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Measuring SEL? Choose Skills that Meet These Three Criteria

State and federal agencies are increasingly holding schools accountable for their role in influencing students’ social and emotional (SEL) skills. These skills include a wide range of abilities that help students succeed in college and careers, such as working well with others, understanding and managing emotions, and setting and achieving goals.

According to a 2016 survey, teachers favor SEL over other non-academic measures of student learning, such as student engagement and college and career readiness. Many states include SEL in their educational standards, and some states have considered using SEL measures to meet the recent Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requirement that schools use a non-academic indicator of student success.

Formal assessment of SEL outcomes enables districts to measure students’ SEL skills and implement targeted supports to increase those skills. However, measuring SEL is often challenging. SEL can be defined in many ways, and schools may struggle with prioritizing which skills to measure. Further, SEL is still an emerging field, and educators have yet to reach a consensus regarding the best ways to assess students’ SEL skills.

When selecting SEL skills to assess, leaders should prioritize skills that are meaningful, measurable, and malleable. Keep reading to learn how to prioritize SEL skills to measure by these three criteria, and see examples of SEL competencies.

SEL Skill Prioritization

Social and Emotional Learning: MeaningfulMeaningful

To be meaningful, skills in SEL programs, policies, and standards should predict important academic, career, and life outcomes.

Social and Emotional Learning: MeasurableMeasurable

To be measurable, SEL skills should be feasible to assess in the school setting using validated instruments.

Social and Emotional Learning: MalleableMalleable

To be malleable, SEL skills should be able to be taught and learned in the school setting; students’ skill levels can change over time.

Examples of Meaningful, Measurable, and Malleable SEL Competencies

Growth Mindset

The belief that academic or personal abilities can grow with effort. Students with a growth mindset see effort as necessary for success, embrace challenges, learn from criticism, and persist despite setbacks.

Self-Control and Self-Management

The ability to regulate emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations. This includes skills controlling one’s impulses, delaying gratification, managing frustration and stress, motivating oneself, and setting and working toward goals.


The belief in one’s own ability to succeed in achieving goals and controlling one’s life outcomes. Students with high self-efficacy are confident that they can influence their external environment as well as their own motivation and behaviors.

Social Awareness

The ability to recognize emotions in others; to take the perspective of and empathize with others from diverse backgrounds and cultures (perspective-taking); to evaluate the social consequences of individual actions; to understand and resolve interpersonal conflicts (social problem-solving); to understand social and ethical norms for behavior; and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.

SEL skills included in student assessment systems should also reflect school and district priorities, such as the district’s vision statement and learning standards for SEL. To ensure that districts prioritize outcomes that meet these standards, leaders can involve teachers and other staff in the prioritization process.

Interested in learning more about measuring SEL? Download the Research Brief: Best Practices for Measuring Social-Emotional Learning

K-12 Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)

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