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Social Emotional Learning in Out of School Time, Part 4

Posted: September 16, 2015

In previous editions of the Scoop, we talked about the rise of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) in out of school time and how to incorporate it into both program design and program implementation.

Importance of measuring SEL

Although social-emotional skills have been an essential part of human development from the beginning of our history and have contributed to our success in creating high-functioning societies, the process of measuring those skills is recent and in the early stages of development. As our populations grow and change, we need to continuously research and understand what is really happening among our students so that the complex policies and programs that underpin our modern society can work to the highest benefit of our students.

Each teacher needs to know about the social-emotional health of their students because it impacts their ability to learn and succeed. If a teacher understands the social-emotional context of each student, s/he can offer targeted supports each day where they are most needed. Program intentions are manifested through a good teacher’s actions and attitudes, so supporting a teacher’s knowledge of student SEL will reinforce the program strategy and directly affect the social-emotional growth of individual students.

On a larger scale, each program needs to know what strengths and weaknesses their students have so they can plan lessons and activities accordingly. SEL data can help answer the questions: how are our kids doing and what do they need? From that baseline, we need additional data over time to see if the program was effective. If the program was effective and met previously defined goals, great! Those results can be reported to funders and help secure ongoing funding to continue serving our kids. If the program was not effective, we will gain insight on where to begin to revise the program strategy and what to keep measuring in the future.

Options for measuring SEL

If you are interested in measuring SEL, many options exist that are appropriate for different contexts (and budgets). While surveys are popular and may be appropriate tools, try to find one that already exists. Using a validated tool will not only help you collect good data, it may also help you compare your students to a larger control group.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has created a compendium of SEL measurement tools and reviewed several of the existing options. These tools range from child self-report (depending on the child’s age) to adult observation of behavior, from free and readily available to for-fee online solutions that automatically score and report results. To search, click:

As you’ll see in the compendium, many SEL measurement tools exist, so how do you choose which one to use? Be sure to think through the following (not exhaustive) list of considerations:

  • Does what we teach reflect what the tool measures?
    • Although students may experience indirect benefits of your programming, focusing your tool on a skill set your program actively addresses will give you a better chance of learning something immediately useful for your program.
  • Who provides the data?
    • Students, parents, or teachers?
    • Who has the information we need?
  • Is it age-appropriate?
    • Typically, students under grade 3 are not considered reliable self-reporters; therefore, observational methods are preferred over surveys.
  • Is it developmentally appropriate?
    • Will the students be able to read the questions?
    • Can they comprehend what is being asked?
  • How long will it take?
    • Kids have short attention spans, and so can adults.
  • Is the tool reliable and valid?
    • This means that the tool is accurate and consistent when administered.
  • How much does it cost?

Each program context is different and a variety of tools may be appropriate. Be sure to include stakeholders in the decision-making process and request the input of a researcher or evaluator when necessary.

Student Outcomes Project

Dallas Afterschool is currently conducting a local, longitudinal study of the relationship between the quality of afterschool programs, student academics, and social-emotional outcomes. If you would like to know more about this study, please contact Rachel Johns


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