Leaders in Educational Research & Development Want More Robust Measures of Social Emotional Learning

By Dana Asby, CEI Intern

Those who have spent time in a classroom know that children cannot begin learning when they are preoccupied with the sting of their friend’s harsh words, the anxiety over a remark a parent uttered at drop off, or the fear that their report card will earn them a spanking at home. Our brains become overwhelmed with strong feelings so that there is not room for complex thinking. Leaders in education, from developmental psychologists researching these topics to government officials who determine where educational funding gets allocated, are increasingly focused on understanding how students’ social-emotional lives affect their academic achievement. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has made the creation of socio-emotional learning (SEL) assessments its focus for a three year collaborative effort called the Establishing Practical Social-Emotional Competence Assessments of Preschool to High School Students Project.

Many SEL programs are evidence-based and have been shown to improve student health, learning, social skills, communication, problem-solving, stress-management, and sense of well-being and belonging (Lantieri, 2008; Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011). However, CASEL’s initiative goes a step further supporting the idea that assessments of social-emotional competence from the preschool through high school level should be not only evidence-based, but also feasible and actionable (CASEL, 2018). Our SEL assessments should not be so lengthy and time-consuming that administrators and teachers are deterred from using them. After we have assessed students, an actionable path for improvement should be obvious to whoever is performing the assessment. Without these crucial elements, why are we testing students at all?

Even when an SEL program has been shown to be effective, it is sometimes not implemented, perhaps due to time constraints or funding, so CASEL aims to solve that problem by integrating SEL curriculum and assessment into general education classes. The large body of research that indicates that SEL components implemented with fidelity within existing school curricula can improve social-emotional development and academic learning lends support to CASEL’s approach (e.g., Brown, Corrigan, & Higgins-D’Alessandra, 2012a; 2012b; Durlak, et al., 2011; Greeson, 2009).

CASEL is taking a multi-faceted approach to introducing SEL skills to students of all ages. In addition to working on big-picture assessment and curricula creation, they are also forming relationships–and teaching others how to form these relationships themselves–among the various stakeholders involved in a child’s social-emotional development. CASEL understands that they must work not only at the district, school, and classroom level, but also at the home and community level as well. At the district level, CASEL has developed and has been working on a Collaborating Districts Initiative (CDI) since 2016. They understand that to work smarter, districts need to communicate with each other so that they are not continually re-inventing the wheel. Data from CDI implementation studies showed:

  • improvement in reading and math outcomes
  • higher GPAs by the end of the school year
  • improved graduation rates
  • lowered absences
  • fewer suspensions (CASEL, 2018).

CASEL recommends that five core SEL competencies be considered during the development of new instruments: (1) self-awareness, (2) self-management, (3) social awareness, (4) relationship skills, and (5) responsible decision-making (Jazaieri, 2018)

If your school is looking for a SEL curriculum to support a compassionate school culture, analyze your options to see if it aligns with CASEL’s five core SEL competencies, and consider options to measure growth such as the School Compassionate Culture Analytic Tool for Educators (S-CCATE) developed by CEI (Mason et al., 2018; see also the article by Asby & Rueda, this issue of Wow! Ed). Effective SEL curricula and assessments engage all school community stakeholders in the complex but essential job of creating a compassionate school culture.


Brown, P., Corrigan, M., & Higgins-D’Alessandra, A. (2012a). Handbook of prosocial education. Vol.1. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Brown, P., Corrigan, M., & Higgins-D’Alessandra, A. (2012b). Handbook of prosocial education. Vol. 2. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). (2018). Key district findings. CASEL website. Retrieved from: The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)

Durlak, J.A., Weissberg, R.P., Dymnicki, A.B., Taylor, R.B., & Schellinger, K.B. (2011). Impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82 (1), 405-432.

Greeson, J.M. (2009). Mindfulness research update: 2008. Complementary Health Practice Review, 14, 1, 10-18.

Jazaieri, H. (2018). Compassionate education from preschool to graduate school: Bringing a culture of compassion into the classroom. Journal of Research in Innovative Teaching & Learning, 11 (1), 22-66. DOI: 10.1108/JRIT-08-2017-0017

Lantieri, L. (2008). Building emotional intelligence: Techniques to cultivate inner strength in children. Boulder, CO: Sounds true.

Mason, C., Rivers Murphy, M., Bergey, M., Sawilowsky, S., & Hodgdon, H.(2018). The development and validation of a measure of compassionate school culture. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Stillman, S.B., Stillman, P., Martinez, L., Freedman, J., Jensen, A.L., & Leet, C. (2017). Strengthing social emotional learning with student, teacher, and schoolwide assessments. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 55, 71-92. DOI: 10.1016/j.appdev.2017.07.010


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