YFE TIG Week: Assessing Social and Emotional Skills by Amy Hardeman

Greetings AEA365 readers! I am Amy Hardeman Zangari, Director of Content & Learning at the International Youth Foundation. Last month, I attended my first-ever AEA conference and had the opportunity to co-present a think tank session, Measuring Social Emotional Learning (SEL) for Youth Learners: Which Assessment Approach is Best?, with my IYF colleague, Pia Saunders Campbell, as well as other YFE TIG members Christy Olenik of Making Cents International and independent consultant / Co-Founder of Action Evaluation Collaborative, Julie Poncelet.

While definitions vary and there is not yet consensus on the specific social and emotional skills that are critical for young people, very few practitioners would argue against the value of SEL in youth programming. Just as there is no standard set of skills or universally accepted SEL framework, there is no magical assessment to measure skills acquisition and the impact of SEL in broader outcomes such as employment, transition to higher education, or improved outcomes in health or other sectors.

While the evaluation and research communities continue to develop, refine, and share approaches and tools to measuring SEL, there are some important considerations to keep in mind when selecting the right approach for your context.

Hot Tips:

  1. Cost, Time and Other Resources: As practitioners and evaluators, we frequently are burdened by or limited to the amount of time and other resources available, like staff capacity and classroom hours. There are definite trade-offs and it is important to acknowledge that in the end the selected approach may not be the best approach.
  2. Mode of Delivery: How is your SEL intervention being deployed? The implementation modality should inform the selection of the assessment approach.
  3. Culture and Context: It is imperative to understand the profile of youth learners before selecting an approach. When reviewing different assessments, ask who developed the assessment and for what type of learners? Where has the assessment been applied? Many existing methods do not adequately address diversity, be it related to languages, viewpoints, social constructs, biases and systemic barriers.
  4. Ethics: Acting with integrity, always do no harm. Thoroughly review assessment approaches for any possible unintended consequences, including effects on learners’ well-being.   
  5. Purpose and Utilization of Assessment Results: Looking at the common approaches, including psychometric assessments, self-reported pre and post surveys and retrospectives, pinpoint which best align the program’s Theory of Change, and what do you intend to be able to say with the findings.

While selecting an SEL assessment may feel overwhelming, it presents us with an opportunity to engage with our peers and the young people we work with, to responsibly adapt and validate.

Rad Resources:

Explore SEL, a project of Harvard Graduate School of Education’s EASEL Laboratory, allows users to sort through and compare the multitude of SEL-related terms, frameworks and domains.

Developed by USAID’s YouthPower Learning, the Positive Youth Development (PYD) Measurement Toolkit, offers a framework to measure PYD and a collection of references, resources, and tools for evaluating youth-focused programming.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Youth Focused Evaluation (YFE) TIG Week with our colleagues in the YFE Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our YFE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org.

1 thought on “YFE TIG Week: Assessing Social and Emotional Skills by Amy Hardeman”

  1. Hi Amy!

    I always enjoy coming across articles/posts about Social and Emotional Learning. I teach Special Education in a secondary school in Canada and this is a topic I cannot get enough of. Every student I teach has a plan created by myself and other stakeholders (parents, behaviour analysts, speech therapists, etc.), and through this plan, we can create goals and assess if social and emotional learning goals are being met, on an individual basis. These assessments are almost always direct, with my students demonstrating (or not demonstrating) the appropriate skill when required.
    I so greatly appreciated your third ‘hot tip’, regarding culture and context. It is just SO important to ensure that what you are working towards for social and emotional learning is relative to the student(s) at hand. I have 17-year-old students that are still working on private vs. public behaviour; standardized methodology and assessment for SEL for that age bracket would not be appropriate. I know not all students have individualized education plans and are 10-1 (students to educator), but wouldn’t that be amazing? If only that “cost, time, and other resources” pool was an unlimited one.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts about this topic!


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