna, J. C. (2021). Efficient assessment of the whole social–emotional child: Using parents to rate sel competencies and concurrent emotional behavior concerns. School Mental Health, 13(2), 392–405. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12310-021-09429-7
Franklin, C.L., Hirsch, H.M., McLaughlin, B., & Ward-Roncalli, S. (2019). Making SEL Assessment Work: Ten Practitioner Beliefs. American Institutes for Research
McKown, C., & Herman, B. (2020). SEL assessment to support effective social emotional learning practices at scale. University Park, PA: Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center, The Pennsylvania State University.
Zieher, A. K., Cipriano, C., Meyer, J. L., & Strambler, M. J. (2021). Educators’ implementation and use of social and emotional learning early in the COVID-19 pandemic. School Psychology, 36(5), 388-397.