10 Ways Educators Can Use SEL Measurement and Assessment for Student Success

By Jonathan E. Martin
But what would you do with it?
In sharing a series of posts over the past several weeks about the rising demand for social emotional learning (SEL) measurement and noncognitive skills assessment, we noted that new methods are emerging for doing it effectively.
Still, some are wondering what a typical (or atypical) school or district would do with the data and reports they received after administering such an assessment to their students?
Because noncognitive assessment is still so new to schools, one answer to this question is we don’t yet know. We anticipate that five years from now we may be astounded by the diverse and innovative ways in which educators wield what we believe will be a powerful and creative tool.
Nevertheless, we can speculate about how measuring and assessing noncognitive skills and character strengths might valuably assist educators, both in bolstering students’ social and emotional skills and elevating their academic skills and traditional test scores.

Top 10 Ways to Use SEL Measurement and Assessment of Noncognitive Skills

1. Affirming strengths of schools and districts. Many schools and districts have made substantial investments in supporting their students’ social and emotional learning. They’ve shown strong leadership, established core values, signaled different priorities, allocated previous resources, maintained student counseling in the face of budget shortfalls, trained teachers and implemented new curricular and instructional strategies.
Wouldn’t it nice if these leaders could collect evidence of the impact of their actions and better demonstrate the effects of their efforts? Affirmation matters: it confirms to these schools, districts and their funders that they are on the right track, and better allows them to take their rightful place in the vanguard of SEL educational programming.
2. Determining greatest opportunities for improvement. Whether we’re preparing a school improvement plan, planning for re-accreditation, selecting a new administrator or undertaking strategic planning, we are often looking for the greatest opportunity for improvement. Often this opportunity lies in SEL–but where, exactly? Measuring your students’ noncognitive skills and studying the results can illuminate what should top your agenda in the next phase of your institution’s evolution.
3. Analyzing data to determine which noncognitive skills might best boost academic achievement. SEL is both an end in itself and a means to an end. When evaluating how to improve academic achievement, sometimes we miss the mark by looking only at the testing results. Consider how studying which noncognitive skills are positively and negatively correlated with achievement–and drilling down to locate the correlations among your underperforming subgroups–might uncover new avenues to improving proficiency. For instance, you might find that poor math scores among middle school boys highly correlate with low organization skills and arrive at a new strategy for improvement.
4. Monitoring impact of interventions. Say a new superintendent or principal arrives, boldly announcing a critical new academic program she will implement for improved college readiness skills–perhaps project-based learning, advisory programs or responsibility training. How will the new leader and her supervisors know whether the new program (intervention) is working? Imagine the ability to administer a SEL assessment to students both before and after the initiative and compare the results.  
5. Providing metrics for school improvement and district/school strategic plans. During strategic planning, school-leaders often hear from business-trained board members, “what will be your metrics?” Now you have your answer: our SEL measurements will generate metrics on the impact of our character development, student leadership skills or college readiness strategic initiatives.
6. Subgroup analysis for discerning and closing gaps. When it comes to academic achievement, equity is at the top of many educational leaders’ agendas. For social and emotional learning it should be just as much so. To close these gaps, we need to know where they exist and whether or not what we’re doing is working.
7. Identifying high performing schools as best practice exemplars. In California, the CORE districts have implemented new efforts to pair low-performing schools (both in academics and in SEL) with demographically similar higher-performing schools for coaching and mentoring. Data comparing schools and success rates are required to do so.
8. Providing teachers guidance about their students. When many teachers in middle and high schools have well over 100 students in their care, it’s hard for them to quickly appreciate the strengths and limitations of each one. An assessment tool can reveal which children will benefit from support in teamwork, curiosity and resilience so teachers may tailor their teaching accordingly.
9. Formative assessment for individual student growth. Few things are more valuable for student growth, as Hattie says, than “dollops of feedback.” Our children deserve regular, ongoing, external, reliable and validated reports of how they’re doing and how they can do better. SEL assessment can give teachers the data they need to provide students with ongoing feedback.
10. Empowering students with knowledge and data for goal-setting, growth, strategies and monitoring. We need to help students become, as Ron Berger has written, “leaders of their own learning.” By providing students with easily understood reports about their strengths and opportunities (with embedded guidance and strategies), we can help students take responsibility for their growth and give them systems for monitoring their development.
This list is by no means exhaustive. Even as it was being prepared, colleagues weighed in with further suggestions (e.g., accreditation-reaccreditation, turning the assessments towards the teachers to ensure they too had these skills–not for accountability per se, but so they know they model these for the students).
So what do you think? Are there still further uses we should consider? Any cautions? Caveats? We welcome feedback to sharpen our ideas and ultimately reach a critical consensus.
This post is part of a blog series on measuring SEL and non-cognitive skills produced in partnership with ProExam (@proexam). Join the conversation on Twitter using #SEL. For more in this series, see:

Jonathan E. Martin is Strategic Implementation Advisor to ProExam Tessera™ and an educational writer and consultant. Follow him on Twitter: @JonathanEMartin.

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1 Comment

Fred Bost

Great suggestions! We know that individual SEL skills correlate with learning and I'll bet that group data will align with school climate. This is the kind of initiative that principals can get behind. Thanks!

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