Key takeaways

  • Explore how timing, purpose, and feedback intersect with environment and motivation to measure student SEL skills effectively with the right SEL assessment tools.
  • Acquire hands-on, immediately applicable strategies to measure and improve students’ SEL abilities while collecting valuable data for informed instructions.
  • Gain clarity and direction in assessing SEL skills.

The key variables in student SEL skill assessment

As teaching staff, we must consider certain variables - timing, purpose, and feedback - when assessing students. Timing involves moving along the learning curve, starting with exploring previous knowledge and ending after the learning period is finished. Purpose pertains to the reason for collecting assessment data and how it will be used to make informed instructional decisions. Feedback, on the other hand, serves as a crucial bridge connecting the assessment process with student learning outcomes. However, when assessing social and emotional learning (SEL) skills, we must consider two additional variables: environment and motivation.

Before we delve into the different types of assessment, it's essential to highlight the significance of the learning environment when teaching, learning, and practicing SEL skills.

How can I measure student SEL skills?Nurturing skills in the right environment and motivation

Shape your environment

Creating a positive and inclusive environment that fosters understanding and belonging is essential if we want to showcase our social and emotional learning (SEL) skills effectively. This environment goes beyond our physical surroundings and includes our internal thoughts and interactions with others.

According to Bandura's Social Learning Theory (SLT) from 1965, we can learn by observing, imitating, and modeling, even without a significant change in behavior. In a social setting, we are more likely to learn by watching and copying positive behaviors that lead to rewarding outcomes.

However, at times, we may require assistance in putting these skills into practice due to ingrained habits or an unsupportive environment. Therefore, it's crucial to shape our surroundings and be positive role models to facilitate the development of SEL skills in any learning environment.

The interplay of motivation and SEL skills

Motivation can significantly impact emotional regulation, a vital social-emotional skill when learning something new. Students motivated to achieve a goal related to their emotional well-being or relationships are more likely to regulate their emotions effectively. As students become more skilled in social-emotional learning, they will experience increased motivation to apply these skills due to the positive outcomes, self-efficacy, intrinsic motivation, and improved interpersonal relationships associated with their proficiency. This reinforces the significance of SEL education and practice for personal growth and well-being.

The environment we are in can strongly influence our motivation. We may apply our skills in specific contexts rather than in others. However, it is crucial to consider the reason when assessing SEL skills. Measuring motivation helps us make informed decisions when applying SEL skills interventions. As you embed SEL into your school/teaching practices and teach and assess SEL skills, you will witness a significant increase in motivation and skills mastery.

Navigating the path of SEL skills assessment and measurement

The learning process requires time, and we must break it down into smaller steps to effectively identify areas that need improvement and manage our efforts accordingly. When assessing our students' social and emotional skills, it is essential to recognize that they may still require additional time to develop these skills fully. These skills are continuously learned, and starting earlier increases the likelihood of success. However, responding effectively to a hypothetical scenario does not guarantee that we will handle a similar real-life situation properly the first time. Developing these skills takes time and practice.

The good news is that we can all master SEL skills as they are wired in our brains. We only need to develop these skills. Imagine SEL skills as a language we are all born to speak fluently. However, it's essential to remember that the amygdala plays a crucial role when feeling certain emotions, and we all react differently, given the feelings we store in the amygdala, which may trigger specific patterns or responses. A child among your students may need longer to practice particular skills correctly. Still, they might work much harder than others because of their previous experiences and feelings. We want to acknowledge and praise that effort and encourage and support the positive change. As educators, we must adopt a growth mindset to assess students' SEL skills and adopt a 360-degree view. 

It is essential to remind your students to be aware that each feeling is valuable, but they can learn to react healthier while moving within the new skill learning curve.

Imagine SEL skills as a language we are all born to speak fluently.

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Strategies for SEL skills assessment. 

As you read this article, picture a learning curve in your mind as you move within the learning space. We will discuss diagnostic, formative, and summative assessments and how they can measure a student's progress. Remember that these assessments may need to be adjusted based on your student's age and learning attitudes.

Diagnostic assessment 

A Diagnostic Assessment can detect students' prior knowledge, skills, strengths, and weaknesses at the start of a learning period. It is helpful for teachers to understand what students already know and what they need to learn. This assessment will determine the starting point of the learning curve. You can apply some ideas and examples in your class to assess students' baseline abilities and areas needing improvement. For instance, consider using Self-Discipline as an example of a CASEL sub-skill you may want to teach and evaluate.

  • Self-reflection journals: Encourage students to reflect on their self-discipline by journaling for a week. In the journal, they can note moments when they showed self-control and times when they struggled. You can provide guiding questions such as describing a recent situation where they had to control their impulses, how they handled it, and what they learned from the experience.
  • Behavior tracking: Create a behavior chart for students to track their behavior for a specific period. They can use emoticons or colors to indicate moments of self-discipline and when they may have acted impulsively.
  • Self-discipline inventory: Provide a questionnaire or survey with statements related to self-discipline, where students can rate themselves on a scale from 1 (low) to 5 (high) to gauge their perception of self-discipline. Example statement: I can resist looking at my mobile feeds when I need to focus on a task (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree).
  • Role-play scenarios: Create role-play scenarios that require students to exercise self-discipline. For example, you can have them act out situations where they must resist peer pressure or delay gratification. Example scenario: You have a big assignment due tomorrow, but your friends invite you to play online games. What do you do, and why?

