Social and Emotional Learning Skills are Essential to Formative Assessment Practice

By Tom Vander Ark and Mary Ryerse

We recently described the importance of the student role in the formative assessment process, which includes doing things like engaging with teachers and classmates to give and receive feedback. While that sounds simple at face value, most of us know that it is, in fact, a nuanced process that involves a deep understanding of one’s self and of others.

Accordingly, Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) skills are essential for students to be active agents in the formative assessment process.

Interestingly, formative assessment not only draws on SEL skills, but can build SEL skills as well. The daily role of the student in formative assessment provides a natural environment to hone their SEL skills.

This adds up to a virtuous cycle for SEL and formative assessment. SEL skills are needed for effective practice of formative assessment. Guided formative assessment practice hones SEL skills. They need and feed each other.  

The focus of this particular blog is on the former – – how SEL is needed for formative assessment practice. For additional information on the latter, please refer to Formative Assessment of Social Emotional Skills.


Before drawing the explicit connections between SEL and formative, it’s important to review definitions.


CASEL, the leading advocate for SEL, outlines five competencies: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision making, relationship skills and social awareness.


Formative Assessment

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) adopted the following definition of formative assessment:

Formative assessment is a planned, ongoing process used by all students and teachers during learning and teaching to elicit and use evidence of student learning to improve student understanding of intended disciplinary learning outcomes, and support students to become more self-directed learners.

This updated definition increases the emphasis on the role of the students themselves, which aligns with emphasis on self-awareness and self-management. Further, there are ten dimensions of formative assessment (see page 12 of the FARROP report for details).

How Do SEL Skills Feed the Formative Assessment Process?

As articulated earlier, SEL and formative assessment go hand-in-hand. This becomes even more evident as one looks at the alignment between the five SEL competencies outlined by CASEL and the 10 Dimensions of Formative Assessment as outlined by CCSSO. These formative assessment dimensions speak not only to the teacher’s role, but also to the student role.

Here is a look at each SEL competency and how it feeds the formative process:

  • Self-awareness: CASEL describes this as “the ability to accurately assess one’s strengths and limitations,” which aligns directly with the “Student Self-Assessment” dimension of formative, which requires students to evaluate themselves and their work.
  • Self-management: Goal setting, self-motivation and organization are included in this SEL competency, and they feed the formative assessment dimension of “Identifying Learning Goals,” which requires a set of skills beyond simply doing what a teacher asks you to.
  • Social awareness: This competency, which includes showing respect for others, is critical for the formative dimension of “Student-Peer Feedback.”
  • Relationship skills: Communication and teamwork are at the heart of this SEL competency and are important for formative dimensions of developing “Questioning Strategies” and a  “Collaborative Culture of Learning.” No doubt, relationships are critical for a collaborative culture.
  • Responsible decision-making: Decision-making skills are essential for students to take an active role in determining the path forward, which points to the formative dimension of “Using Evidence to Inform Ongoing Teaching and Learning.”

There is a strong and active role for students in formative assessment, and the role is largely dependent on well-developed SEL skills. See a recently published guide, Formative Assessment, The Student Role.

In summary,  SEL skills are needed for students to be actors in the formative assessment process. The good news is that, by leveraging the natural relationship between SEL skills and formative assessment, students will improve their efforts along both processes.

For more, see:

This post is a part of a series focused on the “How I Know: Designing Meaningful Formative Assessment” initiative sponsored by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. See the  How I Know website ( and join the conversation on Twitter using #HowIKnow or #FormativeAssessment.

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