In celebration of IES’s 20th anniversary and SEL Day, we are highlighting NCER’s investments in field-initiated research. In this blog, program officer Dr. Emily Doolittle discusses a persistent barrier to supporting social and emotional learning (SEL) in schools—the lack of high quality, reliable, and valid SEL assessments—and the innovative research supported by IES to tackle this challenge.
High quality measurement is critical for education research and practice. Researchers need valid and reliable assessments to answer questions about what works for whom and why. Schools use assessments to guide instruction, determine student response to intervention, and for high-stakes decision-making such as provision of special education services.
For social and emotional learning (SEL), assessment can be particularly challenging due to lack of precision in defining core SEL competencies. One consequence of this imprecision is that measures and intervention targets are often misaligned. SEL assessment also tends to rely on student, teacher, and parent reports despite the lack of agreement among reporters and the potential for biased responding. Through NCER, IES is supporting the development and validation of SEL measures using new technologies and approaches to address some of these challenges. Here are some examples of this innovative measurement work.
- SELweb is a web-based direct assessment of four specific SEL skills - emotion recognition, social perspective taking, social problem solving, and self-control. It is available for use with elementary school students in grades K-3 and 4-6 with a middle school version currently under development. The SEL Quest Digital Platform will support school-based implementation of SELweb and other SEL assessments with an instrument library and a reporting dashboard for educators.
- vSchool uses a virtual reality (VR) environment to assess prosocial skills. Students in 4th to 6th grades build their own avatar to interact with other characters in school settings using menu-driven choices for prosocial (helping, encouraging, sharing) and non-prosocial (aggressive, bullying, teasing) behaviors.
- VESIP (Virtual Environment for Social Information Processing) also uses a VR school environment with customizable avatars to assess 3rd through 7th grade students’ social information processing in both English and Spanish.
Other assessments take a different approach to the challenges of SEL measurement by looking for ways to improve self, teacher, and parent reports.
- In Project MIDAS, the research team is creating a system to integrate the different information provided by students, teachers, and parents to see if combining these reports will lead to more accurate identification of middle school students with SEL needs.
- In Project EASS-E, the researchers are creating a teacher-report measure that will incorporate information about a child’s environment (e.g., neighborhood and community context) to better support elementary school students’ needs.
Please check out IES’s search tool to learn more about the wide variety of measurement research we fund to develop and validate high quality assessments for use in education research and practice.
Written by Emily Doolittle (Emily.Doolittle@ed.gov), NCER Team Lead for Social Behavioral Research