With the above, you can embed observations from teaching staff and peers, sharing feedback and inviting students to discuss the topic/ new skill at home. These diagnostic assessments can help you gain insights into your students' skills and tailor your SEL instruction to meet their specific needs. 

Formative assessments

Formative assessments are evaluations during the learning process to provide continuous feedback to teachers and students. They help identify improvement and guide instruction to meet learning objectives. To help you understand how your students' skill learning is progressing and increase awareness of their abilities in a particular area, we have compiled some ideas and examples you can apply in your class. We are using Appreciating Diversity as an example of a CASEL sub-skill that you may wish to teach and assess.

  • Class discussions: When discussing diversity-related topics in class, it's essential to engage students in a discussion where they can share their thoughts, ask questions, and challenge their perspectives. Ensure students' active participation in the debate and their ability to listen and respond respectfully to diverse viewpoints.
  • Group projects: Encourage collaboration and understanding of different perspectives, assign group projects that require students to work with peers from diverse backgrounds. Evaluate not only the final project but also the teamwork and interactions within the group.
  • Case studies: Present real-life case studies or scenarios involving diversity-related challenges and have students analyze these cases to propose solutions demonstrating an appreciation for diversity. Evaluate students' ability to identify biases, stereotypes, and potential solutions in the case studies.
  • Literature analysis: To promote appreciation for diversity, assign readings from diverse authors or about various cultures and identities. Have students analyze the literature to identify themes related to diversity, and ask them to write essays or give presentations exploring how the literature reflects diverse perspectives and promotes appreciation.

When evaluating students' social and emotional learning (SEL) skills, it is vital to prioritize ongoing progress and encourage the exploration of various techniques and methods to enhance their learning. Through formative assessments, teachers can observe and reflect on their growth in multiple SEL competencies while providing valuable feedback to their students.

Summative assessment

At the end of a course or unit, summative assessments evaluate student learning and assign grades or determine proficiency. Here are some ideas that you can apply in your class. Ethical responsibility is an example of a CASEL sub-skill you may want to assess. 

  • Ethical dilemma essay: Present students with a complex ethical dilemma relevant to their age group or community. Ask them to write an essay discussing the dilemma, possible solutions, and the ethical principles involved. Evaluate their essay for critical thinking, ethical reasoning, and the ability to consider various perspectives.
  • Ethical responsibility portfolio: Have students create an ethical responsibility portfolio over a semester or year. This can include reflections, case studies, and examples of how they applied ethical principles in various situations. Review the portfolio to assess their growth and consistency in demonstrating ethical responsibility.
  • Debate on ethical issues: Organize a class debate on ethical issues related to your curriculum or current events. Assign students to argue both sides of the case to encourage empathy and understanding of diverse perspectives. Evaluate students based on their ability to construct convincing arguments and engage respectfully in the debate.
  • Real-Life ethical analysis: Assign students to analyze a real-life ethical situation, such as a historical event or contemporary news story. Have them assess the ethical implications, decision-making processes, and consequences. Assess their ability to analyze and articulate their understanding of the ethical dimensions of the situation.

Summative assessments for SEL skills should comprehensively evaluate students' understanding and application of principles in various contexts. They should showcase the development of SEL competencies over time.


Utilizing a balanced combination of assessment types, proves to be the most effective strategy to support student learning comprehensively. These SEL assessments offer a foundation to inform instructional decisions and tailor teaching methods based on student SEL data gathered.

Imagine the learning curve as a dynamic journey where students progress in mastering their SEL skills. To effectively measure their progress, consider various steps in the assessment process. Delve into timing, purpose, and feedback to ensure that the evaluation aligns with the objectives of SEL education.

Moreover, remember the pivotal role of environment and motivation in this journey. Continuously reinforce a positive learning environment that nurtures the growth of SEL skills. Simultaneously, stay attuned to students' motivation levels, celebrating their achievements and success as they advance along the learning curve. These elements and strategic assessment practices will propel students toward mastering essential SEL competencies.

Call to action

When adults, it takes energy and extreme efforts to re-teach ourselves how to deal with emotions and situations; for children, whose brain has more neurons than those of adults, it’s undoubtedly easier. The neurons we don’t use get lost in the process of growing. Let’s ensure we pick those of our children right in time to ensure they can grow healthier and happier. We are born to thrive and shine in SEL. If you want to record outstanding SEL skills assessment data, start ASAP to embed these skills in your school and teaching practices

For a student and educator-friendly assessment of SEL skills, take a look atSatchel Pulse Skills.  It offers an easy-to-use Skills assessment for K-12 students, with a simple time, effective teacher assessment with the ability to tier students at the touch of a button.  To support the development of skills, Satchel Pulse will recommend resources from a Skills library based on the assessment data for tier 1, 2, or 3 work. 


Author: Paola Mileo

Posted: 16 Oct 2023

Estimated time to read: 10 mins

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