Get Smart About Social and Emotional Learning Measurement

Published in: American Enterprise Institute website (August 2019)

Posted on RAND.org on August 22, 2019

by Laura S. Hamilton, Heather L. Schwartz

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Social and emotional learning (SEL) has become popular among many education scholars, policymakers, and practitioners, as evidenced by the attention and praise bestowed on the final report of the Aspen Institute's National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development (SEAD). State and federal education agencies have signaled to educators that they value SEL-related practices and outcomes, and professional organizations' journals are increasingly filled with SEL content.

SEL is typically defined as the process through which students develop interpersonal skills, such as social awareness, and intrapersonal skills, such as emotion regulation. This definition is quite broad, and educators have access to a mind-boggling number of frameworks that list and define specific skills. Regardless of which definitions or frameworks educators adopt, they need ways to monitor and measure their SEL practices and assess whether these practices are actually helping students.

As with most approaches to school reform, SEL has the potential to be beneficial or harmful, depending on how it is defined and practiced. Well-designed assessments that help educators monitor instruction, school environments, and student outcomes can help ensure that SEL benefits students, enhances rather than detracts from other important activities (particularly academic instruction), and wins families' and educators' support.

This report is part of the series "What It'll Take for Social and Emotional Learning to Succeed and Survive."

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