(Spoiler Alert: The Answer is, Carefully)

I just attended a terrific meeting with educational leaders and educational innovators. It was inspirational to engage attendees as we all struggled with important questions about how best to support student academic, social, and emotional learning (SEL).

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in the Strategic Plan

We got to talking about (what else) SEL assessment, and an Assistant Superintendent pointed out that what social and emotional competencies she and her colleagues choose to measure and how they choose to measure them depends in part on what social and emotional learning goals are in the district strategic plan and on what social and emotional key performance indicators (KPIs) the district decides to track as part of that work.

KPIs are “…key indicators of progress towards an intended result.” In SEL, this often includes inputs such as instructional quality or school climate, and it sometimes includes student outcomes such as social and emotional competencies.

To assess social emotional competence KPIs, it was important to her (and others in the room) to use a technically strong assessment that yielded reliable data valid for tracking KPIs.

Of course the assessment’s technical quality is important: These are Key Performance Indicators, not Sorta Relevant Performance Indicators. They are key in the sense that the district’s progress towards its strategic objectives will be judged by these indicators, so their assessment has to be on the mark. Rigor is critical.

Assessment Options for Key Performance Indicators (KPIs): An Illustration

This made me think about what kind of assessment data I would want if I were a district administrator that had committed to measuring social and emotional competence KPIs. I’d want scores that were reliable and were valid indicators of the social and emotional competencies we had committed to teaching our students.

You might say that’s not very helpful. It’s kind of a baseball and apple pie recommendation. True. But it does suggest a direction.

Think about it this way. If you were an administrator and you chose to measure KPIs in reading or math, you would have to decide how to measure these skills. You could have students complete self-report questionnaires in which they assess their own reading and math skills. You could have teachers fill out rating scale indicating their overall assessment of student reading and math skills. 

Wait a minute. What? Self-report? Rating scales? Why would you choose these rough proxies for student reading and math competence when there are dozens of technically sound achievement tests that assess student reading and math skills directly by requiring them to show what they know.

Reading and math teacher rating scales or self-report questionnaires might be useful tools for some purposes. But to assess a KPI? I think most educators would prefer a direct assessment that yields reliable scores reflecting the skills that make up reading (phonics, fluency, and comprehension, for example) and math (math facts/operations and applied problem-solving, for example).

For Social Emotional Learning (SEL) KPIs, what’s the Best Option?

What does this have to do with SEL? Well, if your district has elected to measure social and emotional competence KPIs, you’ll be faced with a key decision—how to assess these KPIs. You can measure social and emotional competencies with widely available self-report questionnaires or teacher rating scales or even with administrative records (about disciplinary referrals, for example).

Or you can use direct assessment.

For KPIs, if I were that administrator, I would want children to demonstrate their social and emotional competencies with direct assessment, not tell me what they think they know, or have teachers provide global ratings. I also would find administrative records to be an unsatisfying proxy for the kinds of competencies I was trying to nurture.

If you include (or plan to include) SEL in your strategic plan, and want to measure social and emotional KPIs with rigorous and direct SEL assessment aligned to the CASEL model and the most commonly used SEL programs, contact us. We can support that work with research-based and rigorously field-tested direct assessment.