How to measure social emotional learning

Social emotional learning (SEL) is a key factor in ensuring students are prepared for future success. It’s one of the top determinants of their performance in the workplace, where they’re expected to be team players who can communicate effectively, manage their emotions, and adapt to changes easily.

But if there’s no set curriculum to teach social emotional learning, how do we know our kids are acquiring the skills they need? Where do we begin in knowing how to measure social emotional learning?

First, recognize the key SEL characteristics

Before we can measure students’ progress with social emotional learning, it’s important to understand what SEL involves.

According to CASEL, social emotional learning is evaluated in five areas, or core competencies:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Self-management
  3. Social awareness
  4. Relationship skills
  5. Responsible decision-making

Within these are certain qualities. For example, self-awareness includes the ability to recognize emotions and accurately assess one’s own strengths and weaknesses. But it also means having a growth mindset, or firm belief that your talents aren’t innate gifts but instead skills that can be developed through hard work, the right strategies, and constructive feedback. (This is where self-confidence and optimism come into play.)

Being aware of these attitudes and behaviors is the first step to recognizing them in your students from day to day — and encouraging their development.

What you can do to measure social emotional learning

Actually measuring social emotional learning is more difficult. While a number of tools and assessments are available, it’s important that a school or district chooses or creates one that’s standardized across all school contexts. States must first develop and put SEL standards in place, complete with benchmarks.

So after that, what does that measurement look like? The CORE school districts in California, for example, use surveys to measure students’ “mindsets” in learning and ability to self-manage.

Still, it’s important for educators to be able to incorporate competencies into their lessons and understand how to use assessments effectively, through the best instructional approaches. Teachers could consider small-scale assessments in their own classroom, for example, by focusing on a selection of SEL traits or characteristics that they want to foster and then taking active steps to incorporate them into regular classwork and thus assessment criteria. Project-based learning work, which involves evaluation and assessment at various stages throughout the process, might include student reflection on those social emotional competencies.

A lot of work needs to be done to create measurements that are practical for K-12 classrooms. What’s encouraging? CASEL is developing an assessment guide for spring 2018 to help educators foster and measure SEL competencies.

Photo credits: Monkey Business Images /


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