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(The Measuring SEL Blog)

November 7, 2018

Finding the Right Assessment Tool: Another Resource for Educators and Researchers

Photo by kali9/Getty Images

by Laura S. Hamilton and Brian M. Stecher

Last week, the Assessment Work Group (AWG) shared a preview of its new SEL Assessment Guide, which provides a catalogue of about 20 popular social and emotional learning (SEL) assessments along with guidance to help practitioners use these assessments effectively. Researchers from RAND are members of the AWG, and we contributed to the Guide and to the brief for practitioners that accompanied it, Choosing and Using SEL Competency Assessments: What Schools and Districts Need to Know (PDF).

RAND has developed a companion tool, the RAND Education Assessment Finder. This web-based tool provides information about roughly 200 assessments of K-12 students' competencies, including SEL competencies as well as higher-order cognitive competencies such as creativity. Practitioners and researchers can use it to explore what assessments are available, what they are designed to measure, what demands they place on students and teachers, and what kinds of uses their scores support.

The AWG and RAND tools address an important need: Research on how students learn suggests that to teach something effectively, educators need to assess students' learning so they can determine whether their instructional approaches are working and make adjustments to those approaches as needed. Most schools frequently assess student learning in core academic subjects like reading or mathematics, but schools typically don't systematically measure students' SEL competencies. And while schools (and other youth-serving institutions such as afterschool programs) currently have a wide variety of SEL curricula and programs to choose from, they often lack ways to assess students' development of the skills these resources are intended to promote.

The RAND Education Assessment Finder is intended to help both educators and researchers find SEL assessments that meet their needs. It supplements the AWG SEL Assessment Guide by providing information about the technical quality of assessments described in that guide. It also gives users access to a broader range of assessments that are appropriate for research purposes as well as those intended for practitioners.

Users of the Assessment Finder can search for assessments in a number of ways. For example, they can enter the name of an assessment, or they can search for assessment descriptions that include a competency or a term from a framework or taxonomy. The Assessment Finder will produce a list of assessments matching the search terms. A user can then filter the list by grade level, administration conditions, whether the assessment is available free of charge, and other factors reflecting the user's specific context. Once relevant assessments are identified, the Finder displays a wealth of information about each assessment, including competencies assessed, the scores provided, and administration time.

Importantly, the Assessment Finder also provides information, where available, about the reliability of the assessment and its validity for various uses, including the characteristics of the students who participated in the research that produced this information, as well as links to more extensive descriptions of assessment quality available in technical reports or academic journal articles. Users can compare multiple assessments side by side and decide which might be appropriate for their students and their learning environments.

The Assessment Finder offers educators and policymakers easy access to information about SEL assessments that is currently hard to find. The Finder should make it easier to incorporate such assessments into educators' plans and practices. One of the potential benefits of adopting a more systematic approach to SEL assessment is its contribution to helping schools and afterschool programs achieve their goals related to equity. The National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development (NCSEAD) has noted that high-quality SEL supports for children can contribute to efforts to achieve a more equitable society. High-quality assessments can be an important part of a broader educational effort to promote equity by helping educators understand where disparities exist and track progress toward addressing them.

Another potential benefit of having access to information about SEL assessments is its potential to improve information about program effectiveness. There is evidence that several existing SEL programs can promote growth in students' social and emotional competencies, but the scope of the evidence is limited by a lack of high-quality assessments of those competencies. The Assessment Finder can serve as a resource for researchers who would like information about assessments that have been used in prior research. It also identifies gaps in what assessments are available for specific competencies or grade levels so that assessment developers and researchers can identify fruitful avenues for future R&D.

The suite of tools—the AWG SEL Assessment Guide, the RAND Education Assessment Finder, and the practitioner brief—provide a starting point to help educators and researchers address their assessment needs. At the same time, users should recognize that further work in the SEL assessment field is needed to address gaps in what kinds of assessments are available and in the quality and utility of available assessments. We plan to expand the contents of the Assessment Finder by incorporating new assessments as they become available and by updating existing assessment summaries as new information about reliability and validity is published. We welcome your ideas about additional assessments that should be added, new evidence of technical quality for the assessments we do have, and new features that could improve the functioning of the site.

We are grateful to our AWG collaborators and to our generous funders: The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The Wallace Foundation, The Raikes Foundation, the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust, and the Overdeck Family Foundation. These foundations are part of the Funders' Collaborative for Innovative Measurement (FCIM).

Laura S. Hamilton is the distinguished chair in learning and assessment and Brian M. Stecher is an adjunct senior social scientist at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.

This commentary originally appeared on The Measuring SEL Blog on November 7, 2018. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.